The first thing you’ll notice about Torbjørn Pedersen is his striking cheerfulness.

A single visit to Once Upon A Saga, the blog maintained by Torbjørn (or Thor, as he goes by, since he readily admits that Torbjørn is a “terrible traveler’s name”), and you’ll be bombarded by his positivity. The site is filled with exclamation point-ridden posts about meeting new friends, genial descriptions of discoveries and explorations throughout various countries, and ever-optimistic updates on the status of his mission — to visit every country in the world without the use of air travel.

To complete such a journey will take years and a lot of persistence — he began in 2013, and still has about 70 countries to go. With his enthusiastic demeanor, he is well-equipped.

But even Thor admits that when he started tackling the countries of Africa, he began with ignorance, not knowing much about each one individually.

What he discovered was a continent of full of surprises — 54 diverse, modern, friendly nations that each taught him something new.

Along the pristine beaches of Sierra Leone, he met people that, despite enduring a violent past, greet visitors with a welcoming kindness. An hour into his explorations around the capital city of Freetown, a Red Cross driver informed him of a wedding happening nearby — before he knew it, he was immersed in the celebration, dancing among new friends in brightly colored dresses before wishing farewell to the happy couple as they drove to a nearby mosque for the ceremony.

Amid the colonial architecture of Senegal, he was introduced to dreadlocked members of the Baye Fall movement, a Rastafarian development born out of Islam. They smiled and strummed their guitars, inviting him to join them as they glided freely across the dance floor.

In the hot springs of Nigeria, he discovered a wide variety of people, and an even broader diversity of butterfly species that fluttered over the turquoise waters. With 200 million people speaking over 500 different languages, he was shocked to discover that everyone could match his upbeat sense of humor.

In the shadow of Mount Cameroon, he was invited to play football with the locals before feasting on grilled fish and cassava while watching elephants roam across the plains.

He trekked across the highlands of Lesotho, the only nation in the world entirely above 1,000 meters in elevation, interacting with the ultra-polite residents and exploring rural countrysides where galloping on horseback is a more popular form of travel than automobile.

He swam alongside sea turtles in São Tomé and Principe and marveled at the pyramids of Sudan. He toured weavers’ workshops in a Tunisian medina and celebrated the end of Ramadan by enjoying a home-cooked meal with a Libyan family.

In every African country he visited, Thor was blown away not only by the beauty of the distinct natural landscapes, but by the hospitality of the locals, people who demonstrated compassion and reaffirmed his belief in the power of positivity. People who loved life as much as he did, and reminded him that dancing is often mandatory.

As he concluded his saga in Africa and set off for Spain, he thought of the quote that greets each new visitor to his blog:

“A stranger is a friend you’ve never met before.”

Thor is from Denmark. Since October 2013, he has been on a nearly impossible mission to visit every single country in the world in a single unbroken journey without the use of flight. So far, he has traveled 179,000 kilometers and reached 131 countries. He expects to finish in 2019.

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Devon Shuman
Devon Shuman is a creator, a storyteller, and a traveler from Boston, Massachusetts. He caught the travel bug at a young age when his family would take camping trips in southern Maine and New York’s Adirondack region. Since then, his adventures have taken him all across the globe. His favorite journeys include island hopping in the Galápagos, thru-hiking Vermont’s Long Trail, and summiting Mount Kilimanjaro. He currently works as an editorial consultant for Passion Passport, helping explorers from around the world tell their stories.