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When Cassandra De Pecol decided to see the world, she wasn’t thinking two weeks in Paris, Venice and Rome.As the intrepid tourist, De Pecol, 26, is traversing thousands of miles to be the fastest woman to visit 196 sovereign nations and set a Guinness...

This woman's personal peace mission targets 196 nations | Toronto Star

When Cassandra De Pecol decided to see the world, she wasn’t thinking two weeks in Paris, Venice and Rome.As the intrepid tourist, De Pecol, 26, is traversing thousands of miles to be the fastest woman to visit 196 sovereign nations and set a Guinness...

This woman's personal peace mission targets 196 nations | Toronto Star

When Cassandra De Pecol decided to see the world, she wasn’t thinking two weeks in Paris, Venice and Rome.

As the intrepid tourist, De Pecol, 26, is traversing thousands of miles to be the fastest woman to visit 196 sovereign nations and set a Guinness world record. Along the way, the environmental activist and adventurer is also promoting global peace and sustainability as an ambassador for the International Institute of Peace Through Tourism, which helps fund the trip.

She’s on the road, using public transportation, at least four hours a day and up to 16 hours during flights. Nights are spent in Airbnb’s, hotels (preferably “eco”) and the occasional hostel. As with any traveller, if the weather’s bad, flights are cancelled or she gets sick, she hunkers down for a couple of days. De Pecol gets sponsored by luxury sustainable hotels and promotes their message.

She spends two to five days in one place, depending on whether she’s been there before and if she’s meeting students. During three days in Jordan she toured most of Amman, speaking with students at Mashrek International School, visiting the town of Salt, Petra and the Dead Sea.

A few years ago, De Pecol began thinking about death, and regretting she hadn’t done anything of significance to make the world better than she’d found it.

“When it came down to the logistics, the repercussions, the potential danger that would be involved (on the mission), I always brought myself back to those thoughts and it brought me back to reality of how badly I needed to do this,” she writes in an email this month from Brazil. “If not for myself, for others.”

It’s been more than a physical endurance test for De Pecol, who began her quest in July 2015 and is more than halfway to her goal. Steeling herself mentally has been the most challenging, including when it comes to online bullying and harassment.

“It started a few months before I left for my expedition with several men who would anonymously harass me. It continues to this day and I’m aware that it does pertain to me being a woman travelling alone; them not thinking that I can do it, or that I’m not doing enough, sustainability-wise or peace-wise, and saying cruel things.”

It took about 18 months to prepare, says De Pecol, who hit the gym, honing martial arts skills at least three hours a day, five or six days a week. Her regimen included hiking, running, swimming and biking. Mental preparation meant she had “to toughen up from that safe, beachy, Kombucha and kale, Los Angeles lifestyle that I had become so used to.”

De Pecol admits she worries about being abducted or detained, the latter of which happened in Grenada and “was very scary.” So was being robbed by armed thieves in Peru.

At the same time, she’s had unforgettable experiences like travelling in Afghanistan, where most people fear to go. That journey “truly tested my courage … It ended up being a wonderful experience,” she writes. Her Afghanistan vlog on her YouTube channel is the most viewed so far. “It’s magical how positive of an experience that was and how receptive everyone seems to be in response to my visit.”

The Middle East is her favourite region so far, “surprisingly enchanting,” she says, adding that travelling solo, “I’d never felt so safe. The men aren’t allowed to touch foreign women in public or cat-call them . . . they even have to ask permission before they sat next to me on public transport.”

De Pecol, a web designer before her expedition, says her travel experiences have been life-changing. “I’ve gone from leaning on friends and family for many things prior to the start of this, to now only leaning on myself and my own willpower,” she says. “I am continually (in) awe to hear how badly so many people around the world want global peace, virtually everyone, including those who live in the Middle East.”

“The world isn’t as scary as everyone makes it out to be, and it actually is a welcoming place for women travelling alone,” De Pecol says. “Amelia Earhart and (teen Dutch sailor) Laura Dekker were two women who have inspired me. They pushed the limits of female solo travel. So I can only hope that I leave an inspiring legacy behind that will open more doors for women travelling and doing these sorts of things alone.”

The mission is set to end in October 2017.

De Pecol is already thinking about what she’ll do when she comes home, including editing an educational documentary she’s filmed for use as a teaching tool in high schools and universities. She’s also planninga universal student internship program aimed at addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals and has her sights on — to take advantage of her hard-won fitness — a full Ironman race.

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