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The Road to 193 with Riza Rasco

Riza Rasco with the Latoka tribe in South Sudan


Riza Rasco describes herself as a bioengineer/biological scientist, an intellectual property professional and a world traveler. After working at DuPont Company for 17 years, she quit her job, took a long break from corporate life and started traveling full time. She is the co-founder of Philippine Global Explorers (PGE) and the founder of Explore Africa for Impact. In 2020, Riza hosted the Pandemic Traveler Series where she interviewed some of the most prolific travelers who shared their personal experiences, observations and stories during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a project she initiated through PGE and can be watched on the PGE YouTube channel.


Having traveled to 165 United Nations sovereign countries, Riza is on track to visit all 193 UN countries in the near future. Her travels have been validated by NomadMania through a rigorous verification process and she now carries a NomadMania verified UN traveler badge. You can follow her amazing travels at https://www.instagram.com/midlifefunk/ and/or you can send her a friend request at https://www.facebook.com/sonriza.Ford/ if you would like to access her travel blogs.

How young were you when you started traveling?

I was almost six years old when my Mom, brother and I flew to the United States to meet my Dad who was taking graduate studies at Cornell University. Since then, I’ve looked forward to the next plane ride, the next destination, the next adventure.


What is it about traveling that appeals to you the most?


I have always been passionate about traveling. I like human interaction and learning about how people live around the world. Immersing myself in culture and history is important to me. 

When did you first start consciously counting countries?

I have been traveling around the world the past 27 years but it was only during the last five years after meeting other travelers who were counting countries that I began to do the same.


How many United Nations (UN) member countries and continents have you visited? 


I’ve traveled to 165 of the 193 UN member countries and to 6 continents.


From your experience, what was the most difficult country to enter?


It was difficult to enter Libya because they do not issue tourist visas. I had to hire a fixer to get me a business visa. My first application was rejected but my fixer pulled some strings and eventually my visa application was approved. It was an expensive process. 


What is your favorite place in the world and why?


Africa is the only place in the world where I feel truly alive and free. It stirs my soul, lifts my spirit and keeps my energy levels on a high note. My travels to Africa have changed my life.


Riza with the Mundari tribe in South Sudan


What do you carry in your travel bag?


I am currently exploring South America, in Caracas, Venezuela right now, with a medium size black Osprey backpack that I hand carry in planes. In this bag, I have everything I need - clothes, flipflops, gadgets (laptop, smartphone, Kindle), my cosmetics and toiletries. One important thing I have to have in my bag is dental floss. 


Were you ever seriously ill while traveling and how did you cope with it?


I have never gotten seriously ill except when I climbed Mt. Everest Base Camp where I experienced altitude sickness. I had to walk 6 hours to get back to camp. It was difficult but I had to do it. These kinds of experiences makes you stronger and more resilient.


What are your plans to see the remaining countries on your list?


In April 2019, I took a second personal sabbatical with the intention of visiting as many countries as I could within two years. I was able to safely visit 44 countries in five continents in 2020 after 37 flights. Twenty two of these countries were countries I have not been before.


Though I was one of the most traveled people at the height of the pandemic in 2020, I would not encourage anyone to travel against stay-at-home orders. I took all the necessary precautions to avoid being infected with the virus including wearing a mask, washing and disinfecting hands, staying away from crowds and avoiding public transportation. I rented a car instead and visited parks, took nature treks where there were few people around and started sightseeing early in the morning to beat the crowds.


The pandemic has no doubt affected the pace of my travel and will continue to do so in the next few years as travel becomes more complicated and more expensive due to reduced capacity and social distancing. 


You co-founded Philippine Global Explorers in 2019. What do you hope to achieve with this group of explorers which is now approaching 500 members?


The Philippine Global Explorers (PGE) was formed on July 27, 2019 by a group of well traveled Filipinos and its incorporation as a non-stock, non-profit organization in the Philippines is underway. It is governed by a Board of Directors and managed by company officers. 


The mission of PGE is two-fold. The first is to cultivate a supportive community that will encourage and inspire its members to achieve their travel goals. Secondly, PGE plans to utilize the strength of its network through its collective knowledge and experience to serve the Philippines. To this end, several committees have been tasked with fostering education through travel for the Filipino youth and becoming a strategic thought partner for the Philippine Tourism Board. PGE aims to help the domestic tourism industry to achieve its goals and recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. 


Among the advocacies of PGE are sustainable and responsible travels and the preservation of the cultural and historical heritage of the Philippines.


You also founded Explore Africa for Impact. What is this about?


Explore Africa for Impact is a US registered Public Benefit company that promotes travel and tourism in Africa. It partners with local tour operators in each African country where it operates (currently 30+ countries) and gives back 100% of its net profits to support local community programs in education, vocational training, employment and development of women. Among the projects Explore Africa has in place are the tourist guide training program for Togolese women, the clean up of a section of a public beach in Togo, and the construction of a school to benefit 220 children near Koidu City in Sierra Leone. 


Explore Africa for Impact will roll out new tours in new countries in the third quarter of 2021. Please check our website, https://exploreafrica4impact.com/, for more information.


Riza in Gambia

What is your advice to solo women travelers who wish to travel the world? 


My advise to solo women travelers who wish to travel the world? Do not be afraid but do take care.


Images by Riza Rasco


*****


The Road to 193 is a series of interviews with world travelers who are on a quest to visit all 193 United Nations recognized sovereign countries. Less than 300 travelers from around the world have visited all 193 UN countries, according to NomadMania, a non profit organization that validates the countries and regions visited by its community of travelers through a rigorous verification process. The goal of visiting all 193 countries is elusive at times and fraught with challenges including trying to get a visa, going to a war torn country, finding passage to a remote island nation, traveling to dangerous locations and when the budget doesn’t quite fit the bill. But once conquered, the traveler joins an exclusive club of world travelers who persisted to reach their final destination.




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