Jørn Bjørn Augestad with the nickname “Vagabjorn” has visited every country in the world and he completed the quest at the age of 29. In this exclusive interview with EveryCountryInTheWorld.com, he shares some of his favourites and stories.
Please introduce yourself
I’m 31 years old, born and raised in Norway. Ever since I moved to Austria for an exchange year at age 16, I have had the feeling of being rootless, like I don’t belong anywhere, but instead that I belong everywhere. I spend most of my time on the road, only working a few months a year as a tour guide to save up money for my travels.
How many countries have you been to?
All of them. I count 195 which are the 193 UN members plus the 2 UN observer countries.
How many days have you approximately travelled?
More than 2000 days.
What are three of your favourite countries and why?
My favourite country is Ethiopia because it’s one of the most diverse countries on the planet. You have a tribal culture in the south, old Islamic cities in the east and in the North you have ancient rock-hewn churches in Lalibela which would almost deserve to be the 8th wonder of the World.
My second favourite is Pakistan because I love the food, the people and the mountains there. The third would be Madagascar because I think it is one of the most unique countries in the world.
Are there any countries you don’t enjoy travelling?
I have enjoyed all countries, but the ones I found the least interesting were Liechtenstein, San Marino and Luxembourg.
What are three of your favourite cities, and why?
My favourite city is Cape Town, probably because I spent one semester there and know the city pretty well. Secondly, I like Buenos Aires, and thirdly Tokyo.
What are three of your favourite hotels or places you’ve stayed and why?
Camping in one of Saddams old hotels in Kurdistan was nice- we woke up with a very nice view of Amedi which is a beautiful town.
Couchsurfing in a 5-star resort in Mauritius and getting a promotional (free) stay in a hotel suite in Barbados was also pretty nice!
What are the three worst places you’ve stayed?
I’ve Couchsurfed in the slums of Liberia and slept on top of a truck and a train in the Sahara, but the worst place I have stayed at was in a whore house in Niger which was the only budget place I could find in the capital Niamey. There were condoms everywhere and sounds that kept me awake all night, so I ended up leaving early morning before the sun had come up.
What are three of your favourite restaurants, and why?
I’ve had some really fancy dining with a 12 course “Degustacion” experience in Buenos Aires and have worked as a food experience guide in my hometown Stavanger, but never eaten at a Michelin star restaurant as I am travelling on a budget and mostly stick to street food.
What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?
My favourite travel moment must be sitting on top of the worlds longest train going through the Sahara to the coast of Mauritania, swimming with humpback whales in Tonga and standing on top of a volcano in Vanuatu, all of which all were moments where I was a bit scared but felt very alive at the same time.
What are three of your worst travel moments, and why?
Getting malaria in Nigeria, getting robbed and stabbed in my hand in Cameroon and spending 5 days in jail in Burkina Faso must have been my worst travel experiences.
Follow up question: How did you get robbed and stabbed in your hand in Cameroon? is your hand ok now?
When I was in Cameroon I got sick with malaria. I decided to get into a taxi and rush to the hospital, but on the way there a group of 8-9 bandits stopped the taxi and tried to steal all my valuables, including my computer, my hard drive, my passport and my camera, which I all had in a small backpack. I could not let that happen and started fighting with the robbers, and while I was punching one of them another one came with a knife and stabbed me in the hand with it. I quickly let go of my backpack, and since I came to the hospital with no money they wouldn’t treat either my stabbing wound or my malaria. It was first when my friend came around an hour later that I got help. My hand is now fine, but I have a scar from the stabbing wound which I will keep with me forever.
Follow up question: How did you get in jail in Burkina Faso for five days?
In Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso I applied for a tourist visa to Ghana which was supposed to take 7 days, so I then made a copy of my passport and headed to Bobo Dioulasso for a festival that was going to happen there. On the train ride, there was a passport inspection where I only had the copy of my passport and not a copy of the visa, which they found suspicious, so they decided to put me in jail and leave me there until my friends came to report me missing 5 days later.
What are three of your best travel tips?
The easiest way to save money is by cutting down on accommodation costs. The way I do it is by bringing a tent to go camping and also by using Couchsurfing and staying at hostels instead of hotels. I always connect with locals who I can ask questions to avoid being scammed and to get local advice about where to go and what to see. Packing light also makes you more flexible, as you don’t need to have a base to put all your stuff.
Do you have any little known travel tips?
Instead of getting your airport taxi at the arrivals hall, try to hail down one in the departure hall. You will see that the rates will be a lot lower.