After a 1 hour and 15 minute fast paced uphill trek, I arrived at Paro Taktsang. The pilgrimage was like something out of Avatar, a dream to trek, through low hanging clouds with a harrowing drop at any given moment on either side. Prayer flags swayed through the pines, prayer wheels spinning in the breeze, and tsa-tsas (ashes of the dead) wedged between crevices of stone. Passing over a bridge and waterfall and up the last flight of stairs, I entered one of the chambers where I was completely alone. Tip-toeing past the glowing butter candles and sacred relics, I kneeled on a rug, cracked open an aged window and rested my head on the windowsill to reflect and admire the massive 2,000ft plunge into the vast Himalayan valley below, as clouds swiftly passed. Without my phone or camera equipment, I was able to consciously enjoy this moment in peace. 🏔 • • • #expedition196 #everycountryintheworld
Traveling the world is a dream many of us share, but one 28-year-old transformed this fantasy into her very own reality. After having her passport stamped 196 times over the course of 18 months, Cassie De Pecol became the first and fastest woman to visit every sovereign nation in the world — and broke two Guinness World Records doing it.
Below, Cassie — who was also just named the newest ambassador for Gillette Venus — shares more about her record-breaking expedition, including how she funded the trip and all the obstacles she had to overcome to make her journey possible. Keep reading to learn more about her most fascinating experiences as well as the top travel tips she learned along the way.
POPSUGAR: Can you tell us more about how you came up with the trip idea and how you put it into action?
Cassie De Pecol: Prior to Expedition 196, I was a full-time babysitter working 85+ hours a week and I was struggling to pay my bills. I knew if I were to leave a positive legacy behind and achieve my dream of enhancing the world we live in and inspiring others, then I needed to act quickly before falling into a downward spiral.
I was 25 years old at the time and experienced what many would call a "quarter-life crisis." It was at that point I decided to commit to my outlandish idea of traveling to every single country in the world while doing so for a purpose. The trip took a year and a half to plan and required 110 percent commitment, perseverance, and drive in order to make it happen.
If you think of every moment as another step on the long path to forgetting everything, a snapshot is a gate on that journey, a vibrant acknowledgement that something has changed. - John Koenig In a world that’s so competitive, where do we find the will to want to accomplish great things, to impress ourselves, to win, to exemplify the life that we're given, when we're blatantly aware that it will all be washed away and forgotten one day; forgotten by us, because we're no longer here, and forgotten by others, because someone did it better. After my experience, I'm torn between the beauty and kindness of humanity and our earth, and the absolute wrath of humanity and destruction of it all. Every day I'm reminded of either how many lives I've touched, and just as equally, how many lives see me as some dark force of nature. Either way, all trillion of us living organisms cohabit a world that spins in a universe where there are so many unknowns. It really makes no one better than the other, because let's be honest, who's really watching to promise that we succeed every time anyways? At the end of the day, at 28 years old, I can confidently tell myself that I've succeeded in my life's mission, because well, this was it. But, I'm still living among the rest, needing to survive until that day when I am gone and it's all forgotten in my mind. Every person who’s given up everything to succeed has a different answer that defines their life and goals. You can perhaps see that it's hard for me to sit back and acknowledge this vast accomplishment that sucked every bit of dedication, perseverance, commitment and drive out of me, when society asks me every day, "what's next?". Listen, I can easily say, "much more", but for me, this was it, this was the closing curtain. Still though, I continue to live on, and maybe the goal is to find the things that make it worth forgetting it all. You were right, it does beg the question... what’s next... just don’t make it so obvious. 🌏🏃🏼♀️
PS: You've mentioned you saved $10,000 from two babysitting jobs but networked to find sponsors and investors to fund the rest of your voyage. What were some of the greatest challenges you faced when seeking sponsorships?
CD: I left a semester short of graduating college because I simply could not afford it, and I found this lack of college degree to be limiting when it came to approaching companies, specifically nonprofits, for grants and funding. This setback actually encouraged me to start my own nonprofit, Her International, in order to give all women and girls the opportunity to receive funding for their own passion-driven projects that address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, despite their college education or lack thereof.
It also came down to connections. I had to go from a small-town babysitter to someone CEOs would want to invest in, so I had to jump outside of my introverted self in order to make the connections to secure sponsorships.
"It was the hardest thing I'd done in my life, and I chose to do it all on my own."
PS: Aside from financing, can you explain more about how you planned for a trip this great in size? How did you go about plotting your specific route?
CD: In its initial stages, I never found it overwhelming but rather exciting. I had to brand myself; network; find sponsors, investors, nonprofit endorsements, and supporters; start all the social media channels; and prepare for filming of the educational documentary. On top of all that, I also needed to secure visas, plan my route, schedule the meetings with students, mayors, and ministers of tourism, as well as plan the various tree-plantings and microplastic samplings across different countries that I was adamant about including in my trip.
It was the hardest thing I'd done in my life, and I chose to do it all on my own in order to reap the successes and learn from the failures to grow and succeed as an independent woman. During the Expedition, it did become exhausting while having to continue to secure funding, arrange meetings, change my itinerary, and secure visas. It became more challenging as the months went on.
Exulansis. 🕷 The tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it - whether through envy or pity or simple forgiveness - which allows it to drift away from the rest of your life story, until the memory itself feels out of place, almost mythical, wandering restlessly in the fog, no longer even looking for a place to land. @thedictionaryofobscuresorrows #expedition196 My travel partner (A.K.A. Backpack): @sovrnrepublic
PS: Although the trip took 18 months to complete, you had to travel at a rather fast pace in order to break the world record. Was there ever a moment you wished you could extend your stay in a particular place?
CD: Due to the Guinness World Record regulations, I wasn't able to spend more than 14 days in a country at any given time, which made things difficult when I was really worn down. At one point, I had gone 68 hours without sleeping and was becoming delusional. It was at these times when I wished I could relax somewhere for a full two weeks to simply rejuvenate my mind and body. And although I could have spared myself a couple of weeks to relax time-wise, I just didn't have the funding to do so.
There were also times when I would have loved to stay longer with the students and ministers of tourism to experience their country through their own eyes, especially in places like Mexico, Guatemala, Taiwan, and Mauritius.
PS: Out of all the 196 countries you explored, did you have a particular favorite or a few places you hope to visit again one day?
CD: America is my favorite; it's my home. I love the various landscapes — the deserts, beaches, rainforests, mountains, waterfalls, volcanoes. But it's the diverse melting pot of cultures from around the world that make it possible to find authentic foods such as Peruvian or Pakistani anywhere.
However, Argentina is one of my favorite places, and I'd love to go back to New Zealand and Jordan. The North Pole, French Polynesia, and Vancouver are places I have yet to visit, so those all rank high on my list as well.
Hey! 👋🏽 A few updates for NOLA and Connecticut friends out there! 👩🏼🏫 • • • 🔆New Orleans | Saturday, March 4 | 🔆 I'll be speaking at noon at the @womenstravelfest. If you haven't done so already, you can head to the link in their bio to register. The event starts tonight! Hope to see you tomorrow and if you've registered, would love to know! Leave a "🎒" emoji in the comments below! • • • 🔆Connecticut | @uconn School of Business | Monday, March 6 | 🔆 I'll be speaking at 6:45PM! Tickets are limited but the link is in my bio if you're interested in attending to hear my talk! Leave a "🏀" emoji in the comments below if you've registered so I can look forward to seeing you there! My home state, woot! 🤘🏽 • • • On another note, I am back in the US after a whirlwind adventure with @quarkexpeditions in Antarctica. We cruised through a category 10 "storm" on the Beaufort Scale with 30-40ft waves and 50 knot winds. Safe to say, many of us were in our rooms throughout most of those two days as we crossed through. The Captain told us that it was the worst storm he'd seen since 2005 and also, that had we not left earlier than originally planned, the storm would have been, and I quote, an "unsurvivable" one. What a fantastic Captain to ensure our safety. It was an adventure and I honestly wouldn't have had it any other way even if I was a little uneasy about the waves 🌊🇦🇶💙 • • • Thanks for the pic @takingtimeout as we touched down on Paradise Island 👌🏽
PS: Looking back, what's something that surprised you about your journey? What would you say was the biggest thing you learned about yourself?
CD: Without a doubt, I learned that the world isn't as dangerous as we think it is and that people are kind and hospitable wherever you go.
The one thing I found to be true about humans is that all of us are the same; we have the same basic needs. At the core of every one us — religion, political views, gender, ethnicities aside — we all just want a hot meal in front of us, a roof over our heads, access to clean water, and a loving family to surround us.
I went into this expedition completely open-minded and I made sure to leave all preconceptions at the door. Whatever anyone told me about a country or place — whether good or bad — I left their views at the door as well. By doing this, I was able to become more accepting of cultures and people of all walks of life from around the world and formulate my own opinions, erring on the side of positivity and understanding.
"I learned that the world isn't as dangerous as we think it is and that people are kind and hospitable wherever you go."
PS: What were some of the biggest obstacles you faced while traveling abroad?
CD: Managing every aspect of the expedition all on my own. It was tough because at times I'd just go online to connect with family and friends, and I'd see a lot of negative comments about myself and my trip, which could have really dragged me down into a dark space. That, on top of being alone in countries where I didn't speak the language, where I was a 24-hour flight away from home, and when I was sleep deprived and on this massive solo expedition, made moments such as those especially tough to overcome.
PS: Of course, with limited amounts of funds, tracking your expenses was vital for your journey. Can you let us in on how you budgeted along the way?
CD: I ended up budgeting per country. Some countries required more funding for the transportation, visas, and hotels — for example, in the Pacific Islands and Africa — and some, much less. It also depended on whether or not I needed to travel farther than I normally would in order to meet with students. I found it important to have an Excel spreadsheet to properly budget my trip. A money scare six months into the trip was a huge wake-up call for me to truly stay on top of that spreadsheet.
PS: What is it about traveling and exploring new places that you love most?
CD: As a kid, I always disliked being in nature. Yet as I grew older, I came to really appreciate the silence that the wilderness could provide. When I travel, I try to go off the beaten path as much as possible, and my favorite parts of doing this are finding little tiny towns made up of locals and very few tourists. These are the moments when I can truly immerse myself in the culture, heritage, and language.
Oftentimes, I'll find myself meeting a local who will invite me into their home where the mother or grandmother will make a traditional meal. These moments of traveling mean everything to me; it's an experience that only I can have, and it's a memory that only I share with the strangers I meet who ultimately become friends for life.
We all have our own ways of traveling and experiencing a culture, and it definitely hurts when people say I didn't experience anything on Expedition 196. I might have been in a country for a day or two, but these little moments of, say, venturing into a small town even just an hour from the main city really made for a fantastically enriching experience.
I’ll let you guys in on a little secret. On my Expedition, I brought a tripod, my Nikon D750, and both a 14-24mm wide angle and 70-200 telephoto lens, along with microphone (for filming) and two lighting fixtures (all in one carry-on, my only bag 🙉!). But this photo and my previous one from Rouen, we’re both taken with my iPhone 7 Plus in “Portrait” mode, set on top of a garbage can. I once learned from a friend (@alenpalander 😜), that you don’t need any fancy camera equipment to capture an epic photo, it just takes a good eye and the right lighting to do so. Great advice. I ditched all my camera equipment for this trip and am relying solely on my iPhone and random trash cans to collect all my moments from France. So, cheers to that! 🥂🇫🇷. Oh, and of course with the help of @ubyuniworld taking me to some pretty amazing places along the Seine ☺️❤️🌎 #TravelforU
PS: As someone who has an endless sense of wanderlust, I can't help but find your adventure around the globe incredibly inspiring. What one piece of advice would you give to someone dreaming of embarking on a similar journey?
CD: Save up as much as you can beforehand; sell the things you don't need; find an exciting way to document your trip (Instagram, book, vlogging, etc.); figure out a way to capitalize on it while addressing one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; and keep an open mind throughout the process. Remember, it's your life and no one can create the outcome but you, so make it your best life possible!
"It's your life and no one can create the outcome but you, so make it your best life possible!"
PS: Now that you've successfully traveled the world, can you let us in on what's next?
CD: My application was recently accepted to travel into space with Virgin Galactic, which I'm really excited about. I'm also developing a travel merchandise line and a travel app, as well as working to obtain my private pilot's license and embarking on my second Guinness World Record attempt, which is travel/endurance related. Furthermore, I am working on a book, wrapping up the editing of the Expedition 196 educational documentary, and of course, managing my nonprofit, Her International.
In the year since my expedition, I've had the pleasure of connecting with women and helping them accomplish their ambitions. As an extension of those efforts, I'm excited to be partnering with Venus to tell my own story to a wider audience with the goal of continuing to inspire women to pursue their passions.