In her early 20s, Cassie De Pecol spent two years traveling alone across four continents, getting by on the $2,000 she'd tucked away for her adventure. She saved money by sleeping in train stations, eating bread for meals and hitchhiking her way through Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East. The trip merely whet her appetite.
A few years later, on her 25th birthday, she realized she needed to make her high school dream come true.
"As a young woman, I’d always dreamed to travel to as many countries as possible and make our world a better place. It bothered me though, that I could never figure out how to ignite this inner fire and make it happen," she writes on her blog, Expedition 196. "I studied historical figures that had made a difference by putting aside society’s limitations and following their dreams. In the end they may have died, but they were able to make a positive and lasting impression on the world for generations to come. In moments of desperation, I came back to those thoughts that I visualized as an adolescent; that I needed to travel to every country and not change, but enhance our world."
De Pecol says she went to an office supply store, bought a huge map of the world and hung it on her wall as she planned her itinerary: She was going to visit all 196 countries on Earth.
Hitting the road
She left Portland, Oregon, on July 24, 2015, endorsed by the International Institute of Peace through Tourism and with a handful of sponsors. She hopscotched from country to country, spending two to five days in each, often exchanging social media posts for lodging or relying on her sponsors to help with expenses.
De Pecol documented her trip with images on Facebook and Instagram, also writing blog posts along the way. In addition to documenting the breathtaking places where she has traveled, she wrote about the many amazing people she met along the way. In Cuba, she realized she had only $20 in a place where only cash was accepted. She tried an ATM, but it didn't work; she had no idea how she was going to pay her taxi driver, she told Seeker. While she sat on a curb fighting tears, the driver approached her and offered her a place in his home for the night. The next morning she found out that his wife had given up her bed for her.
"She had given up her bed so that I could sleep in it. She didn't even know me," De Pecol told Seeker. "Strangers all over the world, they want to show you how kind and helpful they are in welcoming you into their country."
Occasionally, De Pecol's adventures were more harrowing. She was often detained by authorities who thought she was a journalist or worked for the government. Once, her taxi was held up by thieves brandishing knives. But De Pecol says she's confident in her self-defense skills. An athlete since she was a teen, De Pecol is a triathlete and trained in Krav Maga, a self-defense system developed for the Israel Defense Forces.
When De Pecol's excursion ended Feb. 2, 2017, she had traveled to 196 countries in 18 months and 26 days. The fastest time to complete the same feat, according to Guinness, was 4 years and 31 days, achieved by Graham Hughes of the U.K. Guinness still needs to verify De Pecol's records, but her accomplishment took only about half the time.
In any case, according to her website, she's the first documented woman to travel to every sovereign nation (the U.S. doesn't count Taiwan), the first American woman to visit every sovereign nation, and the youngest American to travel to every sovereign nation. (A 24-year-old from the U.K. holds the youngest person record.)
So what's next after this once-in-a lifetime adventure?
"I plan on renting a cabin in the mountains of British Columbia for a couple months to piece together the trip with a clear mind," De Pecol says in her blog. "And I’ll also start looking into building my earth bag house, tiny house, or start looking into having a home base in a beautiful, serene part of America. One of my goals is to compete in my first full Ironman race around my 30th birthday, so I’ll likely for sure start training for that."
But she's by no means finished with traveling. Her adventure will be made into a documentary, and she plans on speaking to high school and college students about her trip.
"I’d love to continue inspiring people and traveling. And I hope that this trip will have made a significant difference in our world, enough to provide me with the opportunity to speak at universities and for the documentary to be used as an educational tool in high school and university classes. I also hope that I can help young girls to see their full potential and not limit themselves to what society says they should do."