Danish adventurer first person to visit all countries without flying

Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor), a Danish traveller and adventurer, is the first person to visit every single country in the world entirely without using air travel –all in a single unbroken journey that has taken 10 years. The former UN peacekeeper’s project, Once Upon A Saga, has come to an end.

A journey around the world, expected to last four years, ended up taking much longer due to challenges including visa issues, political unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic. But, currently on his way home to Denmark, Thor is the first person to visit all 193 sovereign states without flying.

– Once Upon A Saga has been the most incredible adventure. Having said that, I am absolutely ecstatic that it has now been successfully concluded – and I am absolutely exhausted too!

The project started in 2013 in Denmark and has taken him through Europe, the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific by car, bus, train, boat and even on foot. He arrived in Male, capital of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, on board a container ship to reach his final country of 2023, after which he will return to Denmark – without flying, of course.

– I was inspired to create history and have a great adventure along the way. Based on an average of seven days per country I estimated it would take four years or less to complete, Thor explains.

A man standing on a cliff looking over mountains
Being 34 years old when he left, Thor is looking forward to returning home to Denmark again. Here is in Sri Lanka. Photo: Mike Douglas.

Raising awareness

Aiming to use the project to promote peace, understanding, and cultural exchange between countries and to showcase the beauty and diversity of the world, he has also worked to raise awareness of global issues such as poverty, inequality and climate change, including through work with the international Red Cross.

– I have promoted that people all over the world are people who partake in family, go to school, go to work, play games, love sports, listen to music, dance, enjoy good food, take selfies, spend time on social media, fall in love, get stuck in traffic and often complain when it rains. People are just people. I have embraced and shared an open mindset in relation to differences in culture and always found something positive to say about every country in the world.

Having spent oceans of time on ships, he creates routines to pass time on longer journeys and with a working background in logistics, knows how to optimise planning his routes.

– I can generally work offline for about two to four days and then there is no more I can do until I get back online, Thor explains. At that point it becomes a bit like a vacation. I might watch movies, listen to podcasts, read, get on the treadmill in the ship’s gym, hang out on the bridge and take in the view, speak with the seafarers and stuff like that.

A man in the front of the picture, a white building in the background.
Having a background in logistics, Thor saw the journey as a fun way to use his skills. He says he likes a challenge, but can safely say this has been the biggest logistical challenge he has ever come across. This picture is taken in Mongolia. Photo: Once upon a saga

Finnish mother, Danish father

Before the journey Thor had defined three cardinal rules: 1) no flying for any reason, 2) minimum 24 hours in each country, and 3) no return home until he had reached the final country. The project’s budget was set at 20 USD per day as an average and covered transportation, accommodation, meals and visas.

Thor was born in Odense in Denmark but the family soon after moved to Canada and later to the United States. His mother is Finnish. When he was around seven, the family returned to Denmark where he served in the Danish army and was stationed at the United Nations Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia as a UN Peacekeeper before starting a career and civilian life within shipping and logistics. Scandinavian values are still important to him.

– I am proud of where I come from. Scandinavia is special to us who come from there and it is special to many people around the word as a model society. I am proud to be a descendant of Vikings and Norse people. The Vikings were famously skillful navigators and great explorers. It is as a tribute to Denmark and the Nordic countries that the project was named Once Upon A Saga.

A man standing in a harbour surrounded by a group of people and media
Thor has visited the countries as a goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross, raising awareness and funds for humanitarian work, donating blood in several countries and visiting the organization in 199 of the 203 places visited. In the picture Thor is in the Maldives, being the last country on his journey. Photo: Mike Douglas

“I’ll be free once again”

Thor says he is fortunate to be skilled with a high degree of adaptability and can usually make the best of his environment wherever he is. He is excited to be on his way back home to Denmark, where he will be pursuing a new life as a motivational speaker, an author and he is making a full feature documentary on his journey, finalised next year.

– People do not always realize that I have been bound by strict rules and ambition for nearly a decade. I will return home and be free once again, Thor says.

Both Finland and Denmark are very beautiful countries with rich traditions, culture, and history, Thor mentions. His father lives in Denmark and his mother in Finland. Although Thor is born in Denmark, he personally thinks Finland has the most beautiful flag in the world. He loves the bread in Finland and the wild open nature. He says he adores Copenhagen as an international hub for Scandinavia, and he favours Danish milk over any milk in the world.

Finally, what did Thor pack in his bag for this very special journey?

– I have packed clothes for all types of climates, books, a laptop, electronic accessories, all the cables, a sleeping bag, a mosquito net, a hammock, running clothes, Red Cross stuff, tea, rope, a few knives, and a compass. Fun fact: a Chinese checkpoint confiscated all my knives in 2019 after I had reached 176 countries with them – and I have never used the compass for anything.

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