We heared of him from TV and thought that it would be interesting to find out what and how he thinks. A man who saw the whole wide world. Litteraly. That is why we got in touch with him and discovered a man like only a traveler can be. Open and polite, he agreed to answer our questions and this is the result.
Tell me a bit about yourself. Who are you, where are you from, how old are you?
I am 40 years old and from Naustdal – a little village on the Norwegian West Coast. I have always been curious, enjoyed to meet people and see new places – so travelling was always a natural thing for me – and something that fascinated me highly.
When did your passion for travelling start and what did it change in your life?
My dad worked as a medical doctor on Royal Viking Sea, a cruise ship sailing in the Pacific, when I was 3 years old and my brother Øystein 1. We could obviously not read, but he sent us audio cassette tapes where he vividly told amazing stories from countries far away, such as China, Philippines, Canada and the US (Alaska). Our mom told us that the ship was on the other side of the world, which was possible since the world was round. Not easy for a 3 year-old to understand that our dad then was upside down on a boat far, far away, but nevertheless. We obviously insisted on replying in the same manner – through audio cassettes – although our stories from the local playground in tiny village Naustdal on the scenic Norwegian West Coast were a little bit less exciting than his…
I remember the stories well, and they really inspired me at a very early age. I still didn’t start travel on my own until I was 17, when a mate and I went on Interrail and visited 13 European countries. I was then hooked. It still took me another few years until I first 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 – I had then visited 85. This even turned into a bet with a mate, and he finally gave in on live national radio when he on a trolley came with 197 beers and a bottle of rum (there were 197 countries when we did the bet – he still threw in a bottle of booze for South Sudan, the newest country). To travel like this has meant 100% dedication, never giving up and forsaking friends and family some of the time. They have still been very supportive all along. And I would never want to live without all the stories, the sight, the smells, the tastes and just soaking up thousands of different atmospheres. Who needs or wants a fancy red car, a posh penthouse flat or designer clothes when the option is memories like these? Not to travel would be an insult to my intellect.
How do you combine your work with travelling. Do you manage to do them both as you should?
Yes, I almost always carry my laptop in order to be able to follow up work and engage in matters whenever needed. I do however work full-time in Oslo, so I do most of my work from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation office. In Norway we have 5 weeks of paid holiday plus approximately 2 weeks of national holidays (including Christmas, our National day, etc.). I have travelled on every occasion, almost every holiday and day off + many weekend. Some tips on how to actually manage to travel a lot while maintaining a full-time job.
Can you make a top 3 or 5 of the places you’ve seen?
Impossible! There are just too many amazing places out there. But I can give you a list of 5 amazing countries – I just cannot say that they are THE 5 best… Madagascar, Japan, Iceland, Argentina and Kiribati.
People are different. What are the experiences from the richcountries like versus the ones in the less developed countries?
To exit the bubble that we live in here in the western world, to see how other people in other cultures live and perceive the world and to realize that many of them don’t even know anything about how we live inside that bubble (or that it even exists). That was liberating and humbling. And of course, they see themselves equally much as the center of the universe as many of the people in that western bubble do. Understanding that we are all very similar, regardless of background, should also make even the cockiest of persons a little humbler and possible even ponder for a second over his/her own fortunate life.
It is also very interesting to see that there are a lot more smiles in poor countries in Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean than I see in western countries with a hell of a lot more wealth and security. Maybe all your belongings don’t make you happy after all…
garfors.com is your blog. Was itan add to your travelling or an independent idea?Also, how do you manage to get a hold of both the blog and travelling?
I started it as a blog on media and travel in 2011, but it is now almost exclusively on travelling. It was just natural for me to have a place to write about my passion. And it also helped inspire me to write my book about the journeys.
Everybody surely asks you how you afford to travel so much. We want to ask you what would you buy with all the money you spent on travelling?
Hehehe…I could probably have purchased a really nice sports car. Or two…
I saw that you were abroad alone and also with someone. When do you fellmore comfortable when travelling? When are alone or with someone?
Both ways of travelling work for me. It is nice to be able to share your experiences with a good friend. But it might be easier to get in touch with local people when travelling alone. Some travels alone and some with others is perfect. A good mix.
You visited Romania. Tell me us 3 things that stuck in your mind and who you think we are alike with.
I enjoyed the scenery in Transylvania, the food in Sibiu and wild parties there too. I have still never been to Bucharest, though. I will be there soonish. You are similar in some ways with people from Moldova and Germans. But different in many other ways.
Is there a secret of the people who want to visit the world?
Dedication, dedication, dedication…
Be determined and save up. A lot of people (in the Western world, at least) claim to not have money, but it is all about priorities and dedication. They have the money, it will just take some planning. With low-cost airlines all over Europe (and beyond) virtually anyone can visit another country by booking tickets way ahead. And there are of course also trains, ferries and buses. And hitchhiking and car sharing can also work. Then is possible to stay for free on someone’s sofa using sites such as couchsurfing or hospitalityclub, you will then not only get a free bed, but a free guide and maybe a great friend too. For food and drinks, buy it in shops or markets, it is usually much cheaper than in restaurants. Except if you decide to come to Norway – then carry tinned food from home, it is expensive here. You can also stay in a tent in many countries. And leave your suitcase at home. It is more flexible, and you won’t have to pay for checked luggae. Just pack sensibly. I have travelled with hand luggage only for five weeks. And yes, I then bring washing powder too.
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, dinner, mountain hike or even a dinner. I smile a lot more now than what I used to. And I guess it works. I was recently told that I am a postcard for happiness!
198 countries, what’s next?
I have been to every country, but not everywhere. There are plenty of new places to see, but also a lot of super exciting places to return to. And to return is almost as good as visiting the first time, sometimes better. After all, you will meet old friends, notice changes in the place and its atmosphere and actually know where some of the best places to go are.
I am now focusing on promoting my book “198: How I Ran Out of Countries*”and I will travel to the US for a little bit of a book trip, and who knows, I might try to challenge yet another world record. These records are anyhow just stunts, and they do not reflect on the way I prefer to travel. You may see a lot from windows during a vist to 19 countries in 24 hours, but there aren’t many experiences to be had. Here is the next plan.
If you were to give any advice to a newcamer in travelling what would you say?
Travelling is about exploring and meeting people, so stay away from tourist traps and backpacker joints full of other travellers. Meeting locals is a much better way to meet people. You get to see the real culture and you will of course get expert tips on what you should do and what you should not.
Do you collect anything from the places you’ve been to?
Fridge magnets. Plus some masks, paintings and clocks.
How do you mantain a relationship when you’re always away?
I guess all the travelling has caused a few relationships to break up. The most important thing is to travel together with your bf/gf – at least some of the time.
If you were to move to another country which one would it be and why?
I could move to any country. To live in another country is really the only way to properly get to know it.
Tell us the best / weirdest drink and food which you est in all the world
I love seafood, som anywhere with a good fishmarket is a winner. Tokyo, Maputo and Sydney are just three good options. The weirdest must have been snake in Vietnam or guinea pig in Ecuador. Yeah, and of course worms in South Africa.
There are many countries in the world that are dictated such as North Korea, Siria, Venezuela or Iran. How are the people there?
The people there are very friendly, especially in Venezuela and Iran. As in amazingly nice and welcoming. You are however not really allowed to speak freely to “normal” people in North Korea, so it is hard to say. The government there surely make it hard for its people. It is a fascinating country, for all the wrong reasons.
If you could change something about yourself today what could that be?
Perhaps I should quit my job and travel even more… If enough people like my book, I will consider writing full-time. The English version actually sold more in 3 weeks than the Norwegian version did in a year, so it is looking good, actually.
Have you ever thought of making a movie?
Hehehe…perhaps someone likes the book good enough to want to make one. Would have been cool!
How is Garfors today after 198 countrys and how was he 15 years ago?
I am more humble than I used to be. Having seen so many different people and places certainly change you. And I guess I might be even more restless than I used to be. There are so many places that I want to explore and see. Travelling is truly addictive! The more you travel the more you want to travel.
What are the most important things for a man from your point of view?
To be open, honest and fair and to deliver on your promises. And I really dislike unnecessary waiting and incompetent people.
You study in Great Britain why did not you choose to stay there?
I have lived there for three years, and it is my second home country. I love the UK, and I would love to move back. I am still very happy in Oslo, and it was natural to move to my first home country after finishing my studies.
Tell three things to describe Oslo?
- It is a nature city. You can take the metro straight into the forest, with great hiking possibilities and a lot of small lakes. To go camping there is amazing!
- People should also visit the small islands outside the city, going by one of the local ferries.
- And the restaurant scene in town is now super exciting – there are in fact loads of top restaurants here – a dramatical transition since only a few years ago.
What is your opinion about United State?
I lived there twice, and it is a very diverse country with a lot of opportunities and a lot of things to see. I still think that European people should travel to more different and more exciting countries than the US. Challenge your comfort zone and open your mind…
This is Gunnar Grafors! The man who till the age of 40 travelled and got to see the whole wide world. 198 countries visited! If you will take a closer look you will see that he didn’t stop yet. There are new things he is trying to do.