In a new series on GuinnessWorldRecords.com, we profile some of the most inspiring stories of commitment, courage and and dedication behind some of our most extraordinary titles. This week we're placing the spotlight on an outstanding world traveler.
Cassie De Pecol spent her 27th birthday in the Mongolian wilderness. No Wi-Fi, no cellular reception, no phones – just herself and her thoughts in the mountainous region.
She’s also floated in the Dead Sea, slept on the glacial forest floors in Finland, met the King of Spain, and snorkeled in a lake packed with jellyfish.
She ran a virtual race in Cyprus, was detained in Grenada, slept in the home of strangers in Cuba, and shook hands with men in the streets of Afghanistan.
But that’s just the beginning for the young adventurer.
Starting her adventure in 2015 in Palau, the archipelago of over 500 islands in the western Pacific Ocean, Cassie went on to race through every single country of the world to set the record title for Fastest time to visit all sovereign nations.
At the start of her excursion, the benchmark for the title stood at three years, three months, and six days – a challenge even for the savviest of travelers.
Though this would be the Connecticut-born’s first attempt at a world record, it wasn’t her first time embarking on a trip alone.
Cassie was quite used to a solo journey, and in fact, her independent mindset has always preferred it that way.
“Traveling alone grants me the ultimate freedom and opportunity to learn more about local cultures and people. It also allows me the freedom to go places with no one holding me back. It allows me to embrace this story that I craft for myself and to have these experiences that only I know. There’s something sacred about having your own, personal experiences that no one else can relate to. I loved every minute of it.”
From an early age, Cassie couldn’t wait to explore. Unlike most college freshman, the passionate wanderer left home ground to spend her first year of college studying in Costa Rica and Nicaragua at the age of 18.
At the age of 21, she left the United States once again, this time with just $2,000 saved from a summer of life guarding, eager to see what the world could offer.
Her budget lasted an impressive two years, funding a tour across six continents and 24 countries.
Explaining how she managed to maintain her journey, she says: “I worked along the way, faced monetary struggles head on, slept in train stations, couch-surfed, and worked as a housekeeper at bed and breakfasts in exchange for free room and board, whatever I could do to keep going.”
Those two years served as good practice for what De Pecol was set to encounter in her mission to break such a demanding record - but at that time, her focus was returning to the US after 730 days of nomadic ventures.
Cassie eventually returned to US soil and did what she believed she was supposed to do when becoming an adult: she got a corporate, 9-5 job with the goal of maintaining a steady income.
However, she soon found herself extremely uncomfortable and unfulfilled in her new life.
Realizing the confinement in her current situation, she packed up her things and moved to California, with the aim of discovering a new direction that would satisfy the lifestyle she craved.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘What can I do? What can I do to bring purpose to my life? How can I create a life that brings happiness, a career, passion, excitement; what can I create with this one life that I have?’ I don’t want to sit in an office, I just want to create something that is very important to me that also helps other people,” said Cassie, “So I thought back to high school when I had this dream to travel to every single country in the entire world, I thought back to the time I traveled in Europe with my brother, how I wanted to see every country in the shortest amount of time, and I said you know what? I’m going to do this, I’m going to plan my trip around the world.”
Thus, she commenced her mission to revisit those countries, and hundreds more, in a timeframe of less than three years to obtain the Guinness World Records title, and be the first woman to do so.
It was a challenge that had never been undertaken by any woman in history at that point, giving her journey a significance that she felt once achieved, would impact women everywhere.
“I wanted to show young women that they can achieve whatever they put their heart and soul into, even if that goal is something that only men have achieved.”
“Expedition 196” would not only serve as a grand opportunity to defy the odds, but also to inspire and communicate the concept of peace, wherever she visited.
“The Dalai Lama once said, ‘Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk’. And that was a risk I was willing to take.”
Hoping her insight would help motivate tourists to learn about new cultures, Cassie partnered with the International Institute of Peace through Tourism as a peace ambassador and produced a series of weekly YouTube videos. These allowed viewers following her journey to learn about the cultural norms of that nation, as well as highlighting activities to seek out should they be inspired themselves to visit the country in question.
While simultaneously chasing her goal to achieve a world record title and promote peace through tourism, Cassie also spoke to over 16,000 students across 40 countries on the importance of facilitating friendship and unity as a global citizen.
In her lectures, Cassie focused on topics such as achievements by women and responsible tourism, as well as methods of quantifying peace through economics, with the hope that her own goals would positively affect the local people she encountered along the way.
“Most of the time, the students were eager to learn more, asking me many inquisitive questions following the presentation. I'm still in communication with many of them to this day and some have circled back to me saying that because of my presentation, they decided to pursue their dream.”
But while her journey was as aspirational as it was purposeful, it was not the picturesque idea of “wanderlust” that many assume.
In spending anywhere from one single day to two weeks in a country, Cassie faced sleep deprivation, missed flights, and also needed to be aware of drastically different cultural norms from country to country.
“My parents provided a great deal of emotional support. If ever I considered quitting, I could call them and even if it was 2am their time, they’d talk me through not quitting.”
Nevertheless, Cassie experienced a tour of the world unlike any other; amongst her favorite countries were Costa Rica, Jordan, Switzerland, and Pakistan – particularly for the kindness of the people.
“Most recently, I was in Syria and was in the taxi when a young woman came in. She hugged two women goodbye and I watched in the rearview mirror as she teared up. I decided to ask her why she was upset - to learn her story”
“She said that she was 28 years old and was leaving her country for the first time to go be with her husband in Germany, who was accepted into the refugee program. She hadn't seen him for a year, and in the past two years, she lost both of her parents”
“Her home was destroyed by the rebels in Aleppo. I was about to go to Yemen, and we both were feeling similar feelings at the same time; going to a new place, leaving behind things we were familiar with, etc”
“Although both of our experiences were extremely different, it was a moment of humanity between two women of completely different cultures, religions, and social status. In this moment - we were connected, we were one. She said ‘I love you so much!’ and I said it back, and wished her the best of luck as she got on her first ever flight she'd taken to see her husband again after one year of separation.”
Having now experienced life in 196 different countries around the world, her most cherished place remains America, thanks to its diversity in food, people, and landscape.
Now back on home soil, after achieving the title in a record setting 1 year and 193 days, as well as setting a second record for the female category - Cassie’s main focus is her memoir, including other major plans ranging from an app, speaking engagements, a documentary, along with a seminar she will lead to educate people on securing funding for their “passion projects”.
“The legacy that I wanted to leave behind has always been to inspire others to push the boundaries and follow their passions,” says Cassie, “I used to be really stuck, not knowing what I wanted to do for a career or with my life; stuck in the 9-5, living paycheck to paycheck, barely being able to afford rent, and now I have achieved not only my dream, but also my dream career by becoming a Guinness World Records title holder.”