I recently had the pleasure to interview Janice Lintz, an incredible woman on a mission to visit every country in the world. This is a feat that has only been accomplished by 15 women to date, and Janice wants to get her name on that list!
Lintz opened up not only about how she travels and her experiences in far-flung destinations, but also how she survived an abusive marriage and multiple health scares to start her world trip later in life.
If you’re looking for inspiration, read what Janice has to say. Whether you think you’ve suffered too many setbacks in life, or you’re too old to start traveling, or too scared to try solo travel, she has great words of advice for everyone.
After all, Janice was scared to travel solo as well, as you’ll see when you read ahead…and now she’s only a few countries away from traveling the whole world!
You can also follow Janice on Instagram, or at her website, JaniceLintz.com, where you can check out her work raising awareness about violence against women as well as hearing access.
Now, check out the interview:
1) How many countries have you been to so far?
I’ve been to 125 countries, 169 territories total according to the TCC (Travel Century Club) list.
I love the list because it pushes me to go to places that I may not have thought of before, and I’m always so happily surprised when I visit those places. I think, “Oh my God, I may have never seen this amazing place” if I didn’t have the goal of visiting every country.
For example, Trinidad & Tobago, and Suriname may not have made a list before this goal, and yet I loved them. I saw 20 pink dolphins in Suriname.
The Nylon Pool in Tobago was fantastic. It looks like a swimming pool. The sand is white ground coral, and the water is crystal clear. I was able to stand in the middle of the ocean. There is no plant life or fish.
I never get involved in political issues when visiting a country. If I excluded countries that are against my political stances, it makes it impossible to visit every country in the world. I might not even visit my own country based on what is happening here.
Besides, there are always exciting things to see even in countries where you don’t agree with the regime or politics. I am so glad I was able to see Edge of the World in Saudi Arabia – a former dried ocean that’s full of fascinating fossils. The place is one of my all-time favorites.
2) Tell us a bit about your travel background
I’ve traveled my entire life, so this is not some quick race around the world to check places off the list. It’s not like I woke up one day and decided I was going to go to 193 countries because I wanted to become Insta-famous.
I’m traveling because I have severe FOMO, and I don’t want to miss anything. My family including my grandmother and mother were travelers. My great-uncle sent me postcards from Nepal, and I couldn’t wait to visit these far-flung destinations. I had pen pals all over the world. I was always interested in other countries.
3) Why did you decide to start this particular journey now?
I’ve wanted to go to 193 countries in the world since I backpacked around Europe post-college but the time was never right. I’m 55. I raised my kids, left a bad marriage, and sold my house. I felt like I had a window of opportunity I may not get again. After surviving cancer, I realized we don’t know how much time we have left.
I know there is a possibility of my cancer returning or having other medical issues as I get older that will prevent me from traveling. I decided while I am young and healthy; I better go now that I have the time. There are only so many windows you get in your life. So I grabbed the brass ring and went.
4) Did your health problems affect your travel mindset?
I’m starting to think I’m running out of lives.
I was very sick when I was four years old and could have died, a bus once hit me, and my life was at risk during my son’s delivery. How many more of these near-death experiences do I need to go through before the time is right?
I had a lot of frequent flyer points, and after selling my townhouse, I was fortunate to be in a position where I could make a choice. I realized that if I radically downsized to a one-bedroom apartment and sold many of my things, including my car, and changed my finances, I could make my dream happen.
There was a disruption because for four months I couldn’t speak after my surgery for thyroid cancer. The doctor had to inject collagen into my vocal cords so I could talk.
He did the procedure while I was awake, and needed me to speak while he was inserting the needle into me to make sure he was doing the process correctly. All I talked about was polar bears. I decided afterward, if I get through this, I’m going to see the polar bears.
My full voice didn’t return until this past October. Not talking, for me, was beyond overwhelming.
5) Share some memories from your first travel experience that inspired your wanderlust.
All I wanted to do was travel after I backpacked around Europe.
I remember being in Italy with my friend and eating gelato four times a day. I thought, “You mean ice cream doesn’t come in a cardboard box? Cheese doesn’t come in a green can?”
From small to significant observations I realized the world, and everything I knew about it, was unreliable, and I had to find things out for myself.
I came home from that trip and started a job in media for a large advertising agency. The company merged, and I discovered I had six weeks vacation. I was making no money – I think I was eligible for food stamps – and I suddenly had extensive vacation time.
I went to the Bahamas for Thanksgiving, Rio, Brazil in January, and a Windjammer cruise through the Grenadines the following summer. I didn’t leave a day on the table.
6) How did you afford those first travels?
I knew I wanted to go everywhere, so I didn’t care about the order of the countries. I searched out the best deals or where the currency was strongest.
I went to the Bahamas during hurricane season without realizing it. I went to Rio in 1984 when it was dangerous, and I am lucky we didn’t have an issue. I didn’t necessarily research the way I do now.
That same year my first trip was to Scandinavia, and it was so pricey that even staying in hostels was expensive – that’s when I changed my method of selecting destinations. I now check to see the strength of the dollar against the local currency before I visit.
I look for deals! If I have points or one of my free hotel nights are expiring, I will base my trip on using the discount. I went to Colombia when I found a round-trip flight for $345.
7) What advice would you give to women traveling solo with safety concerns?
Sometimes I travel with friends or with my children, but when I’m traveling alone, and it’s a dicey place, like Baghdad, Iraq or Somaliland, I’ll go with a group (Iraq) or have a guide (Somaliland).
I do think, realistically, women have to be more careful. When you look up the number of people who have been to every country, the estimated group is about 200, and of that group only about 15 are women. It’s much smaller because men have fewer issues to worry about than women. The fear of rape is real.
8) However, do you sometimes find that dangers may be overblown?
Absolutely! In French Guiana, and I felt very comfortable as a solo woman. I thought the “dangerous” warnings were very overblown.
The region doesn’t promote tourism so hiring a guide is prohibitively expensive. I ended up renting a car and driving myself. The roads are easily driveable like in France. There were English tours at the Transportation Camp. I walked around by myself in Cayenne since there were no tour guides, and I was fine.
I am always pleasantly surprised when I visit many destinations. When you tell someone you’re going alone to Somaliland; they act like you’re going on a suicide mission. Even though my experience is anecdotal, I never felt that I was in harm’s way.
I went to Juba, South Sudan over the summer, and there was never a time when I felt scared, or I was going to hit the ground because bullets were flying.
When I visit these types of places I know I need to hire someone to accompany me. Everybody has a different comfort level and may not feel that way but, I am not a risk taker. I want to come out alive with no problems.
9) Which countries surprised you the most?
Going to Baghdad and Babylon, Iraq was beautiful and fascinating. Saudi Arabia as well; I visited right after the journalist was murdered and I was torn whether to proceed with the trip?
I have to separate travel from politics or I won’t be able to visit many places. The Saudi people were so welcoming and friendly, and the people are not the way they are portrayed in the media.
The previous year I was in Lebanon, and people were continually inviting me to meals. In Saudi Arabia, women were always asking me to join them for coffee, tea, or “oh, come join our picnic.” They were so happy to see me.
In countries where there aren’t many tourists, I think when you see a tourist that doesn’t look like a backpacker, it gives the local people hope that tourism is changing and more people are coming.
10) Is there a particular experience of kindness on your travels that comes to mind?
I had a problem in French Guiana where my Maps.me app took me to the wrong car rental location, and I didn’t even realize it.
I was supposed to drop off the car by the airport but ended up in a dicey neighborhood with no taxis. I saw a man, woman, and baby across the street and I asked how to get a taxi? They pointed me to the main road.
I walked there but couldn’t find one. A few minutes later, they drove by and saw me standing there with my luggage. They realized I was unlikely to find a cab, and it was getting dark.
I asked him if he could take me to the airport. I thought the airport was five minutes away. The family graciously drove me to the airport, and it ended up being half an hour away. That was so incredibly kind.
I couldn’t believe that these people I didn’t know helped a perfect stranger. That is why I love to travel. I meet the most wonderful people along the way.
11) That sort of kindness of strangers must be incredibly beautiful to experience, especially after going through some challenging times. Can you share a little of that story?
I was in an abusive marriage that I stayed in for way too long. I should have left my first year, but I was afraid. I didn’t know anyone who was abused. I was scared to tell anyone because I was ashamed and I thought I could fix my marriage.
There were ups and downs. He wasn’t always abusive. We also had terrific times, so I wanted to make it work.
I tried to get him help. I felt like…you don’t leave someone who has cancer. My husband was abused and grew up in an abusive home, so in my mind, his abuse was a cancer of the family. To leave, was unfair to him. No child asks to be abused. However, the violence became too bad for me to bear.
When I finally did leave him, I was surprised that the system that told me to go failed to protect me when I did.
There was no safety net for women like me. The organizations were reportedly for impoverished women. The groups told me over and over again, “we don’t serve women like you.” The New York City Mayor’s Office said to me that New York City had no organizations for women like me. I was dumbfounded.
Moreover, abusive men, when they have money, they use the court system to do what they can’t do to you with their hands.
That’s why my divorce went on for so many years, with so many motions and appeals. The “uncoupling” continues almost five years after my divorce. When people tell you to leave an abusive relationship, no one says, ”Beware; this is what could happen to you after that.”
12) It’s an exciting thing about travel that it also forces us to look at the issues in our own country. How did you find the judicial system’s response to women’s problems right here in the US?
After advertising, I went to law school. I was shocked that the court does not appear to enforce the support rules against wealthy white men.
The judge ignored every time he misbehaved including when he chest-bumped me in a crowded hallway in front of attorneys.
Moreover, for me, it was this thought of, do I matter? Do I have to be famous to matter? Why are the rules not being applied?
The court wouldn’t award me counsel fees even though there’s a law on the books that says the monied spouse has to pay the court fees. I didn’t have a job, how was I going to pay for my attorney. If I was lucky and someone hired me, I was going to get fired since I was regularly in court. What position is going to let me spend endless days in court?
I testified before the Judiciary Committee in Congress, The Moreland Commission, the NY County Bar Association, and nothing changed.
When the #MeToo movement started, it was like pulling a bandaid off an old wound.
The NY Post was publishing out of both ends of its mouth? They blasted me for speaking out about my ex-husband’s behavior and claimed I ruined his career, but the paper didn’t think movie stars ruined Harvey Weinstein’s career when they spoke out about their abuse.
I didn’t understand why the media lauded only famous women for speaking out against abusive men? It seemed like different rules were applied depending on who was playing tennis on the court.
I spent every day from January 27 to the day I moved, April 17, in a townhouse on the Upper East Side with no heat or hot water, while I recovered from cancer and had no voice. Again, I saw the NY Post lambast the New York City Housing Authority for tenants having no heat but, no one cared that I was freezing, couldn’t shower and living with a space heater.
My ex filed another appeal, and I was forced to draft my response since the court wouldn’t provide me with legal fees. I couldn’t afford to spend $150,000 on an attorney for another baseless appeal. He was trying to dissipate my assets.
I drafted the response in my freezing home while I recovered. I stood by myself before the Appellate court, with barely any voice, and I won. That was pretty much the turning point when I decided I was going away — this is enough.
13) How have these experiences influenced your travels today?
When I travel, I always visit places of genocide, slavery, and Holocaust memorials… situations where people survived abuse. I went to one of them today, the Slavery Museum in Guadeloupe. I want to understand how people survive, and how some people can harm other people.
Having visited all the museums around the world now, I am at no greater understanding. I think undetected mental illness plays a significant role in most abusers’ psyches, and I think people survive abuse by finding meaning in their lives.
Visiting these places, I try to understand the people who came before me, who have survived incredible atrocities, and to learn from them. I think there’s a reason why things happen, and my speaking out is a part of my journey. I’m writing a book to shed light on the system.
People previously didn’t want to get involved. I think the benefit of #MeToo is that mentality has changed. People will now get involved, and that has exposed more abuse.
When I was going through the abuse, various friends saw things, but they didn’t know what to say to me. It is difficult for people to open the conversation without backing the other person into a corner. The abused person doesn’t want to feel embarrassed if they don’t leave and you don’t want to lose them as a friend because they need your support.
14) How does this experience of abuse affect you in countries with severe issues with womens’ rights?
I am a guest in their country and can’t impose my philosophy. I choose to visit.
I am also keenly aware that as a white American woman there are certain privileges afforded to me. Men speak differently to me than their wives or sisters. They know that they can’t treat an American woman the same way.
15) On the lighter side, time for the question I MUST ask – what are your top three favorite places?
I love every place I’ve visited because every area has unique things; every country has something beautiful to see.
I had no idea there were pink dolphins in Suriname. Going to Churchill, Canada to see the polar bears was crazy. I went to Malawi and swam in Lake Malawi filled with cyclides fish, and my hotel room was on an island.
However, my top three travel experiences would have to be:
- Staying at Kaya Mawa hotel in Malawi
- Seeing the gorillas in Rwanda
- Flying a microlight over Victoria Falls, Zambia, and Zimbabwe
I will also mention one more place because I’m working on getting over fears, and one of them is water. In Djibouti, I swam with whale sharks – I couldn’t even believe how cool that was. It was such a great moment to face my fear of water and sharks doing this incredibly unique experience.
16) What would you say to someone who is too scared or intimidated to start traveling?
First of all, that was me.
I made one solo trip to Scandinavia before getting married, and I spent three days in Milan where I was terrified to be by myself.
Then I went to Nicaragua, Panama, Guatemala with an Abercrombie & Kent solo tour, to dip my toe in the water. I was by myself but with a guide.
I had to meet people at dinner. It was scary at first, but I became comfortable being uncomfortable.
One hotel gave me this fantastic advice: book your guides through the concierge. The hotel concierges know who the best guides on the ground.
The last thing they want is you standing in front of them and complaining, so they’ll make sure you have an excellent guide.
On my travels, I incrementally increased the difficulty of what I did, and I pushed my boundaries little by little. Moreover, gradually, I got comfortable with traveling solo. I’m at the point where I’m going to Somaliland. However, that took ten years.
I’ve incrementally increased exposure, even when it comes to fears. Going to Djibouti and swimming with whale sharks was a massive step for me – it doesn’t matter if it’s a vegetarian shark, it’s still a shark, and that thing is big. At first, I swam holding the hand of each guide.
Take baby steps to get out of your comfort zone. For example, if you’re traveling from the US, start with going to England. The people speak English, it’s safe, and there’s not much of a language or cultural barrier.
17) Any recommendations for the best apps to use on the road?
Here is my necessary travel app list:
- Google Translate
- XC for currency conversion
- Priority Pass
- Dropbox – I store my itinerary and prescriptions there, so it’s accessible even without internet.
- Mobile Pass – Instead of using Global Entry, you can use Mobile Pass for free.
- WhatsApp – to communicate with guides or anyone else I meet while traveling.
18) Lastly, three things you absolutely need on the road?
- Speedo’s swim shoes – These swim shoes have saved my feet when I am in the water or hiking at waterfalls.
- Lifestraw bottle –I use it to filter my water, and it’s better for the environment than using tons of bottles. I fill up my bottle at breakfast and on the plane.
- Face wipes – It is a great backup when you don’t have a shower.
Thanks to Janice Lintz for this interview. All photos are taken by her. Check out her website at JaniceLintz.com or follow her on Instagram @JaniceLintz.