When we say we "love travel", most typically interpret that as we try to see new corners of the world a few times a year. Lexie Alford, however, has shown just how much a person can live to travel - when you have the resources and a fierce competitive streak, to boot.
Alford, a 21-year-old from the US, completed her journey through 196 countries in North Korea on May 31, 2019. The epic trek - which saw her swim in crystal-clear salt water cavern pools in Samoa, clothes shopping with locals in Pakistan and roast marshmallows over Darvaza Gas Crater, often known as "The Door to Hell" - was her bid to claim the Guinness World Record for the youngest person to travel to every country.
The current record was set in 2013 by then-24-year-old James Asquith, however, according to an interview with Forbes, it is an achievement Lexie has been moving towards since she was a child.
With a family that runs a travel agency in California, travel was in her DNA, she told the publication: "Travel has been a part of my life since before I can remember. My parents would take me out of school and place me on independent study for weeks and months at a time every year."
However, her ambition wasn't to break the world record but rather simply see as much of the world as she could. "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," she says.
"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."
By the time she turned 18, she had already traveled to 72 countries and it was at this point that she decided to devote herself to visiting every single country.
As for how she funds her trips, Alford says that she has been working "every job I could find and saving" since she was 12 years old. However, she has done some brand deals and campaigns throughout to add some funds to her pocket. Still, she's never had an official sponsorship.
This nest egg supported her for the first year and a half of travel, and when she's home in Nevada City, California she works in her family's travel agency and supplements this with blogging and photography.
"I do 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," Alford tells Forbes. "I've also made sure to keep my monthly overhead as low as possible by living at home with my parents, I don't have a car payment or student debt and I don't spend my money on unnecessary material possessions."
In her Instagram posts, Alford shares insights into how to get the perfect travel shot while traveling solo (hire a taxi driver and befriend him enough to request a photo shoot), and often enthuses about traveling in locations typically believed to be dangerous, such as Pakistan or Venezuela.
Not without visa issues, particularly in West and Central Africa, one of the most challenging journeys was reaching North Korea, which she reached after "months and years" circuiting the US travel ban. Alford technically didn't visit the country itself, instead visiting the North Korean side of the conference rooms in the legendary "blue house" in the Joint Security Area on the DMZ qualifies as a visit to North Korea.
With such an accomplishment down, Alford is now preparing for her first xTED talk on June 15th and working on a book about her travels.