He’s Just Visited Every Country in the World Without Flying

For almost 10 years, Torbjørn (Thor) Pedersen has been traveling around the world with one particular goal, and today he finally finished. Pedersen has gone to all 203 countries without flying. He is the first known person to complete such a trip.

He started his Once Upon a Saga project at age 33 on October 10, 2013. Today, he reached the Maldives, his last country, by ship. 

He left country 202, Sri Lanka, on May 21 on the MSS Graphene. After 36 hours at sea, he landed in the Maldives. “[This] was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever put myself through!!!” he said.

Photo: Once Upon A Saga/Facebook


Three rules of the game

From the beginning, Pedersen had three self-imposed rules. He could not return home to Denmark until he was finished, he has to spend at least 24 hours in every country, and he could not set foot on a plane.

The journey has featured a number of logistical nightmares. He was stranded in Hong Kong for two years because of the pandemic, he contracted cerebral malaria and cholera, and — perhaps hardest of all — throughout it, he has kept up a long-term relationship.

The route. Image: https://www.onceuponasaga.dk/journey


Speaking to Børsen Magazine, Pedersen, now 44, admitted, “I’ve wanted to return home since 2015.”

Still, he carried on. Many of his friends and family struggled to understand his motivation, but he was amazed that no one had done this before. Several people joined him throughout his journey, most often his girlfriend — now wife. They became engaged during the project and eventually married online during the pandemic.

Before setting off, Pedersen meticulously planned his route by clustering groups of countries together. Along the way, as expected, he had to tweak his plans. For example, he has been to Singapore twice and Fiji three times.

For some of the most difficult countries, he applied specific strategies. He went to North Korea with a tour group — the easiest way to get in — and got a business visa for Saudi Arabia through his connections with international companies.

After eventually leaving Hong Kong and going to country 195, Palau, he returned to Hong Kong. Then he had to go to Australia, instead of his planned route to the Pacific Island nations. His passport was running out of pages, and Australia was one of the only places he could get a new one.

Photo: Once Upon A Saga/Facebook


The New Zealand nightmare

From Australia, he went to New Zealand to pick up his passport. Typically, he had traveled on container ships, but after COVID, many of them put restrictions in place.

New Zealand customs initially told him that he could enter the country on a container ship, but another ministry, citing border restrictions, rescinded that permission. Then the container ship he was on said that he could no longer travel with them.

After a worrying few weeks, he found out that he could in fact enter New Zealand. He then found a spot on another container ship. Ironically, he did not actually need to go to New Zealand, because he’d already been there. But this was where he had to pick up that new passport. These New Zealand obstacles were, he told one local paper, almost the straw that broke his back.

From here, he went to Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tuvalu, Fiji again, Singapore for the second time, and then Sri Lanka on May 10.

“It took a tugboat, two container ships, and transit through three countries to get [to Sri Lanka,]” he said. “We left Tuvalu on March 5, which goes to illustrate the complex nature of this project.”

Photo: Once Upon A Saga/Facebook


A social experiment

He spent 11 days in Sri Lanka, exploring the country and organizing his final transit. “You cannot stand on a street corner for ten minutes without leaving with a story,” he said in his blog. “I love it!!”

As he stepped ashore in the Maldives, he thanked all those who’d helped him along the way.

“It feels like a successful sociological experiment, as I can claim to have found kindness and support from people in every country in the world,” he said.

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.