This Man Travels the World For Free on Container Ships

Plenty of people love to come up with new ways to save money on travel. Some check airline websites every day, waiting to pounce on a good deal. Others make long-term investments: A family of four traveling by RV, for example, can save 23% to 59% on each of their vacations. And then there are people like Torbjorn C. Pedersen, who has spent the better part of the past three years traveling the world on cargo ships — for free.

Pedersen, better known by his nickname “Thor,” travels as a goodwill ambassador for the Red Cross in his home country of Denmark, but he has a more personal goal in mind: Before the end of his voyage, he plans to visit every country on the planet, without ever boarding an airplane.

“Fewer than 200 people have reached every country in the world, and all of them have been flying at one point or another,” Pedersen told Vice recently. “I’ve been going for more than three years now. I’ve reached 121 countries, and so far, I haven’t been back home, and I haven’t flown. When I need to cross an ocean like the Atlantic, there’s no way around it. You basically need to get onboard a container ship.”

Although there are somewhere around 50,000 merchant ships in use around the world, they’re generally reserved for cargo, not tourists. And there’s good reason why: a 12-hour plane ride across the Pacific ocean easily takes two weeks by sea. But on the plus side, almost all of Pedersen’s journeys have been free, including meals and long showers, though he’s had to do a lot of legwork and sweet-talking to get there.

“The ships have no incentive to carry a passenger. It’s an inconvenience for the shipping line and a passenger represents an unwanted liability,” he said to the Telegraph. “You would need to express that you can be on your own and wouldn’t get in the way of the crew and the operations. It would need to be clear that you can be invisible.”

When Pederson does make land, he has a self-imposed rule that he has to stay in a country for at least 24 hours. Sometimes, that means missing his ship’s departure and waiting weeks or months for the next one to arrive.

“While it was exceedingly difficult to reach Greenland without flying it turned out to be hard to leave as well,” Pedersen said. “Towards my final days I nearly had the entire village texting me when there was a new boat in the port. They are such wonderful spirited people up there.”

Of the 122 countries he’s visited so far (he has 81 left to go), Pedersen counts Greenland, Cuba, and Iran as among his favorites. Even on land, he lives on a self-imposed budget of $20 per day to demonstrate just how affordable world travel can be.

“I could probably travel for less money than $20 a day. Some countries are more expensive than others but most countries are quite cheap when you use local transportation, eat local food and stay with local people or use cheap guesthouses and dorm rooms,” he explained.

With rolling seas, rare Internet access, and sparse accommodations, container ship travel may not be for everyone. But it is, at least, one way to see the world for adventurous spirits on a shoestring budget.

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