Cassie De Pecol has always wanted to see every country in the world. She’s on course to visit all 196, and in record time. (Photos: Courtesy Cassie De Pecol)
To say Cassie De Pecol has a well-inked passport is an understatement. In July 2015, the Connecticut native set out to be the first ever documented woman to visit all 196 countries — and the first person to tackle the task within the shortest period of time. With just six countries left that she’ll be visiting this month, she (and her 282,000 Instagram followers) are confident she will meet that goal — even if some visa permitting issues cause her to exceed her originally planned completion date of December 31st.
“Right now it’s like trying to get to the top of the mountain — it’s always that last little bit that becomes the most challenging part to get to,” she says. “But I will get there.”
Here, De Pecol shares more with Marriott TRAVELER about her mission, the reason she travels, and the act of kindness she’ll never forget.
How did you decide to embark on this trip?
I’ve always wanted to go to every country in the world. I thought it was a far out dream and crazy and really absurd. But I’ve always wanted to go far and see new things. If I could go to space I would do that.
What are you most looking forward to with this month’s travels?
I’ve always wanted to go to Pakistan for the nature and culture. I’m also interested in going to Syria. I tried to go there when I was 21 — I took a bus from Turkey and got as far as the border but didn’t realize I needed a visa, so I had to turn back.
What is your biggest goal when you reach a new country?
My goal has always been to change the world somehow. I come from a privileged society and I felt like I was being wasteful just living my life and not making a positive impact on the world around me. My travels are focused on promoting peace through sustainable tourism, and I try to do that in as many countries as I’m able to through speaking with tourism students at universities about a number of topics, including entrepreneurship, women’s achievements, responsible tourism, and peace through tourism and economics.
What have you been most surprised by during your travels?
Definitely the kindness of strangers. There’s such negative stigma with many places of the world. I’ve found the Middle East to be one of my favorite regions for the sole fact that people over there are just so hospitable, kind, and warm. And I’ve found that all over the world. We’re all the same: People just want to have a roof over their head, something to eat, and a chance to be helpful — because that’s where they find their happiness.
What’s something from home that you’ve missed while on the road?
I’m a cat lady, so I miss my cat! And cooking. I love cooking — it’s such a stress reliever. When I’m home, I’m in the kitchen all day just thinking and cooking for my family.
What’s the first thing you’ll make when you get back?
Christmas cookies, for sure.
Why is it important for you to share your travel experiences with others via social media and otherwise?
I think it’s important to share not just all of the beautiful and fun stuff, but also the realness of it all — challenges and all. I think people should also learn about the importance of sustainability and sustainable tourism so that when they travel they can try to keep an open mind and make an effort to do it sustainably.
What has been one of the most memorable moments for you thus far?
I was in Cuba last month and I forgot to bring cash with me, and they don’t take American credit or debit cards there. My taxi driver took me to the hotel and I only had $20 in cash on me, and the room was $40. I figured I’d just go to the ATM but they reminded me that they don’t accept any American cards there, so I didn’t know what to do. I was on the curb and having a meltdown. Next thing I know the taxi driver walked up to me and said, “I have daughters, too, and I would hate for them to be in your position. Why don’t you come to my house and stay with me and my family?”
What was that experience like for you?
It was a very impoverished community and they didn’t have much money. When I woke up in the morning I realized that they had given me their only bedroom. His wife had given up her bed for a total stranger and was sleeping on this thin foam pad with a sheet over her. I was overwhelmed by the act of kindness.
Why do you travel?
For me it’s always been about proving people wrong—in a good way—about places around the world that are seen in such a negative light. It’s about breaking through barriers. I love traveling to Europe and all, but for me I find the true awe in more war-torn countries or countries considered to be very dangerous, then showing the beauty that exists in those places. Travel for me is about being able to learn people’s stories — because everyone has one.