Trailblazing Woman Visits Every Country in the World

Audrey Walsworth accomplishes her goal of traveling to all 193 United Nations member states.

(Photo: Courtesy The Columbia Missourian)

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Sep 16, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Tosten Burks is a contributor for Passion of the Weiss. He has written for The Fader, GOOD, Grantland, and VICE.

When Audrey Walsworth first left America to visit Lithuania in 1969, she just wanted to learn more about her family’s history. She didn’t expect, more than 40 years and 300 countries and territories later, to make history of her own. Walsworth, who with her husband owns a publishing company in Marceline, Missouri, is the only woman to visit every country in the world.

“I didn’t plan it,” Walsworth told the Columbia Daily Tribune in 2013. She didn’t make her second trip until 1980, to China, during one of the first years the People’s Republic opened its border to tourists. “But once I…decided that’s what I wanted to do, I set out fast and furious.”

In the years since, Walsworth has visited all 193 United Nations member states, including all 324 territories listed by the Travelers’ Century Club (an organization for the world’s most widely traveled people), which counts separately regions that are geographically, politically, or ethnologically removed from their parent country. The club, which requires its members to have visited at least 100 territories and which Walsworth joined in 1994, estimates that fewer than 10 people in the world have accomplished the feat. To do so, Walsworth has made as many as eight voyages a year, every year since she joined.

She has the artifacts to prove it. The mother of three has an opium pipe from China, a sitara veil from Yemen, a death mask from Toli, Papua New Guinea, and a horde of colorful Vietnamese umbrellas that hang from her ceiling, part of a collection that consumes the interior of her home.

Over the course of her travels, she has met lip plate–wearing Mursi women in Ethiopia, drum-playing Tibetan monks, and British soldiers guarding Diego Garcia island in the Indian Ocean. “When we got close, the British sent out the equivalent of their highway patrol with guns drawn,” she said.

The dangers are a reminder that Walsworth cares about more than sightseeing. “I’m interested in seeing those kinds of things and finding out what makes people want to do those things,” she said. Everywhere she’s traveled, she’s made a point to get to know the people.

Interestingly, Walsworth’s husband, Don, whom she met while attending the University of Missouri, has never joined her. Walsworth has made excursions with friends, other Travelers’ Century Club members, and her three children, but Don doesn’t like to travel. “He doesn’t like the long flights, and the food worries him,” she said. “It would ruin the trip for me, and he knows that.”

As the most well-traveled woman in history, Walsworth is confident her title is secure, or she’s at least eager to challenge any contenders. “There isn’t going to be another woman who’s going to be able to do this,” she said.