Imagine dedicating seven years of your life to achieve a single goal. To sacrifice everything you have: your relationships, your career, your comfort zone. To be on the edge of success, almost touching your grail. Now imagine being forced to give it all up. This is the story of Thor Pederson’s journey around the world.
After visiting a fourth of the countries in the world, the Danish traveler Thor Pedersen stumbled upon an article indicating a record was still up to grab: Nobody ever visited all countries without flying. George Hughes claimed to have achieved this record, but he came home between his travels, creating a blur line as if he accomplished it in one or multiple trips. In search of new challenges, it seemed to be a great opportunity for Thor, and he started planning thoroughly his journey. Ten months of itineraries and documentation later, he left Denmark in 2013 to begin his one-of-a-kind adventure, travelling by trains, buses, locals’ cars, and boats. His rules were set in his mind: he must stay a minimum of 24 hours in each country, use only ground transportation and most importantly, never come back home until the journey is done. Of course, he knew this was going to be a demanding trip because of cultural clashes, loneliness, or bureaucracy. Over the years, he managed to overcome extreme racism, relatives’ death, and cerebral malaria and each time he could have given up. However, the explorer is not a quitter and has the focus needed to go on with such a project. He has been on the road for 3,000 days and has stepped foot in 194 countries so far. Still, he was far from knowing a new barrier would dress up on his road and prevent him to go farther: the infamous coronavirus.
Coronavirus has important repercussions on the travel industry all around the globe as most countries have restraint access to tourists. This pandemic did not spare Thor’s journey. His global itinerary indicated his world tour would end with Asia then Oceania. 2020 started when he was at the end of his stay in Asia. However, when things got complicated and the virus was spreading all around the continent, he found himself stuck in Hong Kong. With all borders closed and the world in lockdown, he had no choice but to delay his departure from the small country and to wait until it gets better. The rest is history: We all know the situation did not really improve and we all had to postpone our projects accordingly. It might have triggered you not to visit your family this summer, but at least you were safe and sound in the comfort of your home, and I believe it makes the pill easier to swallow. These uncertain times are hard for any adventures-driven souls who always want to hit the road and get moving. This time was different, and no one could choose where to go next: Either you stayed where you were, or you returned home. Thor knew better than anyone that if he were going back home, he would break his rule not to go back until the project was completed. That means the thought of taking a flight back to Denmark to wait for that world-awaited “better” was not conceivable. More than 300 days in Hong Kong later, he is still choosing to stay rather than throwing the towel. Though it would surely end his anxiety and his constant internal struggle, he would have to kiss goodbye to his dream of becoming the first man visiting all countries without flying and that is not an option for now.
Nine to go. He has only nine countries left blank on his map: Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, and six Pacific Island countries. None of these have opened borders yet and while Thor would prefer to go to Sri Lanka, New Zealand, or Australia for logistics reasons, he doubts these isolated locations would be amongst the firsts to open to the world. He nonetheless stays positive that one of the remaining nations would welcome foreigners again soon and that he will find a boat to finally sail out of his adopted country by default. Hong Kong immigration officers urge him to find another host country by December 23rd. Until now, he did not have too many difficulties to renew his tourist visa, but bureaucracy has now given him an ultimatum, judging that more than 300 days is enough for a tourist to see every hidden gems of the country. His best bet is that a neighboring land will let him in, and that this country would be a safe exit. Would he be in worst situation to be stuck on a small island with precarious services than in a developed nation? Palau and Vanuatu, two of the remaining islands to go, were in the top of the world’s most dangerous places to live and you surely do not want to get stuck on there for another 300 days, which complicates the decision.
Uncertainty currently keeps everyone suspended, given that we do not want to risk planning anything and later having these plans upturned. The traveler compares his situation to being in jail and having the key in his hands. Except freedom is not a no-brainer this time: The past seven years of hard work and commitment weight heavily in the scales. Thor is looking forward to see his home again: “Once I return home the stress will disappear. Either because I completed the project or because I gave up.” If you have watched Everest, a historical movie relating the story of an expedition group through their journey to Mount Everest, you know that the true demonstration of bravery is to know when to give up, not to reach the summit. In the movie, the intrepid hikers get caught into a storm that delays their estimated arrival time to the summit. Only two hours away from the top, they knew that if they climbed up there, they would lack oxygen and potentially die. However, turning back so close to their goal did not seem to be an option after all the efforts invested. Thor seems to be hours away from his own summit and he now has the choice to fill his canister or to take the risk of being out of breath.
In life as in business, you cannot ignore the return on investment in making choices. Are the incremental benefits worth the additional efforts? Maybe not. Thor Perderson is aware of that and he confirms he would consider ending his journey: “If I came to the conclusion that the price of completing the Saga outweighs a reason for returning home – then I will quit and go home.” One more time, Thor proves he is not a quitter: he is a real Viking, careful to any possible breach in his canister.