Cassie De Pecol is a world traveler, keynote speaker, brand ambassador, triathlete, activist, and entrepreneur.

A speaker at Point of Departure, she was raised and homeschooled in rural Connecticut. Cassie enjoyed “out of the box” educational and multicultural experiences at various universities before deciding to begin her solo travels to 25 countries at the age of 21. Five years later, in 2015, she started fresh, traveling alone to all 196 countries and securing two Guinness World Records.

Here we talk about the ups and downs of homeschooling, the best parts of traveling alone, and the joys of sipping Syrian wine.

What do you value most about your rural upbringing?

It gave me the opportunity to unleash my inner creative, which in turn forced me to be resourceful with my studies and career path.

What were some of the advantages and disadvantages of being homeschooled?

The advantages would be the ability to really focus on studies that were meaningful to me and to follow the direction of what I really wanted to pursue in life. The disadvantages were the lack of social interaction and difficulties with challenging studies. Math and science were always a struggle and no matter how much my dad tried to help me understand, I never fully caught on in those categories.

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of traveling alone?

The advantages outweigh the disadvantages by far. I’d say the best part of traveling alone is being able to embrace your own sacred experiences that no one else will ever know about. Also, it gives you the opportunity to meet so many people you might not have had the chance to meet if you were traveling with someone else. Traveling alone allows you to forge your own path and grow as an individual. I’d say that the only downside is when you’re sick or exhausted in a foreign country and there’s no one to take you to the doctor or bring you some tea. Thankfully, it’s not like you’re sick every day and, for me, this only happened a couple of times on my expedition.

Of the 196 countries you visited, which one surprised you the most?

Probably Syria. I went to Latakia and was surprised by the fact that I didn’t have to wear a hijab. It’s a vacation spot for Syrians. Everyone was joyfully walking the streets, going out for dinner, and enjoying themselves. 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. And it was great to taste Syrian wine and local cuisine!

Can you tell me about a personal point of departure in your life?

I was babysitting when I decided to start mapping out my route around the world. I realized that I’d never know how much time I had left and I wanted to leave a positive influence on society. I wanted the expedition to be my legacy. I wanted to help the world by following a farfetched passion. I’d traveled to 25 countries between the ages of 21 and 23. I’d lived in eight cities, attended five universities, and participated in the show, Naked and Afraid. But mapping out Expedition 196 was by far my biggest change of course. The expedition would not only change my entire career for the better, it would also completely shift my outlook on life.

Do you have a favorite TED talk?

Ken Robinson, “Do schools kill creativity?” I can relate because I was homeschooled and my parents brought my brother and I up in an unusual way, veering off the traditional path so we could explore our own creative ways of learning. When my college career advisors told me what I could do in the field of travel they never said, “why don’t you travel to every country in the world and try to break a Guinness World Record. Then pursue speaking and branding agreements, write a book, and see what comes from that as a career?” Instead, they told me to consider becoming a travel agent or owning a hotel. Seeing where I am now, it’s clear to me that school kills creativity. Unless one is aiming to become a doctor or lawyer, it isn’t really necessary to go to college to pursue a career you’ll love. Creativity and self education got me to where I am today.

Photo of Cassie De Pecol courtesy Irvin Rivera/Graphics Metropolis