As of May 31, 2019, 21-year-old Lexie Alford, an American woman from California, made her goal: to become the youngest person to travel to all the countries in the world. Now, you might be thinking, “How the heck can someone so young travel that much?” Well, it should be noted that she’s the daughter of parents who own a travel agency.
She’s trying to break the Guinness World Record title of being the youngest to visit all countries. Before her was James Asquith, who earned the title in 2013 at the age of 24. And then there was Cassie De Pecol, who broke the Guinness World Record for being the fastest woman to visit every country. Guinness is currently reviewing Lexie Alford’s documentation. So time will tell if she really is what she claims to be.
North Korea: The Last on the List
Lexie Alford had started this mission before she even was aware of it. As a child of travel agency owners, she and her family traveled a lot ever since she was a child. And before she even knew it, she got to visit all 196 countries.
The last country Lexie visited was North Korea. And, of course, she took it to Instagram, posting a photo with the caption: “OFFICIALLY TRAVELED TO EVERY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD it’s crazy to have years of hard work culminated into one single moment. I’m so grateful to everyone that’s helped me get here. The greatest chapter of my life is coming to a close. Cheers to a new beginning.”
Ever Since She Can Remember
Travel has been a part of her life “since before I can remember,” said Alford. Her parents would take her out of school and place her on independent study for weeks and months at a time each year. But Lexie didn’t ever imagine breaking a Guinness World Record. She was just content being a traveler.
But then in 2016, Lexie got serious about having fun and started working on her mission to travel to every one of the world’s 196 sovereign nations to break the Guinness World Record. It was when she was 18 that she realized that she had already traveled to 72 countries.
More People Travel to Space
Lexie has stated that “It sounds crazy but more people have traveled to space than every country in the world.” Not only is Lexie interested in earning the title of the youngest person to travel to every country in the world, but she’s also keen on being the first woman, too.
There have been about 150 individuals who traveled the entire world, and less than 10 of those people have been women. Lexie also said that despite the pressure to continue her studies after finishing community college when she was 18, she decided to go with her own wishes and pursue her very own passion project.
The young adventurer has been documenting her travels on her blog as well as posting all her moments on Instagram as @lexielimitless. At the moment, she has over 200,000 followers and judging by her photos; I wouldn’t be surprised if it just kept increasing.
As she writes on her website, her mission is to inspire others to choose the path less traveled by shattering common misconceptions about the countries that are seldom visited. She also wants to encourage female solo travel – something that can be less than safe, unfortunately.
Growing Up, Traveling Around
Growing up, Lexie and her family traveled everywhere from the floating villages of Cambodia to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. They went from Ushuaia at the tip of Argentina to the Pyramids in Egypt. It looks like Lexie was born into a lucky situation.
“My parents placed a lot of importance on exposing me to every way of life around the world, and that had a very profound impact on the person I am today,” Lexie said. “I’ve always had a curiosity about other people’s ways of life and how they find happiness.”
The World Isn’t as Scary as You Think
While her journey started out fun and exciting, it eventually became challenging, as many countries have their own problems and it’s not always easy for tourists to visit, both physically and mentally. As Lexie said about her mission:
“It wasn’t until things started getting really challenging that I realized I was inspiring people around me, especially young women. Feeling that support meant that I couldn’t give up when things got tough. I was determined to show everyone that the world isn’t as scary as the media portrays it to be and that there’s kindness everywhere.”
Working Since She Was 12?
If you’re anything like me, you’re wondering how she paid for all these travels, right? Well, Lexie claims that her travels are self-funded. She has, however, said that she scored a few brand deals and campaigns along the way which helped her fund this passion project.
But she never got an official sponsorship. She says that she always knew that traveling was a priority and she would be taking off time to travel, so she would work every job she could find and save as much as she could – apparently since she was 12 years old.
She Works as a Travel Consultant
She worked hard and saved money, which helped a lot at first. But it wasn’t enough to fund her long everlasting journey. The money she saved basically funded the first year and a half of her travels. When her bank account started running dry, she started to work again.
When she’s at home, she works as a travel consultant in her family’s agency in Nevada City, California. She also dabbles in photography and blogging while she’s traveling. She also has her own way of finding the most affordable methods of travel…
She Finds the Best Deals
Lexie says that she does a lot of research in advance “to find the best deals, utilize points and miles for my flights, stay in cheap accommodation like hostels or create content for hotels in exchange for accommodation.”
She also makes sure to keep her monthly overhead as low as possible. What does that mean? It means living at home with her parents. She also saves money and spends less by not having a car. No car = no car payments. She also has no student debt, and she’s not a slave to “unnecessary material possessions.”
Leave it to Lexie
On her Instagram page, Alford likes to give advice and tips on how to reconnect by disconnecting. She said how while some people will find it strange, she never used a foreign SIM card on her trips around the world. While most of us rely on Waze and Google, Lexie relies on the power of humans.
“If I need something, I’ll start talking to the people around me. I try to stay as present as possible when exploring these places because it’s such a privilege to get the opportunity to do so. I never want to miss a second of it.” To be honest, it sounds like she really knows how to live the best life!
The Unexpected and the Dangerous
Lexie said that the highlight of her travels was going to unexpected and usually dangerous countries. According to Lexie, it’s the countries that have a bad reputation – the ones people don’t dare to go to – that intrigue her.
“I experienced so much more kindness and natural beauty in places like Pakistan and Venezuela than I ever found in typical tourist destinations. Going somewhere with no expectations and being absolutely blown away by what you find, there has been the most fulfilling part of this project.”
Africa: Where She Struggled the Most
Lexie Alford struggled the most in West and Central Africa. Why? Because of the tricky visas, insufficient infrastructure for tourism, the language barriers, and the very high cost of getting around safely. As she put it, there aren’t a lot of flights, hotels or even English-speaking guides.
What that means is the market is completely cornered. “They can pretty much set any outrageous price they want because there aren’t many other options (besides maybe grueling and potentially dangerous bus rides,” Lexie explained. She also said that traveling in this area of the world thickened her skin more than anything in her life ever has.
North Korea: An Extreme Challenge
Another major challenge was knocking the last country off the list: North Korea, aka the Hermit Kingdom. As you know, North Korea isn’t the friendliest and most welcoming of nations. It took her years and months trying to get around the U.S. travel ban.
But she finally got the opportunity to step foot inside one of the hardest countries to visit. So how did she do it? It’s all thanks to a loophole that allowed her to officially step into the country. And she abided by the Guinness World Record’s guidelines…
Meeting the Requirements
According to the Guinness World Record’s guidelines, in order to qualify as a visit to North Korea, you have to visit the North Korean side of the conference rooms at the legendary “blue house” in the Joint Security Area on the DMZ.
Lexie did just that, but she wasn’t so pleased that it turned out that way. “I’m honestly very disappointed that I didn’t get to visit the country properly because of political issues,” she stated. But she said that she plans on visiting again as soon as the U.S. travel ban is lifted.
Guinness Record Holder?
Lexie Alford is in the process of submitting close to 10,000 individual pieces of evidence to the Guinness World Record authorities, all in chronological order. And the record clock stopped the day she entered country number 196 – North Korea.
When she arrived there, she said she felt one thing: relief. She had been working through extreme anxiety for six-plus months prior to heading over there. She had to overcome obstacles that make it so difficult to enter some of the least accessible places in the world. “It wasn’t until the moment in that obscure conference room, of all places, that it really sunk in how far I’ve come.”
Criticism? She’s Not Worried
When Cassie De Pecol earned her title of the fastest person to visit every country, she faced some criticism for not experiencing each country deeply enough. While 21-year-old Lexie is probably going to get similar backlash, she isn’t worried.
“At the end of the day, we all prefer to travel in different ways,” she said. “Some people prefer to spend months or years in only a few countries, and some want to have a sampler platter of the world. No matter what you prefer, there’s always going to be someone that disagrees.”
A Minimum of Two to Three Days
Lexie said that she took her time in most places she visited. She chose to get away from capital cities, and spent her time trying local foods, taking photos of the culture and nature, and stayed for as long as she could afford. But there were countries where Lexie felt uncomfortable traveling alone as a female.
Spending weeks in each country wasn’t in her budget, unfortunately. So the least amount of time she ended up spending in a country was two to three days. South Sudan, Somalia, CAR, Mali, Chad, and Papua New Guinea are countries she didn’t spend much time in because she didn’t have the means for proper security.
Lexie Alford is nowhere near done her project. She’s currently writing a book about her experiences that she had in each country and the lessons she learned along the way. She’s also going to start public speaking for the first time.
She’s about to do her very own TEDx talk very soon, which has also been a goal of her. After finally completing this life goal, she’ll be taking the next few months “to nourish my physical and mental health as I make plans for the future,” she mentioned in an interview.
Alford hasn’t come to a conclusion, yet, as to what her biggest takeaway from this whole experience is. “This is the question that’s going to take me the longest to unpack,” she said. But there are, however, lessons that she’s learned along the way.
Traveling on its own can open your eyes and mind to things you never thought of before. But traveling to every single country on the planet can bring even greater clarity. Lexie found herself enlightened on a few important life lessons…
Anything is Possible
Here’s something that Lexie can actually stand behind (unlike all those people who love to dish out tips and advice but don’t actually put their money where their mouth is). Lexie believes that you don’t need to spend your money on unnecessary material possessions.
You can save up as much money as you can, even if it means moving back in with your parents if you have to. At the end of the day, you have to make sacrifices to do what you really want to do. Her advice for young people who want to travel like she did: “Believe that you can do anything you set your mind to. If you prioritize travel over all aspects of your life, it’s only a matter of time until you can make it a reality.”
There’s more Good than Bad
Lexie’s life lesson #2: there’s more good than bad in the world. Life lesson #3: You can never run out of beautiful places to experience. Life lesson #4: Every country is accessible, and there is so much to learn from each one of them.
Lexi also made a point to disconnect in order to connect. Every time she says that she’s disconnected from WiFi, she’s genuinely connected to everything happening around her, which is surprisingly rare these days.
Lexie went to 196 countries in all. Here are some of her most memorable moments and her thoughts from her blog…
Pripyat, Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone, Ukraine
When Lexie stepped foot into Ukraine, she knew exactly where she had to go. And anyone who knows a bit of history knows that Ukraine witnessed the worst day in human history in 1986 when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the city of Pripyat exploded.
The city was evacuated and thus abandoned, until this day. And will for thousands of years to come be unlivable for the public. Lexie said about her trip: “The abandoned city of Pripyat in Ukraine is one of the most intense places I’ve ever stepped foot in.”
If you’re intrigued, check out the story of what happened on the day Chernobyl was destroyed forever.
Avenue of the Baobabs, Menabe, Madagascar
“Africa chewed me up and spit me out a new, slightly traumatized person,” Lexie admitted. Her trip throughout the continent of Africa was mentally exhausting, but it resulted in her seeing the world through completely different eyes.
To the countries of Africa, Lexie had this to say: “Thank you for giving me an unfiltered glimpse into an aspect of the world that, for the most part, goes unmentioned. I hope someday I can find the right words to tell their stories.”
Karimabad Hunza, Pakistan
Lexie got to get a glimpse of the colorful tradition and culture of Pakistan when she visited Karimabad Hunza. Lexie wrote in her blog about how one of the first things she noticed when she arrived in the country’s capital of Islamabad was how gorgeous and stylish the women are.
She said how she really wanted to wear some of their clothes while traveling. She ended up going shopping with a local to find the traditional trousers and a long shirt that are seen worn in South Asia. She wasn’t sure if her headpiece in this picture is called a tribal kuchi headpiece.
Lexie said this was one of her favorite memories from traveling solo. In her blog, she described how she drove past stunning waterfalls in the jungle to get to this place. She had to climb down that slippery ladder to find a small old man with a toothless smile collecting leaves from the pool. She waited for him to finish his work to dive into the clear salt water pool.
Wondering how she got this shot? She hired a taxi driver to get to the place, befriended him with friendly talk, and asked him if he could take a photo when they got there. She explained how this was typical of her photo-taking. She would either ask a stranger or a friend and would be amazed at what would come out of it. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Another moment she wrote about in her blog was when she went to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. She said how looking back on old photos made it clear that this was one of her favorites. These photos of her friends and family, along with the memories they captured are the ones that have the most meaning.
Lexie prefers to travel with someone, as it creates “this bond that you continue to share no matter how much time passes,” as she put it. I can only imagine visiting a place like this. The sheer beauty on its own is breathtaking!
Darvaza Gas Crater, aka the “Gates Of Hell,” Turkmenistan
Lexie referred to her experience at the Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan as “roasting marshmallows over the door to hell.” And by the looks of it, the door to hell seems like a fitting description. Don’t you think? She wrote about it in her blog…
She described how she was camping in the middle of nowhere with a friend and a bunch of drunk Russian-speaking men which she claimed were the kindest locals around. They were fed generously and ran around this pit of fire, making it “one of the most epic & memorable nights of my life,” she wrote. The Darvaza Crater has been burning for over 40 years.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Lexie refers to snakes as misunderstood creatures. She described how her trip to Sri Lanka was a bit messy. While she purposely chooses the road less traveled, it can lead to “unexpected complications, wasted time and frustration.”
But she did end up stumbling upon this experience. She spent her day handling snakes like this. At first, she was apprehensive but came to love them. She wrote how “This photo reminds me that even mistakes can result in something beautiful & unexpected.”
Lexie thinks of Afghanistan as one of the most unique places she’s traveled to because “it felt almost taboo to be there.” She wrote about Afghanistan having a lot of built-up negative hype, which means not many people get to experience this place, which she considers to be a real shame.
She did, however, mention that the country is extremely unstable and shouldn’t be ventured casually. She admits that she got lucky with her experience, but she also put in the work researching where to go and how to do it safely. But all in all, she said how the country made her grow as a person.
According to Lexie, travel therapy should be covered by health insurance. And you know what, I wish it was too. She wrote about how unbelievable traveling has been for her mental health. She considered herself to be “a pretty depressed & angsty kid” when she was in high school because she felt like she didn’t belong there.
As soon as she got out of her hometown bubble, she saw just how much was out there for her. She got to discover so many beautiful places and people that are scattered all around the world. Lexie is seen here in Petra, Jordan.
Gilgit-Baltistan, the “Land Of Mountains,” Pakistan
Lexi claims that this was one of the top 5 craziest adventures of her life. She illustrated in her blog about how they rode “like maniacs” in their 15-passenger van through the Karakoram Mountains for hours. They then switched into these 4×4 land rovers and went up the “most dangerous road in the world.”
She said how her heart was pounding when they drove along with the 500+ feet drops. They traveled Northern Pakistan and hiked up about 2500 feet. As she said of this incredible day: “‘Twas a day & night that I’ll never forget.”
See where this road is placed on the list of the most dangerous roads in the world!
Travel Tips for Solo Female (as well as Male) Travelers
On her website, Lexie talks a lot about traveling solo as a female. She says that the questions she’s asked the most usually revolve around traveling alone as a woman and if she feels safe, especially in the more dangerous countries around the world.
She wrote, “Personally, I get freaked out the most by the hypothetical scenarios I make up in my head rather than what might really happen to me. I think it’s like this for most people. We become afraid of what we hear on the news without really understanding how low the probability is of actually having an issue.”
Listen Up, Ladies
Lexie has a lot of recommendations for women who don’t have a lot of travel experience but are willing and ready to start exploring the world. The first thing she recommends to other women is to gradually transition into solo travel – not to start alone!
Her tip is to go on a trip with your friends and start in places that are equipped with infrastructure for tourism, like countries in Europe or South East Asia. Her next tip: Don’t let anyone tell you it’s too dangerous. The truth is all you need to navigate the world safely is some common sense. As she puts it, “Bad things can happen anywhere at any time so you shouldn’t let fear dictate what you do with your time.” Amen!
Create the Illusion That You Know What You’re Doing
Lots of people think that booking everything in advance leaves less opportunity for spontaneity. Lexie says that she agrees to a certain degree. She explains how you aren’t as flexible in places like Europe or South East Asia, but in countries with bad reputations, planning has been an essential part of her safety while traveling.
When she travels alone, she always has flights and hotels booked ahead of time, so she doesn’t end up on the street without a place to stay. It’s important to always have a general idea of where you’re going so you don’t look like a lost target waiting to for someone to scam you.
What to Wear in Certain Countries
Ladies, this one is specifically for you. Lexie’s advice: Always do your homework. Do some research on the country that you’re traveling to before you start packing. Is it appropriate to expose your thighs and shoulders? Do you need to bring a hijab? Is it socially awkward to wear this?
You’re going to want to search online for the religion of the country before going there. You don’t want to be seen as a disrespectful tourist – it will do you no service. For example, Lexie described how in the capital of Maldives, Mali, you’re not allowed to wear a bikini on the beach due to the strict Islamic culture. And you might be surprised to hear that abayas are mandatory in Saudi Arabia, but hijabs are not.
How to Take Awesome Photos of Yourself
Let’s face it; taking awesome photos is part of the fun of traveling abroad. But if you’re not dating a professional photographer, your photos aren’t going to look amazing. Learning how to take great photos when alone can be a huge plus.
Lexie says how tripods and self-timers are good options, but her personal favorite (and what she does for 90% of her photos) is ask strangers or new friends to take photos for her. And she recommends asking someone with a big camera or looks young enough to have an idea of what they’re doing.
The More Advanced Destinations
She makes it pretty clear in her blog that things work very differently in Africa and the Middle East than in the US or Europe. If you want to go to the less touristy places, you’re going to have to get comfortable with people staring at you. That’s especially true if you’re a white woman.
Lexie admits that this has actually been one of the things she’s struggled with the most in her latest years traveling. But according to Lexie, it thickens the skin. She says that your attitude is everything. Sometimes you need to pretend to be in a good mood because bad things happen to people with a bad attitude.
Common Sense, People!
She believes that above everything else, common sense is the most essential thing you can “pack” with you when you’re traveling alone. Know in advance how much your taxi from the airport to the hotel should cost you to avoid being ripped off.
Don’t follow anyone you just met into a secluded area under any circumstance! Lexie wants the women especially to know two things: Don’t get uncontrollably intoxicated and don’t go out alone at night unless you’re with other people.
Don’t Be Hustled
Another really important social skill Lexie has learned over the years is when she’s walking around markets and men are breathing down her neck trying to hustle her, she will do one of two things: she will either not acknowledge them, or she’ll tell them to take a step back.
It’s important to not let strangers think they can take advantage of you. Confidence is a big factor in this. Lexie also says that “All of these tips might sound obvious, but you would be surprised how easy it is to make mistakes when you simply aren’t being mindful.”
And Last But Not Least
Traveling alone, as Lexie puts it, “is one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself.” After traveling to 196 countries, she can safely say that women do not have to live in fear of the world as long as they move with awareness and common sense.
Don’t live your life in fear and miss out on experiences that can potentially change your life! Be smart ladies, have fun in your travels, and try to change the world!
Thanks, Lexie, you’ve inspired me to travel some more!