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+”
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