Charged Up! podcast: How to finance world travel
Episode 18 with Guinness world record holder and explorer Cassie De Pecol
By Jenny Hoff | Published: May 3, 2017
Guinness World Record traveler Cassie De Pecol knows a thing or two about seeing the world on a budget. From a 24-year-old baby sitter to becoming the youngest American and woman to travel to every country in the world, De Pecol practiced the arts of budgeting, money management and strategy to make her travel ambitions come true. Appearing on all the major news shows, magazines and newspapers, De Pecol has become a prominent voice in the travel and adventure community.
So, listen to De Pecol’s tips and experiences, and get charged up about learning how to finance your dream travels!
Hoff: Cassie, thanks so much for joining me here today. I’m glad we’re able to get our time zone synced to make this happen.
De Pecol: Yeah, thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
Hoff: So, there’s a lot I want to talk to you about. You’ve had such an incredible journey, and I know many of us wish we could experience even a part of that. Now, we put a call out for questions from our listeners. We’re very anxious for your travel tips. But first, can you tell me about how this goal came to be and how you initially made a plan to travel the world as quickly as possible happen?
De Pecol: Yeah. I always kind of had this desire to want to change the world, and you know, I didn’t know how I was going to go about doing so. At the age of 21, I took time off college and I left to go travel with my brother for a month to about four countries in Europe. When we were traveling together, he was like “Why don’t we spend the longest amount of time to visit a couple of countries?” I said, “How about we spend the least amount of time to go to as many countries in Europe as possible?”
At that point, you know what, I decided I want to go to every single country in the world, and I wanted to make it happen, and I also wanted to try to change the world in the meantime. So, the idea kind of came about and then it was in the back of my mind until the age of 24 and a half. I was kind of going through quarter-life crisis, and I was like, “OK, iit’s either now or never.” I actually then applied myself to do it.
Hoff: So, then when you said, “OK, I’m going to do this” there’s a big step between deciding to do this, to travel to every single country in the world - that means war-torn countries, that means dangerous places, that means far-off places - and financially as well as emotionally getting ready to do that. So, what was your next step once you made that decision that it’s either now or never. How did you strategize and make this happen.
De Pecol: Well, you know, actually I didn’t have a lot to lose, I was baby sitting, I knew that wasn’t going to be the career of my life, and I was just kind of like, you know, renting out a place, and I wasn’t in a relationship or anything. So, it was a perfect time for me to go.
So, I said, you know what, I just have to do it. I have to commit to it, and for me, I had already traveled to 25 countries over two years through backpacking and working abroad prior to this expedition. I have a lot of travel experience and solo travel experience specifically. So, I thought, I kind of already have the experience to take off on sort of a mission, so the travel part of it is easy for me - even going to countries like Afghanistan.
I really wanted to dive in and specifically be in war-torn countries. I always had this desire to showcase the beauty of the people and the culture as opposed to the bad stuff that we see all the time and we hear all around us. So, that was kind of a goal of mine to push aside preconceived notions and really showcase the different sides of these countries.
So, once I committed to it, I just thought that I needed to find funding. Of course, I needed to have sponsors, supporters and it took a year and a half of really hard work obtaining all the necessary funding and supporters and branding that I needed in order to take off.
Hoff: OK, so did you fund this exclusively or through supporters, through outside donations, or did you also strategically save up money using certain credit cards in order to get as many points as possible to get some free travel?
De Pecol: Yeah, so that year and a half I was working in those two baby-sitting jobs and I was working about 85 hours a week and overnights, I was really pushing myself so that I could kind of chip away as much as possible and save. I ended up saving around $10,000 to get me going through the first few months of the expedition.
But in that year and a half, I also obtained sponsors and independent investors because I also wanted to film an educational documentary along the way. Between the sponsors and the investors, I was able to fund the whole expedition through them, and that actually took about three years, you know, with the constant effort to try and keep up with the funding through reaching out to sponsors through the entire expedition.
But with that I also did I use one card in particular throughout my trip that, actually two, that really helped with points with hotels and points as well. I used them to buy food and coffee so I would obtain points and everything. That did really save me a lot and on places as well and accommodation.
Hoff: Which cards were they?
De Pecol: They’re not sponsors (laughs). I wish they were sponsors but the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is the one that really helped out with the trip. I was able to rack up a lot of points with that and also the IHG Mastercard Rewards card.
There were times I needed to kind of take a break if I was really sick. I mean, I would kind of treat myself maybe once every couple of months, and that’s where I used those points to go toward that, and I ended up racking quite a few points with that as well.
Hoff: OK, you use these cards basically, exclusively for all your expenses along the trip that you then paid for out of whatever money that you had raised, but through using these cards you were able to rack up a lot of points that would get you free hotel nights and then free travel using the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
De Pecol: Yeah, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card was definitely the one I got the most used out, for sure, even to this day.
Hoff: Let’s talk about how you budgeted this trip. How would you even guess how much it’s going to take in order to travel to every country in the world - especially because in some countries did you get security or did you wing it and say ‘I’m going to leave this up to the fates and really hope that I make it out OK?’
De Pecol: Yeah, I’m a kind of a wing it type of girl, you know? There was a time when I did look into security for Yemen and Syria, but it came down to money, and I couldn’t afford it. I mean, I think it was $2,000 per hour to hire someone to come with me, and I was like, ‘You know what? I’ve gone this far, I’ve gone through Somalia, I’ve gone through Afghanistan. I’m just going to go for it so that I can say, I went in alone to all these countries,’ and that took a lot of courage on my part. That’s what I really feel proud of as well.
The budgeting was really a challenge. Initially, when I planned that trip in a year and a half - I had, of course, this huge world map, and I planned how to get to each place with visas involved and, you know, the train, how to get from A to B. It was really, really, really detailed to secure funding, and I ended up coming up with a budget of around $198,000, including buffer money, in case there’s an emergency and that was kind of included in that $198,000, as was airline and hotel and that sort of thing, and that’s kind of the budget.
I didn’t have that when I left, though. When I left, I only had a certain amount. I had to keep working to obtain that funding through the entire expedition. At one point, like seven months in, I completely ran out of my funding because I thought I’ll just use it and it’ll come. Those people will reach out to me who want to sponsor me, but that’s not the case. You have to put many months of work in, every day, every morning, sending emails out be proactive networking, using LinkedIn to reach out to sponsorships.
So, when I ran out of money, I just had to come home for two weeks. According to Guinness record regulations you can’t be in a country for more than 14 days. I did come home, I had 14 days to rack up some more funding and get back out there. So literally it was 12-, 15-hour workdays just being proactive trying to find more funding to keep going, and I realized at that point, I just can’t stop and hang out and assume it’s going to come to me.
It ended up the final budget was around $110,000. I ended up spending for the trip but I also included the airline sponsors and the hotel sponsors. I was sponsored by the tourism board of some countries, so it wasn’t all just money.
Hoff: So, you had some free flights, some free hotels, some free stays so you weren’t having to pay for every single thing that you did there. So, let’s talk a little bit about what you learned about money management. I’m sure the attitudes you had with baby sitting as your job, you know before you went out there to managing your money as you travel around the world and even running out of money and coming back and raising more. What were the three probably biggest money management skills that you gained?
De Pecol: It’s really important to keep an Excel spreadsheet. I never did that before this whole expedition, and even during the expedition, I was really like losing track of my finances. Once it happened about six months in, and I ran out of money and I thought I really have to teach myself. Like math has never been my strong point, so I really have to teach myself how to keep on top of my finances, my budgeting. Having an Excel sheet is really important to keep everything intact
Then, I will say, you know, save 10 percent. Save 10 percent of every paycheck that comes in that can be used toward travel or incidentals or whatnot. So always save 10 percent.
The third money management lesson I learned, I guess, is, spend wisely. We don’t have to, but all these things and especially when it comes to the travel, you really don’t have to spend that much. You can take a few things and you don’t need much and you can really find ways to kind of save money along the way as you travel. Or there’s a lot of great websites to save money, and I would just say spend wisely.
Those are my top money management tips.
Hoff: So, I travel a bunch too - not as much as you - but I traveled a bunch too, and you kind of figure out along the way whether you need to stay in hotels or hostels, but there’s also different things that you can do like you can house sit for people. There are different websites where you can actually get free or very cheap accommodations. What would you say some of the sites or some of the services that you think people really miss out on when they’re not using them when they travel, and they’re really spending too much when they travel abroad?
De Pecol: Yeah, I would say TripAdvisor is a great one because you budget how much you’re willing to spend for a night for a hotel, cheapest options plus you get the reviews that people put in there themselves, what the guests had said about the places, whether there are bed bugs. You kind of check that out, that’s a great resource. Airbnb, is a great one as well, Couchsurfing.org, statravel.com is great if you’re under twent- six or if you’re a teacher or student, you get huge discounts. There’s quite a few and I think those are probably the top ones. Before this expedition I used to work workaway.com, and helpdesk.net to find kind of like cool jobs around the world in exchange for room and board. Using a card that help save on those costs as well can help. I didn’t get much into the whole airline mileage points because I go with so many different airlines. But, I did sign up for a few and it did pay off so I recommend doing that. But yeah those are kind of my I guess the best websites I’ve worked with.
Hoff: I have a couple of questions from some listeners who were anxious to get your tips to travelling. One person is going to Scandinavia and they said they wanted to get your best tips on how to budget both accommodations and tours to go on in the cities. What are the best ways to do that as cheaply as possible?
De Pecol: I honestly can’t speak for doing tours up there ‘cause I didn’t do any tours because it was so expensive out there. I mean, it is the most expensive area of Europe. What I would say is definitely utilize Airbnb - that’s what I did up there. I did stay at a hotel once and it was very small but very expensive and I really regretted it. Airbnb is so predominant up there and you do end up saving a lot of money. I would say if you do have some sort of an audience or a following, you’ve got a lot really unique hotels up there that would be willing to have you there and then exchange for promotion if that’s something you are into, or marketing or media. So, that’s a great option as well.
Hoff: Doing tours I’d say that I know that in a lot of cities they have these free walking tours that you can participate in and every major city I’ve been to if you just Google ‘free walking tours,’ there’s almost always at least one that you can participate in to get an overview of the city. Wouldn’t you agree?
De Pecol: Exactly. Definitely when you just want to kind of walk around and have a hop on, hop off buses and you could do that. I think there’s also groups Meet Up sites that you can do where there’s a bunch of people going to a certain area and you know nature or something like that and you can kind of get in with that group and they have cheap options with that. Meet Up is a great option as well for getting free tours and kind of meeting new people along the way as well.
Hoff: Yeah, absolutely and somebody might offer you a room at their place to stay in and then so if you’re willing to be a little adventurous, it depends if you’re traveling with a family or by yourself. There’s a lot of people who are eager to host somebody and to show them around.
Another question: Food gets very expensive when you travel because a lot of times you are not cooking at home. So what kind of tricks did you learn when it came to food and making sure that you stay fed but you are also not paying expensive dinners every night? So, what kinds of things that you do minimize your food cost but also enjoy the local flavor?
De Pecol: Food is very important to me and eating healthy. You know, if I couldn’t eat healthy to do an activity than I would skip it. I was also eating a lot of airplane food and if ask in advance, you know on the website you go to check in for your flight, I think it emails you if you’re a vegetarian and it’s probably going to be healthy and that’s just one thing that I did as many times as I could so it’ll be a little bit of a healthier option and I also save money not having to buy food as well. And, go to bed early. I had the last meal of my day at like five o’clock, I kind of stick with that healthy lifestyle and that would save me as well. Also, I wouldn’t be just constantly eating all the time. Does that kind of make sense? You can also go to the grocery store.
Hoff: Yeah absolutely, you go to the grocery store and I think in a lot of countries, at least in Europe, there are some pretty decent lunch specials where you can get several courses for a fixed price versus having to pay a lot for dinner.
De Pecol: Yeah, Europe is very, very easy to eat cheap and eat well. I am thinking of more kind of like you know Asia and Africa. You’ve got to be a little bit unique when you try to think of ways when you try to eat healthy and cheap in those places.
Hoff: So, what would you say is the country that surprised you the most and maybe the country that you are most excited to see and maybe the country where you felt you wouldn’t recommend people travel there if they haven’t been to every other place in the world?
De Pecol: I think I was the most surprised maybe by Bhutan, which was really surprising in a good way. I would definitely highly recommend going to Bhutan. It’s very interesting but it’s really kind of a challenge to get there, you do have to go through a tour and you need $200 a day for the visa. Once you get there, it’s a really peaceful place and there’s a lot of unique things to see, and experience, and feel and so I definitely highly recommend it.
For the one that I wouldn’t go to, I don’t really want to talk about that because I do like to promote the beauty and peace of all countries. The one that really surprised me as well Vanuatu. it’s a little tiny sovereign nation in the Pacific. I guess its closest land mass is Australia, so it’s kind over there. But, they’re so heartwarming and really genuine people and it’s really sad because they have terrible cyclones that just wipe out everything and all their crops. But they were so kind and heartwarming when I spoke to them, that’s really a great experience. So, yeah probably those two countries.
Hoff: One of our listeners wanted to know, outside of the U.S., which country that you went to would you say is the one you would retire in?
De Pecol: Probably Switzerland. I just love the mountains. It really depends on what you like you know, whethere you’re into cities, mountains, beach, deserts, you know I really love Jordan but I would probably choose Switzerland.
Hoff: Well, you’ll definitely need some money for Switzerland, but it’s a safe beautiful country. What would you say were the greatest lessons you learned through this experience?
De Pecol: It’s really important to be open0minded and have no preconceptions when you meet someone. When you’re walking into a new country and when you’re looking to go into a completely different country that you’ve never been to, if you’re coming in with no preconceptions, you can kind of formulate your own experience and it ends up actually a pretty good experience because once you have all these negative annotations in your mind, with regards to a country or a people or a religion or what’s happened before, you kind of go in there and you think what’s going to happen is bad. So, what really got me through this whole trip was just having an open mind to try to experience the goodness, the kindness of the people, the beauty of the place. In that, I just realized that we’re all the same, we all have the same basic needs at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter financial status, or religion or cultural background, we just all have the same basic needs and that’s really the common denominator toward connecting to other people and really uniting us. I think we make this experience such a positive one and you know I’m single, young, blonde American woman going to like every country in the world and to think that I only had two experiences were kind of bad but not so bad. It really says something.
Hoff: Did you have any issues when it came to culture, communication, when it came to language? How would you handle some of those issues?
De Pecol: Generally speaking, in almost every country around the world you can find someone who speaks English so I didn’t find that to be an issue. I do have an international cell phone plan. In most countries around the world, there’s data and so I could pull up my Google Translate app and a lot of taxi drivers use that as well - in the middle of nowhere they’ll pull up Google Translate and I thought it was actually a good idea, so I downloaded that. If there’s ever a cultural barrier you can use that or just find like a hotel or restaurant where typically they will speak English so I didn’t find that to be too much an issue.
Hoff: So, I’ve got to ask you a few more questions. What was the craziest experience that you had there? If people want to know the story from your trip what’s the first story that kind of pops into your mind?
De Pecol: In Libya, maybe. Libya with what they’re going through and it’s not just a good situation over there but it’s a beautiful country. I got there and they thought I was in the CIA at border control. I got there at midnight and I was like really tired and I needed to have someone meet me there to make sure I am okay and they’re like “we think she’s in CIA” and they kind of detained me there for about an hour and a half and we were pushing and I finally got through. It was a really crazy experience because they weren’t angry about it - I mean I’ve been detained before but to me it was like of a positive, you know, an interesting kind of fun experience.
Hoff: It turned out okay so it’s a fun story at the end of the day. I want to go back to when you decided that you’re going to do this. So, you’re a babysitter and you did not have, I’m guessing you didn’t have a huge social media following yet, you weren’t the super experienced blogger, you didn’t have this amazing network of people who just happen to have a cash that they wanted to give you. How did you generate interest, and support and enough publicity in order to lock down some of this funding in order to get an audience? I know a lot of people blog as they travel and if they have big enough audience they can actually make money while they’re doing that and help fund that travel so, how did you go from not having any of that to getting all of that in order to fund this trip?
De Pecol: I actually stayed away from the blogging scene because I did blog before and it didn’t work for me. On this trip I was kind of more with a business focus with C-level companies, as well as my documentary and that’s what I kind of like did. I really couldn’t offer them like an article on my website and that sort of thing, and obviously I didn’t have the audience either. What I did that I found to be really crucial in the beginning stages was to have a good, solid set of supporters on my website. I just needed them on my website with their name and their picture. So I reached out to Ranulph Feinnes, considered one of the world’s greatest living explorers, he’s been in the Guinness World Records, he’s the first person to navigate the world on its polar access. He said “no” when I first reached out and then I got sulked for weeks because he was the first person I reached out to. I’m a babysitter living in - I’m no one right now you know - then I decided to reach to him again, a couple of weeks later and he said “yes.” From there it kind of snowballed. Toby from the Office I saw him in a fight just an economy flying from LA to New York and I was in the bathroom and I was like “Are you Toby from the Office?” He’s like “yeah” and I’m like “Oh my God it’s so cool to meet you. You know I am doing this expedition, do you want to be a supporter?” He said sure, so for this sort of thing it just really breaking down barriers and you know bite the bullet and just go in after what I needed. It’s about being really persistent and not caring almost but you know, also caring very deeply. To have that set of strong supporters, because with those supporters, then I was able to obtain nonprofit endorsement and I reached to nonprofits for promoting peace and tourism and sustainability and that when International Peace Corps came on board, I was invited to networking events and summits kind of just really snowballed there. There’s a lot of networking things, a lot of LinkedIn networking, physical networking, and just getting involved with the organizations and people and just getting yourself out there like that, in order to find the funding.
Hoff: For people that aren’t doing an expedition like this that will get notoriety and be able to get funding, their dream is to own their business and they’re freelancer, and work remotely, what advice would you have for them as far as being able to make it financially happen? Is it as difficult as it feels or did you meet along the way a lot of people who are doing it and it seems pretty feasible?
De Pecol: It is feasible, it is completely feasible. It just depends how badly you want it. How badly do you want it? Before this whole trip I was trying to help people travel on a budget. I travelled Europe with ten dollars a day and South America, five dollars a day so really, really cheaply. My goal is to go to hotels and help promote sustainable tourism as a tourism consultant - it really depends on what you want to do. Do you want to be a blogger, do you want to focus on aid abroad, do you want to be a travel agent? At the end of the day, there are sites that can really help offset those costs such as couchsurfing, Airbnb and all those sites I’ve mentioned before. Saving money along the way, starting side businesses, you know online selling, selling the crafts that you make there’s ways to make it happen but it’s just a matter of how badly do you want it. Because if you don’t want it that badly, it’s not going to happen for you. I’m actually starting a seminar this June second to help people how can they secure funding for their own passion project. The Expedition 196 Entrepreneur if people are interested in that, but otherwise we have lot of tips on how to secure funding for whatever passion project that you have even if it’s not travel. There are ways to make it happen. Like I said, it really comes down to drive and utilizing steps on how to save money.
Hoff: Tell me again the name of your seminar and how people can access it.
De Pecol: It’s called the Expedition 196 Entrepreneur and there are three course options from all different prices and it’s all virtual and you can just hop online and do it on your own kind of pace. Just hop on the website and see if it’s for you. What I’m going to be doing is funding some of the top projects. We help them find for their first sponsor, to kick start their project at the end of the full three-month seminar. Those who have signed up for the full three-month seminar will have the opportunity. It’s my goal to kind of help change the world and support the passion projects wherein you could change the world as well.
Hoff: So, you made a career out of this. You started out not exactly sure of what you’re going to be doing in your career. You made this happen and now what is your career as far as like how you generate income and enough income to also to sponsor other people?
De Pecol: That going to be in correlation with the nonprofit that I’m working on right now in developing so there’s a nonprofit, there are branding agreements, corporate branding agreement, influence branding agreement, also speaking engagement, the huge way that I’m making money at this point. I’m writing a book as well and I sat down with a production company for potentially a TV show. There’s the educational documentary that I’m wrapping up editing this year. It should be out next year and then of course merchandise and there’s ton of stuff coming for me. My number one goal after this whole thing was to have a show on the travel channel that was it. But now, I’m like speaking, branding, there’s so many avenues to go now through the after effects of this and it’s really great. Really, the sky is the limit I think when it comes to sort of things.
Hoff: Wonderful. So, if someone were to come to you today and say they’re going to take months off from work to travel. What would be the best financial advice that you could offer them based on your experience?
De Pecol: Save a little bit of money to get going, it doesn’t have to be a lot. I would say just have the basic planning, I would say, it depends what their budget is but you utilize those websites, save a little bit of money and just really go with and have a basic itinerary but be willing to be off your path.
Hoff: Is there an area in the world or a certain group of countries where you get a certain bang for your buck? If you don’t have tons of money but you really want to do some international travel and you can utilize your credit cards well and you can score a free ticket out of flight and once your there its extremely cheap and it’s also an incredible experience?
De Pecol: Europe can be cheap and it’s easy to travel there from America. It’s a good starter place to go and if you’re looking to travel a little bit, I wouldn’t recommend going to Africa first. Flights are so expensive. It’s beautiful but I don’t recommend that. South America if you get a good flight, that’s pretty cheap place to go. Central America, that’s really cheap to go to, really cheap over there. Really beautiful if you’re a nature person and then of course if you can go into a really great flight over to Southeast Asia, that’s a great place to go ‘cause once you get there, it’s really cheap as well.
Hoff: Wonderful. My podcast is all Charged Up! What charged you up about this incredible experience?
De Pecol: I would just say meeting so many cool people, learning so many people’s stories and just letting go of preconceptions and just learning people’s stories, really inspire me along the way, kind of kept me going, learning how people live their life and what they do to inspire themselves to live a more fulfilled life and that charged me up.
Hoff: Fantastic! Cassie, you’ve charged us up. I’m sure a lot of people are going to be Googling different flights and different travel plans, tickets to some of these countries in the world and there is really nothing like travel. I have always told my friends, you don’t need to see the expensive places, just go to the country and you’ll have a better time if you stay at local cheaper places and meet some of the local people.
De Pecol: Yeah exactly, one hundred percent, one hundred percent.
Hoff: Cassie, thank you so much for joining us today. This was very interesting.
De Pecol: Thank you, I appreciate it.
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