When I grow up I want to be Gunnar Garfors: A book review

The cover of 198: How I Ran Out of Countries*. Image credit: Gunnar Garfors/Fair use

The cover of 198: How I Ran Out of Countries*. Image credit: Gunnar Garfors/Fair use

Spending the night in a police station in Niger, unintentionally having dinner with a hooker in The Comoros and utilising a second passport to sneak into Angola are three things which most people would not expect to encounter in their lifetime.

But for Gunnar Garfors, all three were legitimate components of his tales from the road, chronicled in his book 198: How I Ran Out of Countries*.

Garfors is the world’s youngest hobby-traveller to have visited every nation on the planet. His book takes the reader on his journey to every single country of which there are, as he interprets, 198 in total.

From Togo to Tuvalu, Belize to Bahrain and Canada to Cape Verde, the Norwegian nomad has accumulated his fair share of stories while travelling, not only to each and every country, but also to all seven continents including southern ice cap Antarctica – at the second attempt.

So it is with some irony that towards the beginning of 198 a young Garfors is homesick, living in Midwestern U.S.A. as an exchange student – thousands of miles from his home in Naustdal, a small municipality on the coast of western Norway.

Yet true to his mantra, ‘easy is boring’, which is drummed into the sub consciousness throughout 357 pages of wanderlust-inducing text, Garfors sticks it out to recover and embark on one amazing mission to see the world.

The book’s casually written style, breaking up each country into bitesize chunks and grouping them by common theme under 21 umbrella chapters, lends itself well to the pick-up-and-put-down reader, which as a book about travel works extremely well.

It even makes the frequent spelling and grammatical errors less apparent, which, assumedly, are prevalent following a translation from the original, printed in Norwegian.

One thing the book does lack is imagery, though as is explained there were some included in the Norwegian version and others are available on his website, garfors.com.

But it does make up for this somewhat with a bonus chapter listing the least-visited countries and a checklist for readers to make a note of which countries they’ve visited and how many they have left.

198's country checklist.

198's country checklist.

Each country has its own story, or interesting fact, to be had, making it a read capable of keeping its audience entertained throughout.

In parts it can seem a little tedious, as Garfors’ focus on drinking and women around the world is heavily-laden, but this more often and not works to his advantage, concocting a plethora of attention-drawing escapades, discovery and adventure.

After all, who wouldn’t be intrigued by how the man called ‘Doctor Vodka’ got his name?

Reading 198 was not only an enjoyable experience, but it made travel blues seep from the pores of my skin. At times I wanted to be just like Gunnar, a man whose ambition and burning desire to visit every country on Earth was conveyed by his written word.

This is a man who ‘gets’ travelling, looking past the two-week all-inclusive beach holidays and popular tourist attractions to try new things and meet people with different values, beliefs and behaviours, from all over everywhere.

His analysis of ‘western arrogance’ is astute. Why stay in what we label safety zones, when there is a whole planet out there ready to explore?

If anyone is best placed to answer that, it is Gunnar Garfors – a man who has been there, done it, and relayed those memories in this book.

If only there were more countries for him to visit.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10 – While it has some cosmetic flaws, this read will make you want to leap from your seat and inspire trips to far-flung corners of the world. With constant tales to keep you on your toes and renew enthusiasm chapter by chapter, 198: How I Ran Out of Countries* is a must-read for anyone enthusiastic about travel.

Where can I buy it? Amazon currently stock the book for £11.98.