Frequently Asked Questions
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Hey there! I do not mind answering questions. After all the Saga is quite complex and there is much to learn from it. Here is a compilation of some of the most reoccurring questions, which have shown up again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again... ;)
MOST DANGEROUS THING YOU'VE DONE
Probably traffic. But I guess that's not the answer you want ;)
I once found myself in a very dodgy part of Panama City where the residents looked at me with eyes that were screaming: "I can't believe he is here?!" I stayed very cautious and made my way out again. Later on I learned that it was the most dangerous part of the city.
Also I crossed from Venezuela to Trinidad in a small open boat with two strangers and no safety equipment. In hindsight that might not have been super smart. But it went well.
Finally, I was traveling in a taxi on a dirt road in the jungle near the Cameroun/Congo border at 03:00am. Three men in military uniforms stopped the car to question us. They were very drunk, armed and hostile. I thought that was it. There were no villages nearby and no people. It was a severely dangerous situation. After about 45 minutes in a highly hostile environment they suddenly let both the driver and I go without any reason. We left as fast as possible!!
There was also this one containership which I was onboard when we hit a bad storm! I thought we were in serious trouble!! I couldn't stay in bed without falling out. It was hard to eat. It was impossible to take a shower. The ship was really moving in the waves. I remember being on the bridge with the officers looking at the waves crashing in over the containers!! I quietly asked: "is this normal?" They all laughed at me and someone said: "son, this is NOTHING!" After that I knew they were confident and then I could relax. The storm lasted 4 days.
WHAT IS A COUNTRY? / HOW MANY COUNTRIES ARE YOU GOING TO?
Good questions! A country is a funny size and many of them can be debated. The base for Once Upon a Saga were the countries recognized by UN and we built on top of that. Countries such as Taiwan or Kosovo are not listed as countries within the UN. The complete list is here (203 countries).
HOW MANY COUNTRIES ARE THERE IN THE WORLD?
Another good questions! I guess there are two answers: 1) nobody knows, and 2) a lot of people know but they can't agree. The world has 195 sovereign states according to the United Nations. There are 201 states with at least partial recognition. There are between 204-207 self declared countries (de facto sovereign states). There are 206 Olympic nations. There are 211 FIFA countries eligible for the World Cup. There are 249 country codes in the ISO standard list. Yeah - so how many countries are there in the world? The Saga's list is the 193 United Nations Member States, the two non-member states (Holy See and Palestine), Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Faroe Islands, Greenland, Western Sahara, Kosovo and Taiwan.
HOW DO YOU INTEND TO GET INSIDE SAUDI ARABIA? (BUSINESS VISA ONLY)
I have good relations with several international companies and often do motivational speaking. As such I believe I will receive an invitation. If not then I need to think of something else - but I'll find a way. Some countries change their regulations from day to day and it's generally not worthwhile to plan to far ahead for that reason. So in some cases I have a faint idea but nothing specific. I also do not want to know everything in advance as I want this to be an adventure :) Edit: I went in August 2018 and here is how (watch video).
WHAT ABOUT NORTH KOREA (DPRK)?
Well as expected the hype did not live up to reality. DPRK is a far more normal country than what we are lead to believe. However to get a better understanding of what I mean I suggest you look into the blog I wrote after my visit. What I find most interesting is how many people have an opinion about e.g. DPRK without having been there. This seems to be the case for many countries. I went to DPRK with Koryo Tours which I highly recommend.
COVID-19 PANDEMIC: WHY DID YOU NOT LEAVE HONG KONG FOR NEARLY TWO YEARS?
The Saga is brutally complicated as it is. With the three cardinal rules (no flight, 24hrs/country, no return home) I have crippled myself beyond my wildest imagination. When the pandemic was announced, an already nearly impossible project became even harder! I arrived to Hong Kong on January 28th 2020 before the pandemic was announced but after the news had begun spreading regarding a virus outbreak in Wuhan, China. I arrived in Hong Kong for transit to connect with another ship to Palau. Soon after my arrival to Hong Kong, Palau took the precautions of closing their borders towards Greater China (China, Hong Kong and Macau) and I could no longer reach Palau from Hong Kong. We looked into getting me to Taiwan so that I could reach Palau from there. Unfortunately Taiwan also closed its borders. On February 11th 2020 the virus was named COVID-19. We began working on getting me to South Korea to connect from there. Unfortunately the virus started spreading rapidly in Korea before this plan could be executed. Then we looked at getting me to Singapore but the same happened. At this point the idea was to get me on a ship to New Zealand and as far from the virus outbreak as possible. But then on March 11th 2020 it was declared a global pandemic and I knew it would be hopeless to leave Hong Kong for a while. Many thought that the new virus might burn out as the summer came like had been the case for SARS nearly two decades earlier. As time passed COVID-19 continued to spread across the world and eventually it mutated again and again. It was not possible for me to travel into Mainland China and it was furthermore doubtful how helpful it would have been to do so. All this time strict zero tolerance strategies where kept across Greater China as well as several other countries. The final nine countries of the Saga were all island nations and the ones within the Pacific kept their borders closed. Shipping Companies struggled severely with crew change and many seafarers found themselves stuck at sea. There were reports on nightmarish stories relating to sailboats which were unable to approach land. It was definitely bleak times for flightless travel. I made the best of things, challenged myself physically, made more and more friends and connections, began to involve my friends in all sorts of hiking and step-challenges, embarked on a collaboration with Hong Kong Tourism Board, explored Hong Kong and much more. Hong Kong Immigration was kind to offer several extensions but after eleven months I had to get a job to stay and avoid the risk of getting deported. With the job came an employment visa, a HK ID, a HK drivers license and a fairly established life. I even began donating blood with the Hong Kong Red Cross. Towards mid 2021 Palau began opening its borders to tourisms and in June 2021 I began negotiating with Palau's Government what the terms should be for arrival on a ship. At the time it was thought that not everyone on the ship would be vaccinated. A dialog with Pacific International Lines (PIL) also began in regards to carrying me as a passenger on one of their vessels. There were all sorts of complications which needed solving but eventually on January 5th 2022 I was able to embark on the good ship 'Kota Ratna' and reached Palau fifteen days later. Nearly two years after the pre-pandemical plan.
ARE YOU A MILLIONAIRE? HOW CAN YOU PAY? HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
The project budget of $20/day covers transport, meals, accommodation and visas. It is meant as an average over the entire journey. In some countries I'm above while in other countries I'm below. My current overall average is slightly above but so far I have covered most of the expensive countries. I see it coming down and believe that the budget will stick (more or less). The financial story of the Saga over the past nine years has grown long. Here we go: It was originally sponsored by Ross Offshore until April 2016. Since then it became self funded, I depleted my personal funds, sold some possessions and took out two loans. That lead to a crowdfunding campaign which ended in 2017 and generated enough to keep the Saga going for a while. Today the Saga is partially funded by me, partially from your generous contributions and in part by Ross Energy and GEOOP who came back onboard in October 2019. If you think I'm doing a good job then you can support the Saga financially through the Patreon Account, PayPal or MobilePay (#12711) Thank you :)
CONFLICT ZONES? DANGEROUS COUNTRIES? DANGER?
It all went fine. I have been to every country in the world with a conflict zone or war. It turned out that people were just people there too. The cameras tend to point in the direction of the most dramatic aspects while life behind the cameras is often not all that abnormal. I have often been treated with the utmost respect and love in the some of the most conflicted countries. Before entering I had to do more research and pull on my connections before I could decide what would have provided me with the best experience.
That an entire country is "on fire" is rare and there are generally safe zones in every country. I used to serve as a UN peacekeeper while I was young and I know a thing or two. Also I'm traveling as Goodwill Ambassador for the Danish Red Cross which has been a benefit in some situations. Common sense is the best method of action. Generally I don't believe in dangerous countries - only dangerous people ;)
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO TRAVEL ONBOARD A CONTAINERSHIP?
There are some companies that offer passenger service onboard their container carriers. I haven't used them but I have heard it's expensive. So far I've traveled onboard 34 container ships, 33 of them chose not to charge me due to the nature of the project and the last 1 only asked for $60 + $15/day (insurance and meals).
HOW CAN I TRAVEL ON A CONTAINERSHIP?
Container carriers have no incentive for bringing a passenger on board unless they've made a business out of it. The days when you could come on board and work for passage are long gone. These days you need all sorts of permits, training, insurance and whatnot to work on a container ship. A seaman's book is also required to work on board.
You are a liability to the ship and there is no reason why they should bring you on board. Most ports are secured to a level, where you cannot access them. And even if you could the Captain would turn you away. You need to go through the shipping company, the owners or the operators. And they are likely to never reply to emails and ignore you completely.
Life on board the ships come down to a few things: work, eat, sleep, recreation. A passenger is an interference to the ship's routine. It's REALLY hard to get on board in most cases. However it isn't impossible. I have been invited on board many ships but you should see that as a form of sponsorship due to the nature of Once Upon A Saga. Try to give them some incentive and never give up.
The four largest companies in the world are: Maersk Group, MSC, COSCO and CMA-CGM
Niall Doherty wrote this excellent piece on container ship travel and there’s also this article which offers some links.
Shipping Companies which have assisted the Saga. Thank you! :)
WHAT CONSTITUTES A VISIT? HOW LONG ARE YOU IN EACH COUNTRY?
With 203 countries on my list I try to average 7 days/country which amounts to about 4 years away from home. If I average 1 month/country then it would take more than 16 years. The project minimum is 24 hours for each country. At this point I have averaged 12 days in each country which would mean almost 7 years in total to complete the project.
DO YOU GO TO MANY BIG CITIES?
Often I visit the Red Cross headquarters which mostly is found within the capital city. Also trains and buses will often take you to the largest cities and that's also where the embassies are found - so that's a yes although I prefer a more quiet environment, nature, and rural areas :)
EBOLA? EBOLA? EBOLA?
This used to be a common question back in 2014/2015. Fortunately today the Ebola outbreak of the three affected West African countries is over. I did extensive research and based it on facts from WHO, CDC and IFRC before I entered the three countries. I was far more likely to be struck by lightning than to be infected. Being infected is however a serious matter but I really couldn't fathom that it would happen. I was slightly less reluctant to shake hands and more prone to using soap while traveling in the region. If you know what to look for then you're well protected.
HOW DID YOU GET SPONSORED?
All large organizations or movements have websites that describe how to contact them and that would be your best start. The Red Cross does not sponsor this project but is a partner and validates it. Ross Energy, Kameli, Salomon, DB Schenker Denmark and Red Sand Solutions are likewise all partners of Once Upon A Saga and contribute in various ways. Ross were the first to come onboard as the financial sponsor right from the beginning in 2013. Unfortunately they had to discontinue the financial support in April 2016 after a long run of low oil prices. However since October 2019 Ross Energy are officially back on board with a financial sponsorship which partially covers the costs of this project.
LANGUAGE BARRIERS? HOW MANY LANGUAGES DO YOU SPEAK?
I speak Danish, English and German at a sufficient level. I know a lot of Spanish and French and some Arabic. Using your arms and legs should also be considered a language :)
WHAT MADE YOU DO IT? HOW DID YOU MAKE THE DECISION?
It was an innocent email from my father with a link to a news article which put the idea in my head. I don't think I ever wanted to travel to every country in the world but I've always enjoyed traveling. When I learned that nobody in history had ever visited every country in the world completely without flying I was intrigued! It was a challenge I had to accept. In any case I never imagined it would be possible to visit every country without being a millionaire or having to spend my entire life doing it. When I realized that it could be done I only had to make up my mind and get out the door :)
WHY NO AIRPLANES? ARE YOU AFRAID OF FLYING?
No one in history has ever gone to every country in the world completely without flying. So this is an attempt to push that barrier and inspire people in the process. I think it is very important to push the barriers of the undone as it opens up for new things, new ideas and a different way of looking at life.
Also I do not lose time in airports and security checks. It's cheaper too. Generally I meet far more people in buses and trains and crossing land borders gives me the opportunity to see more of the countries and discover where countries meet.
Finally it's more adventurous :)
DIDN'T GRAHAM HUGHES ALREADY VISIT EVERY COUNTRY WITHOUT FLYING?
Graham had a great project and completed it within his own spirit. I met him long ago and he is an amazing guy. Graham did not need to bother himself with a number of visas as he could simply count a country by “setting foot on dry land”. That is fair enough. Those were his rules and a second in a country is also a visit in terms of achievement.
Throughout Graham’s odyssey he permitted himself to fly (a lot) as long as he returned to the same place where he left off. As such he flew for holidays, for visas and for personal reasons. This is where it becomes problematic to claim that he visited every country without flying. While it’s true that he crossed the borders without flying he certainly flew and it became a part of his accomplishment. One can wonder if he could have completed without the flying? But we need not wonder. Because he flew. While I respect Graham Hughes as an outstanding adventurer I cannot back his claim of being the first person to visit every country without flying. A flightless journey to every country must be exactly that.
Another element in flying back home several times touches upon whether it was one journey or several? Another way to state what I mean is to say that you wouldn’t break a marathon into pieces by running five km today, three tomorrow, six the next day and so on.
Within Once Upon a Saga it has been decided that the following rules must be observed: 1) minimum 24 hours in each country. 2) absolutely no flights. 3) no return to my home country until the end.
BEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD?
I can't say because every country is potentially my favorite. It depends on favorite what? Favorite for low prices, for beaches, for mountains, for museums, for relaxing, for going out etc... Generally I can say that the countries that made the biggest impression on me have been countries where I stayed for a long time or where I got surprised because I expected something else. That list is kind of long too :) I'd argue that every country in the world is the best country in the world. It is to someone. Whenever you visit a country you should keep in mind that you are a guest and for that reason it is your responsibility to look for the good and and not the bad. There is no such thing as a perfect country but whichever country I'm in is always the best.
WHAT WILL YOU DO WHEN YOU FINALLY GO HOME?
I will sleep for one month!! When I wake up I will have a shower and shave. Now that I'm married to my wonderful ultra-wifey we hope to start a family and build a life together. Obviously I will see all my friends and family as soon as possible...and all the children they have had while I've been away. I plan to write at least one book and pursue a life as a motivational speaker. We're already shooting one documentary and another is in the pipeline. Regarding social media I hope to keep them alive and grow them.
WHICH COUNTRIES WOULD YOU LIKE TO REVISIT?
Essentially there isn’t a country I wouldn’t like to revisit. Especially if I could go back as a tourist and be free in terms of finance and time.
Three countries which I will definitely revisit in the future are: USA (Alaska), Ecuador (Galapagos) and Chile (Easter Island).
I WANT TO TRAVEL TO EVERY COUNTRY - how do I start?
The quest of reaching every country is incredibly ambitious no matter how you do it. An estimated 300 people or less have accomplished it. They all had to fly at some point and all have nightmarish stories of bureaucracy or “bureaucrazy” as I like to call it. Even on a weak passport you can reach more countries visa free than most people will ever see. And on a strong passport most countries are effortless. However there are a select few impossibly difficult countries varying on your nationality. And on top of that the entire effort is time consuming and relatively costly. So can you do it? I think yes! It’s getting easier everyday due to a global relaxation of visa requirements, blogs sharing travel hacks and widely available transportation. You can do many things to save money such as stay with families, sleep in a hammock, spend your nights in cheap dorm rooms etc. Public transportation is often very affordable. You can possibly crowdfund your budget. I foresee that far more people will reach every country within my lifetime. However it will require flying. Since I sat out in 2013 I have seen flightless travel becoming increasingly more difficult. Some countries make it easier to arrive by air and harder to cross land borders. Ferries are many places being replaced by airplanes. And it is getting increasingly harder to venture on board container ships. Your personal willpower and your own choices on what you are willing to sacrifice will eventually decide whether you reach every country or not. Nothing is impossible. I suggest you start by reaching 100 and if you like it and want more...then go for it. Pick 80 countries you want to visit and 20 you have little interest in. Good luck.
ANY ADVICE? / I WANT TO TRAVEL THE WORLD?
The best advice I can give you is to stick to the plan and make it happen. So many people find excuses. Once you are out there you should stay positive, open and smile a lot. I guarantee you that it will change your world! Try local food, learn bits and pieces of the local language and use it every chance you get.
Trust people but trust your intuition too. The world is not an entirely safe place although I stand by that the vast majority of everyone you will ever meet are goodhearted well meaning people. People are generally more into family, sports, food, the weather, taking selfies, updating Facebook and stuff like that. Much more than anything else.
If you have a smartphone then I suggest you download these apps:
- Xe currency
- Google translate
- Maps.me or similar
- A good VPN
WHEN DID THE PROJECT START?
I left the Kingdom of Denmark in the high north of Europe on October 10th 2013 at 10:10am. So in other words: 10/10 10:10 (2013).
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO PLAN?
It took around ten months from the idea was born until I left home. The initial months were by no means intense planning but as the months progressed more and more needed to fall into place: partners, packing, clothing, the route, budget, social media, webdesign, project name, media strategy, overall strategy and tactics.
HOW DO YOU PICK THE NEXT COUNTRY?
The overall order of which I intend to visit all the worlds countries was already laid out before I left home in 2013. You can see it in the 'Journey' section. In a project where flying is not permitted you do not have the luxury of jumping around sporadically. By nature you need to visit a neighboring country to the one you are inside. I found that it made sense to visit west and central Europe to begin with and then went over the North Atlantic to North America. It seemed apparent that the Pacific Ocean had to be towards the end as I would increase my chances of getting on board vessels once the project enjoyed maximum attention and once I had accomplished a lot. Also North America is not a great leap in culture and standards of living compared to most of Europe. South America follows naturally beneath North America and I chose to circle South America and finish with Venezuela in order to reach the Caribbean from there. Then I had the needed experience and entered Africa in Morocco with intentions of visiting all 54 countries in an anti clockwise direction. The reason for the direction came as a result of the Moroccan / Algerian border being closed for decades. Leaving Africa brought the logistics back to Europe where I could work on finishing the continent before heading to the Middle East, Caucasus, the seven "stans" and move across Asia until the Pacific. I decided to move down though the Pacific to New Zealand and Australia at which point the remaining countries would be on route as I return to Denmark. As such the Maldives are intended to be the last country before I return home.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH CORRUPTION AND BRIBES?
I have at no point payed out any bribes throughout this project. One reason is that I travel as a Goodwill Ambassador of the Danish Red Cross and I do not wish to create an image that the Red Cross pays bribes. The Red Cross should have free movability world wide. On a more personal note I find that corruption is the cancer of a country and if I give in to bribes then I am a part of the problem. Often I find paying out bribes can be avoided if you express that you have plenty of time on your hands. Another tactic has been to make officials laugh or simply play stupid and pretend I have no idea that they want money.
DO YOU THINK A WOMAN COULD VISIT EVERY COUNTRY WITHOUT FLYING?
I have lived long enough to know that there is nothing a woman cannot do. Having said that I sincerely doubt how many people across the planet would be able to reach every single country in a single unbroken journey completely without flying. It is incredibly demanding from a logistical and bureaucratic point of view. Several women have reached every country in the world but by means of flying. And there is very little comparison between reaching every country by means of flight and without. There are advantages and disadvantages for female travelers as well as there are for male travelers. When you look at advantages and disadvantages then I think it evens out quite nicely. It certainly should not be the case that a woman fails to attempt a journey to every country without flying on the account of her gender.
ARE YOU FAMOUS?
It’s a question I’ve heard a lot in recent years. But no, I’m certainly not famous. I guess that if you need to ask then the answer is implied within the question ;) I’m likely what you’d call “well known within certain circles”. Being famous is something else altogether. Famous people are usually musicians, actors, sports stars, top politicians, super models, tv personalities etc. Although I'm often interviewed, and my face has been seen by many millions, I’m hardly ever recognized on the street. The sheer volume of media content drowns out whichever presence I’ve had. My social media is also fairly humble in the big perspective.
WILL YOU FLY HOME FROM THE LAST COUNTRY?
In recent years I have found that if I flew home then it would create semantic problems for me. I would not be able to say that I went TO every country in the world without flying as I never went TO Denmark. I went FROM Denmark without flying. Also I would simply like to stay true to the nature of the project and return home over sea and land, thus closing the circle.
You can support the Saga if you think I'm doing a good job: