Demonbreun graduated from Vanderbilt University last May, with degrees in economics and public policy. After a semester abroad, however, she says she realized that she no longer wanted to become an investment banker, like she had originally intended.
Instead of spending her last semester in typical senior fashion, Demonbreun used every free minute to plan a record-breaking voyage around the world. “It was like a full-time job,” Demonbreun told Travel + Leisure.
On June 1, less than a month after graduating, she set out for her first country on an attempt to break Guinness World Records for fastest and youngest person to visit every country around the world. Since starting her journey in the Dominican Republic, Demonbreun has visited 100 different countries from South America to Europe to Asia over the course of nine months.
“I’m sure looking back on how I planned in the beginning would make me cringe,” Demonbreun told T+L. “I’ve learned so much about traveling since then: how to plan and my own personal limits, like how much I can travel at a time.”
Demonbreun blogs about her experience traveling at Trek With Taylor, as well as on Twitter and Instagram, and hopes to inspire other people to push beyond their comfort zones, explore new cultures and learn more about themselves in the process.
In becoming a world traveler, she has been forced to overcome severe social anxiety that plagued her when she was young.
“I have to be willing to ask a question because sometimes it’s a safety issue,” Demonbreun said. “There are always times when I wish I had said something more or said something differently. But it’s a constant growing experience. I’ve had to grow with it and this trip has helped me do new things.”
Demonbreun says one of her most surprising encounters was in Afghanistan: “I was so worried before going there, about safety issues and the language barrier,” she said. “I had painted it as this very scary place but I went and everything went perfectly.”
Demonbreun advises people who find themselves held back from solo travel because of social anxiety to just take a chance and “trust that people are generally kind.”
Demonbreun also recommended switching perspectives from believing that people are “judging me but more that they notice I’m not from there and they want to help out because people are proud of where they’re from and want more people to visit.”
She’s gained firsthand experience of strangers’ kindnesses through the Guinness challenge itself. In every country, Demonbreun must ask two witnesses to sign proof that she was there and provide their contact information. She must also take a photograph with a geolocation tag (generally a “crappy selfie”) and record the times of her entries into and out of each country.
Earlier this month, Demonbreun visited her 100th country, Sweden. She said that trip was particularly meaningful as Sweden was the first country she had ever visited on her own.
Later this week, Demonbreun will set out for a six-week leg of her journey through Asia, working her way west through the Middle East.