On July 24, 2015, Cassie DePecol set out on a journey to become the fastest person to visit every single country on the planet – all 196 of them.
She will also be the first documented woman ever to see them all. Funded almost entirely by sponsors, Expedition 196 has seen Cassie make the journey as a representative of the International Institute of Peace Through Tourism (IIPT), meeting students and officials and giving talks about the power of sustainable tourism to improve the world.
At time of writing, she has visited 185 countries, putting her well on the way to completing the expedition in under two years, a feat that will smash the previous record of 3 years and 3 months. We caught up with Cassie to talk about her epic adventure.
Can you tell us a little bit about what Expedition 196 is and what inspired you to do it?
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. 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’ll have left, made me take that leap of faith.
At a young age, I just had this dream to see every single country on this planet. The idea that there was a record came from seeing Eric Hill, go after it, but tragically he died in an accident when he was around a quarter of the way through. It really made me realize that we never know how much time we’ll have left and to just go for it.
The idea for peace through sustainable tourism was an easy decision for me, since I’d been working in the sustainable tourism industry since the age of 21, and peace is universal.
It’s hard to imagine how difficult it must have been to plan the best route for this journey. How did you do it?!
A lot of last minute planning via Google Flights, Trip Advisor, and Airbnb! Initially, I wanted to plan the perfect journey. It took me a year and a half to plan the Expedition step by step, flight by flight, bus by bus, in order for me to be able to A. see it on paper and B. research when/where I’d have to apply for a visa. So it’s a constant challenge to keep up with the bookings - all last minute of course - which is more expensive but I end up saving in the long run because if I did book in advance and a flight was cancelled, delayed, etc., I’d lose all the remaining flights and hotels. That would set me back a lot of money. You never know when a flight it going to be delayed or cancelled, and unfortunately, it happens all too often.
How long do you get to spend in each country? Is there any country in particular you’re keen to visit again for a longer stay?
2-5 days, but longer or shorter depending on visas, budgeting, and whether or not I have meetings with the students or dignitaries. I would love to spend more time in the Middle East, or Switzerland.
Have you had any particularly crazy or scary moments during the trip?
I was held at the border control in Libya because they thought I was in the CIA, I experienced a red light robbery by 4 teenage boys who had knives on them in Lima, and I had to pay a bribe in the Congo for not having proof of my Polio vaccine.
Can you tell us a little bit about your work as a peace ambassador for International Institute of Peace Through Tourism, and the documentary you’ve been filming along the way?
Peace through Tourism can really be best understood by educating the students on how we can quantify peace through a series of criteria set forth by the Institute for Economics and Peace. Once we understand this criteria, we can then work towards creating a more peaceful and united world.
In regards to the tourism aspect of it, this is where I engage the ministry and mayors; they attend my keynote sessions and I present to them the ‘IIPT Credo of the Peaceful Traveler.’ Together we discuss how tourism can be a mediator between peace and conflict, and a way to further friendship among nations as well as providing humanitarian assistance. For instance, a sustainable hotel partnering with Pack for a Purpose, where guests can bring educational supplies to distribute to local schools in need in the area where they’re vacationing.
Since starting my expedition, I’ve spoken to over 12,500 students and dignitaries across 33 countries, and continue to be approached by young women and men asking how they can pursue their dreams after listening to my talk. As a young woman myself, I like to think that I can set the standard for young women worldwide to pursue a quest or dream that everyone tells them they shouldn’t do. It’s my job to leave a legacy behind that positively influences future generations of innovators, entrepreneurs and trend setters, especially when it comes to women.
The goal of the educational documentary is to be used as part of a tool-kit in high schools and universities worldwide that will inspire young people worldwide to pursue their dreams despite society’s limitations, as well as educate them on the importance of responsible tourism and women’s achievements.
How does sustainable tourism have the power to benefit the world?
If more people can travel sustainably, whether you’re a corporate traveler or a budget traveler, then we can not only lesson our impact on the environment, but we can create a more united world through connecting with different people and cultures.
Impoverished nations have the opportunity to benefit economically as they open their borders to support tourism and invite foreigners to understand their culture. In turn, the more hotels around the world become energy efficient, sustainable and regenerative, the better chance we have at addressing global warming. A sustainable hotel aims to support local communities through a non-profit or programs that get guests involved. This opens our eyes to the lives, religions and positive humanity and kindness that exist. If every hotel aimed to plant one tree per guest somewhere within their own country, and if each traveler planted a tree to offset the carbon footprint from their travels or vacation, we’d be a lot better off.
What will breaking this world record mean to you personally?
Breaking through barriers as a woman. To achieve something that no woman has achieved means that I have the power to inspire many young women and people in general all over the world to break through social barriers and limitations in order to pursue an extravagant dream that they have.
What happens if a new sovereign state suddenly comes into being? Will you have to dash over there in order to keep the record?!
Good question! From my understanding, if it happens while I’m in the process of breaking the record, then yes, I will have to go. However if it’s after the record then I don’t think so, because it would defeat the purpose of “fastest”… if it happens 20 years from now it wouldn’t make sense to go.
By the time you’re finished you’ll have spent nearly two intense years travelling – how are you feeling about it all coming to an end? What’s next?
I’m really exhausted so I’m excited to finish so that I can catch up on 2 years worth of sleep. But it’ll also be a weird feeling to not be traveling every day. I’m excited to start focusing more on my career, which involves so many projects already. I’m also really excited to get back into training for triathlons; I’m aiming to compete in my first Ironman next year.
What advice would you give to young people – particularly young women – who want to travel but are feeling unsure or scared?
If you have a dream, quest, goal, etc., do not let anyone deter you from pursuing it. Have an immense amount of motivation and dedicate yourself to your vision one hundred percent. Know that if you want something that bad, you’ll do everything in your power to make it happen.
Utilize Google; it’s been the best resource for me to learn how to write a business plan, obtain sponsors, plan my route, etc. Utilize social media, listen to podcasts and network with as many influential people as possible. Act now, have that sense of urgency, don’t wait. Tell yourself every day either in the mirror or every night before you fall asleep, where you envision yourself a year from now, because the more you tell yourself what you want, the higher the chance you’ll work day in and day out to achieve that goal.
My advice for women traveling alone is to be confident, know some Krav Maga combatives just in case, don’t look lost, put your shades on to avoid the harassment if it’s there and above all else, enjoy yourself, immerse yourself in the experience, travel off the beaten path and have fun. Be aware, carry a small tracking devise such as SPOT so that your loved ones don’t have to worry and most importantly, listen to your intuition but trust in humanity.