CASSIE DE PECOL: THE FASTEST WOMAN TO VISIT EVERY COUNTRY ON EARTH

Instagram: @cassiedepecol

Photographed by IRVIN RIVERA  Produced and Interviewed by MELISSA PELLICER

Photographed by IRVIN RIVERA 

Produced and Interviewed by MELISSA PELLICER

What led to the decision, probably the most certain decision of your life, to travel the world? How was the moment you took the leap, and never looked back.

I was babysitting when I decided to start mapping out my route around the world. What made me have the attitude of wanting to just get up and go was the fact that I never knew how much time I’d have left, and I wanted to leave a positive influence on society once I’m gone. I wanted this to be my legacy and I wanted to help the world through following a far fletched passion of mine. Of the 25 countries and two years I’d traveled between the ages of 21 and 23, the 5 universities I attended, participating on the show, Naked and Afraid, and living in 8 cities, this move was by far the biggest moment when I changed course. This Expedition would not only change my entire career for the better, but completely shift my outlook on life as a whole and personal way of living and thinking.

 

Your cheerleaders and supporters worldwide know you as the quintessential Global Citizen. I am sure they would like to know a little bit about your childhood. How was Cassie the kid? Were you an explorer as a child? 

Not so much, actually. My parents raised my brother and I through Homeschooling, Montessori, Waldorf, before finally enrolling us in Public School for middle/high school. I explored the outdoors a lot, learned wilderness and Ayurvedic studies, and was always curious, but that was about it. I had a happy and fulfilling childhood.

 

Who is it you first told about this otherworldly endeavor? What did they say? 

I honestly don’t remember. It was either my friend Matt, and he was speechless for a good 60 seconds, before being supportive, but then showing concern, or my parents, who were immediately supportive. 

 

I am certain, being the person you are, that you found beauty and peace wherever you went; especially, perhaps, in places one would not think either were possible. What are some examples where these polarities were most apparent, and what you learned from the experience. 

Probably Syria. I went to Latakia and I was surprised at the fact that I didn’t have to wear a hijab and that everyone was joyfully walking the streets, going out for dinner, enjoying themselves. It’s a vacation spot for Syrians, and with all of the negative media we see on a daily basis about Syria, it was surprising to be able to experience this little gem in the midst of a war. It was nice to see people enjoying themselves, and it was great to taste Syrian wine and local cuisine!

Travel photos courtesy of Cassie's Instagram

Travel photos courtesy of Cassie's Instagram

Please share how traveling the world fortified these beliefs- such as sustainable tourism, children’s right to education, and being a pro-active, compassionate member of our global home. 

Studying global and environmental studies in college taught me what I was so eager to learn about our world, including; community development, responsible tourism, energy efficiency and sustainability. Learning these types of things in college really made me want to continue to further my knowledge, education and personal development within these fields on a global scale. This is why I decided to dedicate my Expedition not only to women's achievement and peace through tourism, but also placing an emphasis on the two pillars of responsible tourism.

On another note, something that deters people from travel is the fear that develops from the thought of what could happen to them. For many people, the major fear is kidnapping and falling victim to a terrorist related event. We become paralyzed but what we see in the media and hear from people (who may have never even been to that place), that depicts every day people as terrorists, but what we don’t see is that the fear of terrorism exists among the people who live in these countries as well. The people of these countries are victims of terrorism just as we are in Westernized countries. What I’ve noticed when traveling to these countries, is that there’s this common level of understanding, kindness and bond between these people and myself when I’m in their country because we both feel the fear of terrorism and we both want peace just as much. Despite religion, ethnicity, cultural background, monetary worth or even educational upbringing, most people in this world want peace and friendship, a roof over their heads and a warm meal. We can all relate to one another when we take this into consideration. But only through travel will we be able to bridge this gap. 

What's the most remote, and most modern, tech-savvy places you visited?

Most remote is probably Nauru, most modern is perhaps Copenhagen, most tech-savy is definitely Japan.

 

You seem to have what you do perfectly married to your essence as a human being. You are passionately living your passion. It’s beautiful. What advice would you give people who are looking to do the same, but are plagued by the four-letter, equal-opportunity destroyer word: FEAR.  

Flying had been a fear of mine since high school when my family and I were flying to St. Johns and I looked over at my mom only to see the fear in her eyes as we went through a bout of light turbulence. From that moment on, flying or rather, dying, became a fear of mine. Throughout my Expedition, I had to succumb to this far as I traveled long and far in these long, cylindrical tubes, on airlines that didn’t have the safest rep, and in weather that tested my mental endurance. This fear made me want to quit at times. A major turning point for me was when I was about to head to Tunisia on a 14 hour overnight ferry ride from Sicily. Two weeks prior, there was a terrorist attack that left a lot of civilians in Tunis decapitated or dead. I questioned my sanity of going to such a place alone as a young, American woman, but relied on my international cell phone plan or GPS satellite to let my parents know if I was okay. Before I went, I called my dad to comprehend whether or not it was a good idea to go to a place that just experienced such turmoil. He told me, “the chances of me dying in a car accident driving 1 hour on my way to work today are 10x higher than you dying in a terrorist related event or even being kidnapped in Tunis over the course of the next couple of days”. He reminded me that I had to think of statistics, and it was statistics for both flying and terrorism, and kidnapping that got me through the rest of the Expedition with ease. P.S. Once I arrived in Tunisia, there was no cell reception and my GPS device didn’t pick up the satellite connection, go figure.

 

Please share with us a bit about all the exciting projects you are now working on.

My primary focus is finishing the memoir and developing the non profit as well as of course continuing to positively influence the public and youth through speaking engagements and working with companies that share my vision through branding opportunities. There’s also an app and women specific merchandise line in the works.

After traveling the world as an explorer, you are now traveling the world once more, as an Ambassador, spokesperson, and emissary. You are constantly invited by governments and private organizations to share of your many experiences. How is it, traveling back again to familiar terrain? What universal message have you been sharing with your global audience? 

It’s always wonderful traveling back to places I traveled to on my Expedition whereby I’m able to meet new people and have different experiences. My main message is to leave all preconceptions at the door, the good and the bad of whatever you’ve heard from others or seen on the news, and enter countries with a completely open mind.

 

What do you love most about traveling? 

Reflection in new places.

 

Share some positive experiences did you have arriving at a place, and being pleasantly surprised, and educated, about how it truly is best to not put labels on people and places?  

I arrived in Cuba at 11pm on a Saturday, and after making it 12 miles in a taxi, I realized I only had $20 on me. Cuba doesn’t accept US debit or credit cards, and I didn’t have enough money to pay the taxi driver or a hotel. I rarely breakdown, but that night I felt so ashamed of the mistake I’d made that I just broke down as I sat on the side of the road. The taxi driver came over to me and said something like, “Yo tengo tres hijas, yo entendio, ven”… With my broken Spanish, I understood: “I have three daughters and I’d hate for them to be in your situation, you can come stay with my family for the night.” At first I refused, but then sheepishly agreed. I didn’t know how his wife would react to this young, blonde American stranger in her house, but when we arrived to their small, concrete home, she greeted me with a kiss on the cheek and made up a bed for me. The next morning I found her sleeping on the kitchen floor on a one-inch thick foam pad with a floral sheet over her. She had given me her own bed.

Travel photos courtesy of Cassie's Instagram

Travel photos courtesy of Cassie's Instagram

What are the five things you brought along with you that turned out to be invaluable travel must-have’s?

My iPhone, a travel pillow, a scarf (doubles as a blanket on those long cheap, long haul plane or bus rides, also doubles as a hijab), my tripod, and my ginger candy chews for nausea. 

 

Which routine/s did you maintain during your travels that helped keep you grounded?

Walking for 30 minutes to an hour every morning, listened to NPR podcast, and have at least one full day a week where I wouldn’t say a word to myself or others, and instead, just observe.

 

Ethnolonogue shares with the rest of us the most extensive catalog of the world’s languages- 7,099 to be exact, although this number is “constantly in a flux”. Which language, spoken or otherwise, did you find to be universally understood wherever you traveled?

English. 

Of the groups of people you met who preserved a way of life untouched by technology, is there an experience that stood out the most? What did you take away from the visit that reminded you it’s a good thing to unplug once in a while. 

Mongolian wilderness.

 

Let’s talk gastronomy for a bit. What are the different types of food that you tried found to be the most exotic? Which cultures has the most diverse, eclectic cuisine? 

America. Whenever I came back home for a break on this Expedition and wanted to cook up some gallo pinto or julab to impress my friends and family about an exotic cuisine that I tried, theyalready knew about it because they’d been to “that restaurant!” in NY, LA or elsewhere to try it. And of course it’s made from directly from the hands of a once local (to that country) who, as the story goes, “their parents or grandparents migrated over and the recipe has been passed down from generations from their country”. America is a melting pot of cultures, which cultivates into a melting pot of cuisines. Pakistani, Indonesian, raw vegan, you name it, you can find it in the states!

 

Undoubtedly, each new place you visited presented many differences from the last. On the other end of the spectrum, was there a universal thread of similar practices and standards that you observed as well? 

Everyone just wants a loving family, a roof over their heads and a hot meal in front of them. Without doubt or question, this is what I’ve found to be true among every country I’ve visited. 

Travel photos courtesy of Cassie's Instagram.

Travel photos courtesy of Cassie's Instagram.

How many new words did you learn during your voyage? 

I’ve learned a few words in Arabic. It’s a language I’d love to be fluent in

 

What are the organizations and charities you came across that you feel are genuinely making a difference in the world? 

The International Institute of Peace Through Tourism and SKÅL International. 

 

Fast cars, bright lights, big city…. This, unbeknownst to those who are caught in it, is the exception, and not the rule. What advice would you give to those who really need to take pause, stop and smell the roses, and realize that there is beauty in experiences that are not trapped in speed, gadgets and gizmos.

Go to the Middle East and spend a week in the desert.

 

Picture this: You are atop a stage, behind a podium, with the members of the United Nations, and representatives from each country, culture, tribe, band- you name it; they are all here. You were asked to give a message about what the world most needs now. Not in ten years, not the next generation, but now. FOR the decade down the road, FOR the next generation. The first step is taken today, and your words will architect the direction. What would say? 

We need a mechanism to filter online hatred towards one another. The Millennial generation has had to put up with the brunt of it, and the repercussions of online hate, harassment and bullying will only excel with the generations to come. Suicide due to online bullying is rapid, and social media is bullying and harassment is accelerating at an all time high with each generation to come. For many of us and for many cultures and countries, we depend on social media for business and connection. But online hate spreads like a deadly disease and we need to fix it for future generations in order to decrease suicide rates and instead, spur innovation and creative developmental ideas, hatred aside.

 

What do you want your legacy to be? 

To forget barriers and stereotypes and pursue the unimaginable.

Travel photos courtesy of Cassie's Instagram

Travel photos courtesy of Cassie's Instagram