After almost a decade of travel, a Danish man has become the first person to visit every country in the world in an unbroken journey without flying. Torbjørn “Thor” Pedersen spent at least 24 hours in 203 countries in the world, travelling on containerships, foot, cars, buses, and trains.
We at Maldives Maritime Journal had the chance to sit down with Thor and learn more about his adventure.
A life-changing decision
It was 2013 and Thor was a 34-year-old man with a background in shipping and logistics. His career had taken him to several countries including Libya, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan. Being exposed to different cultures, Thor had developed a strong passion for travelling, meeting new people, and adventures.
However, Thor felt he was born too late – everything had been accomplished. Someone had climbed all the mountains in the world, sailed around the world, and travelled to every single country. He wondered what he can do that someone has never done before – like visiting every single country in the world without flying.
As soon as he realised his mission, Thor began preparing for the project, named ‘Once Upon a Saga’. He spent 10 months finding partners and sponsors, making the budget, etc. He left Denmark on October 10th, aiming to return once he had spent 24 hours in all 203 countries, which he will visit without flying, mostly via cargo ships.
Beyond an adventure
After a few weeks of his journey, Thor had found more reasons to accomplish his mission.
He was offered to travel as goodwill ambassador for the Danish Red Cross. As part of his project, he would promote the movement in 192 countries – interviewing and listening to volunteers all over the world.
He had also discovered that the world was not what most people believed it was. There was goodness that the media did not cover. “When I talk to people about Sudan, they think about conflict and refugees. When I say Egypt, they think about pyramids. But did you know, Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt; more than any country in the world!” said Thor. Eventually, his ‘country project’ had turned into a ‘people project’- using his online presence to show goodness in the world.
Moreover, Thor wanted to prove that we don’t have to be millionaires to travel, cross borders, discover cultures, and make new friends. His daily budget was USD20, which included meals, transport, accommodation, and visas.
“I knew it will be hard, but mostly amazing.”
Thor’s adventure was exciting the first few months. However, after a few years, it had become robotic, and a lot of the fun had disappeared. “Imagine you like cake, but then you are only offered cake to eat for years. It felt like that,” he described.
After two-three years, it had become 99% work and just 1% of adventure.
“One of the most difficult experiences would be in Central Africa. I felt very alone. I was being harassed a lot by authorities. It felt like nobody cared what I was doing,” said Thor, who had succeeded and continued his project due to his spirit of never giving up.
“When I got to Singapore in 2019, a shipping company offered to help. According to our calculations, I could complete the project and be home in 10 months,” he described his excitement of returning to his family – until the pandemic broke out and those 10 months became four years.
Surviving through a pandemic
Thor was stuck in Hong Kong for two years. He arrived in January 2020 before the pandemic was announced to connect with a transit ship to Palau. Soon after his arrival to Hong Kong, Palau took the precautions of closing their borders towards Greater China (China, Hong Kong, and Macau) and he could no longer reach Palau from Hong Kong.
The plan B was to reach South Korea or Singapore to connect from there. Unfortunately, the virus started spreading rapidly before it could be executed. Once it was declared a global pandemic in March, Thor knew it would be hopeless to leave Hong Kong for a while.
The final nine countries were all island nations and the ones within the Pacific kept their borders closed. Shipping companies were reluctant to take him aboard. So for two years, Thor had challenged himself physically, made more friends and connections, began to involve them in all sorts of hiking and step-challenges, embarked on a collaboration with Hong Kong Tourism Board, explored Hong Kong and much more. He soon had to get a job to stay and avoid the risk of getting deported.
Finally in 2021, Palau began opening its borders to tourists. In January 2022, Thor was able to embark on ship ‘Kota Ratna’ and reach Palau 15 days later. He was back on track.
Last country: the Maldives
After Palau, Thor visited Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, and Sri Lanka. So far, he had been on 33 containerships, and he would take his 34th one to his last destination – the Maldives.
He arrived in the Maldives on 23rd May 2023, on cargo vessel MSS Graphene, the third vessel by Maldives State Shipping (MSS). It has the capacity of holding 420 loaded containers and 680 empty containers. Thor was impressed by the destination even before arriving, with crew members showing warm hospitality through the trip. Upon arrival, OBLU XPERIENCE Ailafushi hosted Thor, his wife, and his close supporters to celebrate the tremendous achievement.
“I was surprised to see so many islands, that it’s not just five or six islands. 1,200 islands! And it stretches so many kilometres!” he exclaimed. “My jaw dropped when the ship came in when we saw Male’ City. It’s off the hook impressive. I have visited all the island nations and there is nothing like this. It was really crazy to see this.”
Thor has learned two great lessons over the past decade.
“Now I look back at all these countries. And I can say with full guarantee that I have met kindness, help, and support in all countries. I was a stranger and yet I still received help and support everywhere. I think that says a lot about the world we live in.
“Another thing is that I set out to do something impossible. While there was no way I could’ve pulled this on my own, I had to stick with the mission. I wouldn’t have accomplished it even if I gave up just one time. I was able to complete the mission through a pandemic, epidemic, even gun points, because no matter what, I never gave up. You must go through the hard times and the good times.”
Thor plans to release his documentary in 2024, filmed by his talented friend Mike Douglas.