Photo: Henrik Jeppesen in Yemen.
“I don’t collect things. I collect experiences.” So states Henrik Jeppesen, a 28-year-old who visited every country in the world between 2006 and 2016. The Denmark native isn’t cooling his heels yet, however; he’s now attempting a world record by traveling to all the territories in the world, too, bringing his projected total to an incredible 325 destinations. Along the way, he’ll be sharing tips and photos from his travels on Facebook, Instagram, and his blog.
We asked Jeppesen for his advice for solo travelers, his scariest hitchhiking stories, and the best ways to save money while on the road.
Crave Online: What prompted you to go on this epic adventure?
Henrik Jeppesen: I’m from a very remote part of Denmark where there isn’t much to do, so when I was young I had to do something else with my life. I set a goal to visit 50 countries because I was afraid of traveling to the so-called “dangerous” countries. Even traveling in my own country was a challenge when I was very young. But then I began traveling. I went alone to Egypt when I was 17 and it moved on from there.
Which countries were your favorites?
It’s so difficult because they’re all unique, they’re all different from one another, and I like them for different reasons. South Africa I like because it’s such a diverse country. It has so much to offer: world-class beaches, one of the best cities in the world in Cape Town, some of the best safaris, great food, and it’s very affordable. If you talk about a country to visit right now, that would be South Africa.
The downside to South Africa is that it isn’t really a safe country. It has a lot of crime. But if you use common sense and you do your research beforehand, there’s only a very small risk something will happen to you.
New Zealand is really magical. It’s a beautiful country. It’s also very safe. Australia, pretty much the same reasons. In Europe, I really like Italy and France, especially for the food. I think they are the two best countries in the world for food. I really like going to a place like the Maldives where I can just relax. If I go to a city there would be so many things I need to do, so if I need to de-stress, going to a city is not a good solution for me.
You hitchhike often during your travels. Is that safe?
That is what sometimes shocks Americans, but they don’t know that in many countries, that is actually part of the culture. Many islands, especially, they don’t have very good public transport so what you do is you simply hitchhike instead. Especially in small, island communities, it’s super safe. There are a lot of countries where it’s perfectly fine. And then you have countries and areas where you shouldn’t do it. It’s all about knowing what you’re doing. I try to always do research or ask people in the area.
I’ve been in more than 1,000 cars and I’ve not been threatened or harmed. In America was the only time when it felt a little bit unpleasant. I was near Silicon Valley, near San Francisco, and I just had to get from one hotel to another and there was no public transport and taxis were very expensive. I did this project on a very a low budget so I hitchhiked. I got a ride with a young couple and suddenly the girl starts smoking something really, really bad in the front seat and I got worried about what kind of people I was driving with.
There was one time in India, where a guy, on dangerous roads in the middle of the night, stopped the car. I was worried what was going to happen because he didn’t speak English. He took a bottle of vodka and he drank it all. I was in that car for some hours and I was just worried that he was going to have an accident. It was very scary. I think he was so worried himself about driving on probably the most dangerous roads in India that he decided to take this bottle of vodka and he just drank it all. I couldn’t believe. And I couldn’t leave the car because then I’d be in complete darkness on very dangerous roads where one step and I might die. So that’s why I had to trust him and stay in the car. I was so scared. That was the scariest experience in my travels. Even though I’ve been to places like Syria during the war, this was the scariest situation for me.
How do you overcome the language barriers?
What I’ve found is you just need English. More and more people around the world are learning English. In most places, you can usually find someone who can speak English or at least a little bit of English, and then you can get around. You just try and know a few words about where you’re going, like if you’re going on public transport, just make sure you have where you’re going written down or know how it’s pronounced and usually it goes pretty smooth. It’s not that big of a problem if you don’t speak the language.
I feel that’s something people maybe worry too much about and why they might not visit certain countries. I talk a lot about comfort zones. What stops people a lot from traveling is they’re too afraid of travel. I talk a lot about taking the first step, like traveling in your own country first, then go to a neighboring country, then go to destinations with infrastructure for tourism, like tourists destinations. Then slowly you just get more and more comfortable with travel. This was the journey I was on; it was pretty much like that. I never thought that I would go to a war zone in Syria or Afghanistan. As I get more and more comfortable traveling, it’s not really a problem for me to go to any of these places now.
How are you able to afford the travel?
I usually tell people two things, and that is: Stay with local people for free. There’s a website called couchsurfing.com, which is excellent. If you eliminate the number one expense when you travel, you’ve come a long way. The second thing you must do is to follow or sign up for newsletters for low-cost airlines and low-cost transport companies. If you do that, you have minimized the second biggest expense when you travel, and that is the transport. If you do those two things, you can travel on a very low budget. There are a lot more tips of how I keep my costs down like: eating at local supermarkets instead of going to expensive restaurants, hitchhiking, taking public transport instead of taxis, things like that.
When I reached 100 countries, I reached out to airlines, and the last four years, more than 100 airlines decided to sponsor me, so that helped me through to the last countries on a low budget. I spent an average of around $20 a day for around the 3,000 days I have traveled so far.
What do you pack in your suitcase?
I travel very light. I even did some months without it. I traveled with no bag at all, only things that would fit in my pockets. That was a really interesting experience because it’s much easier to hitchhike, I felt much more like a local, and it was easier to get through airport security. Nowadays, I do travel with a laptop. I travel with a little bit more clothes. It depends on the length of the trip.
I think the number one mistake probably people do with luggage is that they bring way too much clothes. If they need new clothes, they can buy it instead. It’s better that way than just carrying around so much clothes and making your travels more complicated.
What place are you most looking forward to visiting in the future?
I have a goal now of setting a world record of being the youngest person to visit all countries and territories, so now I’m so excited about visiting very remote places in the world that few people have ever visited. I might not ever be able to visit all 325 countries and territories, but I’ll do my best.
Otherwise, I look forward to visiting my remaining states in America. I look forward to seeing more of the countryside because I’ve mostly done cities in America. Yesterday, I was talking to a friend about doing all the oblasts of Russia—that’s their states. That might be another exciting trip.
At some point, I also want a family. As long as I haven’t found the right person yet, the right girl, I will just continue traveling and hopefully I’ll meet her out there somewhere.