Ew, a “club”. Throughout my introverted life, I’ve done everything in my power to not be a member of a “club” or “team”. If you’re reading this and are saying to yourself that our world couldn’t survive without the collaborative efforts of a team, that’s okay, we all have our opinions and reasons. For the sake of this article though, I’ll be sharing with you, my personal experience in travel and career as an introverted person, as opposed to an extroverted one. I’ll also note that I submitted much of this article to Conde Nast to include in an article about people who count countries, but they only included a sentence or two about what I said, and I had so much to say. Anyone that accomplishes something so vast, that few people on our planet have ever attempted, must have a certain human element to them that is, off or different, that allows them to achieve such a thing.
Have you heard of an Ironman race? A 2.4 mile swim with a 2 hour and 2 minute cutoff time, followed promptly by a 112 mile bike ride, followed by a full marathon (26.2 mile) run, with a 17 hour cutoff time. I had trained for a year and a half for this race to finish before my 30th year of life. I dove through great mental and physical depths to be able to race this, and finish before the time cutoff. Last November 4th, 2018, in my 29th year, I had finished my first, full Ironman race in 16 hours and 56 minutes and 17 seconds, just 3 minutes and 43 seconds before the cutoff time.
Our population as I write this, currently stands at 7,705,039,913 according to this source. Of the above population, 0.01% have finished a full, 140.6 mile Ironman race. That’s statistics.
Ironman’s slogan is “Swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, run 26.2 miles – BRAG FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE” and that quote was by John Collins, Ironman Founder. Wouldn’t it be nice to feel so accomplished after having completed such a race? Many Ironman athletes are angry and upset if they race a full Ironman, only to finish in 17:00:01 or over, which would mean they didn’t make the cutoff and they can’t officially call themselves an Ironman. It makes sense, that cutoff can make or break a future Ironman. For example, if the cutoff time was 48 hours, how many more people in this world would be able to call themselves an Ironman. The whole point of the race, is to finish in that time. Now personally, if I finished in 17:00:01, I’d probably still call myself an Ironman – after all, I did finish the full distance. Many people I can assume, with great respect, take pride in calling themselves an Ironman after having finished such a race, even if they didn’t meet the time cutoff.
Why am I mentioning this?
Because it directly relates to traveling every country in the world.
I’m going to try as hard as I can so as to not be bias, but at the same time, I want to share with you my story, that has evolved over the years from thorough research, as well as receiving my fair share of criticisms. So, here it goes.
My Story (in a nutshell)
At the age of 18, I set out to study Environmental Studies and Global Studies at LIU Global College in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. This was my first time out of the USA on my own (my mother is from Canada, so we had traveled there as kids). From there, I went on to study at four other colleges across 4 states before leaving a semester short of graduating. I ended up saving roughly $2k that summer from lifeguarding and in August of 2011 when I was 21, booked a one-way ticket with my brother to Belgium. We traveled around Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland together for about a month before parting ways. We were standing on the deck overlooking the Swiss Alps at a little mountain hostel when he asked me, “Cassie, are you depressed?”. I was in denial, and that was our last trip together. He traveled to France for a few weeks before heading home, and I headed East, over to Italy and Turkey, where I would spend the next several months working in hostels and getting sexually harassed by the male employers I worked for.
Long story short, I spent the next year and a half traveling to roughly 24 countries, living in nine of them, working for free room and board, writing blogs for a little cash, and even getting paid a bit of money here and there from the businesses I worked for, and by a “bit”, I mean $100 dollars a month, if that. I accepted internships to expand my knowledge in sustainable hospitality, built a website, started a business, and was able to sustain myself for that time. I eventually ran out of money, and came back to the US where I spent the next year or two working a pyramid scheme and also babysitting. I was very nomadic, and also depressed with the thought of where my life was headed career-wise. I saw an opportunity to be on a TV show on Discovery Channel, called ‘Naked and Afraid’, was casted, survived the full 21 days, and fell into an even deeper depression as a result of the hate in the immediate aftermath of the launch.
One day though, as I was sitting in the dirt with hermit crabs crawling around me, rain pouring over me in 55 degree temperatures in the Panamanian Jungle, I wondered what it would be like once I got out, to continue my travels but instead of to a few countries, to every country in the world. I came out of that experience alive and ready to plan my trip around the world, and I dubbed it ‘Expedition 196’. I thought there were 196 Sovereign Nations, but learned that there were 193, however, I kept that name because I ended up traveling to territories, colonies and autonomous regions to make it a total of 196+ countries.
In 2014, I began planing. I moved out to Los Angeles for some clarity, commuted 8 hours/day from Lake Arrowhead to the Pacific Palisades and Woodland Hills, for my two babysitting jobs which allotted to an 80 hour a week work schedule, and all the while, was planning my epic Expedition. I let go of friends, became an absolute hermit whenever I wasn’t working, to completely focus on this big move. I secured non-profit endorsement to promote my cause of peace through tourism and responsible tourism, I read books, secured sponsors, branded myself, started a new business, planned my route, secured visas, the list goes on. I found out on the news that there was a man by the name of Eric Hill, who was planning on breaking some Guinness World Record to travel every country, but he had tragically passed away shortly into his record attempt. I thought that having a solid record attempt, whereby I could submit evidence and break an actual record, would make me not only verifiable, but allow me to secure more funding.
That was it; a 2x Guinness World Record attempt to every Sovereign Nation for a cause. I did everything on my own, wrote up a press release, packed my bag, and I was off on July 24th, 2014.
In Yemen, on February 2nd, 2017, I successfully completed what I had set out to do; promote good, travel to every country, break two world records and make women’s history. The Guinness World Record (GWR) justified my travels through carefully reviewing the phone logs, credit card statements, GPS logs, photos, videos, receipts, passport stamps and public transportation evidence that I had to submit to them for every single Sovereign Nation that I visited. The finish was anticlimactic, I’m sorry to say. I was in a state of shock over what I had just spent the past 18 months and 10 days, plus year and a half planning, and I couldn’t believe I had finished. In that time, I was not allowed (a rule made by GWR) to spend more than 14 days in a country, so I was as a result, constantly moving. In that time, I had lost many friends over not being able to see or talk to them, over jealousy of what I had set out to do. I had three close friends that had stuck with me through and through, and my family who was always there to support. I finished with nothing in my bank account, homeless and absolutely depleted, but I had confidence in myself knowing that I had finished what I’d set my mind to; I had positively enhanced the world in a small way, and I had built a career for myself. I was now, un-relatable.
Here, I’ll answer some of your most FAQ’s.
How many countries are there?
There are a total of 193 Sovereign Nations. A ‘Sovereign Nation’ (you can find the legal definition here) is essentially an independent nation and political entity that has full governing power over itself; they have a centralized government, a defined territory, and do not depend or are subject to any other sovereign nation. The United Nations supplies the official list of Sovereign Nations.
However, there are over 300 “countries” if we include territories, colonies and autonomous regions. For example, Kosovo, one of the 196 countries I visited during my Expedition, is a “partially recognized state and disputed territory”. Vatican City, also one of the 196 countries I visited, is known as a “city-state”. Palestine is legally defined as a “de jure” Sovereign State (definition here). Bermuda, where I recently visited, is a British Overseas Territory (owned by the United Kingdom, in other words), and Kurdistan is an autonomous region of Iraq by the Iraqi constitution. I visited Kurdistan during my Expedition as my official visit to “Iraq”, and my passport stamp read “Iraq”, not “Kurdistan”.
What constitutes visiting a country?
Google that question and you’ll find tons of bias opinions on this topic, but we’re here to learn the facts. I’m a very factual person, and part of the reason why I’ve made history is because it’s 100% based on factual evidence and data. So let’s continue with what constitutes visiting a country.
According to Merriam-Webster, a “visit” is defined as the following:
2: a journey to and stay or short sojourn at a place
Therefore, when were are discussing “a short stay in”, “a journey to” a country, we must enter that country. The better question is; what constitutes entering a country? Well, there’s legal entry and there is illegal entry. Legally entering a country (Sovereign Nation) requires passing through border control with a passport, obtaining a passport stamp (with the exception of many European countries, whereby no passport is required for entry), and successfully passing through customs. The grey area arises in Europe, where there are 26 countries who are part of the Schengen Agreement, whereby no passport is required when traveling through those countries (source). I’ll get to that in a second. For now, let’s close this out by answering the question of “what constitutes visiting a country?”, based on facts, a visit would be constituted as legally entering that country. Past visit, we could be asking the question, “what constitutes an experience in a country?”, for which everyone has their own.
Guys, we can not keep track of what happened when a stranger of whom we do not know, traveled to a country, we do not know their personal experience in that place. People tell me “You didn’t experience anything in the countries you went to”, or “You didn’t actually visit those countries because you just stayed the airport” <– by the way, that’s false, I always left the airport. I want to share with you my thoughts on this below.
As I’ve expressed through my writings, in the media, in my book, on social media, in comments, and in my YouTube videos thousands of times in detail, I realize that whatever I say will never be enough for them to want to educate themselves to understand anything other than their own point of view. It’s devastating, especially when yesterday, today, and tomorrow we face pressing world issues among our species and our planet; hunger and famine, murder, suicide, war, epidemics, cancer, deforestation, millions of fish that are swallowing the plastics that we use and abuse, and yet… people criticize how I choose to travel the world and promote good.
It’s human nature to judge one another and make wrongful assumptions about how that person reached success. The people who criticize me are ill-informed only because they have never called, e-mailed, or reached out to me to ask me questions to clarify and learn from my story. Most of the time, they’ve never even gone so far as watch my videos, read my long and in-depth social media captions, articles, or blogs. Ninety percent of the people whose profiles I’d check out, of the ones who did criticize me, openly portrayed zero proof of having traveled at all – therefore, who are they to even understand traveling in the first place? There’s a lack of knowledge, understanding, education and human decency among those who have criticized my travels, and I’ve lost a lot of respect for humanity over how I’ve been treated. I always say, the world is very kind but the internet can be a living hell-hole. I’ve had a few people criticize me to my face, but once they learned more of my story, they changed their minds and became understanding… “Ah, I get it now”.
And my response is this. I try to do my best with everything that I do in life; I try to make do with what I have as one person in this world who has a vision for a better world. I suffer from depression and have been scarred by the hatred I’ve received online from people judging me based on how I choose to travel. I’m not hurting or killing anyone. I’m simply traveling and promoting good – in my own way. And there’s nothing wrong with that – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with how anyone chooses to live their life or travel, so long as they’re not harming anyone else in the process.
When it comes to travel, every single one of us as an individual has our own unique experience with each moment and in each place – moments that are sacred – moments that can either encompass nothing at all or everything at once- moments that can change us for the rest our lives – moments that we’ll either remember, or forget. Not one human on this earth knows what I experienced in each of the 196 countries, but me – and those moments are for me to cherish and for those people who I’ve communicated with in each country, to benefit from. I never have and never will judge anyone’s experience of how they choose to travel because it is theirs for taking and it is their own unique experience. I guess they say that travel is best when shared – but I think that if I wasn’t alone, I wouldn’t have been able to be free and vulnerable enough to connect with those around me. Being alone in each one of these countries opened up my eyes to the positives of humanity and our world, and I don’t believe that I have to explain myself or my experiences to anyone else, because they’re sacred, and they’re mine.
Advice to those who have criticized my travels and humanitarian efforts? Live and let live – leave it alone or educate yourself. Do good where you can and with what you have. Travel and soak it in. To this day, whether I spend one hour or one month in a country, one brief experience can shape my whole life – one sight, one scent, one meal, one person, one moment – and that is the real value of travel. There’s no space for criticizing how one chooses to spend their time when it comes to what we experience when we travel. Forget the record, the main reason why I traveled so fast was because I was worried about my own demise and the timing of it. When would it come? I didn’t know. None of us do. I’ve worried about it since I first learned about death as a kid when my aunt passed away. We never truly know what someone’s going through until we talk to them in person – open dialogue – and learn their story. Until then, I have really valued the meaning of time and all that a moment can encompass. I can only hope that others who choose to judge how I live and travel will open their eyes and their minds to the world that’s out there – and find experiences in moments in time – whether that be for an hour, a week, a month or a year – and choose to cherish their own moments as opposed to degrading others of whom they have no idea of their story. I don’t know you, you don’t me, so either learn, or let it be.
How many people have traveled to every country in the world?
Here’s a question that, while seems like it shouldn’t matter, it does. Let’s circle back to finishing an Ironman within the cutoff-time. One can not call themselves an ‘Ironman’ if they did not finish an Ironman within the cutoff. Being an Ironman, like being someone who’s traveled to every country in the world, can be a badge of honor, something to brag about, but more so, something that behind the scenes, required thousands of hours of preparation, sweat, blood, tears, sacrifice, money, etc., and each person who has made those sacrifices to be an Ironman or succeeded in traveling every country in the world, fully deserves those titles. Those achievements, greatly define their lives and they take those to the grave.
How many people have traveled to every country? I do not have a factual answer for you. What I do know is what I’ve come to the conclusion of from years of research. We all know by now that I had to submit copious amounts of hard evidence to Guinness World Records in order for me to gain that title. As of now, the only people who have provided hard evidence in the form of phone logs, GPS coordinates, passport stamps, credit/debit card statements, receipts, proof of transport, etc., are those who have broken a travel record (fastest person, fastest male, fastest female, youngest person, youngest male, youngest female, etc.). Currently, those people are James Asquith, Graham Hughes, Yili Lu (who’s record I broke) and myself.
Guinness World Records is to my knowledge, the only authority that collects and fact checks submitted hard evidence by individuals going after a record, and provides a database as a result of breaking down proof submitted. “For many records, Guinness World Records is the effective authority on the exact requirements for them and with whom records reside, the company providing adjudicators to events to determine the veracity of record attempts. (source)”.
There is no female homo-sapien who has claimed to have traveled to every sovereign nation, and justified their travels through submitting hard evidence to a reputable authority to then approve or deny their case, except me. Many women and men have thrown me to the curb (not literally) for “not respecting other female travelers” nor “giving them the recognition they deserve”. Of course, these people were never there to support me during my record attempt. Nevertheless, never in my life have I degraded other female travelers – I simply have not talked about them when discussing traveling to every country. Why? Because I do not know any. There are many woman who have come forward to me in e-mails, claiming to have traveled to every country and claiming that they were the first. But who am I to believe when I had to risk my life in many ways, to be able to collect hard evidence in every country to prove that I passed border control and stepped foot? Here’s my response below:
There was, and still is, quite a bit of backlash from the female country-counting community in particular, as many women claim to have traveled every country in the world, thus assuming that I was leaving many women who “might have” in the shallows. And while I’d love to talk about the women before me who claim to have traveled every country in the world, there simply is just no evidence of them having done so, so who am I, as someone who has gone through the effort of collecting all of the evidence, to talk about their undocumented travels when we’re talking about making history and breaking records? I have a few male friends who have claimed to visit every country, yet told me and others of the one or two countries that they actually didn’t visit due to the political situation at the time. There’s no denying that traveling to every country has its risks and dangers, with some countries being very risky to enter, such as Yemen, Somalia and North Korea. I’ll be straight to the point in saying that, for anyone, US citizen or otherwise, to say they’ve traveled to every country in the world (known as a “Sovereign Nation”), that’s all well and good, but if they’re driven to be in history books and break world records, then they simply need the evidence. Some might argue that there was no way to capture evidence of having traveled to every country back in the 18-1900’s, for example. And while yes, it would have been more challenging to do so, there were still ways; passport stamps, signed witness statements, letters, and even photographs. We might look to women in history from Amelia Earhart, who had to show proof of her being the first woman to cross the Atlantic, to Joan Benoit, who required proof winning the first Women’s Olympic Marathon, to Nellie Bly, who had to send electronic telegraphs and post mail, from each of the countries she visited during her around the world attempt.
For my particular record attempt, I was required to collect the following in regards to proof: passport stamps, GPS coordinates, signed witness statements, send letters from the country, cell phone logs, credit card/debit card receipts, plane/train/bus/ship receipts, photos and videos. Collecting some of these forms of proof such as photos, videos, and GPS coordinates caused me danger in some of the countries I visited, but I had to do everything in my power to ensure that I collected all the proof I needed from each country. And I became recognized in the National Women’s History Museum for my works.
I collected copies amounts of proof from each of the 193 Sovereign Nations, plus Taiwan, Kosovo and Palestine (196 countries), and submitted that evidence to a verified institution, that being Guinness World Records, to justify the two record attempts I broke, physically eyeballing each and every document electronically. I, and thousands of others have done the research to confirm whether or not there was another female who had submitted evidence of having traveled every country in the world, and to date, there is not. There are, however, many “clubs” which which travelers can be a member of, but that are only based on the honor system, therefore making the travels of their members, unverifiable. To date, I am the only female who has provided a verified institution, concrete evidence of having traveled to each of the 196 countries, making me the first woman on record to travel every country in the world. I’m not sure how to make this more clear, but like I said, people will continue to bicker and bite about it at an attempt to tear me down, because they’re angry that they have nothing to prove. People oftentimes don’t like to see others succeed, it’s called envy, pride, anger and greed, four of the seven deadly sins that I see all too much in people who degrade my accomplishments. All I can do is educate others on this grueling process that I had to go to in order to prove my travels, and leave their opinions to the wind.
I would never intentionally degrade, disrespect, or ignore the accomplishments of my fellow females of the world. If it’s been done before, it’d have been brought to my attention, and the attention of others, but it hasn’t. I respect all of the females who are bravely going out there and seeing all corners of the world, as I know it isn’t always completely safe, and I salute them and encourage them in their endeavors. There’s no need we should be degrading one another on our accomplishments.
Is it more difficult for a female to travel every country as opposed to a male? What are the differences?
There is a stark difference when it comes to the dangers that women face whilst traveling alone and to every country, at that. And while I do think the physical risk is higher for women, men also face risk when traveling every country especially if they are openly homosexual which can prove to be dangerous in a good handful of countries in the Middle East and Africa. Sometimes, I think that it’d be even more powerful and admirable if an openly gay man were to travel to every country – it’d be very risky, but then here we are again debating the risk of solo travel with male vs female. But with that said, there are of course dangers that men face as well, and these presumed risks and dangers add to the response they face from the general public, friends, and family, when it comes to attempting to travel to every country. And then there’s also the purpose – the why – and that varies between male or female based on the reason or mission. Generally, I’m seeing a positive shift in response favoring female travel as opposed to male travel when it comes to visiting every country these days.
Is it more challenging for certain female ethnicities to travel to every country?
Since finishing my Expedition, I’ve received so many inquiries by both women and men, but since we’re discussing women, I’ll talk about that, who have a certain element about them that they believe will make them stand out amidst the crowd for breaking my record. From black women to bisexual l women to lesbian women to Latinas to Asian women. I am really honored that I have been able to pave the way for future generations of women to see travel as exhilarating and exciting as opposed to dangerous and scary, and that so many of these women feel comfortable being vulnerable and open to me about the trip they are working towards embarking on, to break my record somehow. Records are meant to be broken but there’s one thing for sure – a woman is a woman and no matter what ethnicity, religion, cultural or social background that woman comes from – we all face the same biological vulnerability when it comes to traveling solo.
Every single woman on this planet no matter their age, gender, ethnicity, religion, looks, beliefs, will face certain problems in certain countries around the world. I don’t think it’s fair to say that white women have it harder, black women have it harder, Muslim women have it harder or Catholic women have it harder. When we travel alone, we are traveling alone as women, and what challenging experiences one woman will face in a country or region around the world, another might experience something completely different.
There are 54 countries in Africa, where most of Eastern, Northern, Central and Western areas are where I experienced the most glares, questioning, and even a hotel room break in at 2am by a man (in Burkina Faso). I experienced the most challenge in Africa, and someone from Africa, might experience the most challenge in South/Central America. A Muslim woman might experience the most challenge in the Middle East and a Catholic woman might experience the most challenge in the Middle East as well.
Instead of breaking apart who has it easier or harder as women traveling solo, let us recognize that we’re all women – traveling solo – and it will be challenging for us all in very different ways. We all have vaginas that are all vulnerable to rape, we’re all vulnerable to assault. Any woman traveling solo is brave – but we should not see a black or white woman, latino or asian woman, muslim or catholic woman, as being braver than the next. A woman traveling alone is brave. We need to stand together and fight for that as opposed to tear women apart judging them based on how “hard” we think it might be for them.
What were some of the biggest criticisms you faced when trying to knock out every country in the world?
“She’s privileged”, “Daddy paid for it”, “She only did it because she’s rich, if I had a bunch of money I could do it too”, “You can’t see anything by traveling that fast”, “Traveling that fast isn’t traveling”, “Her sex appeal got her there”, “She’s not traveling sustainably at all”.
Nevertheless, there’s something to say about learning from even the most degrading of comments. My haters have taught me to be more compassionate and understanding of others, believe it or not. We’re all human, and those who have criticized or judged me have done so having come from a bad emotional space, that of which I know nothing about. I’ve had bad days of my own where I will bad-mouth politicians or celebrities or even someone who disrespected me, to friends, family or even online. It’s normal. I do it much less now after having received so much hate myself, but what I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter who you are to other people, and it doesn’t matter who they are to other people, all that matters is how you choose to digest and respond to what you hear, see, and feel. You can either be understanding or at the very least, respectful, or you can choose to lash out because you’ve had a bad day. Either way, be smart about your response, because it can leave a longstanding effect on that person even after you’ve had a beer and cooled off from it all. Use your intelligence, not your emotions. People never know what the other is going through so it’s best to be respectful or say nothing at all. I think about that every time I get upset with someone and I choose to rather, stay quiet, if I’m upset and just not go online or surround myself with others in fear of taking it out on them. Haters: take note.
Did you face any criticism from fellow country-counters?
There’s definitely a major divide that exists within the country-counting travel community. I tried to distance myself from everyone who had started an online presence for counting the amount of countries they’ve visited. I didn’t want to be a part of it for the reasons stated above in that, I wanted to be able to leave all preconceptions – good and bad – at the door and cultivate my own, unique experiences. Traveling to every country was a very deep experience for me; one that involved some of the most captivating and enthralling moments of my life, to an immense work-drive that I never knew existed within me, as well as a very serious consideration of a suicide attempt – which I talked about on the TED stage. Everyone who counts countries is doing so first and foremost, for their own fulfillment and just to address that really quickly – I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Every person who is aiming to go to every country or who already has, I believe, has worked very hard to get there. They either worked a very challenging 9-5 that mentally and/or physically drained them, they had to make sacrifices, or there was something profound that happened to them to make them want to break away and see this beautiful earth with which we live. Everyone has a story and sure, whether or not it’s a trust fund baby or someone who’s sacrificed everything and worked hard to get there – everyone who chooses to count countries chooses to risk their life to engulf their senses in doing so, and that’s admirable.
But while I think it’s admirable to count countries, especially if it’s for a cause or even for personal development, I’ve found a lot of judgment within this community. There were a few, bloggers I guess you’d say, who did everything in their power to tear me down on their platforms. I didn’t know them – had never spoken to them – yet I was being bullied and harassed by them. I couldn’t believe it – I could never tear someone down the way they did to me. It hurt, and it was the first wakeup call to just distance myself from that community entirely. It’s a shame that the travel community is like that, but in a world where money dictates our survival, I can’t say that I don’t at least understand where they’re coming from. And in today’s day and age where the more followers you have, the more branding deals and thus, the more financial security – there’s a real fight for survival within the travel community to be the most interesting traveler. Thus, leading to competition. I don’t look at it that way, but I see where these guys are coming from and why they’d judge me for what I’ve accomplished (despite never having spoken to any of them). That’s not to say that I’m not friends with a few of them. There are good eggs in this world, and those are the ones who, despite money and fame, have a true understanding of humanity and have picked that up from their cultural experiences in every country. Those types of travelers I really value.
How much money does it take to travel every country in the world?
That depends on man factors;
How much time will you spend traveling?
Which countries do you intend to travel to?
What do you intend on doing in each country?
Will you be staying in hotels or hostels? Airbnbs or with friends?
Will you be hitchhiking or renting cars?
First class or economy?
Food budget? Alcohol budget?
I can’t give you a straight up answer. I traveled to two dozen countries on $2k which involved sleeping in train station, living in hostels and living off of bread and water, and I also traveled every country in the world staying in both hostels and hotels. It really very much depends on your needs, how you travel, where you travel, when you travel, and that will make your budget.
Thanks for reading, all. Comments? Share them below. Until next time…