NEW YORK — At 28, Henrik Jeppesen can already say he’s been to every country in the world.
It took him 10 years and around 900 flights to visit all 193 countries. His journey ended in Eritrea in April — three days before his 28th birthday.
Jeppesen grew up in Copenhagen, and wanted to start traveling at age 13.
“I like cinema from all over the world … it’s fascinating to me, it inspired me to travel.”
Finally, in 2006 at age 17, with a note from his parents granting permission, he made his first trip: Egypt.
“It has good infrastructure with tourism,” he said on why he chose the country.
That trip was followed up by a visit to Southeast Asia where he spent time exploring the region.
He didn’t initially start off with the goal to visit every country in the world. His first goal was 50 countries. Then it expanded, but he still capped it at 100, “for the purpose of not going to so-called dangerous countries,” he said.
But eventually Jeppesen realized that people often have misconceptions about certain countries, and that he wanted to see them all.
“Travel opens your eyes to different cultures and you are more open to diversity,” he said. “I would say Iran has negative implications because of the actions of its government, but they have the friendliest people in the world.”
While he made contacts and friendships while globe trotting, he traveled solo most of the time. “It’s difficult to convince people to visit the less-traveled destinations.”
When he first started out, there was a lot of boot-strapping.
He couch surfed, hitchhiked (which he admits isn’t safe or practical in every country) and bought his meals at supermarkets rather than restaurants.
In total, Jeppesen says he was on the road for around 3,000 days, spending an estimated $80,000 on his journey — which breaks down to around $25 a day. Some days no money left his pocket while other times he would have to spend $100 for a visa.
He’s also an extremely light packer, and does laundry in his bathroom sink or tub. He once went six months while on the road without any bags. All he had was his iPhone and charger, passport, credit card, headphones and an extra pair of underwear.
“Anything I could fit in my pocket,” he said, adding that he bought new clothes when necessary.
Traveling bagless made airport security a breeze, but it also made him more appealing to the locals when looking for a ride.
“It was an experiment. I knew I was going to hitchhike a lot and thought it would be easier to look like a local without a bag.”
In 2010, he started traveling full time and later started a blog to chronicle his journeys. As his readership expanded, Jeppesen reached out to hotels and airlines to tell them about his goal and asked for sponsorships.
He struck deals for free rooms and airfare in exchange for writing about his experiences and mentions on his blog.
“Start with a small airline. They might not get as many requests and you might be more successful,” he said. “And always just ask for one ticket.”
When he isn’t able to get free tickets, he works to get the cheapest airfare possible by following airlines online and signing up for email alerts and newsletters. He’s been able to score $2 tickets on AirAsia.
“You have to look year-round for these promos, and buy a lot of tickets when they do go on sale.”
As Jeppesen’s blog and social media following swelled, it became easier for him to land free transportation or accommodations, but he still takes a minimalistic approach to travel.
“I continue to stay with local people,” he said. “Staying in a private home … can be be a better experience. It’s more personal, but you do compromise some of your privacy and work time.”
In addition to the income generated from his blog and social media accounts, Jeppesen also makes money from giving lectures about his globetrotting experiences, consulting and planning trips for other travelers wanting to visit remote or hard-to-access countries.
He’s been back at home in Denmark since mid July, but isn’t planning on putting down roots again just yet. He hopes to better explore America next year so he can check off all 50 states.
For people looking to travel the world, he suggests they start their journey close to home, then move to neighboring countries that have a strong infrastructure and established tourism industry. To get the best experiences, he urges travelers to live and eat locally.
While he now has friends across the globe, his journey around the world came with sacrifices. He skipped getting a college degree and went for long periods of time without seeing his family and friends.
“Every experience I’ve had is much more valuable than anything I could buy,” he said. “This is why I’ve chosen to travel.”