I had this dream to see ev­ery sin­gle coun­try on this planet. I set­tled for 196 for this trip but by the end of my life­time, I hope to see all 800+”

WKND - - Going Places Globe- Trotter -

hey might not top ev­ery­body’s must- visit hol­i­day des­ti­na­tions, but only Syria, Ye­men and Turk­menistan stand be­tween one in­trepid trav­eller and an as­tound­ing world record. Any day now, Cassie de Pecol will smash the record for vis­it­ing all the sov­er­eign na­tions on the planet.

Globe- trot­ting Cassie, 27, left her home in ru­ral Wash­ing­ton, Con­necti­cut, USA, in July 2015, with the aim of vis­it­ing all 196 na­tions within three years un­der the ban­ner of Ex­pe­di­tion196. Af­ter safely nav­i­gat­ing her way through war zones, over­com­ing count­less visa dif­fi­cul­ties, ad­dress­ing world tourism lead­ers and en­coun­ter­ing some of the world’s most amaz­ing wildlife, Cassie is set to reach her fi­nal des­ti­na­tion less than two years into her ad­ven­ture.

When she fi­nally reaches Turk­menistan or Syr­ian soil this month — de­pend­ing on the is­sue of the ap­pro­pri­ate visa doc­u­men­ta­tion — she will have com­pleted al­most 300 flights to be­come the first doc­u­mented fe­male and fastest per­son to visit all 196 coun­tries.

But de­spite her love of travel, it’s the other as­pects of her ex­pe­di­tion that she hopes will be her legacy. “Yes, I’m aim­ing to break the Guin­ness Record for vis­it­ing all sov­er­eign na­tions in less than three years but, more importantly, I’m pro­mot­ing peace through sus­tain­able tourism. I love find­ing new cul­tures and en­vi­ron­ments in coun­tries around the world that are in need of tourism. Go­ing to ev­ery coun­try was a per­sonal quest to learn as muchas I could about our world, be­com­ing com­fort­able in the un­known, while also aim­ing to leave a legacy be­hind.”

Cassie has been act­ing as a Peace Am­bas­sador for the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of Peace Through Tourism ( IIPT) and Skal In­ter­na­tional, meet­ing tourism of­fi­cials and more than 13,000 stu­dents to dis­cuss re­spon­si­ble tourism and eco­nom­ics. Her other fo­cus has been on rais­ing aware­ness of the is­sue of mi­cro- plas­tics in the world’s oceans. She has col­lected wa­ter sam­ples from var­i­ous lo­ca­tions on her trav­els to send to the Ad­ven­tur­ers and Sci­en­tists for Con­ser­va­tion group to test for the pres­ence of the harm­ful sub­stances that have a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on marine life.

GIRL ON A MIS­SION: Cassie de Pecol’s itin­er­ary in­cludes ed­u­cat­ing uni­ver­sity stu­dents study­ing tourism about the im­por­tance of sus­tain­abil­ity

She has been filming an ed­u­ca­tional doc­u­men­tary a s s h e p a s s e d through some of the world’s hard­est- tore­ach places — as well as in­ter­na­tion­ally- renowned hotspots. ( She has been to Dubai at least ten times as it is a ma­jor air­port hub to ac­cess dif­fer­ent global re­gions). “This ven­ture is go­ing to be ben­e­fit our planet as a whole, ben­e­fit our peo­ple as a whole,” she said prior to over­com­ing her fear of fly­ing and set­ting off on the mis­sion, which has cost i n the re­gion of $ 200,000, funded mainly by spon­sors plus Cassie’s own sav­ings.

As a wan­der­lust- struck teenager who longed to change the world, she can hardly have dared to imag­ine her­self walk­ing the streets of war- torn Mo­gadishu or Kabul, get­ting close to lion cubs or ad­dress­ing an in­flu­en­tial au­di­ence that in­cluded Nel­son Man­dela’s grand­daugh­ter, Nandi, and Martin Luther King Jr’s sis­ter- in- law, Naomi King. Yet she stands on the brink of achiev­ing all this and more, ful­fill­ing her teenage dream.

Cassie, who typ­i­cally spends be­tween two and five days in a coun­try be­fore moving on, said: “Since high school, I had this feel­ing that I’d do some­thing ma­jor in life, change the world, some­thing like that. I al­ways had this yearn­ing to ac­com­plish some­thing way big­ger than my­self and to make a long­stand­ing, pos­i­tive im­pact on the world…

“It wasn’t un­til the age of 25 when re­al­ity hit me that this vi­sion was never go­ing to come to fruition un­less I made some ma­jor moves as soon as pos­si­ble. I wasn’t happy with where my life was headed, work­ing odd jobs and not fol­low­ing my pas­sion so, that, mud­dled with the anx­i­ety of never know­ing how much time we have left, made me take that leap of faith. I knew that it was now or never and I de­cided no one was go­ing to steer me­away from this worldly vi­sion and ex­trav­a­gant per­sonal goal.

“I just had this dream to see ev­ery sin­gle coun­try on this planet. I set­tled for 196 for this trip but by the end of my life­time, I hope to see all 800+. The idea that there was a record came from see­ing this guy, Eric Hill, go af­ter it, but trag­i­cally he died in an ac­ci­dent when he was a quar­ter of the way through. It made me realise we never know how much time we have left and to just go for it.” The idea for peace through sus­tain­able tourism was an easy de­ci­sion for her, since she’d been work­ing in the sus­tain­able tourism in­dus­try since the age of 21, and “peace is uni­ver­sal”.

While Cassie is the first to ad­mit her glo­be­trot­ting itin­er­ary has not been an al­to­gether pos­i­tive ad­vert for sus­tain­able travel due to the high num­ber of air miles, she has pro­moted the con­cept at ev­ery stage of her trip, col­lect­ing the wa­ter sam­ples for ev­i­dence of mi­crobeads, stay­ing in sus­tain­able ho­tels and ed­u­cat­ing uni­ver­sity stu­dents study­ing tourism about its im­por­tance.

She has part­nered with Skål, a pro­fes­sional or­gan­i­sa­tion of 15,000 tourism lead­ers in 80 coun­tries around the world pro­mot­ing global tourism and friend­ship, to plant trees in ev­ery lo­ca­tion to off­set her car­bon foot­print.

Cassie her­self has learned more than a few les­sons dur­ing the trip — like lis­ten­ing to her body and rest­ing be­tween legs of her jour­ney rather than ly­ing for five days, to­tally wiped out, when she reached Pa­pua New Guinea early on.

“I was on bed rest, with the blinds closed the en­tire time,” she said, “pep- per­mint tea bags over my eyes and cold wash­cloths over my head. It was like I had some sort of wicked flu mud­dled with a five- day mi­graine, ab­so­lutely ter­ri­ble. I couldn’t open my com­puter or phone for those five days. To this day, I don’t know what it was.”

Then there’s what she learned about the art of trav­el­ling light: “When I started the Ex­pe­di­tion in Ocea­nia, I brought a mas­sive back­pack with me that I had to check in, and then for Europe, bought a mas­sive suit­case with ev­ery­thing but the kitchen sink in it. I hadn’t trav­elled light since my back­pack­ing days, so I was a lit­tle rusty and suf­fer­ing from some anx­i­ety. Flash for­ward to now and I can’t imag­ine car­ry­ing any­thing big­ger than a 30L, carry on pack, wear­ing only the clothes on my back and car­ry­ing only my cam­era gear. I love liv­ing min­i­mally and wouldn’t have it any other way!”

She does ad­mit to miss­ing cer­tain el­e­ments of her for­mer daily life, like “morn­ing walks and con­sis­tent work­outs and prac­tis­ing self- de­fence sys­tem Krav Maga, as well as hav­ing ac­cess to clean, or­ganic food all the time”.

But she re­alises life will never be the same for her when she com­pletes her world travel marathon and is pre­par­ing to swap her ru­ral East Coast roots for a new home in Los An­ge­les, de­spite re­al­is­ing she is “very much a nature per­son more than a city per­son”. Her doc­u­men­tary work, writ­ing books and de­vel­op­ing an in­ter­na­tional stu­dent pro­gramme are set to oc­cupy her time.

In­spired by trav­eller Chris Guille­beau’s tales of vis­it­ing all sov­er­eign na­tions, Cassie, who named Pak­istan as her favourite des­ti­na­tion and the place that “110 per cent sur­prised me most by be­ing dif­fer­ent from what I was ex­pect­ing” said the most in­flu­en­tial peo­ple she has en­coun­tered on her trip have been “the peo­ple I’ve con­nected with who have noth­ing but are em­i­nently happy”.

Hav­ing bat­tled au­thor­i­ties re­peat­edly to con­vince them that her US pass­port and cam­era tri­pod are not sym­bols of a ca­reer as ei­ther a mem­ber of the CIA or a jour­nal­ist, Cassie ad­mits her travel ex­pe­ri­ences have changed her. “Trav­el­ling is an im­mense, valu­able, and un­matched ed­u­ca­tion. It’s im­por­tant to be knowl­edge­able about the world we live in and it’s one thing to learn about it from a text­book, but a whole other thing to ex­pe­ri­ence it first­hand... I think there’s this huge di­vide among peo­ple based on ev­ery­thing from re­li­gion to gen­der, but in re­al­ity, we are all the same. Once we realise this uni­ver­sal sim­i­lar­ity, we’ll be able more un­der­stand­ing of one an­other.”

Her dream wayto cel­e­brate her record­break­ing feat? “I’d love to cel­e­brate by rent­ing a lit­tle log cabin in Bri­tish Columbia and re­ally de­com­press­ing.”

[email protected] khalee­j­times. com

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