I recently had some interviews in Reykjavik about potentially being the most traveled living Icelander. It´s never fair to measure or compete in ´travel´, but they say 222 countries may be the record. Some are still unclear how many countries there are in the world (including me) but I tried to explain the numbers once here: “How many countries are there in the world?” When asked what countries are left, these are the 25ish countries, territories and islands I´m still on my way to, whether or not they count.
Central African Republic
Sao Tome Principe
South Georgia and South Sandwich islands
St. Helena, Ascension and Tristan de Cunha
Saint-Pierre and Miquelon
I´ve never traveled to check countries off a list, I simply travel to go to new places. However, its fun to count, continents, islands or borders or passport stamps, whatever system you like keeping track with, and the definition of a country has many interpretations. I think it´s weird to say I´ve been to Denmark when I went to Greenland, and even weirder to say I went to France when I went to Guadaloupe. Check out my blog on other examples, and please don´t be fooled the UN member states that total only 196 countries – many countries and sovereign territories are still fighting to be recognised and we should honor that.
We can all agree that people are getting a bit stir crazy, dreaming of their next trip and excited for traveling to return to ´normal´, but I´ve got to say its worth waiting for. Traveling during covid times is awkward, stressful and boring. Let me explain why.
Firstly and most importantly, the stupid covid test. Have you ever had someone tickle your gag reflex so long? Or a q-tip so far up your nose that it touched your brain? Ew, even writing about it brings back tears to my eyes and makes me want to cover my nose.
It’s a bit stressful waiting to find out if your flight is cancelled or delayed, or if border rules change and you can no longer enter Finland or mandatory quarantine begins again in London (both true examples for Icelanders). Worse than that is the policy of the airlines, to wait until 48 hours before departure to tell you about any changes, which screws up connecting flights and hotel bookings but no one is insured or responsible for lost cost because it’s a ´pandemic.´
The airports are eerily empty, most shops are closed, and they ask you to wear a mask the entire time while keeping a 2m distance. Then you board your plane, which Icelandair has filled by cancelling every flight the days before and after your departure to get everyone on board at once, and you have to keep your mask on while sitting mere centimeters away from strangers. The flight attendants do little or nothing, not even sanitize your seat, but may sell drinks and pick up garbage. So then the guy beside you has his mask off as he drinks his beer and you end up breathing the same recycled air unprotected.
Then you finally get to where you are, and think its all been worth it (which it is), but as your vacation comes to an end, remember that you have to do it all over again to get back home. And go thru two more covid tests and another week or two in quarantine.
Its been so long since Ive traveled that I actually felt jet-lagged, maybe for the first time in my life. With only a 3 hour time difference, I still couldn’t adjust to Estonian time until basically my last day, and now Im home in quarantine still on Estonian time. Which is actually pretty great – Im more productive waking up with sunrise! The worst thing about returning home was definitely the border control for covid tests. I couldn’t get that q-tip far enough up my nose again that I opted for a longer quarantine, which everyone should have the choice to do, but was drilled by two different police men as if I was surely sick, contagious and on a witness stand guilty until proven innocent. They barely let me thru the border, and reminded me 5 times about the 250.000kr fine for breaking quarantine. Luckily for me, theres not much open or happening anyway, so ill do just fine at home writing and preparing for my photo exhibit at Flæði next month.
“Katrín Sif Einarsdóttir is probably the most widely traveled Icelander and she has traveled to over 220 countries. She plans to complete the remaining 25. Katrín talked to Heimi Karlsson and Gulla Helga in Bítin á Bylgjan this morning.
“Right now I’m in Iceland and I’m in quarantine,” says Katrín and laughs.
“I was coming from Estonia and was with a cooking team that was competing in a cooking competition. I got to come along as a cheerleader. “
According to formal records, there are only 195 countries in the world, but that is a defining factor and there are actually more.
“I aim to go to about 25 more countries. I’m good at traveling with a backpack and even camping in some places. I do not spend a lot of money on accommodation and I often travel between countries by bus or by hitchhiking. ” She says that it is always cheaper to be abroad than in Iceland. “The cost of food and small items, it goes up so fast at home, but outside I can live on a thousand ISK a day for three meals.”
She says that she has been in some danger during her great journey around the world. “It can be dangerous to be anywhere and it has never stopped me. What stops me is just simply getting to the place. I have for example come to North Korea where it is not difficult to get in. It was still a bit scary to start with, but then when you realize its no problem and I was probably the safest woman in the country, because everyone is watching you and following what happens with you, therefore nothing can happen to you, “says Katrín, who has traveled to the most dangerous countries in the world.
“It is always possible to find places in these countries that are not dangerous and I have been to the countryside a lot, e.g. in Afghanistan, “said Katrín, who has traveled to Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and other countries. Her favorite country is simply Iceland, but she is also very fond of Argentina.
Birna Dröfn Jónasdóttir called me for an interview, and together over the phone we experienced a 5.6 richter scale earthquake. ´Did you feel that?´she asked, and later laughed and said ´we´ll never forget this phone call!´
Here is a translation of the article “Almost visited every country in the world” that you can find in its original Icelandic version on Frettablaðið:
Katrín Sif Einarsdóttir has traveled to 222 countries and has few countries left to have traveled to all countries in the world. The pandemic has put a temporary stop to it, but Katrín Sif enjoys traveling in Iceland while it passes.
It’s okay to be in Iceland for a while, but just take a break, not to stop forever,” says Katrín Sif Einarsdóttir, who can probably be called the most widely traveled Icelander. Katrín, 33, has traveled to 222 countries in her lifetime. She set a goal to travel to 200 countries before she turned thirty, and she made it a few days before her big birthday, which she celebrated in Mauritius.
“There are few countries left that are new to me. I have, however, traveled a lot lately and was very diligent in visiting countries I had visited before until COVID hit, “says Katrín. She is used to traveling many months a year and finances it by stopping in Iceland for a few months where she works as a tour guide. Before the epidemic, for example, she recently traveled to the United States, Italy, France, and Argentina, which is one of her favorite places.
The epidemic has put an end to travel for now and Katrín says that March and April have been the most difficult for her. “I had a hard time with this this spring because there was so much uncertainty, it was very difficult for me not to even be able to worry or plan about where I was going next,” says Katrín, but adds that she did enjoy the summer in Iceland.
“I love the summer in Iceland but now there was no work for me in the tourism industry so I could travel here myself and see all the places I wanted to see,” she explains, but Katrín owns a small campervan that she traveled around the country this summer .
During her travels around the world, Katrín has taken a myriad of photographs and she aimed to set up an exhibition with her photographs and the history of her travels in Flæði on Vesturgata next weekend. However, the show has been postponed until November due to the epidemic.
“I have chosen about 200 pictures that I was going to show along with cards and money from the places I have visited,” she says, but Katrín has in her possession currency from all the 222 countries she has visited.
Asked where she intends to go next, she says she is happy to stop for a while back home in Iceland, but she has started planning her next trip. “I’m not going to stop traveling and have a baby tomorrow, but I’m quite willing to stay here for a while,” she says. “Since then I have been planning a trip to Sao Tome and Principe in West Africa which I was going to go to in April but I will go there as soon as I can.”
I´m lucky to call some impressive chefs my closest friends, and the only way out of Iceland this October was with their help. I jumped on the Bocuse d´or team bandwagon to the European pre-competition, held in Tallinn October 15-16 after being postponed twice since the original March date. Instead of 22 countries competing, border closures and rising covid numbers meant 7 couldn´t make it so 16 countries gathered in Estonia to compete. Team Iceland just made it thru the cracks, not knowing if they would compete or not until all ten team members were actually landed in Tallinn and their second covid test came back with a negative result.
Good thing we did got to participate, since it was one of Iceland´s best results ever. We won the best fish dish, beating all the heavy hitters normally on the podium: Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Overall we landed in 4th place, which has happened a couple of times before, but now we´re motivated to beat the normal podium takers and go for top 3 in the worldwide Bocuse d´or next summer in Lyon.
Tallinn itself was pretty relaxed, covid cases next to none. Things were definitely noticeably quieter, as every city center is that relied heavily on tourism, but at least people felt safe in the streets and restaurants. Even bars stayed open with no social distancing rules, and wearing a mask was the only requirement at the Bocuse competition.
We wined and dined our way through some great restaurants – Nok Nok, Noa and F-Hoone to name a few. We stayed at the Tallink Spa hotel, complete with an indoor pool and half a dozen different dry saunas and steam rooms. We shopped at malls and walked thru markets, enjoying the simple pleasures of being tourists in a foreign city. Falling leaves met green grass and crisp autumn nights made our surroundings feel exotic. It´s a beautiful thing to see a different angle of the sun, smell slightly warmer air, and feel like a stranger in the most familiar way again.
On our way home, after a couple of hours flight delay in Tallinn, Icelandair cancelled our flight to Reykjavik and we overnighted in Copenhagen. We were politely asked to stay in our hotel, which we got to without any facial intrusions, but we had to leave to get food (and wine). We dined at Barr and I ran into an old friend for a glass of wine, and rode the M2 train back to Kastrup the next morning at a civilized hour. It was almost too easy to stay… I am surprised I actually made it home.