You might think it’s impossible to travel when you have a full-time job, but this guy will prove you wrong.
Gunnar Garfors has been to all 198 countries – all while keeping his full-time job as a media executive and consultant in his native Norway.
It took him 20 years in total, but he reached his last country at the age of 37 in 2013. He’s also in the Guinness Book of World Records for visiting five continents in one day, and for visiting 19 countries in one day.
But how can you make the time to fly around the world when juggling work or uni and a social life? It takes tons of energy, planning and flexibility, but it’s totally doable.
Here’s how Gunnar did it:
1. Where did your inspiration to travel that way come from?
My dad worked as a medical doctor on a cruise ship sailing in the Pacific when we were little. He would stay in touch by sending us audio cassette tapes, vividly telling amazing stories from far away countries like China, the Philippines, Canada and the US. I still remember the stories well, and they really inspired me at a very early age.
2. How did you first get started?
I still didn’t start travelling on my own until I was 17, when a mate and I did the Interrail and visited 13 European countries. Then I was hooked. It still took me another few years until I visited countries outside the western world, and that was when I decided that I had to explore for myself to try to understand more about the world.
In 2004 I decided to visit all the 7 “stan” countries (ending with “–stan”), and finally in 2008 I set out to visit every country – by then I had already visited 85.
3. That’s a major commitment. Did you have to make any sacrifices for it to work?
To travel like this has meant 100% dedication, never giving up and sometimes having to miss out on spending time with friends and family. But they’ve been very supportive all along.
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But I would never want to live without all the stories, the sights, smells, the tastes and just soaking up thousands of different atmospheres. Who needs a fancy red car, a posh penthouse flat or designer clothes when the alternative is memories like these?
4. How did you manage to keep your job while you travelled?
In Norway we have five weeks of paid holiday, plus approximately two weeks of national days off. I try to maximise every weekend by leaving just after work on Friday and returning Sunday night, or even Monday morning by taking an overnight flight, train or bus.
I also do not ask for overtime pay – I’d rather convert it into extra time off, usually a Thursday and a Friday so that I have a long weekend available for travel.
And I almost always carry my laptop in order to be able to follow up with work and deal with problems whenever needed. I work full-time in Oslo, so I do most of my work from the office or on business trips.
5. What’s the best advice you could give to someone who wants to do what you do?
It’s all about planning, and not planning at the same time. You don’t have to quit your job and set up a travel blog to see and experience the world. You just need to plan a bit, yet dare be impulsive – almost a contradiction.
I love being spontaneous and not planning too much. A lot of people actually plan their holidays to death based on what’s written in a guide book or online before they’ve even visited the place, felt the atmosphere, met the people or eaten their food. But just imagine everything they’re missing out on!
And the most important thing is to smile and approach people. Most people will appreciate it, and suddenly you will find yourself invited to a party, mountain hike or even a dinner. I smile a lot more now than I used to. I was recently told that I am a postcard for happiness!
6. What was your most memorable experience?
Too many to mention, really. But to stand on a mountain peak in northern Norway during the summer when the sun is still shining in the middle of the night is unreal and truly inspiring. The midnight sun is totally underrated. The northern part of the world really is special.
7. What did it feel like when you finally reached Cape Verde, your last country?
I felt pride, I was happy and I was sad that I would never visit a new country again. I had goosebumps all over my body when I landed, it was totally unreal, almost an out of body experience.
8. Have you ever had a moment of self-doubt?
I am a positive person and if I decide to do something, I will almost always finish. I guess that attitude has helped scare away any self-doubt. The fact that I have a lot of energy helps, too. Meeting new people and old friends, seeing new places, trying new things give me energy.
9. What are your #LifeGoals? What’s next for you?
This was the biggest life goal of mine, and I don’t think I will top it anytime soon. But for now I’m focusing on my new book, 198: How I Ran Out of Countries*.
I am also fully engaged in fighting against pollution in the beautiful fjord next to where I grew up. A mining company wants to dump 300 tons of mining waste and chemicals into it, and we’re doing what we can to lobby the political parties against it.
And of course I will never stop travelling. It satisfies my curiosity and boosts my creativity at the same time.
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By Reenat Sinay