Editor’s note: The global COVID-19 crisis has left each one of us deeply affected and we want to help. Burda Media India has organised a fundraising campaign to #FightBackWithTesting and donating RT-PCR test kits to the worst-affected areas in India, which will be secured from our testing partner Mylab Discovery Solutions. You can help these kits reach many more by donating for the cause or by adopting a kit. Click here to join the fight.
For Torbjørn “Thor” Pedersen, it’s been 2,395 days away from home ever since he left for an incessant journey across the world on October 10, 2013. He was just nine countries away from visiting every nation in the world without flying when the pandemic decided to cut in and mess with his otherwise flawless plan. Right now in Hong Kong, Pedersen, just like the rest of us, is stuck for an indefinite time and can’t wait to go back to ticking the last few countries off his bucket list. We talk to the avid Danish traveller and see how he’s coping with the lockdown. By Sushmita Srivastav
How did you end up being quarantined in Hong Kong?
I was down to my last nine countries. I was in Micronesia and looking forward to reaching Palau. The plan was to take a ship to Hong Kong, and four days later, take a ship to Palau. However, I arrived in Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year, and the ship was delayed for seven days. In that period, Palau closed its borders. Other countries followed soon, and I got stuck!
What were your first thoughts when the travel bans were announced across the world?
When the virus outbreak turned into a pandemic, there was nothing much I could do. I actually felt okay. I’m so used to dealing with problems which are just mine and which people do not usually relate to. With the pandemic, we all had similar issues, and in a strange way, I felt a sense of being a part of the global community. Also that it was out of my control and I could do nothing but wait.
And how’s the situation right now in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong may have handled the outbreak better than anywhere else on earth. There have been no new locally-transmitted cases for more than 14 days now. People are still wearing masks but life is returning to normal. The government is allowing larger groups to assemble, and most places are reopening. There have only been four deaths in Hong Kong, and there was never any lockdown. There were simply some restrictions and some enhanced protocols. It seems to have worked well.
In a rather normal world, where would you have been right now as per your plan?
I would have been done with my visit to the Pacific Island nations, and probably would have been on my way of reaching the final country in October. The final nine nations left are Palau, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka, and The Maldives.
How do you plan to continue your journey keeping in mind that the travel bans across the world might not get lifted any time soon?
Honestly, it’s a question I cannot answer just yet. Nobody knows what will happen next. If the Pacific goes back to normal then I could perhaps continue the original plan and join a ship from Hong Kong to Palau. If New Zealand opens up before Palau then it might be a better plan to go there first. It’s still a waiting game. I think most of May will be.
How did you manage to visit 194 countries in over six years without taking a single flight?
With great difficulty! However, I’d say that 80 per cent was fairly easy. Countries are connected and wherever there are people there is transportation. I have mainly travelled by bus, trains, taxis, and ferries. Often tickets can be booked online or directly in the mode of transport. Most visas are also straight forward. It has been the remaining 20 per cent that has caused a headache! Unbelievable hardcore bureaucracy and logistics have often made my life miserable. However, so far every situation was thankfully dealt with. As I say, this project is all about to ‘keep on keeping on’.
You haven’t been back home ever since you started your journey. What’s the first thing you would want to do once you finally reach home?
I will sleep for a month. Then when I wake up I’ll shave and get married if it’s not already the case. We plan to start a family soon. I plan to write a book and embark on a career as a motivational speaker. Naturally, I look forward to seeing my friends and family. And I look forward to building up daily routines in familiar surroundings.
Which three countries that you’ve travelled to, did you love the most?
There is no such list. I love them all and there isn’t a country I wouldn’t return too. Countries are just rocks, trees, lakes, hills, etc. What makes them special are people and all over the world people are just people.
Other than travelling, one thing that you are missing the most right now?
Any tips for people who’d love to travel the world like you?
Yes! Come and join Once Upon A Saga online! There’s plenty of good information on the website, the social media boasts stories and pictures from around the world and the adventure is far from over.