Cassie De Pecol doesn’t do things the easy way. When she decided to travel to the world, she didn’t just hit the same countries every other traveler visits. She decided to see all of them.
Every single sovereign nation in the on earth. And she’s going to be the fastest person ever and first woman to do so.
It’s an incredibly ambitious goal, but one that Cassie is more than capable of finishing. In fact she’s nearly done. She’s visited 193 countries so far, and she’s done so with grace and compassion. See, Cassie isn’t just traveling with the “let’s party” mindset of many 20-something wanderers, she’s intent on changing the world.
As she traverses the globe, she works to promote peace through sustainable tourism. She’s so passionate about this cause that she’s spent time in dozens of countries speaking on the topic. She’s driven to help people and the environment and her travels reflect that passion.
I caught up with Cassie just before she jetted off to visit the final three countries on her list.
How did this project come about? What made you decide to visit all 196 countries?
I’ve been traveling since the age of 18, but I always had this yearning to go to every country in the world. It was more to try to change the world in some way, in a positive way, but also experience as many cultures, environments, people, religions, and foods as possible. I grew up in a really small, rural town. I think there were only 100 people that graduated in my senior year class of high school. I just really wanted to branch out and experience the world and make a positive impact.
I sat with the idea for years and years, and I finally decided to take off and do it when I was 24 and a half.
How many long have you been traveling?
It’s been a year and a half. Eighteen months.
How many countries do you have left?
I only have three left, and I’m expected to finish this next month.
I know. The guy who broke the record before me, he did it in three years and three months. So it’s not a huge rush, but I am just trying to finish it up to get on with my life. I’d like a little bit of more of a stable life. But this has really shaped my life in the most powerful way. I’m starting a seminar for students and a nonprofit, so I want to move on with those projects as well, as a result, which is really exciting.
How do you think you’ll feel when it’s all done? Will you be kind of sad?
I think it’ll be a little weird because Guinness [World Records] states, I can be in one country for no more than fourteen days, so even when I come home, like right now, I have to make sure I leave within that fourteen-day period. I’ve been doing that for a year and a half now. I think it’s going to be really interesting to be in one place for more than two weeks at a time.
You’ve talked in interviews about how much you love the Middle East, and I was wondering, if you could think of a country where would you recommend going as a first time traveler?
One of my most favorite places in the Middle East is Jordan. I really love Jordan. You have the Dead Sea there, you have Petra, Wadi Rum, plus, you have tons of history. It’s just a really beautiful, culturally rich place, and safe, too.
It’s also a great hub for the Middle East, flying out of Amman, easy to get to. I definitely recommend going to Jordan.
Can you talk about how you spread peace through tourism?
Yeah. The main priority is to meet with students, usually university students. Sometimes, I’ll meet with high school students. I’m endorsed by the National Institute for Peace Through Tourism, traveling as a peace ambassador. What I’ll do is try and educate them on the importance of promoting a friendship community among people around the world when they travel, if not outside their country, then to their local towns.
I also help them understand how we can quantify peace. Peace isn’t just this fluffy word that’s easily hyped. There is a way to quantify it, and actually further the development of peace around the world. It’s through this series of metrics set forth by the Institute for Economics and Peace called the Global Peace Index. I’ll pull up the country, and I’ll discuss with some simple data surrounding how they came to that number, and what we can do to achieve more peace in their country. Then, (we talk about) sustainable tourism. And we plant a tree, and I discuss that as well.
There are a few different ways that I discuss peace through tourism, and then I’ll meet with the mayor, usually in front of the class or the Minister of Tourism, and go over the — it’s kind of like an official declaration of peace — it’s called the IIPT Credo of the Peaceful Traveler. It gives them the idea of how they can promote peace. I discuss traveling with an open mind as well.
You said you were starting a nonprofit. What is your nonprofit going to be?
It’s going to be focused around furthering the goals and the mission that I’ve set forth on this expedition, with regards to focusing on sustainable tourism development. I have this tree planting project I’ve been doing all around the world. I’m a huge sustainable tourism activist, but it’s been hard for me to travel sustainably on this trip. I promote sustainable tourism, but I’m not necessarily traveling sustainably, because I’m flying so much.
The nonprofit is going to be geared a lot towards offsetting the carbon footprint, a sustainable travel kind of theme, continuing with the tree planting project, and also educating students on the importance of sustainable tourism. Also, women’s achievement as well — equality in that sense. That’s what the nonprofit’s going to be geared towards, and funding projects for students who want to enhance our world through sustainable tourism and equality.
As a woman traveling by yourself, is it intimidating, and do you have advice for other women considering traveling by themselves?
I actually don’t think so, because I think I’ve been doing it for so long that I’ve gotten so used to it. I really haven’t experienced too many bad experiences because of being a woman. I’d say that the number one most important thing that you take into consideration is confidence: being confident, feeling confident, and being respectful of culture, and people, and environments. I’d say, one thing that really makes me feel stronger traveling alone as a woman is having some basic self-defense combative skills. That’s why I practice Krav Maga. That really just gives me a sense of strength when I’m walking alone or traveling alone, knowing that I know how to defend myself really well. I’ve never had to use it, but it just gives me that extra sense of being able to let go and explore, and not have to be so worried about or concerned about my own safety.
What’s the most remote region that you visited, would you say?
I would say the most remote region is probably — there’s this country called Nauru, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It’s literally ten miles, all around. You could run around it. The population is very low. There’s nothing there. I think there’s maybe one restaurant, or two. There’s only two hotels, and they’re like bed and breakfasts. It’s a very rustic, middle-of-nowhere place.
I’ve never heard of it!
Most people haven’t. That’s definitely the most remote place I’ve been to.
What’s the most beautiful place you visited?
I’m a huge nature person, and I love the mountains. One place that really resonated with me nature-wise was Bhutan. You have the mountains there. It’s so hard to get to because they only have one airline and the visa is very expensive, but once you get there, it’s this amazingly beautiful, peaceful, cloud forest, mountainous place, and I just thought that was amazing.
What are some foods that you’ve tried for the first time on your travels, and what were your favorites?
Ooh, some foods! Let’s see, I don’t think there are any new foods that I have tried. There have been new spices that I’ve been introduced to. Arabic coffee, I think, was something that I really enjoyed that was new to me, with the dates that I really loved. My favorite food is, overall, Mexican food. I’m very open to all different types of food, but Mexican is definitely one of my all-time favorites.
You’ve traveled to so many places in a year and a half, and it sounds like it could be really exhausting at times. Are there times when you’ve wanted to give up? And what kept you going?
Yeah, there have been several times. Most recently, just a couple weeks ago, I had one of the most difficult, challenging weekends of this entire expedition. One thing went wrong after the other, and it was for a total of three days straight. A lot of it was out of my control. In those sort of times, I just need to take a step back. What I try and do is I find a place where I can hibernate for a day or two, and just sleep. I’ll try and go to my room for a couple days and really relax, and sleep, and recoup, regenerate, and go back to it. I know that I can’t quit because of everything I’ve put into this — my life would be over, you know? It’s a huge effort to try and keep it going.
Is there something that you bring to every country that reminds you of home, something you travel with?
Initially, when I first left on this expedition, it had been a good year and a half since I’d traveled. Usually, I travel with not a lot, but I brought this huge suitcase with me, full of stuff that I lugged all over Europe, and you flash forward to now, and I only carry with me a 15-pound, tiny carry-on bag with literally a pair of pants and a shirt. I don’t even like carrying anything. I’ve gotten so used to traveling with nothing that I don’t even take any sentimental things with me anymore. I’m really comfortable being alone on the road, I guess.
Do you have a travel philosophy or philosophies that you live by when you’re on the road?
One thing that I try and always keep in mind is leaving all preconceptions at the door, and literally going into every country with a completely open mind. It doesn’t matter what I hear from some people back home, or from the media, or from politics, or anything like that, good or bad. I like to go with a completely open mind.
I find that the times that I have been worried about what I’ve heard, I’ve had these negative experiences.
On this trip, specifically, I try and completely keep an open mind. It allows me to experience these great, positive things. One country was Somalia. Somalia is a place where you hear it’s a little bit bad.. I went there, and it was really — we had to take armored vehicles everywhere around, everyone does. And it was really war-torn, more so than when I was in Kabul, Afghanistan, but I had a great experience there, and the people were so nice and helpful. It’s just keeping an open mind, leaving all preconceptions at the door, and just being accepting and understanding of people all over the world.