Torbjørn "Thor" Pedersen finally heading to Australia on mission to visit every country without flying

Torbjørn "Thor" Pedersen visited 195 countries in the past eight years, without boarding an aircraft once.

But before he can return home to his beloved Denmark, he needs to tick Australia off his travel list.

Now after two long years of delays, he's about to get his wish.

His plan to visit every country on Earth without hopping on a plane – a feat never achieved before, according to the Dane – was ambitious to begin with, and then a pandemic showed up.

The traveller's plans were derailed indefinitely in 2020 as he found himself grounded in Hong Kong while COVID-19 spread throughout the world.

With borders closed across the globe, Pedersen weathered the virus for nearly two years in his new temporary home.

At the time, he had nine more countries (of 203 nations and sovereign territories) to visit before reaching his goal: Palau, Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Sri Lanka and, for a grand finale, the Maldives.

With flying still off the table, the task has become a bureaucratic and political minefield.

Last month, Pedersen pulled off the "near impossible" by arranging to leave Hong Kong via cargo ship to visit the tiny archipelago of Palau.

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"It required special permission from top management of Pacific International Lines, special permission from Hong Kong Immigration, special permission from the government of Palau, and special permission from US Custom Border Protection in Washington," he told Traveller.

It took 16 days to reach Palau via ship and, while he was still at sea, the tiny nation experienced its greatest COVID-19 outbreak to date, sending Pedersen into an immediate eight-day hotel quarantine upon arrival.

When he finally returned to Hong Kong, he was plunged into another 14 days of quarantine, amid escalating virus cases.

But the ordeal has, at least, brought him one step closer to wrapping up his epic journey and getting back home to Denmark.

The global traveller and goodwill ambassador for the Danish Red Cross has been documenting his adventures via the blog Once Upon a Saga, and on Instagram (@onceuponasaga), with the latter garnering more than 36,000 followers.

As he nears the finishing line, his fans are invested in the outcome of what's become an increasingly complicated crusade.

Amid the small wins, Pedersen has been tempted to throw in the towel on more than one occasion.

"I have spent eight years of my life doing this. Within those eight years, friends and family have had children that I have never met," he said of the sacrifices made in order to see out the journey.

He's maintained a mostly long-distance relationship with his wife, Le Gjerum, 39 – she's notched up an impressive 23 visits to Pedersen since his quest began, including a three-month, live-in stint in Hong Kong.

"As I age my chances of starting my own family diminishes," Pedersen said.

"I have furthermore risked my life on a number of occasions and challenged my mental wellbeing. The personal costs and the resources spent are hard to measure."

But the Dane refuses to quit, and he's just days away from ticking Australia off his list.

Between pandemic hurdles – and his own self-imposed hurdles (a no-fly rule and budget of just $US20 [$A27] per day) – the journey to get Down Under has become a veritable Holy Grail of quests.

"Palau was stupefyingly hard to reach – but mostly due to the pandemic. And currently Australia is very hard to reach, also due to the pandemic," he said.

That's saying a lot, given the traveller has visited some objectively hard-to-reach destinations during his Once Upon a Saga travels, from conflict-ridden Eritrea in northeast Africa to Saudi Arabia (prior to its introduction of tourist visas).

Australia's international border closures to curb the spread of COVID-19 were among the toughest in the world.

For Pedersen, the past two years have set the scene for challenges unlike any he's faced.

While stranded in Hong Kong, he faced a double whammy of international cruise bans in both Australia and Hong Kong, delaying the trip to our shores for years.

Even now as international borders trickle open around the world, entering via sea is returning at row-boat pace; an international cruising ban remains in place in Hong Kong, with no end in sight, and Australia isn't due to lift its ban until April 18, 2022.

But his persistence is about to pay off.

Last Thursday, Pedersen boarded another container ship – this time bound for Townsville in Queensland, Australia.

The trip will take approximately 14 days, landing him in the country just before April.

In an Instagram post to his legion of fans, Pedersen wrote: "Mixed emotions to say the least leaving so much behind. But this is the progress we've been working towards for years now!"

The Dane will arrive in Australia ahead of the conclusion of a cruising ban, meaning he had to obtain special permission from the authorities to enter. But that's par for the course for this globetrotter.

When he finally arrives in Australia, Pedersen plans to apply for a new Danish passport, and hopes to take his explorations west.

"I have had the great fortune of visiting Australia several times before. Once I even stopped by for a good friend's wedding. I have been north, south and east – but never west," he said.

After some travel and speaking engagements, New Zealand is up next, with borders reopening to international travellers by May 2.

Prior to boarding the cargo ship, Pedersen spoke to Traveller about his frustrations in getting his Australia visit approved.

"Apparently Australia discriminates between tourists or travellers arriving at the airport and arriving onboard containerships," Pederson said, adding with mock indignation: "The next Queen of Denmark is Aussie – Mary from Tasmania. So we are practically family."

In reality, he's been trying to make it back to his native Denmark since 2015, and naturally he doesn't want the project "to last one minute long than necessary".

But despite the Dane's longing for home, he won't be veering off course.

"Going home before reaching the final countries would mean I failed in what I set out to do," he explained.

"There are flights which could get me to Denmark if I should choose to quit. Completing what I set out to do back in late 2013 defines who I am as a person and it sends a strong message to the world around me in relation to achieving goals we set ourselves here in life.

"It means everything and nothing at the same time."

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