POC Interviews :: Gunnar Garfors

Traveling has always been a passion of mine. No matter what plans I come up with, I always try to include some sort of traveling (that’s part of how People of Change came to be what it is). It’s no wonder then that whenever something related to traveling pops up on my timeline, I have a high tendency to check it out. “The 10 most remote islands,” “The 15 most friendly countries to visit”, “The 7 least touristy destinations”, “22 photos of places you still don’t know”; these are all lists I would most definitely click. And that’s precisely how I came across Gunnar Garfors. There was an article being shared on Facebook listing the 25 least visited countries on the planet – just the type of destination I usually have my eyes on. After reading the article (and making some mental plans of how I could visit some of those countries), I read the following introduction to the article’s author “world’s youngest hobby traveler to visit all countries”.

That was enough of an introduction to get me to start researching more about the author. Born in Norway, Gunnar has been traveling since he was 17; and after reading a bit more about his life and his experiences, I knew he could certainly offer some perspective on certain global issues. After all, “a traveler without observation is a bird without wings” (Moslih Eddin Saadi). So, let’s get to it!

People of Change :: To start off, what’s the inspiration behind all this traveling?

Gunnar Garfors :: I am very curious, I like to see things for myself and I truly believe that the best way to learn about yourself and the world is by exploring and meeting new people. Each country, city or new place inspired me to visit the next. Every place is unique and has something to offer.

POC :: Every country has its own culture, and even within a country, there are usually different cultures. Despite these differences, did you find any common denominator that unites all people?

GG :: I would say that my belief in the world has strengthened through travel. People everywhere are as a rule are good hearted and want the best for everyone. Smiles directed towards unknown strangers from people everywhere make me smile, and smiles unite people like no other thing has in all of human history.

POC :: From Tunisia to Egypt, Turkey to Brazil, we’ve seen youth protests happening all over the world, seeking betterments in their countries. Did you come across any of these protests?

GG :: I was never directly involved in any of the protests, but I saw people protesting recently in Egypt, Turkey and Libya and spoke to them. What impressed me the most was the non-violent protests that most Turkish people demonstrated in Istanbul when I last visited in June. In the evening, at 21:00, almost everyone started making sounds, by tapping their glasses with their cutlery in restaurants, by hitting car roofs with their hands or just by clapping. It lasted for minutes and it was a very clear, yet totally peaceful, protest against a government that seems to be cutting down on individual rights. People I spoke to in these countries were all very concerned about people’s rights, about freedom of speech and about freedom of religion. It seems so meaningless that so many governments around the world try to limit their own people, the people who make sure the governments are well off through trade and taxes. There are in general too many rules and regulations in many countries, designed to oppress people. Unfortunately, many of the rules are disguised as religion, which makes it easier for governments to punish people who do not obey, and to get governmental support from followers.

POC :: During your travels, did you get involved with any non-governmental organization or any type of volunteer work? How was the experience?

GG :: I have never worked for any NGOs, but I have spoken with many NGO employees and volunteers. I am really impressed by a lot of the work that is being done and by the dedication of so many individuals. There are so many fantastic NGOs out there, unfortunately there are a few other organizations that tarnish the work done by these by posing as serious NGOs for the benefit of own owners/employees.

POC :: Nearly half of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 a day). Being that you are from Norway, you are used to being on the other extreme of the list. Where did you find the most challenging realities?

GG :: Being from a wealthy country such as Norway certainly puts experiences in perspective, including my own travels. It is not really fair to even try to pick the worst, so many people are affected in many countries. There have certainly been a lot of challenging realities, what still surprises me is how welcome I usually feel with people in impoverished areas and slums. A lot of people there are really dedicated to what is usually their low paid work, and they have a dream to improve conditions for themselves, their families and friends.

POC :: After visiting all these countries, much has been learned and observed. What lesson do you take from this experience? Do you have any thoughts on how we can become a more equal planet?

GG :: A lot of it is about understanding the situations of others, understanding each other’s lives. Only then can real change slowly be made. I do genuinely believe that the best way of making a more equal world is by removing toll barriers and encouraging trade. There are a lot of great NGOs out there, but I still think that some of them should change focus and that more efforts and money should be used to encourage people to set up their own businesses and to trade with neighboring countries in a much larger extent. I think that Dambisa Moyo comes up with a lot of mind changing information and ideas in her book “Dead Aid“, and I would recommend everyone to read it in order to get a different perspective than what is usually portrayed in the media.

To make the world more equal I think it is crucial to expand horizons, to understand how other people live and to realize that everything is not as nice, good and easy as it seems back in your secure and protected home.

POC :: Do you have any tips for anyone trying to beat your record? ;)

GG :: It takes a lot of dedication and sacrifices. It doesn’t have to be very expensive though, given that you take a lot of time out to do it and agree to live on a shoestring. Of course, most people would never spend that much time or be willing to cut down on their standards of living. I do not think it is a matter of setting or beating a record either, but I wish more people would think twice before travelling to the same spots they always go to. Dare to open your eyes, dare to find out how other people live their lives, dare to feel bad because you are among the few lucky percent out there.

I just wrote an article about travel tips, some of them may be useful.

The video above is from Gunnar’s trip, in which he visited 5 continents in just 1 day.