A California teacher has visited every country in the world. Here’s how she did it — and how you can, too

Planes take off from Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City as a seagull flies past on Saturday, May 4, 2024.
Planes take off from Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City as a seagull flies past on Saturday, May 4, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Lucy Hsu has accomplished an extraordinary feat: visiting every nation in the world.

She was recently recognized for visiting the final nation on her list last May — Syria. According to NBC Bay Area, 43-year-old Hsu works as a second-grade teacher in San Jose, California, and her travel experiences have impacted both her and her students.

How many countries are there in total? The answer is a little complicated, but according to the BBC Science Focus, many people turn to the United Nations for the answer. The UN’s official list includes 193 member states.

“One hundred ninety-three is the total that is recognized by most travel clubs because that represents the number of UN members who do vote in the UN,” Hsu told NBC Bay Area.

It’s rare for travelers to visit every country. According to NBC Bay Area, “Although there is no official tally, it is widely estimated that roughly 400 people in the world have been to every country. By comparison, more than 600 people have gone into outer space.”

Here is how Lucy Hsu traveled the world — and how you can do the same.

How did Lucy Hsu travel to every country in the world?

According to NBC Bay Area, Hsu’s parents immigrated from Vietnam to the United States, leaving her family with very little money for international travel.

“They were in a new country,” she told NBC Bay Area. “They never had formal education being from Vietnam, like little village kids. They were starting really from zero.”

Nevertheless, her love of history and geography sparked a desire to travel the world. According to Today, after Hsu obtained her very first passport, she went on a backpacking trip through Europe. “From there, she caught the travel bug and made it a goal to travel every summer.”

Over the next two decades, Lucy planned a “big trip” every year, per NBC Bay Area, to reach her goal.

So, what tips does Lucy Hsu have for aspiring travelers?

Here’s what she shared with Today:

  • Sign up for homestays and volunteer programs. Hsu uses a website called Workaway, which connects volunteers with communities, schools, families and other organizations.

  • HostelWorld is another resource that can connect you with affordable housing and hostels. Hsu said that she even “worked at hostels in exchange for her room and board.”

  • Hsu suggested “earning credit card points to rack up rewards.”

  • For transportation, Hsu explained that she has take buses and trains, all low-budget, to get where to various locations.

How can I start traveling the world?

It’s never too late to begin your traveling journey. Hsu didn’t get her first passport until she was 23. “Travel is less unattainable than people think,” she told Today.

Like Hsu, you can begin your travels wherever you’re at. Here are more tips to make your travel dreams a reality:

  • Do plenty of research in advance. Last-minute bookings can often result in unwanted extra fees. Find the best days to confirm your transportation and hotel rooms.

  • Start small. If you’re new to international travel, skip over destinations that seem more “exotic” and settle for a location you can adjust to with ease. This will allow you to have a smoother transition to travel, public transportation, shopping and other activities in a different country.

  • Find a friend. If you know someone who is a more experienced traveler, ask for some tips and tricks to help you prepare for your journey. Better yet, plan a trip together so you have a travel buddy!