One 21-year-old American woman has achieved an unbelievable feat that many only dream of – visiting every country on earth. Her epic odyssey is slated to smash the current Guinness World Record for the youngest person to see all 196 sovereign nations.
Accomplishing the lifelong dream as she stepped foot in North Korea on May 31, Lexie Alford told Fox News that she immediately felt “relief.”
“I've been working through extreme anxiety for the past six-plus months overcoming the obstacles that go along with getting into 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,” Alford said.
“Not many times in life does everything that you've worked towards for years culminate into a single moment,” the Nevada City, Calif. native described the overwhelming rush of “gratitude, joy and satisfaction” that came with the milestone.
Alford was born into a family of travel agents, which gave her the unique opportunity to tour exotic places like Cambodia, Dubai and Egypt during her childhood, Forbes reports.
The wayfarer said she began saving up at age 12 to fund the goal of visiting all 196 sovereign nations on the planet – and never looked back on the promise.
By her 18th birthday, Alford realized she had traveled to 72 nations – putting her that much closer to breaking the world record. In October 2016, she realized that she could see the 124 remaining nations on her list in time to set an official record – and got moving.
Known as LexieLimitless on Instagram to her following of over 44,000, Alford admits she decided to pursue the record full-time, in part, to inspire others.
"Honestly, in the beginning, I simply wanted to push the limits of what I thought I could do with my life and see as much of the world as possible in the process," the woman told Forbes of her passion for travel. "It wasn't until things started getting really challenging that I realized I was inspiring people around me, especially young women. 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."
Graduating from high school two years early and earning an associate’s degree in her home state, Alford officially began pursuing the record full time in 2016 – traveling alone for weeks of the journey, and navigating challenges like securing visas to meet her goal despite the “frustration of bureaucracy.”
“I traveled solo for over seven months, throughout the past two years, to 50 or so countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Central and South America, the Caribbean and the South Pacific Islands,” she told Fox News.
“Obtaining all the visas required for American citizens was one of the most difficult aspects of breaking this record. I spent years applying and reapplying for visas in both the US and abroad," she added, having been forced to apply for the proper paperwork in London, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, and the United Arab Emirates, among others.
Alford says that her mission was “completely self-funded,” and that she made ends meet with a few branded deals throughout her journey, in addition to some photography and blogging work while abroad, plus her savings. She also found time to co-host a travel show that will hit airwaves in November, she said.
To further make the budget work, the adventurer said she invested much time into researching the best flight deals and most affordable accommodations on the road, too.
As for favorite destinations, Alford has a penchant for places off the beaten path that she describes as “misunderstood” by some – like Venezuela and Pakistan.
“One of my absolute favorite places is Angel Falls in Venezuela. My friend and I were the only people camping at the falls in Canaima National Park in November 2018 which demonstrated how much the tourism industry has been affected there since the economic crisis began,” the explorer told Fox News.
“I also loved visiting Northern Pakistan, the natural beauty of the mountains and kindness of the locals was astonishing but again there's barely any tourism in the country because of negative stereotypes about the country in the media,” she continued. “The most pleasant surprise about traveling to all these misunderstood areas of the world was that the countries that I had least expectations for ended up being the most incredible.”
After finally completing the crusade last week, Alford is now tasked with submitting nearly 10,000 pieces of evidence to Guinness World Records – in chronological order! – to document her travels and secure the title, she told Fox News.
Though the formal accreditation process will likely be lengthy, the adventurer is now officially in good company, joining the ranks of James Asquith of the U.K., who became the youngest person to travel to all sovereign countries in 2013 at age 24, and Cassie De Pecol of Connecticut, who became the first woman – on the fastest trip ever – to see all the countries in the world in 2017.
What’s next for Alford? After achieving the “massive life goal,” she told Fox News that she plans to continue to “travel as much as possible." On her next big trip, she hopes to summit Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to see the world's largest lava lake.
She’s also at work on a book “about my experiences in every country and the lessons I've learned along the way,” with plans to host a TEDx talk on June 15.
For travel enthusiasts eager to follow in her footsteps, Alford says that you've got to dream big.
“As corny as it sounds, my advice for young people is to believe that you can do anything you set your mind to do. If you want to travel, you have to prioritize it over other aspects of your life,” she told Fox News. “You have to make sacrifices to travel the world but if it’s something that’s genuinely important to you, it’s only a matter of time until you can make it a reality.”