Chelsea Clinton tweeted about him, the worlds media are buzzing about him and Gunnar Garfors is certainly gaining recognition for his world breaking effort, of being the youngest person to travel to every country on the globe. We sat down with Gunnar, to find out what inspired him to take on such a feat, what he learned whilst on the journey and what incredible advice he has for you! ( Be warned, after reading this, you too may want to pack up and start traveling the globe).
1. Tell us a bit about your journey and what inspired you to travel to every country on the globe?
My dad worked as a medical doctor on Royal Viking Sea, a cruise ship sailing in the Pacific, when I was 3 years old and my brother Øystein We could obviously not read, but he sent us audio cassette tapes where he vividly told amazing stories from countries far away, such as China, Philippines, Canada and the US (Alaska).
Our mom told us that the ship was on the other side of the world, which was possible since the world was round. Not easy for a 3 year-old to understand that our dad then was upside down on a boat far, far away, but nevertheless. We obviously insisted on replying in the same manner – through audio cassettes – although our stories from the local playground in tiny village Naustdal on the scenic Norwegian West Coast were a little bit less exciting than his…
I remember the stories well, and they really inspired me at a very early age. I still didn’t start travel on my own until I was 17, when a mate and I went on Interrail and visited 13 European countries. I was then hooked. It still took me another few years until I first visited countries outside the Western World, and that was when I decided that I had to explore for myself to try to understand more about the world.
In 2004 I decided to visit all the 7 stan countries (ending with –stan), and finally in 2008 I set out to visit every country – I had then visited 85. This even turned into a bet with a mate, and he finally gave in on live national radio when he on a trolley came with 197 beers and a bottle of rum (there were 197 countries when we did the bet – he still threw in a bottle of booze for South Sudan, the newest country).
To travel like this has meant 100% dedication, never giving up and forsaking friends and family some of the time. They have still been very supportive all along.
And I would never want to live without all the stories, the sight, the smells, the tastes and just soaking up thousands of different atmospheres. Who needs or wants a fancy red car, a posh penthouse flat or designer clothes when the option is memories like these? Not to travel would be an insult to my intellect.
2. Were you able to work whilst traveling? If so, how did you juggle the work/ life balance?
Yes, I almost always carry my laptop in order to be able to follow up work and engage in matters whenever needed. I do however work full-time in Oslo, so I do most of my work from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation office.
3. What is the scariest thing you have encountered on your travels?
I have been incredibly lucky. Then again, experience might have something to do with it. I almost ended up in a fight with a man carrying a long knife in Somalia, but a local friend I had just met stood up for me and calmed him down. The furious man and I ended driving out of the country together, I was in the passenger seat, he was just behind me – still with his big knife in his belt.
I kept leaning forward the entire journey, fearing to be literally backstabbed any moment. I have also been deported by the police in Niger, had food poisoning from hell in India and had to use every little bit of negotiation skills that I have ever picked up to talk my way into areas where I was clearly not wanted – or out again.
4. What has humbled you the most whilst on your travels?
To exit the bubble that we live in here in the western world, to see how other people in other cultures live and perceive the world and to realize that many of them don’t even know anything about how we live inside that bubble (or that it even exists). That was liberating and humbling. And of course, they see themselves equally much as the center of the universe as many of the people in that western bubble do.
Understanding that we are all very similar, regardless of background, should also make even the cockiest of persons a little humbler and possible even ponder for a second over his/her own fortunate life.
It is also very interesting to see that there are a lot more smiles in poor countries in Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean than I see in western countries with a hell of a lot more wealth and security. Maybe all your belongings don’t make you happy after all…
5. Now that you have set numerous records, including being the youngest person to travel to every country in the world, what’s up next for you?
I am now focusing on promoting my book “198: How I Ran Out of Countries (http://www.garfors.com/2015/07/english-version-of-198-finally-on-sale.html) and I will travel to the US for a little bit of a book trip, and who knows, I might try to challenge yet another world record. These records are anyhow just stunts, and they do not reflect on the way I prefer to travel. You may see a lot from windows during a vist to 19 countries in 24 hours, but there aren’t many experiences to be had.
I am also fully engaged in fighting against pollution in the beautiful and pristine fjord next to where I grew up. A mining company wants to dump 300 tons of mining waste and chemicals in the fjord, something which should be unthinkable in any modern country, but the politicians have somehow bought into the idea.
Luckily, there is a local election coming up on September 14, and we are now doing what we can to market the political parties that are against the fjord disposal – so that this can be stopped once and for all. To do that we have started a crowd funding campaign, please check it out on SaveOurFjord.org.
6. What advice can you offer to those out there that want to travel, yet believe they don’t have the money or time?
They do have the money, it will just take some planning. With low-cost airlines all over Europe virtually anyone can visit another country by booking tickets way ahead. And there are of course also trains, ferries and buses. And hitchhiking and car sharing can also work. Then is possible to stay for free on someone’s sofa using sites such as couchsurfing or hospitalityclub, you will then not only get a free bed, but a free guide and maybe a great friend too.
For food and drinks, buy it in shops or markets, it is usually much cheaper than in restaurants. Except if you decide to come to Norway – then carry tinned food from home, it is expensive here. You can also stay in a tent in many countries. And leave your suitcase at home. It is more flexible, and you won’t have to pay for checked luggage. Just pack sensibly. I have travelled with hand luggage only for five weeks. And yes, I then bring washing powder too.