We Got Travel Advice From the First Person To Travel to Every Country Twice

By the time Gunnar Garfors was 37, he had already visited every country in the world, making him the youngest person to do so. After another five years, he had visited them all again!

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By the time Gunnar Garfors was 37, he had already visited every country in the world, making him the youngest person to do so. After another five years, he had visited them all again!

Garfors, a Norwegian traveler, author, journalist, and public speaker, achieved a total of 10 travel records, traversing war-torn countries like Eritrea and incredibly isolated nations like North Korea in the process. Being one of the most well-traveled people in the history of the world, he sat down with NowThis to talk about his favorite countries, travel tips, and more. The conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

NowThis:What travel records do you currently hold?

Gunnar Garfors:Zero in many ways, ‘cause I don't like to look at these as travel records, ‘cause they don't really have much to do with travel. They’re logistical records. …

There are 10 of them altogether, such as visiting 19 countries in 24 hours, [which] means that you will see absolutely nothing, or virtually nothing, in each country. So it’s really about logistics and not travel. I’ve also done 22 states in the U.S. in the same amount of time. I’ve done all the 19 counties in Norway in one day and five continents — five of the world continents — in a day, as well. First person to visit every countries in the worldtwice. Fastest to do it around the world with scheduled aircraft via the six inhabited continents, and also, the fastest to visit the six inhabited continents.

Which ones have I forgotten? I am, apparently, the first one to sleep in every country, including the Vatican, which has no hotel, so I had to sleep on the streets, which was interesting, I’d say. Apparently, I’m also the first person to visit every country while holding a full-time job — not the first person to do so, but I am the youngest to do so. I was 37 at the time, back in 2013.

NowThis:How did your passion for travel begin?

GG:I was three years old … in a small village in Norway with [my brother] and my mom. My dad was working on a cruise ship in the Pacific, and obviously, we were too young to be able to read, so he, he recorded these incredible tales on audio cassette tapes and sent them home via the mail. And every two weeks, we got one of those in the mailbox. We didn't know when they would appear, and so every day, we ran down to the mailbox 100 meters from our home to see if one of those envelopes were there. When they were, we ran back off, back home, to put the cassette into the recorder—the player, the cassette player—press play, and then listen to these fantastic tales from my dad. I promised myself, or I told my mom, that when I was as big as dad, I also wanted to travel to a lot of countries.

NowThis:When visiting all the countries for a second time 5 years later, did you observe any trends globally, such as changes in standards of living or access to technology?

GG:The main differences from visiting every country the first time to the second time probably has to deal with with technology, as well as quality of life, I’d say. Luckily, it has improved in many places — and not in all, unfortunately. But typically, you see that people are having better lives or more access to food, to housing, and so on. When it comes to technology, more people are online than the first time, which can be good in many ways.

It also makes it easier to travel. More people are actually traveling to faraway places than before. So to get information, updated information, on the visa situation; on how to travel; on travel routes, bus routes, etc.; on accommodation; which border crossing to choose from; and stuff like that, it's much easier for travelers. For people in various countries, increased usage of the internet, in particular, especially on mobile phones, makes it easier for, for people to, to exchange money, for instance, or to pay for services, and also to keep themselves updated on various issues — maybe to, to also run their businesses. So more people are online, especially in Africa.

NowThis:How do you fund your travels?

GG:I've been able to fund all this travels through having a full-time job for 20 plus years. Three years ago, I quit my job to do some travel, to write books, to do presentations, and fingers crossed, that will last and keep me going. But yeah, for the vast majority of the time, I've been having a normal job at Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation in Norway as a journalist and a project manager. So I'm just sort of prioritized to travel. I've saved up all the money I've been making. To be fair, I was lucky. Back in 2000, I got a cheap flat in Oslo, and that's increased a lot in value, so I’ve been able to live relatively cheaply. And besides that, I've just spent all my money on travel. So I’ve never had a car and don't have fancy clothing, not fancy art on my walls, stuff like that. So I guess it's all about priorities.

NowThis:I'm sure you get this question every day, but what are some of your favorite places that you've visited and why?

GG:This is a question I get every day pretty much, and it’s really impossible to answer. There are so many incredible places in the world. And I can still mention a few that I really, really enjoy. I will be biased, to start off with. Norway is incredible. You have the northern lights, you have the midnight sun in the summer, and the sun never sets. The scenery on the west coast and in northern Norway is truly, truly amazing. But okay, that's being biased. To mention one other country in Europe that's very undervalued, underestimated is Romania, especially the Transylvania region. It's gorgeous. It’s so beautiful there. In Bucharest, in the capital, you have lots of good restaurant options, and it's great for nightlife.

Outside of Europe, I’d probably say Central Asia. You have a lot of very undervalued countries — for instance, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan. The mountains here are spectacular — great for hiking. Not too many people travel here, so you are relatively alone, as seen from a tourist perspective. People are so forthcoming here; hospitality is through the roof, so you can't really go wrong in this region …

I'm particularly fond of New Zealand as a country, as well. It has stunning scenery. The northern island and southern island are quite different. The northern one is more volcanic with black beaches, whereas you have the white beaches down south. Lovely people, and a lot of wilderness to be explored …

And of course, I should mention North America, I suppose. Then you have Dominica—not the Dominican Republic, which is also incredible—but Dominica is a smaller island nation that most people confuse with the Dominican Republic or haven’t really even heard about. Very, very lush rainforests and only a small airport ... Definitely a place where you will come across lots of fantastic places.

There's no country in the world that I wouldn't visit. Again, they all have something really good with them. Even though there are some governments that I don't support, the people of every nation in the world, they're always forthcoming.

NowThis:I know youwrote a bookabout the 20 least-visited countries in the world. Out of those, which do you think people should visit more?

GG:There are quite a few gems, let’s say. This is a list that changes all the time, and currently after the pandemic, it’s changed a bit. North Korea was not among the 20 least-visited countries, but now it is, because it's the only country that is still closed due to the pandemic. Right now, I'm in São Tomé and Príncipe. It's an African island nation. It’s actually on the list of the least-visited countries. Still not a lot of tourists here. It is paradise, really. Infrastructure is not always up to speed. The roads are awful in some places of the country, but you have incredible beaches, you have very varied culture, you have good food, you have great music …

You also have some Pacific Island nations such as Kiribati, or Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, perhaps. Out of the 20 least-visited countries in the world, 11 are in Africa; three are in Asia; six are in Oceania, or in the Pacific, and so a lot of them are island nations. Some of them are, unfortunately, in war or in conflict, and I would never advise anyone to travel to a country at war. But most of the other ones are actually island nations. I would also recommend going to the Marshall Islands. It’s the country in the world with the most species of various fish. It’s over a thousand different species of fish swimming around there, so the diving, the snorkeling, it's absolutely phenomenal. The colors there, and the green water, very clear water—it's truly amazing, and certainly a place that a lot more people should travel to.

So my point about writing this book was to try to maybe inspire people not necessarily to travel to the least-visited countries in the world, but maybe to widen their horizon and not only travel to France, and Spain, to Brazil — all these famous destinations that so many of us travel to.

NowThis:What are your travel tips?

GG:The best travel tip I have is to, instead of just relying on influencers or other people that you follow on social media, it is to talk to the real experts wherever you go, either in advance or when you’re there. If you don’t talk to local people—and a lot of us, we don't. You know, we travel with other people from home, and we never really talk to the people who actually live where, where we’re visiting. And then, what’s happening then? Then, we end up being sort of observers. We take photos, we get likes on Instagram or TikTok, and we're happy with that, but we never actually participate. So we should be participants, not only observers. I think that’s really, really important when we travel. Otherwise, I mean, what's really the point? You only see the sites, but you don't get to know the culture, and you don't get to know the people.

NowThis:Are you currently working on any projects?

GG:Currently, I'm traveling throughout Africa. I'm working on researching a book about the countries around the equator. There are 13 countries around the equator, but also the countries around the Arctic Circle and the Antarctic Circle — eight countries around the Arctic Circle, only Antarctica on the Antarctic Circle. So I have a lot on my plate. You know, 22 countries plus Antarctica all together. So for the next six months, I'll be relatively busy traveling.