Megan Lee and Erin Oppenheim of GoAbroad.com were lucky enough to score an interview with Cassie DePecol, the first and fastest woman to travel to all 196 sovereign nations.
She had to take scheduled transit ONLY and had to document the bejeezits out of her transportation. Beyond her goal to earn the title of Guinness World Record Holder, DePecol also heavily incorporated a mission of women’s rights and education. On Expedition 196, in between long layovers, missed connections, instant noodles, and the other not-so-glam sides of constant travel, Cassie DePecol was able to create a movement.
What made you do it?
I’ve always just kind of had a passion, since high school, to go to every country in the world. And it wasn’t until a few months before my 25th birthday where I was like, okay I have to do this, you know. I was out babysitting in LA and I was like, man, I really want to pursue that dream I’ve always had of traveling the world, but like... can I do it? Should I do it? When’s the right time? And I’m like… okay, now more than ever, I have to just go for it. So that’s when I started planning the exhibition. I think I’ve just had this burning desire to see everything and go everywhere and do everything.
When did you know you were destined to travel?
Ever since I was in high school, whenever I got to leave my home state, a little town in Connecticut, I’d be like — “Guys, I’m going to New York or I’m going to Massachusetts!” And they’d say “Why is that such a big deal?” I’m like — you know, I’m leaving my state. It’s SUCH a big deal! [laughs]
I guess it’s not a big deal, but to me, stepping out of that boundary was a huge deal to me. So that’s when I really realized that I wanted to travel. I never grew up traveling. My mom’s Canadian, so we had only been to Toronto and that’s it. When I was 18, I was like looking at colleges, I decided to go to Elon University Global College and study abroad my first year in Costa Rica. From there, I was like — Alright, I’m destined to keep traveling the rest of my life.
Tell us more about your study abroad experience…
I was staying with a host family in a little town/city called Heredia in Costa Rica. I stayed with them til I left and transferred to a different college actually in Vermont. I lived with a host family in Heredia, went to school there, and we took some trips to San Jose and all over Costa Rica.
What does your family/hometown/community think of your expedition?
My hometown is very small — maybe like 2000 people total in my town — but initially when I went to go take off (back in December 2014), they were really supportive. There was tons of media in the local newspapers, and I was like “Yes, this is so great!”
Everyone was so receptive, I’d be sitting at like CVS waiting for a prescription for my contacts and I’d bump into a little old lady and she’d be like, “I saw you in the newspaper, it’s really great!” “It’s so sweet!” I’m so glad it reached so many people. Everyone’s been really supportive and proud that I’m from Connecticut. I’m from Litchfield county and everyone’s like “Go Connecticut!”
It seems your mission evolved from a focus on humanitarianism and the global family to advocating more for solo female travel. How did your mission change over the course of your trip?
Initially, I was going to support women’s rights and then, I was like, you know what, I didn’t major in women’s rights, I’m not 100% gungho about it — I thought, walking into Saudi Arabia like “I’m supporting women’s rights” might not go over well in some countries. I decided to focus on peace through sustainable tourism. I have been working in the sustainable hospitality field since the age of 21 and it is something I’m really passionate about.
But as my expedition went on, I realized there were so many young women who were coming up to me, especially after the conversations I was giving at universities, saying “I didn’t think I could do this sort of thing, you’ve really inspired me.” To this day, so many young women, and older women too, women of all ages, have come up to me and been like “You’ve really inspired me to quit my job and do this! And guess what, here I am!” I’ll get messages saying “It’s three months later and I quit and I’m on the road now” so it ended up turning into something very inspiring for women and something I’m passionate about.
Initially, actually, my dad, early on, he told me, “You should focus on women’s achievement since you’re a woman and you’re doing something that only men have done!” — and I was like, “You know Dad, that’s a good point!”, so I started focusing more on that and finding the value and seeing the purpose in that more so.
What did you “count” as visiting a country? How long did you stay in each?
I think I averaged around six days per country, but for the Guinness Records, you pretty much just have to get the stamp and that’s it. So maybe, and to be honest, there were probably about five countries where I did that. Whether it came down to safety or I was sick or it wasn’t a good situation — and of course I want to go back to those countries and experience them — but for me I tried to see at least one-two things in the country and stay at least a night there.
Which country do you want to revisit someday?
I would say New Zealand. I didn’t get to spend too much time there and I’m such a nature person — I love culture too of course — but if you can stick me in the mountains for a couple of months, I would just love that! Then there’s also British Columbia. I’ve always wanted to go to BC and I’ve never gotten there (I just went to Quebec on this trip and I’ve been to Toronto). I’d like to spend more time in the Rockies of Canada.
What advice would you give to the GoAbroad community and any aspiring solo female travelers?
Just to be confidence, walk around being confident. Don’t look lost or anything, I think that’s really important when you’re starting off traveling. Don’t wander around asking everyone for help — someone might take advantage of you. It’s important to be confident but to keep an open mind.
When you travel, when you’re looking to go somewhere different, leave all preconceptions at the door. Don’t just see what happens on the news and be like “Uh oh, this is gonna happen.” Sometimes, if you’re too fearful of something, it’ll come to you. It’s really important to leave those fear at the door, go in and learn through the people. Go in and create your own little positive experience in that place.
Learn more about her expedition and ways to stay involved in her new initiatives from her website, expedition196.com.