21-year-old California-native Lexie Alford is claiming to be the youngest person ever to visit every country in the world, and it seems like it might actually be true.
Her adventures around the world have earned her an impressive 260K Instagram followers, and in May 2019, Lexie stepped foot in North Korea which marked her 196th country visited. Just take a second to think about how impressive visiting 196 countries in 21 years is, more than half of which were visited in the last three years. Here’s how she managed it…
How It Started
Lexie Alford (Instagram @lexielimitless) says she started saving for her goal at the age of 12. The goal was to visit all 196 sovereign nations on earth, and on her blog she writes that she beat the Guinness World Record for Youngest Person to Travel to Every Country by over three years.
By clarifying “sovereign nation” Lexie was exempt from being required to visit places such as Ghana or Saudi Arabia if she didn’t want to, though she may have made a few stops along the way anyways.
Lexie’s family owns a travel agency in California that they’ve successfully run for over 30 years, which is what sparked her love of travel. She writes on her blog that “being a third generation travel agent allows me to benefit from the travel industry in a unique way.”
She says that her parents taught her the art of traveling on a budget, and that she’s been saving for this “mission” since she was in elementary school. Her travels are completely self-funded according to her blog.
The Importance Of Travel
In an interview with Forbes, Lexie talked about how her parents instilled the importance of traveling in her from a very young age.
“My parents would take me out of school and place me on independent study for weeks and months at a time every year,” she recalled. Alford’s parents believed exposing her to “every way of life around the world” was crucial for her development, and she says “that had a very profound impact on the person I am today.”
How Does She Afford This?
Since her travels are self-funded, Alford frequently writes about ways to save money or cut back on costs in order to afford long term traveling. One of the biggest ways that she says is she lives at home with her parents (rent-free) and takes public transportation instead of owning a car, so she doesn’t have any rent or car payments to worry about.
Lexie credits planning ahead for her trips to be one of her biggest money-saving measures as well.
Ways To Save
Alford tries to always find the best deals when traveling, using points or miles to book flights, as well as researching cheaper accommodation options like hostels versus shelling out for a fancy hotel.
She also acknowledges she has the ability to make deals with brands, and talks about how she sometimes creates content for hotel brands in exchange for free accommodation. Lexie also works as a photographer while traveling, and makes money through her blog and social media accounts.
In order to have the time to travel long term, on top of having the funds, Lexie completed her schooling early. She graduated from high school two years earlier than her classmates, and received an Associates Degree from a local college by the age of 18.
She knew that going to college was still important for her future, but she was less concerned about having a career-applicable degree since she will likely work in her family business for years to come.
The World Record
The current Guinness World Record holder for “Youngest Person to Travel to All Sovereign Countries” is a Canadian girl who completed her goal in 24 years and 48 days, so if Lexie is approved as the new record holder she will have beat out the current holder by over three years.
Alford’s application to Guinness World Records is still under review, and there were a lot of regulations she had to follow in order to be a valid applicant for the record.
Guinness World Records is currently still reviewing Lexie’s application, so she has yet to be deemed the official holder of the record. There was a number of rules Lexie had to follow in order to be considered.
Alford had to submit proof of all her travels to Guinness, including receipts and/or tickets for all journeys in chronological order, a copy of the traveler’s passport with stamps from every country as well as photographs taken in every country in front of recognizable landmarks or the main airport.
The Rules Of The Record
In terms of what counts as ‘traveling to’ every country, there was no required length of time that the traveler must stay in a country in order for it to count. Guinness defined visiting a country as stepping foot within its border, and there must be physical evidence of that, which is where the pictures and passport stamps are important.
A key stipulation for this record is also that you may not at any point be in control of the transportation you use, i.e. you cannot rent a car and drive yourself across a continent.
Why Do This?
One of Lexie’s biggest motivators for completing this record was she wanted to show that “every culture harbors kindness in spite of political instabilities” according to her blog.
She also writes that she wanted to break down common misconceptions about female solo travel. Safety is a major deterrent for many young women who want to travel long term but Alford wanted to prove that women can travel to the Middle East or travel to countries in Africa that are often perceived to be unsafe for women.
The Reality Behind It
However, Alford was not naive about the reality of visiting some of the less-safe countries as a solo female traveler. She said in an interview that for countries such as Somali, Chad, or South Sudan, she only spent two to three days visiting them because she “didn’t have the means for proper security,” but says she would like to go back at a later time.
Lexie is grateful to have the opportunity to be exposed to many different countries and ways of living, even if only for a few short days.
The Final Hurdle
Some destinations required more planning than others, like visiting North Korea, for example. North Korea was the last stop on Alford’s quest, but due to the U.S. travel ban, there were some logistical issues to get around.
According to Guinness World Record, visiting the North Korean side of the Joint Security Area on the DMZ counts as a visit to North Korea, which is exactly what Alford did. Lexie took her final photo in the “blue house” conference rooms on the North Korean side, ending her journey.
Taking It All In
Previous holders of this record have often been criticized for potentially not spending “enough” time in a country, or not taking in the culture of every country if you’re rushing to beat a world record. Lexie has addressed the criticisms before, saying “some people prefer to spend months or years in only a few countries and some want to have a platter of the world.”
Alford has also said she tries to get away from major or capital cities when possible, to better experience the local culture.
Land of Mountains
Another country that required a lot of planning prior to travel was Pakistan, which Lexie described on her Instagram as “one if my new favorite places in the world” (once she managed to actually get there.)
In order to be able to visit Pakistan, it reportedly took Alford 5 in-person trips to the embassy in Los Angeles, 2 formal interviews, 3 different tour companies, and countless phone calls, according to an Instagram post she wrote.
Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
Lexie has experienced more of the world than most people ever consider possible, and has had incredible experiences along the way. One place that Alford was weary of visiting was the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, and she writes on her blog that she “asked myself more than once what I was doing in such a strange, ‘risky’ place.”
After visiting Chernobyl, Lexie describes it as “one of the most intense places I’ve ever stepped foot in” and says it left a much greater impact on her than she expected.
Her Favorite Place
It’s hard to pick just one favorite destination when you have so many to choose from, but Lexie has said that one of her “absolute favorite” places she’s ever visited was Angel Falls in Venezuela.
She had low expectations going into her trip to Venezuela and said in an interview that “the countries that I had the least expectations for ended up being the most incredible,” and she’s happy to use her platform to be able to bring awareness to what she calls “misunderstood areas of the world.”
Alford is certainly not the only person to take up the hobby of “country collecting” — in fact, there’s even a club. Once you’ve traveled to 100 countries you’re eligible to join the Travelers Century Club, which has around 1400 members.
For the more hardcore travelers (yes, more hardcore than Lexie) there’s also the Most Traveled People list. The list has an incredible 891 places to visit if you want to be a part of it, including an island 375 miles off the coast of Antarctica.
Lexie has said that the hardest part of beating this record was obtaining the proper visas required for American citizens and making sure she had proper documentation for wherever she was going.
She had to obtain more than 30 visas in advance and had particular difficulties for countries in West and Central Africa. Alford said “I spent years applying and reapplying for visas” and being denied visas certainly affected her route planning. Being adaptable is important as a traveler, especially when traveling long term.
How do you plan your next adventure when you’re only 21 and you’ve visited every country in the world? Lexie is currently writing a book about this experience, and has said she will be taking the next few months to “nourish [her] physical and mental health.” She has also said she would like to start planning her next trip, revisiting some of her favorite countries.
Her parents must be thrilled to now employ an incredibly knowledgable travel agent at the family’s business!
The Ultimate Takeaway
Lexie is always open online about the mentally taxing aspects of solo travel as well. In 2018, Alford traveled to 90 countries and spent nearly five months of that year without any travel companions, which “forced me to get a lot more comfortable with myself” she said.
She has said that is part of the reason to write a book about her years spent traveling. It will help her process everything she has learned and help her acknowledge everything it mentally and physically took to achieve this monumental goal.