The challenge was staring at me. It had never been done before...
Danish adventurer and bonafide escapologist Torbjørn ‘Thor’ Pedersen set about a world-first in 2013, to travel to every country in the world without flying.
What was originally planned to take 4 years took almost a decade. Setting off from Denmark and with a career in logistics behind him, Thor mapped out his route, allowing himself $20 a day to get by.
His time spent in each country ranged from 24 hours up to 2 years during the pandemic, finally finishing up in The Maldives in May 2023.
Fresh from his worldly travels, and with a docco in the making, we caught up with Thor to find out what inspired him to take on his ‘Once Upon A Saga’ challenge and what it taught him about the people of the world.
Thor, what does meaningful escapism mean to you?
Anything that will take your mind off things. Running has been good for my mental health and has been an activity I brought with me through every country.
My time in Hong Kong during the pandemic was very stressful and I kept pushing myself harder and harder through step challenges, hikes, trail running, anything to stay active.
It’s crazy to look back on now but I did 504,000 steps in 7 days, and 100km with 5,000m elevation gain (and loss) in less than 20 hours. I think that takes a ‘step challenge’ to another level.
Aside from staying active, I have a simple online game on my phone which I played online with friends whilst I was away. It was good to focus on that for a few minutes every now and again just to get away from stressful and complex issues that inevitably cropped up.
What inspired you to visit every country without flying?
It had never been done before and the challenge was staring at me. I grew up feeling that everything had been done: highest mountains, deepest seas, North Pole, South Pole, longest rivers, darkest forests… People had explored it all.
But in 2013 nobody had succeeded in reaching every country in the world completely without flying. I decided to take the challenge upon myself and was hoping to find a great adventure along the way.
Little did I know how demanding it would become and how long it would take.
Doing something new is exciting and it turns out that it serves as a source of inspiration and motivation for many.
Has the ‘Once Upon A Saga’ journey changed your view on the world?
It has been nice to see that the world isn’t a scary place full of vicious people. I find that when it comes to people all around the world, it is like playing a reversed lottery in which it is very hard to lose.
People are just people and most are good, kind, helpful and well-meaning.
It is not a small world, but it is well connected. And people all over the world are for the most part doing everyday ordinary stuff: school, work, sports, social gatherings, shopping, eating, sleeping, dancing, playing games, having conversations, reading, watching films etc.
Of course there are some rotten apples and not everything is rosy red, but all the scary stuff we see in the media is rare in the big picture.
In the beginning of this journey I thought that I had embarked on a "country project". But I quickly learned that I was on a "people project".
If you can choose just one, which moment from this trip will stay with you?
Back in October 2015 I was on top of a truck in Congo with some 50-60 other people. It was miserable, uncomfortable, dusty and hot.
But around sundown a woman began banging an empty water bottle rhythmically and started to sing. Soon another woman joined in on the song, and a man, and then the entire truck.
It was beautiful. The landscape was beautiful. The sunset was beautiful. It lasted about 15 minutes and then it got dark and the singing stopped. It's something I'll never forget.
What’s next for Thor Pedersen?
I’m looking to build a life together with my wife, friends and family in Copenhagen, Denmark. I’m positioning myself as a motivational speaker and will be writing a book in the near future.
We are also looking forward to having “The Impossible Journey” documentary ready in 2024, which I've worked on with the incredible Mike Douglas.
Mike travelled to meet me a few times over the last few years so we're really excited to bring the story to light and inspire more people.
"The more time I've spent with Thor, the more impressed I am by what he has accomplished. It is one of the most challenging adventures of our time and a monumental human achievement. Nobody has heard the real story."
Top 3 road trip albums?
Good question. It depends a bit on the landscape, form of transport, and mood. But how about: “Watch it grow” by Cr3ture, “Here I come” by The Roots, and “Telescope” by Boy & Bear.
Top 3 road trip snacks?
If it’s cold then chocolate, if it’s hot then nuts, and if I’m in South Africa then biltong.