201 countries by the age of 30: meet the Vagabjorn

He goes by the nickname ”Vagabjorn”, with Bjorn meaning ”bear” in Scandinavian and vagabonding being his profession. His travel addiction has led him on a quest to visit the world’s 201 countries by the age of 30, and 177 countries into his incredible voyage, it’s time you met Jørn Bjørn Augestad!

Traveling, especially solo travel, has a funny way of bringing you in contact with people you’ll never forget, no matter how few are the days you got to spend together. Such is the case with Jørn Bjørn, whom I met practically after touching down in Vanuatu, the first leg in my life-changing journey across the dream islands of the South Pacific. I quickly learned about his special quest and I’ve followed his incredible progress ever since.

The following guest post was written (overcoming considerable logistical challenges I must say) by the Vagabjorn. 

Jorn Bjorn

Meet Jørn Bjørn

I am writing these lines from a remote area in Southern Ethiopia called the Omo Valley, home to a number of ancient tribes whose unique diversity is studied by anthropologists to this very day.

Last week I was lucky enough to experience a pre-wedding “bull-jumping ceremony(Ukuli Bula) conducted by the Hamar tribe. This ancient right-of-passage ceremony involves grooms-to-be proving their courage by jumping naked over bulls while brides-to-be are whipped on their backs to show just how worthy the groom is for the village’s respect. As the naked men bravely leap from one bull’s back to another, the women look euphoric, as blood showers down their backs. Quite a powerful thing to witness!

Hammer tribe bull jumping ceremony - Vagabjorn

Hammer tribe female whipping ceremony - Vagabjorn

It’s my third time visiting Ethiopia, definitely one of my favorite destinations. Not only is it one of the most diverse places on Earth, but the food is surprisingly excellent. There is always something new to discover here. Before crossing over to neighboring Sudan,  I’ll be heading north over the next few weeks to explore the oldest churches in Africa, some of which date back to the 4th century AD.

My name is Jørn Bjørn Augestad. I am 28 years old and I originally come from a small island in Norway called Finnøy (here it is on Google Maps). Having to take a boat to school every day and with almost nothing to do on weekends and afternoons, I decided at the age of 16 to go on an exchange year in Austria. Looking back, that was the definitive moment of my life, when my travel addiction started. Having the opportunity to visit the neighboring countries and to experience new cultures, I started to feel “rootless”, like I didn’t belong anywhere. It is since then that I have been hooked on spending time away from what I used to call home.

Ethiopia Mursi Tribe - Vgabjorn

Visiting 201 Countries by the age of 30

My mission is to visit all 201 countries in the world by the time I reach 30, but I wasn’t always “counting countries” when traveling. The chase began in 2015 when I quit my job, sold all my unnecessary belongings and began to travel full time. At some point, I realized that I was pretty much already halfway towards the milestone and I decided that I might as well visit them all.

However, having this self-imposed time frame does have its drawbacks. Though I travel to gain new experiences, I sometimes discover places where I could easily stay for many weeks but I must keep going. I always tell myself that I’ll return to such places in the future.

Since you’re probably wondering, of course, parents don’t like it when their kids are traveling through countries known for corruption and civil war. But I guess that now that I have already visited most of the world’s 201 countries, they just trust I’ll make it safely through.

Pyramids of Giza - Vagabjorn

The Pyramids of Giza

Traveling around the world on a budget

My travel style is focused on spending less money instead of making more. By hitchhiking, camping, staying with locals where possible, eating street food and taking local transportation, you get a much better insight into the local culture. I also like the challenge of it, seeing how far I can stretch my budget. It’s a lot more thrilling than “playing it safe” by eating in Western-style restaurants, sleeping in hotels and taking taxis everywhere.

Over the last five years, I’ve been mixing full-time travel with working as a travel agent in Norway. This has often helped me take advantage of the best possible travel deals but it has also kept fueling my thirst for adventure. My favorite task was delivering sales presentations, where I would inspire people to go backpacking and tell them about amazing places to visit. I’ve been invited to do a month-long tour in September to deliver this kind of travel inspirational meetings all over Norway. This is the kind of job I very much look forward to, but working “9 to 5” in front of a computer is something I hope I will never have to do again.

Studying on a long tail boat in Myanmar - vagabjorn

Studying on a long tail boat in Myanmar

I am also trying to get started with doing some freelance jobs while being on the road. I am currently working on building a website that brings together travelers and relocation-seekers with experts who can assist with visa application letters, writing CV’s tailored to the local job markets, document translation and travel services to all the countries in the world, which I aim to have visited within a year’s time.

Hitchhiking in Israel

Israel is the perfect country for hitchhiking

Best travel stories so far

This “thrill list” is obviously an evolving one as I visit new countries, but there are already a few experiences I’ll never forget apart from the bucket-list of the New & Ancient Wonders of the World.

Petra Seven Wonders of the Modern World - vagabjorn

Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World

For example, earlier this year, I traveled upriver on a boat in Venezuela and one night we camped right next to Angel Fallsthe highest waterfall in the world at 979m (3,212ft). The stunning view from my hammock is something I will never forget. In the South Pacific island kingdom of Tonga, I went swimming with humpback whales. It’s one of the few places in the world where this is possible and the experience was so exceptional, that I chose to tattoo the whales on my chest afterward.

Camping next to Angel Falls

Camping next to Angel Falls

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Last month I visited Madagascar, which has become one of my favorite countries so far. Canoeing and camping on the Tsiribihina River and sleeping under the stars at Avenue of the Baobabs were both incredible experiences. It’s a place where two continents meet, and unique in so many ways.

Madagascar baobab Avenue - Vagabjorn

The Avenue of the Baobabs in Madagascar

But it’s also the interactions with locals that make this journey so worthwhile. I travel to experience culture and love it when people just do things in ways I simply don’t understand. For example, I was invited to a child’s birthday party in Sri Lanka. What I didn’t know was that I, coming there as a foreigner was one of the birthday presents for the girl. I watched as the girl picked up the cake and made all the guests eat it from her hand. I came last and had to eat the leftovers off her palm. Apparently, that was a normal thing to do there.

Travel horror stories

Sure, I’ve had my fair share of bad experiences too, but they always turn out to be a lesson learned and they make me a safer traveler. Two years ago, I was driving with some friends from Spain to South Africa and we had a pretty bad car crash, driving off a bridge in Morocco. On the same six-month trip, I was robbed and stabbed in Cameroon, got malaria in Nigeria and spent five days in jail in Burkina Faso. Just in case you’re wondering, the reason for locking me up was just because I did not carry my passport on me at a police checkpoint…

Morocco crash Vagabjorn

Morocco bus crash

But sometimes, it’s the less glamorous moments that turn out to be great experiences. In Mauritania, I snuck onto one of the world’s longest trains which stretches to a length of 2.5 km (1.6 miles). I then sat a whole night freezing on top of the iron ore carts in what was the coldest night of my life, passing the world’s second-biggest monolith (after Australia’s Ayers Rock) and watching the sunset over an incredible desert landscape. When the sun came up the next morning and as the train slowed down, I was frozen through and covered in black iron ore, but very happy to have made it through the journey.

Mauritania Iron Ore Train - Vagabjorn 2
Mauritania Iron Ore Train - Vagabjorn

On top of the iron ore train in Mauritania

The hottest night, on the other hand, was when I went hiking and camping in the mountains outside Muscat Oman, where it was 45 degrees Celsius during the day and 38 at night. I finished my water a bit earlier than anticipated and spent the night sweating in my tent. Luckily I passed by a French hiker the next morning who offered me some water which was enough to get me back to civilization.

The North Korea of Africa

People often think that North Korea is the toughest country to reach as a traveler. However, it was a surprisingly easy visit in my case. Perhaps my experience in arranging visas to North Korea as a travel agent made visiting this country relatively easy. As long as you follow the process, and you’re not either South Korean or American, visiting North Korea is certainly possible.

North korea Visit - Vagajorn

However, Equatorial Guinea and more so Eritrea – known as the “North Korea of Africa” – are the only countries which I tried, and also failed in getting a visa. I was waiting for one month in Khartoum for my Eritrea visa but had to give up as my Sudan visa was expiring. I tried getting my Equatorial Guinea visa in various African stops without luck so I will go to their embassy in London this summer on another attempt. My backup plan is to fly to Gabon, where people have reported to have received visas practically on the spot… for an $800 bribe to the local ambassador. Syria and Yemen would be other challenging stops at the moment, primarily for safety reasons.

How badly do you want it?

Dream big and travel far. Time and money are all about priorities.

Ask yourself, how do locals get by eating, traveling and sleeping cheap inexpensive destinations? In some islands in the Caribbean, Pacific or Indian Oceans, hotels cost upwards of 100 dollars per night, but locals might only make 2 dollars a day and yet they still make it somehow. It is possible to travel, no matter what budget you have as long as you are able to let go of the comforts you would have at home. It all depends just how badly you want it.

I have felt pretty pathetic sometimes, asking locals if I can pitch my tent in their garden while it is raining outside, going 72 hours without eating because of the lack of cheap food or when sitting in a cramped minibus for days together with goats, chicken and other people’s screaming children on my lap. But at the end, I am glad because it has allowed me to travel as much as I have for as little as I have managed to save up.

Sharing food on the street with locals in Senegal - Vagabjorn

Sharing food on the street with locals in Senegal

Rooftop shower in Micronesia - Vagabjorn

Rooftop shower in Micronesia

What’s next?

I have no plans to go home for at least another year. I will turn 30 in November 2019 and the plan is to visit the remaining 30 countries before then. I haven’t decided which country to save for last, but it might be a country that I haven’t visited that is relatively close to home, like Andorra or Monaco. If that’s the case, I hope to throw a massive party where friends, family and anyone who want to come will be invited.

Full moon party. Koh pangan. Thailand

Full moon party in Koh Phangan – Thailand

When I have visited all of the world’s 201 countries, I want to bring people to my favorite destinations, such as Venezuela, Ethiopia, Iran, and Madagascar. But who knows? Maybe I will have found other favorite countries by then.

Travel with me

Join me on the road as I close on visiting 201 countries. I publish posts weekly on my blog www.vagabjorn.com and try to post one picture every day on my Instagram account – vagabjorn. I also feature blog posts, articles etc about my journeys on my Facebook Page.

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