Find comfort in being alone, it’s where you’ll learn the most about yourself
US adventurer and triathlete Cassie De Pecol plans to visit all 196 countries in the world in the fastest time possible
“Somedays I’m so tired, having had four hours of sleep total that week, and I might feel sick or emotional, but I know that if I don’t muster up the physical and mental strength to keep going, I’ll fall behind. And that’s not an option,” says Cassie De Pecol, triathlete and Guinness World Recorder chaser. The 26-year-old American has set herself the target of being the fastest woman in the world to visit all 196 countries in less than three years. Her quest is far from enjoying a year out and topping up her tan, De Pecol has instead turned it into a mission to talk about sustainable tourism and encourage peace by shining a spotlight on the plus points of other countries.
She spends between one and four days in each country, and her route is dependent on visas, school visits and the weather conditions. When she touches down in each country she sets herself the task of discovering two places that aren’t on the tourist trail, meeting dignitaries and school children, as well as collect water samples for a non-profit organisation in the US that is testing for the presence of micro plastics in the ocean.
Her altruistic trip was launched when the freelance web designer felt that she should be doing something more useful with her life. After working at eco lodges in Peru and Ecuador and reading The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau who visited all the sovereign nations before he was 35, De Pecol decided to attempt a similar task herself and Expedition 196 was born. She joined with Skal that promotes tourism and friendship and the International Institute of Peace Through Tourism who made her an Ambassador for Peace.
Within a matter of months she had put together a 40-page itinerary that would help her break the record, however, she says that as thorough as it is she’s learnt to be flexible. “My plans are constantly changing on a daily basis based on visas, meetings, whether I’d like to stay longer or shorter in a country, or whether I’m run down and need a break,” says De Pecol.
So far De Pecol’s expedition has seen her tour an underground city in Iran, practise Krav Maga in Singapore and hike up a mountain in Kazakhstan (she would have liked to have skied, but the gondolas were shut as Vladimir Putin was said to be on the mountain with the Kazakhstan president).
Her favourite adventure so far has been to Afghanistan and it’s one country that she is keen to go back to. “Most of the people showing me around are from either Skal or IIPT chapters,” she says. “Sometimes, such as the case of Iran and Afghanistan, the General Manager of the hotel will take it upon themselves to show me around, free of charge, because they really want to show me the beauty of their culture first hand.” With the help of the GM from the hotel in Kabul, she toured the city and was able to interview some of the locals and find out more about the country.
De Pecol says she has felt extremely safe on her travels, but she makes sure to keep her parents, IIPT and SKAL updated on her location by sending them an updated itinerary and carrying a SPT Satellite GPS. “Without SPOT I would be lacking proof of my location for Guinness,” says De Pecol. “My parents are on different time zones so when they’re waking up, I’m going to bed. It gives my dad especially, peace of mind, knowing that if he can’t call me, he can see my physical location via SPOT.”
She has been criticised for not spending more time in each country, but as De Pecol points out, she’s not on holiday – she’s aiming to break a world record. Blonde and amiable with a megawatt smile, yes, but this all American girl is pure guts and steel. She set herself the target of being the fastest woman to travel to every country in the world and she looks as if she is about to shatter that record (the current record stands at three years, three months and six days and is held by fellow American Yili Liu). She gave herself three years to tick off 196 countries, but within less than a year she has already visited 135. In fact, she has been going at such a rate, that she has even been able to return to the States to recharge her batteries and apply for more visas. Her drive is simple: “I felt very privileged being born in a country that has so much freedom and resources to be distributed to use toward influencing, educating and aiding other nations,” she says.
De Pecol says that she hasn’t had too many issues. Just a couple of delays getting visas in Vietnam, airport security trying to separate her from her camera equipment and a hectic flight schedule, including taking 20 flights in one week to reach Micronesia. However, even on her most trying day, De Pecol manages to keep smiling. “I like to keep an open mind when I travel and go into every country with no preconceived notions in order to formulate my own totally new, raw and unique experience,” says De Pecol.
If she ever feels lonely on the road (as some legs take up to eight months) she reminds herself that she’s no different than anyone else. “We all have the same basic needs and just want to be happy in life. The knowingness of this I find, keeps me humble and grounded in times that I might feel stressed or alone,” says De Pecol.
As hectic as the expedition has been De Pecol encourages other women to travel solo: “Make the leap. Find comfort in being alone, it’s where you’ll learn the most about yourself”.
As De Pecol says, she is ‘way ahead of time’ with regards to her target, which will give her chance to finish the documentary that she has been creating on the road, which will be distributed to schools around the world as an educational tool kit. “I will be training for an ironman, but first I’m going to kickback and decompress,” she says.