‘I’ve travelled to every country in the world twice – there’s many highlights’

A backpacker claims he's the first person to travel around the world twice and now plans to journey to the Antarctic.

Gunnar Garfors, 48, says he has travelled to every single country around the world including war-torn areas like Eritrea and difficult to reach ones like North Korea.

He adds his top highlights include going snorkelling in the Marshall Islands, seeing lions in Botswana and eating sushi for breakfast in Tokyo.

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He used his job as a broadcast journalist to fund his initial travels around the world from 2008 to 2013. However, this meant sacrificing family life, a car and a comfortable home in order to visit different countries.

In 2018, when he had visited every nation in the world, he challenged himself to do it all over again – and launched into his second round the world trip.

Gunnar, from Oslo, Norway, said: "Becoming the first person to travel the world twice has been humbling… there are just too many incredible places and experiences in the world.

"I just became competitive with myself – the more I travelled, the more I wanted to travel. I couldn't quit my job – so I did it using my holidays, weekends and long weekends. I'd fly out somewhere on the Tuesday after work, fly back into Oslo on Sunday night and go to work Monday morning."

Gunnar noted he was fascinated by travelling when he was little – his dad, Reidar, now 83, was a cruise ship doctor in the 1970s so managed to sail the world for a living. While at work he would record cassette tapes for Gunnar and his six siblings, talking about the countries he saw like Brunei, Canada and the Philippines.

Gunnar commented: "I always wanted to travel when I was a small kid. Our dad was a doctor on a cruise ship. He sailed the Pacific and went to Philippines, Canada, Brunei and Malaysia.

"We couldn't read – so he'd send us cassette tapes instead of letters. He told us these incredible stories from distant countries; it was very inspiring."

When he was 29, Gunnar decided to travel to seven countries with the suffix "-stan" and ended up going to Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. He started the challenge in October 2004, and completed it in October 2009 before deciding to go to every country in the world.

Gunnar said: "I didn't have a plan, I just wanted another go at travelling to different countries. I was very curious – I wanted to see new places, meet locals and have new experiences. I'd been invited to two weddings in India – and planned to go to China with friends.

"The trouble is, when I started visiting more countries, I began to keep count. And once you start keeping count, you have to finish."

The intrepid traveller did have to sacrifice a lot to achieve his goal. He couldn't see his family on the weekends as he travelled, he couldn't afford a car, "fancy" clothes or a nice home to go back to.

He didn't however sacrifice his love life and often took his ex-girlfriends on his travels. In just five years, Gunnar visited 198 countries – including North Korea, Cape Verde and Yemen.

"There were so many highlights," he added. "The last one I went to was Cape Verde. I realised this was actually going to work – and I wanted to have a party for all my family and friends. It was legendary – so many people close to me came to this party. When I saw them there, my body was covered in goosebumps.

"I experienced the mayhem at the Tokyo fish market early in the morning when the fish came in and stayed to have world-class sashimi (raw fish) and sushi for breakfast. There was also Eritrea which was such a hard country to even get to, due to the politics there.

"But the country is incredible the people there are so hospitable. They invite you home for dinner, take you on trips, without knowing who you are. North Korea stood out for the wrong reasons – you can really see the difference between the city and countryside residents.

"The city elite have lots of food and money to go around – country people can't even afford tractors. They live in dire conditions."

In May 2013, Gunnar completed his trip around the world and vowed he'd "never do something so stupid again." Afterwards, Gunnar tried to "fill the travelling hole" with work and research into war-torn countries.

But, in "late" 2016, he began researching for a book he was writing about the least-visited countries in the world. He then realised there were only "around 25" countries he hadn't been to twice. So he decided to fill in the gap and visit them all again to cross his second trip to every country off his list.

Gunnar travelled to Yemen, Mo'orea, Tuvalu and back to Turkmenistan visiting "beautiful beaches", eating their cuisines and living with the locals.

"I wouldn't usually travel to war-torn countries like those, because I don't want to encourage tourists to already-struggling places," he added. "It can also be quite hard to get a Visa. But it's the people who make them – with locals come stories, different cuisines and their warmth and generosity.

"I was visiting a friend in Afghanistan, who took me to meet his family. They were preparing chicken and his family had prepared their only chicken and gave it to me."

Gunnar says he thinks that tourists can become "quite arrogant" when travelling to other countries and says it's better to chat to locals for a better experience. He thinks speaking to the residents is a major part of travelling.

He said: "It's easy to be quite arrogant – sitting on a bus full of locals, you don't talk to them and you just sit consulting your Lonely Planet guidebook. You may be in a country for a week – but by participating and talking to people, you'll get an essential experience."

Gunnar quit his journalism job three years ago to focus on being a travel author full-time. He's currently researching for a book on the Antarctic circle and plans to visit himself.

He said: "I'm focusing on writing a book on the equator, the Arctic circle and the Antarctic circle – so I'm still on the road a lot. I have no plans to go around the world a third time unless, of course, a filthy rich sponsor gets in touch!"

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