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Gunnar Garfors has visited every country in the world. Garfors in Afghanistan. Photo: private
Gunnar Garfors has visited every country in the world. Garfors in Afghanistan. Photo: private

Meet the man who has seen the whole world

Norwegian journalist, author and globetrotter Gunnar Garfors has visited all of the world's 198 countries. He believes that traveling helps boost creativity.

I have just arrived from Milan and I am heading to Cairo on Friday. And then I am going to The Philippines. From there, I will go through Taipei in Taiwan, where I have lived, and South Korea. Before Milan, I was in London and Düsseldorf.

This is Gunnar Garfors

Lives: Oslo
Profession: Journalist. Works with broadcasting and new media developments at NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation). Author of the book ‘198 How I ran out of countries’. The book has been translated into English. Also provides travel advice on Norwegian radio and for a Japanese newspaper.
Website: www.garfors.com

I travel every holiday and weekends. Rather than being paid for overtime at work, I prefer to take time off in lieu.

Restless? Yes, you could probably say I am restless. Traveling gives me a great deal of energy. There is nothing like stepping off a plane in a new city. What's it like here? What's going to happen? I never get jet lag.

You boost your creativity when you travel. There is a new language, new customs and a new currency. You have to resolve all the challenges yourself, almost as though you are in a computer game.

I am brilliant at booking. If you want to travel without it costing a fortune, you have to think differently. Travel in the off season. If it's Easter, don't even think about skiing in Norway or the Alps. Travel to places no one else associates with Easter instead, and to the Alps a week or two before or after Easter.

People write to me and explain that they are going on an eight-week round trip in Europe, and ask me to recommend a route for them. But half the fun of travel is the actually planning.

I also allow for 24 or 48 hours at stopover places. That way I get a holiday within a holiday. People who follow this advice are often delighted. They say that the mini break was almost the best part of their trip.

Many people hate the actual traveling. Not me. It gives me plenty of time to think. The cabin crew have often been to the destination and I usually ask them for some tips. Or I read, sleep and work during the flight.

I always wear a suit jacket when I travel. It is appropriate for any occasion and I can slip into any environment. Except of course in places where it is 45 degrees (1130 Fahrenheit), then a blazer looks ridiculous. You also get better service at hotels when you are a bit more smartly dressed.

I have never encountered anything dangerous on my travels. But my sunglasses were stolen in Jerusalem and once I put a bag with my laptop in under my seat and the person behind me stole it.

If I were to be mugged, it is stupid to have a roll of hundred dollar bills on you. Which is why I always carry some one, five and twenty dollar bills in my pocket that I can pull out. That spreads the risk.
 

Gunnar Garfors delights in discovering new places. Garfors in Bhutan. Photo: Private

Just before I set off on a trip, I write down all the ticket numbers, phone numbers to people I may possibly meet and exchange rates on a sheet of paper. If you don't know what the exchange rate is and need to change some money, you get conned. If you can show you know what the true rate is, you will avoid that.

You are greeted like a friend, invited to dinner and weddings.

You become more experienced when you travel and learn new tricks as you go along. It is like when you play football. You don't start playing football today and expect to play in the Champions League tomorrow. You start by traveling to nearby places. In my case I went interrailing in Western Europe when I was seventeen, and then to the USA and so to India, Kenya and Tanzania, that were not considered dangerous countries to visit.

It is fantastic traveling to so-called “dangerous” countries like Afghanistan and Somalia. You are greeted like a friend, invited to dinner and weddings. People are pleased you are visiting their country. It is a different experience to an all inclusive trip. This New Year, I am going to Beirut, and am also thinking about going to Damascus.

My father worked as a ship's doctor in the Pacific Ocean when I was small. My brother and I were so young we had not yet learnt to read, so dad recorded his stories from places he had visited onto a cassette. He talked about the places he had been to. The Philippines, Canada and about polar bears in Alaska, and it all sounded absolutely fantastic to me. We used to run to the postbox every day to see if a new cassette had arrived from him. I decided at that age that I too wanted to see the world.

Many people ask me what my favorite places are. That is impossible to say.

Copy: Inga Ragnhild Holst