The first documented woman to visit the 196 sovereign nations of the world returned to her home state – and came to the University of Connecticut – just one month after returning from her trip, where she advocated for peaceful and sustainable tourism throughout the globe.
Washington, Connecticut native Cassie De Pecol holds not only the Guinness World Record for the first woman to visit the 196 countries, but she also completed it in the shortest time ever recorded – 18 months and 26 days.
The UConn chapter of Delta Sigma Pi invited De Pecol to come and speak about her initiative, called “Expedition 196,” which focuses on spreading peace through tourism by promoting sustainable travel, open-mindedness and kindness.
She embarked on the trip on March 8, 2016 and finished on Feb. 2, 2017 in Yemen.
Following the trip, and throughout, De Pecol spoke at schools, events and congregations to spread her message.
Her presentation here at UConn was laidback, with video clips and assorted anecdotes from around the world, including phallic paintings in Bhutan and riding in an armored vehicle through Somalia.
Whether the listener was interested in travelling the globe, or just looking for inspiration, De Pecol stressed the importance of finding your passion and making a life out of it. During the presentation she suggested finding three things that excite you and then following the steps of your mentors to bring your passion to light.
“I think what I would say the main topic or main point I was trying to get across was creating your own story, through your career. Your career doesn’t just have to be 9-5, settling into the norm, instead create your own hero’s journey in some sense. To better yourself or better the world in some way,” De Pecol summarized.
Now 27 years old, De Pecol funded her journey two years ago through prudent savings from baby-sitting wages and lifeguard salaries, famous supporters like Toby Flenderson (actor Paul Lieberstein) and persistent contact with sponsors like AIG and Clif Bars.
She said it took about a year and a half to figure out sponsors and proposals, and what she could do for those who sponsored her.
One of De Pecol’s presentation slides featured guidelines for responsible tourism, including staying at sustainable hotels, supporting local non-profits, taking environmentally conscious tours, talking with locals about their way of life and learning from them and sharing the beauty with your family and friends.
De Pecol attended college as an environmental studies major for three and a half years before deciding to pursue her passion for travel full time. Being conscious of the large carbon footprint of international flights, she devoted time during her travels to planting trees to cancel out the impact of her trips.
As part of her international activities, she collected water samples from areas all over the world as part of an Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation program, funded by National Geographic, that samples the water for microplastics our societies have deposited into the environment.
“It’s great because it gives you that opportunity to get out there in nature, which I think is really important when you travel, and to get off the beaten path of the cities,” De Pecol said. “Have some quiet time, feel the water, you know.”
Another slide in her presentation was focused on tips for travelling, including using websites like workaway.info and couchsurfing.org to make travelling cheaper, several recommended brands for travel gear, her personal camera: Nikon DSLR (with one wide angle lens, one telephoto lens, and a travel tripod) and krav maga for the lone female traveller.
“I think it’s crucial to get out there alone. To step outside your comfort zone you will learn so much about yourself and so much about the world, because I have travelled with people before…” De Pecol said. “But when you travel alone you’re kind of in your own sphere, meeting different people from all over the world, and travelling alone gives you that freedom in every sense.”
She said she never had any issues with being a woman travelling alone but had other difficulties while travelling.
At one point she was bedridden for five days, thinking she had contracted malaria.
Another time she was suspected of being CIA and a drug-trafficker in Libya.
De Pecol would book flights and places to stay last minute. Because of the unpredictability she learned to be wary during her months abroad.
At times she would go without sleep for up to 68 hours in addition to being dehydrated and navigating foreign countries.
De Pecol said she tried to do at least one thing in each country before leaving.
According to De Pecol, there were approximately 10 countries where she only saw the airport, most of them African nations, but her path and destinations within the countries were mostly dictated by the speaking engagements she had arranged.
For those who missed the lecture, De Pecol has been working on a book deal to tell her story, as well as completing a full Ironman, more speaking engagements and hopefully a travel gear line one day. You can learn more about her story and current projects here.
Francesca Colturi is associate life editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.