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  • Writer's pictureGunnar Garfors

Oops, I Did It Again

My second trip to Estonia, 15 years after the first.

The last two years I have visited the 20 least-visited countries on the planet. And many others. Primarily to research my next book which is due in April 2019, but  during research I realized that no country deserves to be visited only once. So I decided to visit every country in the world, all 198, for a second time.

I finished on December 16, when I landed in Tallinn, Estonia after a little bit of a world-tour to ten countries on three continents in three weeks. No one else has visited every country twice, making this my tenth travel related world record. But that was never the motivation. To return and see the countries with new eyes has given me so much, it is hard to describe.

I met people with incredible stories, saw jawdropping sites and sceneries and found myself left with countless unforgettable experiences. What perhaps made the strongest impression was the amount of development from my first visits.

On average I have spent a week in each country, and I have stayed the night in all of them, even in the hotelless Vatican. There I slept on the ground, directly on the marble. One of the Swiss guards wondered why I was laying there, shivering. It was a spur of the moment idea, so I didn’t have enough clothes, only an airline blanket, so I was freezing like a camel in Antarctica. I returned the blanket to the airline, by the way. Thank you, SAS!

So, does visiting every country two times make me the most travelled person in the world? Not by any means. There are tribes and nomadic people that travel all their lives in parts of Africa and Asia. Then there are individuals like Heinz Stücke from Germany who has biked around the world since 1962, 13 years before I was born. And fellow Viking Thor C. Pedersen is undertaking a mad journey, determined to visit every country in the world without at all flying. He hasn’t even returned home in five years, but luckily his fiancee has visited him 17 times so far. But not returning home is difficult for other reasons too. Believe me, getting visas to some countries elsewhere than at home can be a real hassle, and is in some instances virtually impossible.

Dressed like a Norwegian, in Kyrgyzstan.

Let me also mention Harry Mitsidis who claims to have visited 1169 of 1281 “zones” as defined by Nomad Mania, a website run by himself. There are furthermore allegedly around 150 people who have visited the 193 UN countries, some of them travel full-time and can for sure be considered relatively well-travelled. Then again, if their last visit to any given country was 20 years or a generation ago, one can always argue that they have no idea what the country is currently like. And sadly, quite a few people who are obsessed with counting countries have only stayed in some (or many) of them for no longer than a few hours, perhaps even only in the airport. To get all the stamps in your passport doesn’t necessarily make you an experienced traveller, although you can pretty confidently claim to be good at logistics.

If you haven’t experienced and explored a destination and engaged with some of those who live there, I don’t really see the point of going there in the first place. Unfortunately too many people travel with and hang around only fellow travellers, usually westerners. The only locals they engage with are receptionists and waiters, perhaps sometimes a guide. They will still see the places they go to, of course, but have they really experienced them and learnt something?

So, if visiting “everywhere” twice hasn’t even made me the most travelled person in the world. What was then the point?

There is nothing quite like travel. That sensation you get when you see, smell, feel, taste or discover something new. Or when you come back to a place and realize that something has changed from your last visit. Until perhaps you come to the conclusion that nothing has changed as much as yourself.

To not to travel would be an insult to my mind. That doesn’t mean that everyone share my passion, or obsession. Some people find no greater pleasure than staying at home, and there is of course nothing wrong with them or their minds. There are also millions – no, billions – of people who would like to travel but who do not have the money, the passport or the blessing of living in a country which is happy to see its citizens boost creativity levels by going abroad, or by travelling outside of their own region. I am extremely lucky for having a strong passport, for living in a democracy with decent holidays and for having a job that pays well enough to allow me to spend most of what I make on jetfuel, hotels and bus tickets.

Every visit to a new place – whether countryside, city or country – makes me see something new, meet someone new and learn something new about the place. And about myself.

How do I count visiting a country twice? Can I for instance go back and forth between two countries to count them several times? Not in my opinion. I do first of all only count “real” visits, meaning that I must have done something in the country and have a story to tell in order to count a visit. That doesn’t necessarily mean staying the night (although definitely recommended for so many reasons), but at least leaving the airport or the train station. Most return visits have happened years after the first one, and none of my second visits have happened without at least one night in another country in between.

Why 198 countries? There are 193 UN countries in the world, 2 UN observers (Palestine and the Vatican) and 3 countries that have been acknowledged by at least 10 UN countries (Kosovo, Taiwan and Western Sahara), totalling 198. The newest country in the world is South Sudan which gained independence July 9, 2011. No complete visits to all 198 countries can therefore have happened before then. I finished my first visit to every country in May 2013.

Will I visit every country a third time?

Definitely not! Not without a sponsor.

I’m not that innocent.

Tuvalu is only 26 square kilometers in size.

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