Entrevista con Henrik Jeppesen

INTERVIEW WITH A NOMAD

Henrik may need no introduction. The young man from Denmark who completed every UN country by the age of 27, Henrik has been a NomadMania ambassador as of January. Today, he tells us a bit about himself and how he sees the world.

Bremen

Henrik, tell us a little about your early days and your background.

I grew up in the Thy-district of Northwestern Jutland, where Denmark later got its first national park, called National Park Thy. I didn't travel much as a child, but went alone to Egypt and South East Asia when I was 17. I have since had travel as my primary focus and sacrificed a lot to travel as much as I have. Almost always I travel alone and very light. I focus on low-cost travel in order to travel as much as I can, and especially like the Nomad Mania list in finding new inspiration after visiting every country in the world.

Sierra Leone
So how and why did the idea of going to every country get into your head, and how did you manage to make it a reality? 

Just after reaching 100 countries. It's a process. First I wanted to do 50 countries, then 100 and then I felt comfortable doing them all. Why? I think because I could. I had the chance to visit every country, and I love travelling. It was probably not initially on my mind as I thought of it as being unrealistic, then when I realised I can actually do them all both safety and financial-wise, I decided to go for it. The main reason it was possible was because of cost-saving. I focused on keeping my cost down by travelling light, staying with local people, getting hotel and flights sponsored, hitchhiking (which I have probably done more than 1,000 times) often avoiding restaurants and instead buying food at supermarkets, using low-cost airlines or buses among other things. If you want to travel full-time and you are not able to make a lot of money doing it, it is very important to find ways of keeping the cost down.

Libya
You are one of the youngest people in the world to have done every country, you were 27 when you did your last one. Do you believe that doing this so young is a plus or a minus? Now that you are travelling again, do you see differences in how you see and understand the world compared to when you were ticking countries? 

It is both. It took me approximately 2,500 travel days to visit every country. Some might say it's not enough time to have experienced every country and that is fair enough. With Nomad Mania, I try to go back to almost, if not all, countries again and experience more. It's fascinating, but more like a hobby now. It's really a matter of priorities. Sure, I can get above 1,200 NomadMania regions done if I put travel as the number one priority, but life is also about other things. It's my goal to eventually complete the list of world regions, but not at all costs. 

Ogasawara, Japan
What were the biggest challenges and the biggest rewards for you as you were doing all the countries? 
The most difficult part was Africa by far. Difficult visas, bad infrastructure, pollution, dusty roads, corruption and safety concerns. Also, visiting Syria during the war was a big challenge. I managed to get the visa after a Danish journalist got me in contact with a guy in Syria who was a friend of the Syrian Ambassador in North Korea. So I had the visa, but still, my fixer had a job to do to convince the border guards/immigration officers that I was visiting Syria for tourism (December 2015).

Libya. None of the Libyan embassies was able to help me with a visa, so I contacted the Danish journalist, Rasmus Tantholdt again instead. He provided me with a contact of the responsible for foreign media in Libya. Within 20 minutes of adding him to What's App, he had already guaranteed me a visa and called the airline to offer me a free ticket. Incredible help. In Libya, he took excellent care of me and took me to a press conference where I met the Prime Minister.

Equatorial Guinea. I wasted many hours on the Equatorial Guinea visa. First, their embassy in Pretoria tried to help me, but without success. Then their embassy in Libreville guaranteed me a visa. I waited for one week, but they didn't keep their promise. Other travellers have been able to get a visa by paying an extreme amount, but with my low budget that wasn't an option. Instead, I printed an A4-page about myself and went to their consulate in Lagos, Nigeria where I got the visa on the same day as their ambassador was helpful and interested in helping my project of visiting every country in the world. It's such a beautiful country, but unfortunately so hard to get in for Europeans.

Republic of Congo.Following a trouble-free visit to Brazzaville, I took a domestic Trans Air Congo flight to Pointe-Noire, the second biggest city in the country with a population of around half of Brazzaville's. It is also a beach destination and probably the closest Congo gets to a tourist destination. Trans Air Congo had arranged for me to stay for two nights at Hotel Palm Beach, a comfortable 4-star hotel of international standards and one of the best in the city. I rarely take a taxi when I travel, but in most parts of Africa, they are quite cheap. A taxi from the airport to the hotel cost me only 1,000 CFA (close to 2 dollars), and I was pleased with the quality of the hotel. Contemporary design, free internet that wasn't slow and good, affordable food. The city itself does not have much to offer except the beautiful beach located right outside the Palm Beach Hotel, and this is where the scary story begins. On my day of departure, I decided to take some photos of the beach, but suddenly a man that looked to be a security guard was yelling at me from a distance running towards me. Having travelled a lot in Africa, I knew what this meant. Paying a fine for doing nothing wrong, and if I refuse, I might end up in prison like British adventurer Graham Hughes did in this country. I ran back to the hotel, went up to my hotel room and changed my shirt. I asked the hotel to get me a taxi to the airport to come right to the entrance of the lobby, so I would avoid getting in trouble with the security guard from the beach. If you think this story it scary, just wait. It gets even scarier. I arrived at the airport, and some guys grabbed my passport and wanted to check-in for me. I refused when I found out these guys were not airport staff to check my ticket, but there to make money out of people. At first, they refused to give me my passport back, and then I got upset and got it. Following a successful check-in, a police officer took my passport and began to fill out my departure form and refused to accept my multiple "no thank you." He, of course, wanted money and got upset when I refused to give it to him. I did not need his help, and it was again an awful impression of the city of Pointe-Noire. Followed another bad experience, I arrived at security in this international airport where they threatened me. Some of the worst I have experienced in my travels. The guy did not speak English but wanted to check my entire bag and my pockets including the wallet. He said it is not allowed to bring CFA out of Congo, despite the fact that it's the primary currency in West and Central Africa. I refused to let him see the wallet, and he got very upset and said something in French that felt very threatening. I must admit I got quite afraid if he would call some of his "friends" at the airport to get as much money out of me as possible. While waiting for his permission, to proceed to the gate, I managed to hide my wallet on the inside of my jeans to increase my chance of not getting caught. Eventually, another guy came and also aggressively wanted money, but after a few minutes, I was finally allowed to go to the gate and leave this horrible airport. Despite a trouble-free visit to Brazzaville, thanks to Mikhael's Hotel, I would consider Congo as one of my least favourite countries based on the horrifying experience in Pointe-Noire.

Slovakia
Tell us a couple of travel stories which really made a difference to you as a person.

Hospitality at its best. Having successfully obtained a visa for Azerbaijan in Batumi, Georgia I travelled to the border. Unfortunately, it was only valid on the next day so I had to wait until midnight before I could continue my journey. Right after midnight, I get into Azerbaijan, but there was no transport or any people on the other side. I can do nothing but stand and wait in the dark. Finally, a car came, and I put up my thumb. A man and a woman were in the car and didn't speak a word of English. The man made a quick call, talked for a minute and gave me the phone. "Hello I'm an English teacher, my friends are worried about you, can they take you to their house?". They then invited some friends, over and I told my story to the English teacher on the phone and she translated it. The man picking me up then arranged one of his friends to drive me to the near 500 kilometres to Baku for just a bit more than a bus ticket would have cost. I arrived at 6 in the morning and was able to continue my travels as planned thanks to the extraordinary Azerbaijani hospitality.

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 my 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.

Egypt

You are from Denmark. The rest of the world tends to lump all Scandinavians into one category. How is Denmark different from its neighbours? And what does being Danish mean to you? 

One of the things that sadly comes to mind is life expectancy. Danes on average don't get as old as Norwegians and Swedes, and the main reason is said to be tobacco and alcohol. I read recently In Norway, 3 per cent of 16-24-year-olds smoke, while in Denmark it is 16 per cent. That's a shocking difference for two countries that are otherwise much alike. I don't like the Danish drinking culture, and several other things about our culture, but I am proud to be Danish. It's a great country to live in. Safe and the country generally takes care of its people well. I don't know where I will spend most of my time for the rest of my life, but it might very well be in Denmark. It means a lot for me to be Danish. I like travelling, but I also know where home is for me!

Auschwitz, Poland
What are some of your favourite places in Denmark that travellers may not know? 

National Park Thy. Denmark's first national park. I grew up around a mile from the park.

Klitmøller, Thy, nick name "Cold Hawaii". A very nice beach destination in the summer. Nearby Bøgsted Rende has a great beach. A lovely place to enjoy a cold drink in the summer. Oh, I miss summer. It's so cold right now (at the time of this interview.

Hvidsten Kro. Historical Inn with traditional Danish food. It's a lovely inexpensive place to spent an afternoon or evening.

Grenen, Skagen. The northenmost point of Jutland. A beautiful point. Quite a walk, but well worth it.

Læsø Island.

Rebild Bakker. Stunning nature and lovely out of the season as there are just a few tourists.

Slettestrand. A lovely little village with beautiful nature and beach.

Ærø Island.

Augustenborg Palace on Als Island. Stunning by the sea and a great place to relax.

Stella Maris, Svendborg. One of Denmark's best hotels, but little known.

Falsled Kro, known by many, but this is an exceptional experience in stunning surroundings. 

A touch of modernity
You are aiming to eventually complete the NomadMania list of 1281 regions. What travels do you have in the pipeline for this year? 

I will visit Brazil next week and might be in South America for some time. Then plan to do more of Europe. One region at a time. I don't know if I can ever complete the list, but it is a nice challenge for sure. 

And finally, our signature question - if you could invite any four people to dinner from any era in human history, who would you invite and why? 

I really don't know, as I am usually not a fan of sci-fci movies and I don't think it would be ever possible to have dinner with people that have passed away. I try to focus on realistic goals and from our time, a person like Elon Musk would be fantastic to meet, but not a goal and probably not realistic.

Henrik on TV
The photos in this interview are from Henrik's personal collection and we thank him for sharing his images with us here at NomadMania!