Giving it all up to travel the world is a dream for many; for Cassie De Pecol, it's reality. Not only did the former corporate worker quit her job to hit the road, but she just set a mark recognized by the Guinness World Records for visiting all the countries in the world in the shortest amount of time.
And while many onlookers speculated she must be a wealthy jet-setter to complete the whirlwind 18-month-long trip, the 27-year-old revealed it took a lot of hard work to make it happen.
“Ever since high school I wanted to travel to every country in the world,” De Pecol told TODAY on where the idea started. “I just had this far-fetched dream that I wanted to go everywhere. If I could have gone to the moon I would have liked to. I had to really work hard to get everything going to be able to take off on the expedition.”
De Pecol left the country on July 14, 2015, and just wrapped up her 196-country tour Feb. 2 — beating the current record of three years and three months. But the prep for “Expedition 196,” as she called it, started long before she hopped on that first flight.
Here are the main lessons she learned to make the adventure possible:
1. Work hard and save — at least enough to get you started.
“In the year and a half prior to departure, I was working two babysitting jobs in Los Angeles and racking up like 85 hours a week just trying to save as much as possible,” she said. “I ended up saving about $10,000, which got me through pretty much the first six months of my expedition.”
This chunk of change helped the adventurer fully commit to the project and got her thinking about other ways to fund the rest of the journey, since she didn’t have help from friends or family.
2. Pick a mission, and find relevant sponsors.
She decided on the purpose of her trip — promoting peace through sustainable tourism — and began focusing on reaching out to nonprofits that fit within that mission.
“I budgeted $198,000 for the trip,” said De Pecol. “I had the $10,000 I saved from babysitting to get me started, and the rest was through funding from sponsors and investors.”
De Pecol found her first nonprofit endorsement through the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism, and after that, she decided to reach out to big and small companies and independent investors to contribute to her mission. “A lot of people think it’s so easy to find a sponsor to travel,” she said. “One of the most difficult aspects of this expedition was trying to find funding through sponsorship.”
Most of the outreach was done long before she had more than 330,000 followers on Instagram, which helped fund the latter portion of her trip. “I have been doing this whole expedition for a total of 3 to 3 1/2 years, including the year and a half part of the departure,” she said. “So, I reached out to 10,000 different companies and out of that, I have about 20 to 25 sponsors."
De Pecol plans to create a documentary based on her travels, and used that as a bargaining chip to attract sponsors — like Land Rover and Eagle Creek — which would then be featured in the film.
3. Keep lodging costs down, and leverage credit card points.
De Pecol was also able to arrange free stays at luxury eco-hotels once her social media following grew, which helped to keep costs down (you can also volunteer your expertise or labor for free stays at many places). Otherwise, she opted for Airbnb or hostels, used points on her credit card to pay for flights, and often took long bus or boat rides to get from one place to another. In fact, to break the record, she could only take scheduled public transport between countries — not private jets or boats.
The entrepreneur also didn’t have any ties at home, like a house or boyfriend, and said her belongings are still in storage. “Leaving what I had wasn’t really a big deal,” she said. “I didn’t have any animals, wasn’t in a relationship or anything, so for me, it was pretty easy to just go and just kind of take off.”
She also didn’t worry about saving for the future, either. “Some of my friends are working towards their retirement plan and buying a house,” she said. “But it’s never been something that I really wanted to commit myself to. Maybe in my 30s I will think about that. Right now, it’s just not something that I think about.”
4. Be relentless about seeking funding.
In the end, she only spent a little over half of what she budgeted (roughly $100,000), and credits her success to a constant effort of seeking sponsors. “I was about eight months into the expedition and ran out of money,” De Pecol revealed. “I wasn’t sure I could make it happen and I had to come back home and try to find more funding. I spent 15 hours a day on my computer reaching out. My social life has pretty much gone down the drain because I have had to focus all of my time on email after email every single day. But, it was worth it.”
While De Pecol admits she’s a “little tired” from her expedition, she’s excited for the variety of future projects stemming from her journey. “I want to keep following through with this legacy that I want to leave behind,” she said of her future. “I have this tree-planting project where I’m planting trees around the world to completely offset my carbon footprint. I’m starting a nonprofit, writing a book, maybe filming a TV show, running a production company, booking speaking engagements and producing a documentary.
"I have gotten so used to this lifestyle," she said. "I can’t go back to a desk job now.”
Editor's note: A headline on an earlier version of the video in this article stated that Cassie De Pecol was the first woman to travel to every country on Earth. She is in fact the first woman on record to travel alone to every country in the world.