It doesn’t take long for an interview to realize that Danish Torbjorn Pedersen likes numbers. See the rules he imposed on himself when he began his plan to travel around the world ten years ago. He would visit 203 countries, of which 195 are recognized by the UN; he would spend at least seven days in each of them; and would spend, on average, US$20 (around R$100) per day during the trip, initially coming from sponsorship from a sustainable energy company in his country, Ross Energy.
“I pay attention to that kind of thing,” explains Pedersen. From the beginning to the end of his trip around the world, he noted, for example, that he made 351 trips by bus, 158 by train, 40 by cargo ship and 33 by boat — the main requirement of the project was never to travel by plane.
He also accounted for six years of delay in relation to the original deadline he had determined to complete the initiative. And two marriages, although both with the same woman, who spent the equivalent of a whole year with him around the world and with whom he now lives in the Danish capital.
His return to his home country took place at the end of July, through the port of Aarhus. When the Sheet interviewed him via video conference, a few days after his arrival, he was already in Copenhagen, but still getting his bearings. “I need to land, not just physically, but mentally. It’s a process.”
Pedersen says he started planning the trip a year before leaving. At the time, nothing in his life pointed to the journey. He had an established career in the logistics area. I had been in a serious relationship for a year. He had just bought a property — or rather, he and the bank, he adds, with a laugh.
At the same time, he had a desire for adventure since he was a child. His idols when he was little were characters like Indiana Jones, and he was fascinated by the explorers of centuries past: the first man to set foot on the Moon, to climb to the top of the highest mountain, to swim in the deepest ocean.
As he grew up, however, he realized that all the big milestones had already been achieved. And a hundred years ago, he adds. “I was born too late, all the great adventures had already been accomplished.”
Until his father sent him a report about people who had already been to every country in the world. “I didn’t know that was possible. I thought you had to be a millionaire, or spend your whole life traveling to achieve something like that”, says the Dane who, at the time, was by far the most traveled of his friends, having visited 50 countries.
The desire intensified when he discovered that, contrary to what he imagined, he could still be a pioneer in something. According to his research, no one had ever traveled around the world in one go without using planes as a means of transport.
Pedersen admits that today, at 44 years old, he finds it more difficult to explain why the unprecedented nature of the feat was so important to him. So, he says, the only thing he thought was that this would be his great adventure, an opportunity to meet incredible people and places and experience unforgettable stories. “I didn’t realize the level of difficulty and the risks it would entail,” he says.
And the dangers were not few. At least three of the boats in which Pedersen later traveled sank. He had guns pointed at his face on more than one occasion, and on one occasion, at a military checkpoint in the middle of a jungle, he was sure he would die. At another point, he had cerebral malaria, and was only saved because his wife, a doctor, was visiting and took him to a hospital when she recognized the symptoms of the disease. It took months for him to recover and continue his journey.
But none of the challenges he faced compare to those posed by Covid-19. His idea when he left Denmark, in October 2013, was to stay on the road for four years, maybe three and a half years. Logistical and financial difficulties, including the loss of sponsorship from Ross Energy for a certain period, ended up causing the deadline to be gradually extended.
Until, in 2020, he was on his way to Hong Kong, where he would change ships to visit the nine remaining countries on his list, when the island closed its borders after registering the first cases of the new coronavirus. Pedersen would remain there for the next 23 months.
The pandemic was also the event that most negatively impacted the Dane’s perspective during the journey. Without it, says the Dane, he probably would have returned home with more hope in humanity and its ability to work together.
“We went out there and bought all the toilet paper, and we did it two months before the rest of the world. But nobody learned. Nobody looked at what China, for example, was doing. Everybody was trying to reinvent the wheel.”
Having finally completed the trip, Pedersen states that the balance of his imaginary equation still remained positive for humanity. “I often say that dealing with people anywhere in the world is like playing a reverse lottery. It’s very difficult to lose,” he says, adding that sometimes it is precisely in countries seen as more dangerous that the inhabitants are even more receptive to visitors. “In Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Syria, they are even more excited to meet someone who wasn’t sent by an Army, who isn’t a member of the Red Cross or another NGO.”
Pedersen says that at first he did not intend to have his achievement immortalized in the record books due to the bureaucracy of the verification process. “A record can be broken, you know? But what I did was historic, and for me, history is more important than any record.” He says that recently, however, he was contacted by Guinness, which could facilitate registration.
Now, the Dane’s plans include writing a memoir in collaboration with a professional author, a project in which some publishers have already shown interest, and establishing himself as a motivational speaker. A documentary about his trip around the world, in production for four years, should be released on streaming platforms next year. And he still continues his activities as an ambassador for the Red Cross in his home country, helping to raise funds for the organization and encouraging others to become donors.
In addition to the challenges that Pedersen faced personally, the records of his project for posterity also promise to reflect the changes that the world went through over the decade that he was away from home. And they were immense, according to the Dane.
When he left, he says, discussions about gender or the environment practically did not exist. It was shortly after the start of his trip that some began to ask him if his project had ecological motivations. “It wasn’t the goal, but I’m very proud to have such a low carbon footprint,” he says.
At the same time, when he left his country, Europe had peace, while upon returning, he was faced with the Ukrainian War, the biggest conflict on his continent since World War II. Not to mention the pandemic.
Perhaps the most noticeable transformation in everyday life has been that arising from the advancement of technology. “When I entered Africa in 2015, I was intimidated every time I met someone wearing a uniform,” he recalls. When he left in 2017, the same people barely noticed him when he walked past them. “They were staring at their phones, lost in Candy Crush or YouTube.”