Torbjørn C Pedersen, the globe-trotting Dane better known as Thor, has travelled to 194 countries without ever taking a flight! On a mission to go around the world without flying, Thor’s modes of transport have included container ships, shrimp trawlers, fishing boats, ferries, public buses and trains. “I was on board a working ship in the Caribbeans. The captain didn’t like me, so I had to sleep on the floor in the kitchen. It was greasy,” laughs Thor, who is now nine countries short of completing his mission.
Thor, 41, a goodwill ambassador for the Danish Red Cross, set out on this surface adventure on October 10, 2013 — “at 10.10 am from Dybbøl Mølle, Denmark and then I crossed into Germany,” he says — as part of a partly self-funded project Once Upon a Saga. However, the current COVID-19 pandemic chained this intrepid traveller down in Hong Kong.
His next stop was supposed to be the island of Palau. “Nobody knows how long I’ll be here for,” says Thor over a video call from Hong Kong, adding, “Hong Kong is the best place to be in. They have handled it well. We are free to walk about: cafés and shops were open. Cinemas and museums shut for a couple of weeks but are opening up now.” The borders remain shut though. “The container ships made a decision that non-essential people cannot come aboard and those on board cannot leave,” he says.
His initial plan was to stay in Hong Kong for four days but now it has been 118 days. His next move depends on which country opens up its borders. “For example, if New Zealand opens up, I will head there and then work my way across to the other places.” And if the world goes back to normal tomorrow, it will still take him 10 months to complete the remaining route, which comprises Palau, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
Lighting the wanderlust fuse
- The idea to set out on the grand journey came about when Thor’s father sent him a newspaper article about travelling around the world, and he realised it is not necessary to be a millionaire to do that. “It is estimated that 230 people have gone to every country in the world and nobody has done it without a flight.”
- Before setting out on this journey, Thor had a 12-year career with shipping and logistics. He has worked in Libya, Bangladesh and many other places around the globe. Prior to that, he was in the Danish army and with the United Nations.
- Ross DK, a Danish company, sponsors 50% of this project and the rest is self-funded. “I have taken two loans and sold private belongings and many wonderful people have supported the project by making donations.” he says. Thor’s per day budget is US$ 20.
- He mostly stays in hostels as it is easy and cheap. He also sleeps on buses, trains and ships. Sometimes hotels reach out to him. In Hong Kong, he is staying with a family that offered him a room.
- What does he carry with him? A sleeping bag, a hammock, a lot of clothing, books, electronics, laptop, first aid, Red Cross equipment, running shoes. “I go running anywhere in the world. I run a lot on the container ships. They have gyms. So I can say I was running on the Atlantic!”
It has been hard not going home the last six-and-a-half years. “Sometimes, it is very tempting to look at the airport and think my fiancée is at home, and end this trip, go home, wear normal clothes,” says Thor. But every time he wins the mental battle and pushes on with his mission. While 80% of the trip has been fairly straight forward, Thor says bureaucracy is always a challenge: visas, paper work and check points. He says, “There is a big difference when you travel to a country by flight and without it. In the airport there is a high degree of security. It is much more difficult to cross the land borders.” But it has all been worth it, he says, fondly recalling the New Year’s Eve of 2018 that he spent in Amritsar after his fiancée flew down to join him. “There were firecrackers above the Golden Temple,” he says excitedly. He then went to Delhi to meet with the Red Cross (he has visited 189 Red Cross units across the globe) and Mumbai.
Thor has picked up new skills along the way. “I know my capabilities, I am far more confident, but I am also humble because what I have accomplished is with the help of people,” he says. He has also acquired a beard along the way, which is something he intends to gets rid of when his fiancée visits next. “People can look at my face and say how long it’s been since I have seen her,” he laughs.
Thor is of the opinion that the people make a country interesting. Through this journey, he also wants to prove that as a foreigner, one can go to any country, meet good people, and feel safe. “I have been travelling in public transport, eating at local food stalls and I am still alive. Nobody cut, stabbed or kidnapped me. People are just people. All over we are doing the same thing but in different ways. We care about barbecue, social media, selfies, we get stuck in traffic. We don’t want war, terrorism, trouble. We just want to carve out a piece for ourselves and our family,” he concludes.
Thor documents his journey at www.onceuponasaga.dk