For many, traveling the world is a lifelong goal; Cassie De Pecol can check that off her bucket list at 27 years old. On February 2, 2017 De Pecol became the fastest person and first documented woman to visit every sovereign nation in the world.
Her Guinness World Record-breaking journey brought her to 196 countries and took 18 months and 26 days; the previous record was three years and three months.
Now that the expedition is over, De Pecol is certainly not settling down. She had a short stop in the states before heading to Antarctica on an eleven-day environmental expedition. Before she left, we picked her brain about her journey, travel tips and how she relied on TripAdvisor throughout her expedition.
De Pecol grew up in the small rural town of Washington, Connecticut. She didn’t get out much, but she had the itch.
“I think I had just grown up wanting to see the world, especially coming from a small town, and see what else is out there. Whenever I could leave my own state I would get excited,” she said.
After high school De Pecol attended Long Island University Global College in Costa Rica and Nicaragua where she majored in environmental studies. After that, she attended a number of other colleges and universities but ultimately decided not to finish her degree.
“College didn’t really give me what I needed.” she said. “Then I realized–flash forward–there’s a Guinness World Record and there’s been no woman on record. That’s how I found my calling.”
De Pecol saved up $10,000 babysitting but needed financial backing for her expedition. She found support in the International Institute of Peace.
“It resonated with me the most and the founder believed in my mission; he trusted in me,” she said. Her mission was to promote peace through tourism.
Throughout her trip, she visited 40 universities around the world and talked to students about being open to new cultures, new religions and making friends.
“I’ve learned to be more accepting and respectful of people. So many people are so inspirational; I’ve learned to be more open-minded,” she said.
Now that her expedition is over, De Pecol says the world does feel a lot smaller. She has a list of places she wants to return to, and will continue traveling but for now, she’s done with long expeditions.
“I have been playing with the idea of going to territories and colonies, but I don’t know if I want to do everything because then there’s nothing left,” she said. “You’d have to go to the moon.”
Inspired to go around the world? Take some advice from the pro:
- Sleep whenever and wherever you can
“The best piece of advice I got was to get rest wherever you can. You need to sleep because [traveling] is so sporadic. I will pass out whenever I can–trains, planes.”
- Don’t leave home without your phone
De Pecol’s top apps to download are TripAdvisor, Google Maps, Google Translate and Uber.
- Veer off the beaten path
“I like to wander; not go to the museums and the sites. I like to go to the little old lady’s house and the communities. That’s how you get to know the culture.”
- Research hotels before you book
“I had never used TripAdvisor before, but I really relied on it on this expedition,” De Pecol said. “You can really see in the reviews, if the Wi-Fi is good etc. I also used it to see the location of the hotels. Is it convenient? Is it close to the airport? I’ve become a pretty good contributor too.
The reviews that people post are the most useful because the hotel can post great photos but the guest photos really are helpful to show the realness.
When I go in I just type hotels near this city, and rank by most popular to see what’s highly rated from the people who stayed there so you can justify how decent the place is. I filter it out – sometimes I want to be in a unique location or near a monument or university.”
- Practice sustainable tourism
De Pecol talked to students about responsible tourism that supports the local economy and sustainable tourism–finding restaurants that source their produce from local farms and energy efficient lodging. She used TripAdvisor to help her achieve this.
De Pecol wanted to stay at sustainable luxury hotels. “I would research on TripAdvisor for the best hotels, and it would come up with a list. I would choose the most sustainable. Then I would reach out to them.” De Pecol also planted trees throughout her trip and hopes to offset her carbon footprint by 2020.
- Pack light
You hear this all the time, but De Pecol says this simple advice is key when planning a long journey–no heavy backpacks or suitcases. You can pick up anything you need around the world, she says.
“I brought a little makeup bag with mascara, blush and bronzer. I’ve had to let go of taking care of my hair. You can bring some stuff to help like coconut oil,” she said.
- Deal with the boring stuff, like visas and finances
Visa requirements are different for every country, so it is important to get the correct information on the embassy site and leave enough time for the application to be processed and approved – for some countries this can be nearly instant, while others can take weeks or months. De Pecol said acquiring visas for Yemen and Syria was very difficult, so keep that in mind before you book any flights.
- Budget and save up
If you plan on going on an epic expedition like De Pecol, a piggy bank won’t be enough. Even with all her planning and budgeting, De Pecol found herself out of money at one point and had to go home to Connecticut to regroup. In June, De Pecol plans to begin running seminars to teach people how to find financial backing for trips like hers.
- Research customs of respect
“Before I traveled to any country, I tried not to research too much about the culture. But I do research currency, language and basic respect. In Muslim countries, it’s better to wear a hijab even if you don’t need one. It’s important for women to ensure whether they need to cover up just to be respectful. I traveled the world in my workout tights–they go with any climate–but in some countries I had flowy pants to throw on.”
- Make smart choices as a woman traveling alone
De Pecol traveled the world as a single woman and said she rarely felt unsafe. But she does advise women to take precautions and be prepared.
Learn to defend yourself
Krav Maga Worldwide was one of De Pecol’s sponsors on the expedition so she took some self-defense classes from them. Though she luckily never had to use it, she recommends women learn some basic self-defense moves before heading out alone.
Skip the nightlife and don’t wander alone after dark
“I know its hard, but don’t go out and party; don’t go out to bars. That’s where you can really be taken advantage of,” she said. “On this trip I did not go out at all. If I wanted a glass of wine, I stayed in my room and drank it.”
“There was one point I was walking at night and I said ‘you know what; just turn around and get a taxi.’”
- Visit Pakistan
“Most recently, Pakistan [is my favorite place I visited]. I’m putting them in the spotlight because they get such a bad rep, and I experienced kindness and hospitality. You have the mountains and the beaches, and you get a mix of Asian culture and Middle Eastern culture. That’s what I love about it.”
Photo courtesy of Cassie De Pecol.