We spoke to Lexie Alford about how she ticked off so many countries and what she learned on the journey.
Lexie Alford was 21 by the time she had reached every corner of the globe. A couple of years later, she uses her online platforms and persona - aptly, ‘Lexie Limitless’ - to inspire budding travellers via Instagram, YouTube and her website. Like any self-respecting world record holder, she's also given a TEDx talk on her experiences.
We caught up with Lexie to celebrate her title as the youngest person to reach every country in the world. Originally from northern California - which she describes in our chat as “the most diverse of the American states, there’s nowhere I’d rather be,” she currently resides full time in sunny Los Angeles.
Hey Lexie! Thank you for joining us. Firstly - have you managed to travel much in the past year or so?
It’s pretty crazy, I was at Carnaval in Brazil the day before the first registered case there (in early March). So I came back to the US and we were straight into full lockdown.
But yes, during lockdown I did manage to travel for work. I went to Turkey to do a two-week road trip for my YouTube, and another two week road trip in Iraqi-Kurdistan.
Did you set out with the intention of becoming the youngest person to reach every country in the world?
It was more of a natural evolution. I started travelling when I was really young because my mum has a travel agency, a business she started when she was just 19. Growing up she would always pull me out of school and take me exploring with her, which was really cool.
This lifestyle meant that by the time I was 18 I had travelled to around 70 countries already. I had graduated early from high school, and got my associates degree by 18.
But one of my biggest dreams, from being 12 years old, was that I wanted to experience what it was like to live for one year of my life with no school and no work. So I saved up, a crazy amount, so I could take this gap year and travel the world.
I wanted to see as much as I could, and learn as much as I could. It was during that gap year that it dawned on me: how many countries are there? I was only 18, I knew I had some time to do it. So I Googled the youngest person to travel to every country, and James Asquith’s Guinness World Record came up.
When I saw that, I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t at least try.
A lot of people want nothing more than to travel, but financial and time restraints can get in the way. You’ve already said you had set that one year aside - but how did you pay for it?
My project was entirely self-funded. I was working for a really young age, and for my mum’s travel agency. I was really lucky because I was not only earning money, but I was learning so much about travel - specifically how I could do it on a shoestring budget.
I managed to stretch out those savings for a year and a half. And during that time I picked up my camera, started doing blogs, and learnt about social media. I was starting to meet people from the industry and built up a network. I slowly started getting more of a client-base that I was writing content for, and that’s really what launched my business that I run today.
It’s important to bear in mind that when you’re climbing a really big mountain, if you look right to the top you’re going to be discouraged and overwhelmed. But if you just take one step at a time, it’s a lot easier to get to the top.
Do you have a favourite place that you visited? And why?
I have a list, I have a top five. But this is like having to choose a favourite child. The places are my favourites for different reasons. I love Indonesia because of the diving. I’m a diver and the underwater world there is fascinating.
Venezuela, because of its natural beauty, and the kindness of the people. Pakistan was the most hospitable place and people I visited. It has an incredible mountain landscape as well.
Egypt for the history - its preservation is incredible. You can still see the paint and smoke on the walls inside the Great Pyramids. And Iceland. It’s just such a unique island, the most unique place in the world.
Is there anywhere you wouldn’t go back to?
I’m always weary when I talk about favourite places and least favourite places because it’s so subjective. I don’t there’s anywhere I wouldn’t go back to - never say never.
But my travel experience now is very different to three years ago. It’s less about counting countries, and more about seeking out these unique experiences, so it really depends on whether the opportunity is there.
One thing I know is that any travel experience is all about the people. They make or break the journey. It’s the people who make experiences last in your mind forever.
There’s still a lot of stigma around women travelling alone, especially from a safety perspective. But you did much of this journey alone, and so young. Was it ever something that worried you?
I travelled to around 50 or so countries by myself. So that was maybe seven or eight months on my own.
Just as a side note, I truly think it’s something every person, man and woman, should experience at some point in their life: solo travel. It teaches you how to be independent and navigate this crazy world alone. But it also makes you truly appreciate the time you get to spend with people, when you’re back home, or with your family and friends.
Taking the first step into solo travel doesn’t have to be huge. You don’t have to go to a completely different culture, with a completely different language, and try to figure it out. A neighbouring city, a closer country. Just somewhere that you can be with yourself and your thoughts.
You can ease into these things slowly and start learning how to navigate the world. But it teaches us how to be grateful: for the people we have in our lives, the experiences we have in our lives.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
I love that we celebrate women - the day, Women’s History Month, and take the time to reflect on how far women have come in society, but also how women are being empowered to do things they’ve never been able to do before. It’s about how we are excelling. We feel empowered to pursue our dreams, and there’s no one holding us back.
It’s easy to point out all the ways that we need to continue to improve. But we have to celebrate the progress we’ve made too, and that’s what this day is for me.
What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone looking to pursue their dreams?
A piece of advice I’ve been given and carried with me for years is to never take no for an answer. Anyone who doubts your ideas, who doesn’t want something to work out in your favour, being rejected. It’s up to you to persevere.
Your social media name is Lexie Limitless, emphasis on the Limitless. Are there any travellers you would recommend people should follow?
Bree from @eyeofshe, she’s an amazing adventure travel creator. Andi from @destinationchaser is another inspiring traveller who has a very unique outlook on the world, and Ciara from @hey_ciara is a solo female traveller, so if that’s something you’re interested in make sure you’re following her.
If you want to know more about Lexie and her adventures, make sure you visit her website where you can get a preview of her new book by signing up for her newsletter.