Torbjørn C. Pedersen is a man on a mission. The Danish adventurer hopes to become the first person ever to visit every country on Earth without stepping foot on a plane.
So far, he’s ticked off 189 nations (with only 14 to go) through a combination of boats, buses, cars and trains. Torbjørn – not the most convenient name for international travel, he willingly admits – hopes to achieve his goal and enter the record books some time in 2020.
He spoke to battleface about his travel ethos, his most memorable experiences so far and one item he never leaves home without.
Why was travelling without flying so important?
Reaching every country in the world completely without flying is my shot at making history. It is something which has never been done before which is peculiar in 2019 where more than 550 people have gone to space and more than 6,000 have summited Everest. By doing new things we inspire and push the envelope forward.
What have been the biggest challenges around not flying?
Logistics, bureaucracy and mental health. Logistically, there are island nations which have no ferry connections and are far into the ocean. Bureaucratically, there are land borders which cannot be crossed and visas which are near-impossible to obtain outside of your resident country (or in general). And trying to pull off mission impossible, year after year while constantly being on the road begs the question: is it worth it? Why not give up? Who cares? Just go home. But who has ever achieved anything by giving up?
How would you convince would-be travellers that eschewing air travel is possible? Even advantageous to them?
By crossing land borders you see where countries meet. You are also far more likely to strike up a conversation in a local bus or train than on an airplane. You meet more people, make new friends and learn new things.
More generally, what have been your most memorable travel experiences so far?
From six years on the road? Maybe getting engaged on top of Mount Kenya? Or smelling the trees in Canada half a day before land was visible? Or having 70 villagers in a remote place enjoy a movie on my laptop? Or seeing hundreds of whales off the coast of Durban. Or finding five washed up dead men on a beach. Or fighting cerebral malaria far from home. Take your pick – there are plenty more.
Any particularly scary moments?
Yes, standing across from three severely drunk, angry, armed and uniformed men, in the middle of the night, on a dirt road in a remote part of a jungle. That was scary.
How do you calculate risk when visiting countries with high levels of violence, instability?
I network a lot. The media has a tendency to exaggerate or at least neglect to report on what is normal. If a destination I’m heading to is risky then I try to have a contact receiving me on arrival. And have as much information as possible. I prepare more and wing it less. It depends a lot on the country/situation too.
What about communication – do you have any tips or tricks for communicating without a shared language?
I always have pen in my pocket. It is great for drawing or having people write down something for you. You can gesture a lot of stuff too: being hungry, being sleepy, being happy, being sad etc. Finally, there is almost always someone who speaks just a little English and who is willing to help.
Finally, how do you plan to celebrate your achievement when you tick the final country off your list?
The W has offered me a stay in the Maldives so that is a good start. Also the Danish Ambassador in India has promised to introduce me to the President who is a good friend of his. If at all possible then I hope my fiancée will be able to join me but it depends on the dates as she is writing her PhD. I suppose there will be a double ending. One in which I reach the Maldives and one in which I return home. Back home I will see my friends and family again and start my new life.