In 2006, 17-year-old Henrik Jeppesen left his small town in Denmark to see the world. Ten years later, he had visited every country on Earth.
He wasn’t an experienced traveller, and he certainly wasn’t rich – relying on strict budgets, the support of sponsors, and more than a little luck, he is still travelling. Now that he’s seen every country in the world, Henrik is aiming to become the youngest person to visit every territory too – all 132 of them.
We caught up with him to talk shoestring travel, obscure territories, and 11 years (and counting) on the road.
You’ve travelled a huge amount for somebody who’s only 28 years old! What inspired you to travel?
Watching TV about the different countries around the world – I thought it would be better to experience them first-hand than just looking at them through a screen. Then I set a goal of visiting 50 countries, and then 100 countries. As I became more comfortable travelling, I decided to go for them all.
At what point did your goals shift from ‘travel a lot’ to ‘travel literally everywhere’?
After 100 countries, as I then felt comfortable about going to the so-called dangerous countries.
How did you feel when you reached your goal of visiting every country in the world?
On April 1st, 2016 I arrived in Asmara, Eritrea to complete my project of visiting every country in the world. Eritrea is number one on the list of countries with the least amount of press freedom, and it was a challenge to get the visa. Their embassy in Cairo couldn’t help me, but they confirmed something I’d read on the internet - that it’s possible to get a visa on arrival if I could get a visa letter from a tour operator. I managed to get this, but I didn’t know if it would be enough. It was a long process at the airport, but I managed to get in.
When I came to the hotel, the electricity was off so I couldn’t celebrate. I was excited to explore the country in the coming days, but it was a strange feeling to be disconnected and just go to bed. Eritrea turned out to be an incredible experience, from a travel perspective.
Depending who you ask, there are between 193-196 countries in the world today (Henrik counts 193). A territory is a non-sovereign area governed by another country. For example, Greenland is a territory controlled by Denmark.
At time of writing there are 132 territories in the world, and Henrik has visited 96 of them. Only 36 to go!
After such an incredible achievement, what makes you want to push on and reach every territory as well?
I love travelling and many territories could have become independent countries if it wasn't for the financial benefits of staying a territory. If I manage to do all territories, it would be more fair to say I have been everywhere.
There are some territories that aren’t open to tourists. What will be the most difficult territories to reach?
Wake Island and the British Indian Ocean Territory. People have been there, but very few. I hope to find a way.
Wake Island is an extremely remote coral atoll in the Pacific Ocean administered by the United States Air Force, chiefly used as a refuelling stop for military aircraft. The British Indian Ocean Territory is a territory of the United Kingdom, home to a joint UK-US military facility.
Neither territory is open to tourists.
Obviously travelling so much is expensive – how have you handled the financial side of your adventure, particularly when you were starting out and didn’t yet have the profile to attract sponsors?
I looked at every single expense [and thought how to save]. Staying with locals; eating cheap food at supermarkets instead of restaurants; hitchhiking (more than 1,000 times); local buses instead of taxis whenever possible. Hotel points and air miles help as well. On many days I spent less than five dollars.
It’s much cheaper to visit every country in the world than people think, but you must be willing to live like a local on a budget, not like a tourist. Almost anyone can do it but it takes time and effort.
Once you had gained a public profile through social media etc. how did you go about gaining sponsors?
When I reached 50 countries I began getting sponsorships from hotels, and when I reached 100 countries I began to get sponsorships from airlines. It made a big difference in visiting all 193 countries in the world.
You can use Google a lot to find email addresses of hotel and airlines staff on management level [and reach out to them].
Although visiting 289 countries and territories in 10 years can hardly be called a leisurely pace, it’s slower than many world-record seeking travellers, who treat it like a race. What has your approach been? Do you feel like you’re in a rush, or do you try and take your time?
I would try and spend a long time in a country if it made sense financially. Like, I have stayed at 50 private island resorts in the Maldives. Sounds expensive, but not when it was possible to get the stays sponsored with meals included.
I take my time. Some try to visit every country in a record time. 3,000+ days of travel for all the countries is fairly slow travel in my opinion.
What happens if you actually succeed in visiting every territory? There’ll be nowhere left to go!
I would be delighted! Of course there will be [more places to go]. There are always new towns, villages or areas of a country that can be further explored or sights I have not yet seen.
Which country in the world is your favourite?
It’s such a difficult question to answer. I love many countries for different reasons. Italy and France for the food, South Africa has a lot to offer for travellers, while Iran probably has the friendliest people in the world.
Can you tell us any particularly crazy or scary stories from your travels?
Scariest experience: probably the only time I felt in danger for my life. Sikkim is a special region in India that has border control. I tried to hitchhike back to West Bengal, but nobody wanted to take me. I decided to tell my story to an officer, and he then asked a driver to take me.
I get in the car with this man that didn’t speak English and ahead were some of the most dangerous roads. That in itself made me nervous. What made me a lot more nervous was that he stopped the car after just a few kilometres. He then took out a bottle of vodka and drank it all in one go. If I left the car, I would be standing alone on extremely dangerous roads, so I decided to stay. It was very scary, but I got safely to a town in West Bengal after a couple of hours. I should have paid for a taxi, but I had the mindset of saving wherever possible at the time to increase the chance of completing the project of visiting every country.
What advice would you give young people who want to travel but are feeling uncertain or scared?
I have been there! I was afraid to travel as a teenager. It took some time to get comfortable with travel. Many people are afraid to travel. The best tip is to start in your comfort zone. Here is my step-by-step plan to becoming a world traveller.
1. Visit a nearby city in your country.
2. Travel more in your country.
3. Visit your neighbouring country.
4. Travel with a tour operator or book through a travel agency on your first trip to a country that is significantly different than your own.
5. Travel in countries with a lot of tourists and with great infrastructure for travellers.
6. You should now be ready for the more adventurous, but safe countries. Like an overland trip in a safe part of Africa.
7. You are now a world traveller and can travel anywhere!