Many of us dream about travelling the world, but time, money and commitments often get in the way. We worry that it's not possible to travel on a budget, and wonder how safe it is to travel every country alone. Torbjørn C. Pedersen of Once Upon A Saga, is redefining what global travel looks like - in fact, he's not travelling in the conventional way at all. Rather than flying, he's using the road less travelled and is relying on local public transport and the kindness of strangers to help him complete his trip. His experience has quickly become less about the countries themselves and more about the people he meets living in them. We asked him about his experience so far and what this journey has taught him.
Tell us about your trip and where you've been so far. How many countries do you have left to visit and when do anticipate ending?
In 2013 I set out from Denmark to become the first man in history to visit every country without flying. The project was named Once Upon A Saga and has long since grown to inspire, motivate, educate and entertain people all of the world. Not giving up and always finding solutions to complex problems has been a large part of motivating people. I have not been home for five years and five months and have now reached 176 countries completely without flying, with 27 more to go. If it goes according to plan then I should reach the final country in January 2020.
Your trip is incredibly unique due to your mission of not taking a single flight. As a sustainable brand, we're really excited about this on an environmentally friendly level, but what was your motivation behind not taking a single flight? What did that mean for your trip - how has it affected your experience?
I have always been fascinated by the great adventurers such as Ibn Batutta and Marco Polo, and all the amazing accomplishments of becoming the first to reach the South Pole or circumnavigate the planet have intrigued me. I grew up thinking that everything significant had already been done, so I was surprised to discover that nobody has ever reached every country without flying. Now that I have been working towards that goal for several years I’m no longer surprised. It is an unbelievably demanding task to accomplish and it is down right nearly impossible.
Several visas can only be applied for from your resident country and many island nations are not serviced by ferries. I have struggled a great bit in the past with logistical and bureaucratic challenges. Since the budget is set at $20 USD per day (average for transport, accommodation, meals and visas) and since the project is mostly carried out by public transportation, I spend a lot of time with local people and discovering the less beaten paths. The Saga might already have set several records but when completed it will certainly be the first time in history. And it may be many years before anyone else accomplishes it again.
You said on your blog, that this journey started out as a 'country project' and quickly became a 'people project'. What do you mean by that and what has been your experience of connection with strangers across the world?
When I left home I was mostly concerned with reaching all the countries as fast as possible. However, within a few weeks of the Saga I had received so much help and support from a great deal of strangers wherever I had been. The project motto (a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before) quickly went from sounding nice to being true. Nobody in history has ever reached every country on their own: it is a group effort. And doing it without flying simply complicated the task further, which demands the involvement of more people. No matter which two people you put in a room they will have more in common with each other than differences. You can make that experiment with any two people from anywhere on earth. Somehow we often see the differences and ignore the similarities. I find that people are just people and given the chance to help they likely will.
You've been travelling on a very specific budget. Why did you choose to travel like that and what has been your experience of travelling on a budget? What tips can you offer others wanting to travel affordably?
The $20 (USD) per day is sometimes a painfully small budget but it does prove that you need not be a millionaire to cross borders, meet people and make new friends. A lot of people say that they want to travel but they don’t have time, money or both. I can prove that it’s not the money. It’s possible to save money by staying in dorm rooms or using couchsurfing. Street food is often both cheap and reasonably healthy. Public transportation is available everywhere and is also usually very affordable. Travel slow and get the most out of visas and transport costs. If a country is expensive then you can buy some cheese and bread at a supermarket and enjoy a homemade sandwich in a park. Also think twice before you buy something - do you really need it?
You've been representing the Red Cross on your journey. What does that look like and what has the impact been of doing this kind of work?
I was given the honor of being a Goodwill Ambassador of the Danish Red Cross. In that capacity I have met with and promoted the Red Cross all over the world and now that I have reached 172 National Societies the Saga has become history’s greatest attempt to unify the entire movement in a single journey. The project brings a lot of joy to the Red Cross and it invites new volunteers to join, people to donate and anyone to share positive information across social media.
What have been the standout moments and lessons on this trip so far?
Asking my fiancée to marry me on top of Mt Kenya was a very unique moment. Cycling through Ramallah with police escort and forty members of Palestine Cycling was special. Being onboard a container ship in a storm near where the Titanic sank was also quite memorable! Sitting on top of a truck for two days in Congo and hearing a woman sing a local song while the sun set was beautiful. Playing with wild chimpanzees in Equatorial Guinea was unforgettable.
There have been many great moments. I have learned that the world is not a small place. That media is doing a poor job representing the planet and all which is in it. That people are just people no matter where you go and that any country is the best country in the world to someone.
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