What were you doing in 2013? How long ago does that seem to you know? As I was just settling into my first years of high school, Thor was completely uprooting his life to travel the world on an epic pursuit; a pursuit that’s still in progress.
As Thor collects new pieces of the world on this massive project, the weight of it continues to rest on his shoulders. The weight of being so close yet so frustratingly stuck. The weight of homesicknesses and a life on hold. The weight of his loyal followers anticipating the epic conclusion to this world record attempt, despite infinite hurdles materializing just as the finish line is in sight. The battle between motivation and surrender is being fought on a knife edge.
Thor, known online as ‘Once Upon a Saga’, is currently on track to be the first person in the world to visit every country without flying, all in one unbroken journey. He will be the first-ever person to complete this journey. He travels to spark inspiration and as a Goodwill Ambassador of the Danish Red Cross. He left his home country of Denmark in 2013 on this extreme adventure that was initially planned to reach its record-setting conclusion within four years. Eight years and eight months later, Thor’s ambitious quest continues to this day. The finale is so close, but with never-ending complex logistics, it’s far from smooth sailing. He has just reached the shores of Aotearoa, making us his 197th country - six to go; Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, Sri Lanka, and The Maldives.
At the bottom of this article, there are links and ways you can help Thor on his journey. Please stick around to find out how to do your part.
With his wings clipped during this project, Thor’s only permitted mode of travel is by sea or on land. He has hitched rides on private yachts, fishing boats, and, his chosen vessel for crossing the Tasman Sea from Aussie, commercial container ships. There are also lots and lots of bus rides.
Thor boarded a 486ft container ship in Melbourne to live as a crew member while they sailed 14 days to Auckland…however the unforeseen changes to the trip were painfully representative of the entire project thus far. Thor had his sights set on the shores of our beautiful country since he reached Australia, but for 17 days all he could do was stare. When the ship was cruising through the waves, the crew got word that the ship was due for a hull clean and could not dock in New Zealand without it due to strict biosecurity measures. The ship dropped anchor off the coast of Bay of Plenty for 17 days while it waited for the necessary clean, leaving Thor to look longingly at the country he once visited almost a decade ago, but now needed to step foot in again to be one stride closer to his goal.
Eventually, he did take that first step onto our soil and made it to Auckland, but I wanted to ensure his shoes didn’t just hit the concrete in the big city. Thor was kind enough to take a break from logistics planning and let me ask questions all afternoon about his huge project as we walked Kitekite Falls Track and strolled down Piha Beach at dusk.
Just as we began the track, I learned a lesson in appreciating the little things. Thor stopped to appreciate a giant tree stump while I walked straight past, eventually realizing I had shirked my responsibility as a tour guide almost immediately. Thor wasn’t surprised that a New Zealander was used to seeing such sights, but this was the first of many highly respectable things I noticed in Thor; he could have easily taken small things for granted after 197 countries and almost nine years of constant traveling, but instead, he stops, he notices, and he revels in positive new things.
Thor tells me that he loves to lift the veil on new countries and discover the positive attributes, despite what reputation a country may have. He spoke passionately about historically war-torn or third-world countries that are represented in the media as dangerous and poverty-stricken, but his experience there proved it is nothing more than a negative generalization. People in these countries are kind. They take their children to school every day and they live a normal life in largely beautiful countries. Thor will always acknowledge the downfalls of countries too, like racism, poverty, and corruption, but even with that in mind, he believes most destinations have a lot of hospitality to offer when given a fair chance. He loves to challenge people’s perceptions. Did you know that Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt? Or that Hong Kong is mountainous and green with 40% of its land dedicated to nature reserves? I do now, thanks to Thor.
We reached the very bottom of Kitekite waterfall, with its many layers and pools covering the rockface, and Thor was only too keen to continue to the top of the falls. As we climbed the stairs among the kiwi bush and caught glimpses of the valley below, he mentioned that this reminds him of his time in Hong Kong. It would be impossible to recount an almost nine-year travel journey without mentioning the Covid-19 Pandemic. Thor was in Hong Kong when borders in Asia began to shut down, followed quickly by the rest of the world. He was used to being in a foreign country but for a long-term traveler and former logistics consultant, not moving forward, being stuck, was the most foreign thing of all. A ‘few months’ of lockdown dragged on, as it did for many countries, and trepidation was beginning to spread like a second wave. The border lockdown would eventually tick over into years, but Thor didn’t want to stay in one place for too long. One day he googled ‘highest mountain in Hong Kong’ and committed himself to climb it. Tai Mo Shan mountain was a day trip by bus and he easily conquered the 957-metre ascent, quickly looking for another adventure. His next big goal was an ultra hiking challenge of ascending 5,000m total over 100km and he gave himself three days to finish - he did it.
Thor believes in setting goals. Unsurprisingly, he believes they should be big, tough goals, yet realistic. Thor attributes accomplishing goals to building pride and self-belief with a lot of hard work to get there. He sometimes worries about how he will assimilate back into everyday life at home, without spending every waking moment crawling towards a single gigantic goal. I have no doubt he will rediscover a new inspiration. One huge motivating factor in this record-setting project is to inspire others to set huge goals and go all in, and I can imagine there’s no shortage of people he has inspired. As I sit here writing a long-form passion project for the first time in over a year, I am inspired. My enthusiasm has been ignited, setting my keyboard ablaze with the pace of writing thanks to the afternoon spent with Thor. In his own recent blog, he shared a message he received from a New Zealander who watched his Breakfast interview from a hospital bed. They shared that Thor's story has inspired them on their own journey towards a healthy recovery and commended him on "braving all sorts of challenges to prove to the world that everything - with grit, passion, and determination --is achievable."
After almost nine years of complicated logistics, a pandemic, endless visa applications, fundraising, and emails, it’s understandable that Thor’s own inspiration is waning. The excitement of travel and vagrancy has become cumbersome and it’s hard to remember why he began when that beginning is now nine years in the past. He’s stuck in what he calls the “third type of travel”; it’s a confusing mix of work and leisure that no one can relate to. While his determination to finish the project is obvious, it is clear in his voice that home is calling Thor in a tune that sings out far above any world record glory or media attention. He is simultaneously trying to enjoy each last country and also spend as little time there as possible. And that’s okay. That’s real. Embracing the challenges and sharing them candidly is how I found Thor on Tiktok, along with many other media outlets, because vulnerability is not weakness, it’s just part of the journey.
When the media ask him about the project in interviews, he can hardly say that he’s keen for it all to be over. Instead, he is often asked surface-level questions without really asking how a project like this can change someone, how people can help him, what learning experiences he wants to share, if he would like to challenge any country’s negative reputations that the media themselves created, or about the people he has met along the way.
The dearest memories Thor has is of the people he has met thus far. Thousands of kind people across 197 countries all have a common denominator; hospitality. Hospitality is what Thor relies on to finish this project. He needed the hospitality of a lone super yacht caption (who once skippered a charter for Mariah Carey and took Thor to a private island for multi-millionaires - it’s a long story) to travel from Cuba to the Bahamas and he continues to need the hospitality of container ships that sail him across the seas. Thor’s perspective on hospitality was enlightening and so logical. He has crafted the view that true, honest hospitality begins at the end of convenience. If someone is transporting you only as far as they are traveling, it is kind but convenient for them. If they transport you out of their way, it then begins to cost them something; fuel, time, energy. If there is an unwavering willingness to help someone else at a cost to you, that is hospitality. Thor has found this true hospitality in places where the cost is often great. In communities where water is harder to come by, you would never be thirsty. In lands where fresh fruit isn’t plentiful, there would always be an apple in an outstretched hand. Thor recalls his time in Sudan with warmth and fondness because of a new friend’s hospitality. They embody the notion that ‘guest is God’, a sacred idea originating in Hindu scripture, where they take great pride in a guest wanting for nothing. Thor was invited to stay indefinitely at their family home, eating meals cooked by his friend’s mother, being transported to meetings and embassies, having his friend kindly translate to English, and even being accompanied across the border to the conservative stronghold of Eritrea. Though Thor constantly attempted to pay for meals, fuel, and help out the family, it was almost an insult that a guest in Sudan would do any of these things.
So this project can also be thought of as a collection of moments that prove people are kind. It’s evidence that small pockets of the world with the least resources can be willing to give the most.
As a Goodwill Ambassador of the Danish Red Cross, Thor has seen his fair share of parts of the world with little resources. His other big motivation for the project is to support and unify the Red Cross across the globe. In every country, he meets with their branch of the Red Cross to symbolically unify the organizations throughout the world; so far he’s only missed two countries. The Red Cross does amazing humanitarian work to “protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance”, as well as fund educational and aid programs to provide communities with the fundamental tools for life. Thor has been out on the ground to see their water sourcing and sanitation programs in Congo and other countries and prides the Red Cross on setting up solutions that last to genuinely improve the lives of those they make contact with. Thor has carried this worthy cause with him to 197 countries (so far) and across the ocean.
For now, the project continues. There are six countries between Thor and the completion of this epic journey. Once he places one foot on the shores of the Maldives, he will be the first-ever person to travel to every country in the world consecutively without flying. Whether he flies back to Denmark or chooses the more difficult route of making a round-trip without flying, is yet to be decided. Looking at this story from the surface you can appreciate it, but anyone that truly looks at this momentous undertaking has to deeply respect Thor. When you consider the nine years of his life spent on ships and away from his wife, the mission to promote and symbolically unite Red Cross around the world, his constant positivity and advocacy of each country he visits, you become invested and foster a rich admiration that transcends any border. He’s a great human.
Going forward, he cannot do this alone. If you know anyone with sway in the shipping industry, send them this blog. Subscribe to Thor's Patreon to contribute a little financially. Follow Thor on his platforms to show support and words of encouragement.
Thor, good luck. Wherever you go from here, you’ll always have friends in New Zealand.
How You Can Help
Donate to the Red Cross
Thor has built this project with his Red Cross ambassadorship as a fundamental pillar.
Click below to donate.
Follow Once Upon a Saga
Support Thor across his various platforms!
Spread The Word
Thor finds it difficult to get replies from shipping companies and border authorities. If you know anyone with sway in the shipping industry/ container ships or with information about border control in the next six countries, send them Thor's website and socials. The next six countries are Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, Sri Lanka, and The Maldives.