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A man says he visited every country in the world — without stepping foot on a plane

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

How long do you figure it would take to visit each and every country in the world without ever traveling by airplane? Thor Pedersen thought he could do it in four years. Last week, he finally got home to Denmark after almost 10 years on the road. Thor Pedersen joins us now from Copenhagen. Welcome home. Thanks for being with us.

THOR PEDERSEN: Thank you very, very much.

SIMON: So you visited more than 200 countries. What's the point of doing that without ever once resorting to an airplane?

PEDERSEN: (Laughter) It's a very good question. The inspiration came from finding out that it had never been done before. And I pretty much feel like I grew up in a world where everything had been done - North Pole, South Pole, the highest mountains, the deepest seas. And it was just there for the taking.

SIMON: What an extraordinary experience. What are some of the memories you treasure the most?

PEDERSEN: Oh, there is so much. One of them is actually from the United States of America. I was lucky enough to be at Cape Canaveral and see a rocket get sent into space, something which is becoming more and more common, I guess. But it was the first time I saw anything leave this planet. And I was in a small village in Solomon Islands many years later, and they had no running water, no electricity. And I had a laptop, and they asked if I had any movies. So I put a movie on for them, and I had about 80 people sitting around my laptop, which was quite extraordinary experience.

SIMON: So you just didn't go to the obvious tourist spots. I'm told, for example, you were also in Syria.

PEDERSEN: Syria is a remarkable country in so many ways. Countries like ours, Denmark and the U.S. and the whole Western world, we should be grateful for the upcoming of civilization in that part of the world. I travel as a goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross. I was lucky enough to team up with the Red Crescent there and learn a little bit about the amazing humanitarian work they're carrying out.

SIMON: What about the pandemic? That must have hobbled your travel.

PEDERSEN: Absolutely, it did. I was on a ship heading towards Hong Kong, which was only meant to be four days in Hong Kong. And then, another ship would take me to Palau, which was my next country on the list. And I reached Hong Kong, and they were talking about a virus outbreak far from where I was, in Wuhan. And the world started to come apart. Before I knew it, Palau closed its border. Neighboring countries closed their borders. And there wasn't much I could do. I ended up being in Hong Kong for two years.

SIMON: And you got married in the middle of this 10-year trek?

PEDERSEN: (Laughter) Yeah. Yeah, I got married twice. So when I was in Hong Kong, my...

SIMON: What do you mean you got married twice?

PEDERSEN: (Laughter) When I was in Hong Kong, my lovely fiancee couldn't come and visit me because Hong Kong was as closed as it was. And we worked out that if I could become a resident in Hong Kong and if we were married, then she could come and join me. But how do you get married when she's in Denmark and I'm in Hong Kong? And it just so happens to be that in Utah, there's an agency, and they wed people online. So we gave that a go. And it was enough to pass the paperwork in Hong Kong. But it's not recognized in Denmark, though. So we went for a second wedding when she came to visit me in Vanuatu several years later, and we're still waiting for the government in Vanuatu to process that paperwork.

SIMON: Were you ever lonely?

PEDERSEN: Yeah, a lot. It's the kind of loneliness that people might feel if they go to a party and the room is full of people and for some reason, they still feel separated from the group. I think it's the kind of loneliness that derives from being misunderstood. I felt misunderstood for a lot of it and also what I was trying to accomplish with the project in general.

SIMON: Which was what?

PEDERSEN: Well, I did want to show people that the world is a lot better than what we give it credit for, that when you deal with people, it's pretty much a reversed kind of lottery. It's very hard to lose. And then, I also wanted to inspire people and motivate people to chase their goals in life, whatever they may be. They probably shouldn't try to go to every country without flying, but smaller things, you know, like learning to play an instrument or a new language or lose weight, whatever people aim for.

SIMON: Thor Pedersen, who just visited every country in the world without resorting to an airplane, thanks so much for being with us.

PEDERSEN: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.