One Woman’s Quest to Visit Every Country in the World
PlacePass caught up with 27-year old Cassandra “Cassie” de Pecol as she sets out on the final phase of a Guinness World Record quest to travel to every country in the world. On completion, Cassandra de Pecol will be the fastest person, youngest person, and first woman to visit all 196 sovereign states. She is raising awareness and promoting the impact of travel for peace through the Institute for Peace Through Tourism (IIPT).
PlacePass: What inspired you to start this adventure and Expedition 196?
Cassie: At age 24, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I had a strong desire to do something big for the world. Not necessarily just to change the world, but to really enhance it. Until that point I had traveled to 25 countries on my own on few thousand dollars, working at sustainable lodges to hostels and everything in between.
The travel bug really set in when I went on a trip with my brother, where he wanted to go slow and see two countries and I wanted to go see 10 in the same amount of time. At that point I thought I’d go for every country. After a year and half of planning I set out!
PlacePass: Where are you currently in the journey?
Cassie: Getting close! I’ve visited 181 countries so far, and have 11 countries in Africa and 4 in the Middle East remaining. Right now I’m getting ready to go to Africa and then will head to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Syria.
PlacePass: Syria must be challenging at the moment…
Cassie: Yes – it’s such a sad, devastating conflict. Obtaining a visa is problematic as it has been in several countries. I do have friends in Syria who can help endorse, but it’s understandably the last thing on anyone’s mind right now.
PlacePass: How do you think tourism can help build a more peaceful, sustainable world?
Cassie: I strongly believe in the potential of travel to have positive impact. I’m traveling as a Peace Ambassador with the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism (IIPT). Part of that includes traveling with an open mind and a gentle heart. It means being really accepting, but also supporting companies and enterprises that support local economies and the local environment.
As part of my work with IIPT, I meet with students studying hospitality to inspire them about the travel industry and their potential to write their own hero’s journey story within it. I’m also meeting with industry leaders to discuss topics such as how to measure the impact of tourism as a force for peace and positive impact.
PlacePass: What advice do you have for travelers interested in planning sustainable, responsible travel?
Cassie: I have a strong preference for supporting sustainable accommodation providers and local businesses that are actively committed to promoting values of tolerance, gender equality, environmental integrity, and sustainable economic development.
Look for programs where you have the opportunity to learn about the local culture and give back. For example, one hotel I stayed at recently works with Pack for a Purpose, where guests can bring educational supplies from their country and go drop them off during the day and exchange stories with the kids – sometimes through a translator. IIPT has started a number of Peace Parks as well, and I think planting trees can be a highly positive experience.
PlacePass: You are visiting some destinations where it is not easy to travel solo as a woman. How have you navigated those destinations? What advice would you give other female travelers who are interested in solo trips?
Cassie: It’s all about confidence. Not looking lost. Knowing where you want to go. Planning things out. Learning basic self-defense. You likely won’t need to use self-defense tactics, but it’s good to know in the event you do and to bolster confidence.
It’s also good to keep an open mind. While it’s important to be really aware, to make the most of travel it pays to still open minded. Not every man that comes up to you in a foreign country doesn’t have bad intentions. Be aware. Be conservative. But be open minded.
PlacePass: What’s your best packing tip?
Cassie: Pack light. When I started I had a huge suitcase… I was lugging this 50-pound suitcase up and down stairs. Now I have a 20-pound carry on that I can take directly into meetings. Stay really light on clothing. Pack pants, underwear, jacket, shirts, and a scarf to cover your head. Compression packs are amazing.
PlacePass: What do you never leave home without?
Cassie: This is cliché, but number one is my iPhone. I used to travel without it and would navigate with maps, etc. But now it does everything from holding a schedule of all my meetings, photos, notes, reviews to make sure the place I’ll stay at doesn’t have bed bugs (already been there, no thanks!)
PlacePass: What is your favorite travel destination?
Cassie:My favorite region is the Middle East. There are striking differences in culture, landscapes, and religion. The food is incredible. Jordan is particularly noteworthy. Tunisia is a favorite in Africa. Its history is really neat and the location along the ocean is cool. Bhutan was really interesting. They set the record for most trees planted in an hour, and I was able to plant some as a separate effort. Vanuatu is a favorite in Oceana because of their kindness. While it’s very impoverished, the amount of positivity with life is incredibly special. People just welcome you into their homes. Costa Rica has a special place in my heart because I studied there for 6 months. In Europe, I’ve got to go with Switzerland.
PlacePass: What do you want to do after?!
Cassie: I’ve really connected with Millennials through my travels. My goal is to continue working on issues that advance the travel industry as it relates to sustainability, peace, and empowerment. This includes working on a universal internship program with Skal and IIPT, filming an education documentary, and collaborating with students on writing a book series. I would love to have a show like Anthony Bourdain. A girl can dream.
Most of all, I want to inspire youth – especially women – all around the world that they can achieve amazing things if they have this fire and passion. Even if it’s focused on something in your own town. In the end, that’s how you’re going to be the happiest and have the greatest impact.
Follow Cassie de Picol’s global adventures at https://expedition196.com/