How one couple travelled the world

Photo courtesy of Shahla and Peter Nygaard

Travelling to 77 countries over six continents is no easy feat. Shahla and Peter Nygaard are sharing their long journey in their new book, Decade of Discovery.

In 2004, the Nygaards left their home in Edmonton with a one way ticket to Frankfurt, Germany.

“We were really curious about the world and decided the best way to learn about the world and other people was to go out and see the world,” says Shahla.

They will be at Banyen Books and Sound on Sept. 19 to promote their new book.

The quest of a lifetime

Shahla and Peter Nygaard at a campsite in Kumasi, Ghana with their trike. | Photo courtesy of Shahla and Peter Nygaard

Initially their idea was to travel by walking. However, they realized that walking wasn’t their preferred method and switched to cycling. They also hitchhiked, which became their second favourite form of transportation, in addition to taking boats and a couple of flights. For accommodations, they pitched their tents wherever possible and had the help of locals who would take them in. Peter cited the websites Couch Surfing and Warm Showers as great resources for information and accommodations. Throughout their decade long journey, they ran out of money a few times and had to stop and work for a few months.

“We expected to be gone for about five years but after two years spent entirely in Europe, we realized our timeframe was off,” says Peter. “We learned that time didn’t really matter and took as much time as needed.”

Travelling the world comes with various challenges, and the Nygaards encountered a few scary situations along the way. They were warned about bandits near the border of Guinea and Senegal but were forced to pitch their tents there at night in the bush.

“Around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., we woke up to gunfire and sounds of people screaming,” says Shahla. “We were absolutely terrified and didn’t want to open our tent.”

When morning came, there were no visible signs of carnage, and they quietly went on their way.

“It was scarier because we couldn’t see anything,” says Shahla.

As their travels continued and the Nygaards saw how other people interacted and learned about other cultures, they realized that everyone was striving for the same things in their own ways.

“We’re all governed by the same needs and wants. Everybody wants to be happy, healthy and to provide for their families,” says Peter. “We got more comfortable and became less expectant of a malevolent encounter as more and more people were proving to us they were curious and wanted to know about us and we wanted to know about them.”

Sharing their experiences

By the time the Nygaards were close to returning home to Edmonton in 2014, they decided they would write a book about their experience.

“We felt excited and obligated to share our story and hoped that it would be a source of inspiration to others, not just to see the world but to have a goal and stick with it,” says Peter.

Shahla says that the book is laid out chronologically with different themes in each chapter and short stories to go with each theme.

“Probably one of the most important things we got out of the journey was the realization that we are all one organism,” says Peter.

Peter’s advice to others who are interested in a similar journey is to try not to plan too much and bring too much gear as a lot of the gear can be acquired on the road and can even help you blend in better.

“It can take you away from a more natural experience if a local is trying to guide you in a certain direction but you’re reluctant to take their advice due to your itinerary,” says Peter.

Shala adds that one should be prepared to adapt to situations and remember to have fun.

Now that their travels are over, the Nygaards have two daughters and plan on creating a piece of self-sufficient land that they’ve purchased in northern Alberta.

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