Thor Pedersen says, “A stranger is a friend you’ve never met before.” He would know. For nearly seven years, the 41-year-old Dane has been on an unbroken journey to visit every country on earth without ever using an airplane. In addition to promoting the work of the International Red Cross while serving as an ambassador for that organization, Thor’s purpose is to shine light on the good, well-meaning people of the planet while also inspiring, educating and entertaining along the way. But, in the words of Freddy Mercury and Queen, it’s been “no bed of roses” and “no pleasure cruise” the entire way.
When Thor learned that no one had ever seen every country without the benefit of air travel and decided he wanted to attempt the feat himself, he created three cardinal rules to follow:
- No air travel is permitted under any circumstances
- A visit to a country must be legal and only counts if he spends 24 hours in it
- He could not return home until the final country has been reached or the project has otherwise ended
Today, after more than six and a half years, Thor has reached 194 of the targeted 203 countries, meaning nine countries remain.
“Originally, I was confident that I could complete the challenge within three and a half to four years and as recently as this summer I thought I would reach my final country by October of this year, after seven years on the road, but that has all changed now,” Thor says.
Over the last few months, as the COVID-19 pandemic has held the world firmly in its grip, Thor’s plans have been thrown into disarray. Today, he finds himself in Hong Kong, waiting to see how he can continue his journey to Palau, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu and then from there on to New Zealand, Australia and Sri Lanka. His plan is to finish the journey in the Maldives before returning home to Denmark; also without flying.
“It sounds like there’s nothing left but the remaining countries are all island nations and there are no ferries to any of them,” Thor says. “Mindboggling bureaucracy, complex logistics, typhoons, national holidays, politics, virus outbreaks and more keep coming between me and the final country.”
Thor’s shortest stay in any country was 24 hours and 17 minutes in Vatican City. Until he got stuck for 127 days in Hong Kong because of the global pandemic, his longest visit was the 102 days he spent in Lebanon waiting for a visa to Syria. On average, he has spent 11.4 days in each nation. Most of his transportation (he estimates 99 percent) has come in the form of buses, trains, and taxis. The rest has been via container ships, shrimp trawlers, sailboats, and a whole lot of walking. He stays mostly in hostels, sometimes for free in exchange for publicity, and also with kind strangers who invite him into their homes. There have been scary moments, too, like the time in central Africa when he had an encounter with drunk, angry armed soldiers who finally let him go after 45 minutes.
While “stuck” in Hong Kong in recent months, he has kept busy exploring the area and making friends with locals. In recent weeks, he completed all of Hong Kong’s ultra-distance Trails: the 50 km Hong Kong Trail, the 70 km Lantau Trail, the 78 km Wilson Trail and the 100 km MacLehose Trail.
After nearly seven years of hopping from country to country and from one shipping container vessel to another, Thor’s problem-solving skills are top-notch. He delights in finding a solution when everyone tells him something is impossible and everything points towards that being true. That doesn’t mean, however, that he has not spent dark days wondering if all his efforts are worth the trouble of completing his journey.
“I certainly have weighed whether the investment in time, resources, personal relations, and health could ever be worth the achievement,” he admits.
That thought dissipates when he ponders the valuable lessons he has learned along the way. Not surprisingly, most of his education along the way has come through the endless human interactions he has experienced.
“People are basically the same all over the world and the main fabric of every country is peaceful, friendly and harmless,” Thor says. “All around the world people get stuck in traffic, stand in line, go to school, go to work, use transportation, take selfies, enjoy good food, dance, complain about the weather, play games, watch sports, live and love. That is more than 99 percent of people no matter what any media shows us.”
Given the current pause in his journey caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Thor may not finish his journey until mid-2021, which means standing on his native soil in Denmark alongside his fiancée will have to wait.
“I miss having a normal life,” he says. “I miss waking up next to the woman I love. I miss going for a run in my neighborhood. I miss drinking Danish milk. I miss spontaneously meeting up with friends. I miss choosing which clothes to wear. I miss knowing everything by being somewhere familiar.”
Simple “pleasures” that most of us take for granted, like choosing which clothes to wear each morning are not so necessary when you are carrying everything you own. Thor bought a pair of Salomon shoes just before he left home in 2013. When he wore them out a couple of years later, he replaced them with another pair. Several years later, after learning of his journey and his footwear of choice, the company has been happy to send him shoes as well as apparel and other gear as he keeps on trekking.
“I have not worn anything but Salomon shoes for the past six years,” he reports. “That’s 300,000 km and 194 countries.”
Thor is funding his trip in a variety of ways. Forty percent of his expenses are paid by a company called Ross DK, a financial partner that specializes in geothermal energy. In addition, 30 percent comes from followers, friends, fans and family who make donations. Thor self-finances the remaining 30 percent and keeps to a strict budget. There are no five-star hotels or fancy spa treatments involved in this journey.
If you’d like to follow Thor’s journey or make a donation, you can find him at his online hub (http://www.onceuponasaga.dk/) or on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. He loves hearing from and interacting with fans online who have inspired him to press on in difficult times.
“I’m no ‘King of Social Media’ but it’s a nice little community with a loyal base and lots of love,” Thor says.