In our last issue we interviewed Britt-Marie, the first Swedish woman to visit every country; we now interview another Swede who has over the course of the years visited every UN country, Eddie Gustin.
Eddie, tell us something about your early years and your background.
I was born and raised in Sweden. Already at the age of 12 I heard from a family friend at the dinner table who had been inter-railing (travelling by train in Europe) stories about his travels. That´s when I made up my mind, I also want to be able to tell stories from travels abroad. But I had to wait until I was 18 before I could travel on my own!
However, when I was 17, I couldn’t wait any longer, so I went out inter railing in Europe for a month with a friend. Back in school I took language courses to be able to work abroad as a travelling salesman. That was my idea, to work and earn money at the same time as travelling.
After school I had to do military service in Sweden, that led me to do UN-service in Bosnia for 7 months. During this time, I booked a tour with the Pink Caravan, a Swedish overland company. For two months I was travelling with them in Africa and realized that this was the best I have ever done. I applied to work for the company, it took me more than a year to get the job and ever since then I´ve been working for the same company. I was on the road driving this overland bus for 10 years and now I´ve been in the office for 12 years.
When my tours with the company ended I continued travelling on my own, overland. I was travelling 10 months a year for almost 10 years. It took me 25 years to visit all the countries in the world. I visited them all overland except for some islands.
Do you do anything so the travels don´t start to feel repetitive?
Every country has something that is unique. I always try to find things, areas or places that I haven´t seen or done before. I always try to find that extra and my motto is:” Why do it easy when you can do it interesting”. I choose the more interesting way of travel around instead of the comfortable way. I fly as little as possible, due to the carbon footprint, but also because travelling overland makes it more adventurous and you meet more local people.
What was the moment when you decided you want to be a ‘country collector’?
When I was 16 years old, I heard from my friend’s parents that they counted countries and there a seed was sown. I heard that one has to visit 30 countries to be a globetrotter so this was my first goal. Next goal was 100 countries, when I heard about Club100, our Swedish travel club. After that I thought it would be impossible for an “ordinary” person to visit all countries but I continued travelling and realized when I visited about 160 countries, that it is possible to visit them all. So that’s when I actually made up my mind, even if I had the dream since I was a kid to visit all the countries I thought it would end as a dream.
Tell us a little more about Club100.
Club100 was founded by two gentlemen, Gunnar Matsson and Arnold Wernersson. They counted their visited countries in a wadi in Oman and realized they visited more than 100 countries. So, they got the idea to start a club for people with the same interest. To share stories and hidden treasures off the beaten track. The members were very few the first years before the internet and the website came up. But then more and more people found the website and now we are about 75 members and about the same number of associate members who have visited at least 50 countries. All are Swedish citizens.
We have an official meeting once a year. Every second year we are in Sweden in different locations. At the meetings in Sweden we vote for where we will be for the next meeting that always takes place abroad, usually in a less visited country. We do have other meetings as well, after works every 10th of the month in three different locations in Sweden. Plus, occasional gatherings if someone in the club finds something interesting for the club.
Where do you usually spend your time while you are back home?
I spend my time with my kids in Stockholm. My passions now that I´ve visited all countries are carpeting and working on my old classic car. But I do enjoy my goal of travelling, I still do travel but not like collecting countries or territories but experiences now.
There are probably a lot of people you met that had a great impact on you, but tell us a story of one.
That´s another big traveler, Jose from Spain, who has been spending his money on building a school in an area in DRC which is controlled by the rebels. His energy to help others is impressive. We met in Palau as he is a country collector as well. Then we decided to travel together to Yemen and CAR. A great travel companion. He has actually also been interviewed by Nomad Mania. (ed: indeed, in issue 38 back in 2016).
Tell us one story of the trip that went wrong but seems funny now.
I was on a local bus in Guatemala when I felt my stomach was turning upside down. I felt that if I don´t find a toilet NOW there will be an accident in my pants. So I asked the driver if he could stop somewhere for toilet. He saw my forehead being sweaty and my desperation in my eyes. He said there is no public toilet but he stopped by a house and I rushed out, asking the family for a toilet. Again, my desperation was shining through. They were shocked when they saw me, without words they pointed in the direction to the house. I ran in, found the toilet, sat down and like a cluster bomb I sprayed the whole toilet. It was such a release and I could start breathing again. Then I realized there was no water to flush the toilet. I looked around to find something to clean the toilet with, at the same time the bus driver honked the horn for me to hurry up. So what to do? I ran out, said thank you and I´m so very sorry to the family and got on the bus which continued. I still feel so bad for the poor family when they saw their dirty toilet.
What is the oddest place you have ever spent the day or night?
I spent a day in San Pedro prison in La Paz, Bolivia. A prison where the interns run the place. There are only guards on the outside. On the inside there was a Godfather who made up the rules. The cells were all different. From small rooms to big apartments. Depending how much you could spend on accommodation. There were drugs on sale and children were living with their parents in the prison. A very odd place indeed. I heard it is closed for visitors now, but I´m not sure.
If you were ‘condemned’ to one country for the rest of your life, which one would you choose and why?
I would choose Brazil because of the nature, the climate and the people.
Finally, our signature question – if you could invite any 4 people from any period in human history to dinner, who would you invite and why?
Marco Polo – to hear about central Asia and China before the influence from Europe. The great Chinese cultures which was so much more cultivated than the rest of the world at that time.
David Livingstone – To hear about the native Africans before the colonization. And more about how he managed to cross the continent the way he did. Not having a clue of what was in front of him.
Charles Darwin – to hear about how the Pacific Ocean and the natives in these islands.
Christopher Columbus – to hear about the meeting with the American Indians.
Actually, I have the same reason for inviting these four people – to hear about these cultures before the influence of other cultures.
The photos in this interview are from Eddie’s personal collection and we thank him for sharing his images with us here at NomadMania!