She is the first Asian woman to visit every sovereign country and the first Singaporean to have visited all United Nations member states.

In 2017, Yui Pow-Redford made history by travelling to 193 countries in 17 years, mostly solo. She was 37.

Her journey has taken her to big cities and small towns, affluent economies and underdeveloped nations, and literally to the ends of the earth – the North and South Poles.

While travelling has enabled her to experience different cultures, make sense of the world, and given her life skills not taught in the classroom, it has also gifted her something precious – an appreciation of our human connection.

Yui tells The Pride: “Wherever you go, people are intrigued by others who are different. At the same time they’re happy to discover someone is interested in their culture and they like it when you find something in common with them.”

“I found that values like love, kindness, compassion and empathy exist in all cultures of the world and they are universal.”

A desire for knowledge

Making a connection - Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan
Making a connection – Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan. Image source: Yui Pow-Redford

The daughter of a pilot father and a scuba-diving mother, Yui developed a passion for travel from an early age.

Yui did most of her travels while based in London, where she lives with her 44-year-old husband. Born and bred in Singapore, she did her degree in the US, worked in Tokyo for a couple of years, completed her masters in London and has lived there since.

The language consultant, who has knowledge of about 25 languages, says that achieving her feat was a juggling act because she worked throughout the 17 years, which meant she could not be continuously on the road.

Her trips would usually last between three to ten weeks at a time and would span multiple countries. Running her own business meant that she was able to work from any location in the world and plan her work around her travels.

Yui’s first big solo trip covered the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Chinese Silk Road, and the Karakoram Highway through Pakistan before crossing into India.

“I found that values like love, kindness, compassion and empathy exist in all cultures of the world and they are universal.”

Her journey started out of a curiosity to see the world, Yui says.

“It wasn’t for a record or achievement. It was an attempt to get to know the different parts of the world and the cultures better… and it tied in with my language work. It was a good chance to practise it and to see how people on the ground communicate.”

“If you asked me at age 25 or 30 if I planned to [visit every country in the world], I would probably say no. I didn’t even consider it until I reached about 120 countries, then I thought why not try to do it all?” Yui says.

The cultural divide

Family from the Huli tribe - Tari Highlands, Papua New Guinea
Family from the Huli tribe – Tari Highlands, Papua New Guinea. Image source: Yui Pow-Redford

Over the years, Yui says that she has gotten an appreciation of the similarities, differences and patterns between cultures. One of the heartening things she has noticed is that many of the similarities in cultures are related to the human condition.

“Besides needs like clothing, food and shelter, most people want to be loved and they have the capacity to love,” she says.

“Across cultures, people value family and education, they want to better themselves. No matter where they are in life, they want to accomplish something.”

Kindness takes many forms

Photo - Arctic friendships - Spitsbergen, Svalbard
Yui is still in contact with the friends from Sweden, UK and Venezuela that she made on her Arctic trip in Svalbard. Image source: Yui Pow-Redford

Over the years, Yui has experienced countless acts of kindness from locals and strangers.

“It can be as simple as someone giving you something on the house, or going out of their way to help you, or just a friendly smile or greeting. I’m always grateful for those types of actions, but it means a lot more when people don’t expect anything in return.”

Once, she was in (West African country) Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, when she got caught in a precarious situation.

“I was walking on the roadside at night when I got targeted by a group of youths who tried to attack me and steal my valuables.

“I was basically surrounded – there were a few youths behind and in front of me, they were across the road and alongside me trying to make conversation and jostle me. There was no way I could have escaped.”

“But in the nick of time, a car pulled up. A passing couple had noticed what was happening and they shouted at the youths and put a stop to it.”

Yui says the couple then told her to get into their car and took her safely to her next destination.

They wouldn’t allow Yui to pay them or buy them a meal, so all she could do was send them a text to thank them for saving her life.

Yui says: “I couldn’t believe that they would stop for a stranger… they didn’t have to do it. It was one of the incidents that restored my faith in humanity.”

A message of thanks - Freetown, Sierra Leone
A message of thanks. Image source: Yui Pow-Redford

Friendships around the world

It isn’t only the big gestures that Yui remembers. Other instances of kindness that she has received include people sharing what little food they had and even inviting her into their homes!

She recalls one such family in Libya – the father-of-four was her guide in the country – who opened up their simple home to her.

Thanks to the Internet, she is still in touch with the family today – and many others.

One of the family - Tripoli, Libya
The family of Yui’s guide in Tripoli, Libya. Image source: Yui Pow-Redford

“It’s a nice relationship even if it’s just greetings from time to time.”

Yui adds that since the pandemic started and international travel came to a halt, many friends from all over the world have reached out to her.

“I’ve had people from the Carribean Islands send a message to ask ‘How is it over there? Hope you are doing fine’.”

Yui says that she organises her contact list in order of country because of all the friends she has made through her travels! However, she says that not all connections progress into long-term friendships. Sometimes, it’s more of a temporary bond.

Still, she says: “It’s a beautiful thing and that’s something that travel gives you. The chance to connect with others.”

Solo travel has its rewards

Photo - Friendship is international - Caye Caulker, Belize
International friends from Germany, Uruguay and Guyana on a boat off an island in Belize. Image source: Yui Pow-Redford

As a solo female traveller (for most of her journeys), one of Yui’s biggest challenges was safety.

Getting scammed and robbed are a reality that every traveller in the rough has had to deal with; and there were several incidents where Yui had her phone and valuables stolen, despite taking the necessary precautions.

Yui admits: “It does put a dampener on your trip and the views you have of that country. But I’ve got over them by thinking that it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is evil or mean. Many of these scams stem from the hustling they need to do to survive and the way they live their lives. I’d like to believe that this is because they don’t live in the same circumstances as a person from a more affluent country.”

“You have to go with an open mind. If you think that the world is full of evil people, then you will miss out on a lot of the rewarding experiences.”

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Another challenge Yui faced on the road was loneliness.

While her husband accompanied her to places such as South America and Scandinavia – Yui said that she sometimes wished she had someone to share the experience on the road.

She says: “It’s quite lonely to travel by yourself because we all crave human connection. It’s nice to be able to share the experiences like if you see a beautiful sunset or enjoying a nice meal.”

However, Yui says that she overcame her loneliness by reframing her mindset to see solitude as an opportunity to reflect on her life and circumstances and to become more independent.

A lifelong education

In a classroom during a school visit in Banjul, Gambia.
In a classroom during a school visit in Banjul, Gambia. Image source: Yui Pow-Redford

For Yui, travel has given her the best all-rounded education.

“It’s almost like taking an extended course on the ways of the world!” she says, adding that she has learnt about history, geography, sociology, among other things. Being able to experience a country firsthand helps what she reads on the news, like food, religion, sport and politics, to take on a greater significance and helps her relate to those she meets.

Travel has also given her a greater awareness and empathy towards the world.

“I realised that I can make a difference in someone’s life somewhere. And that a very little can go a long way… It doesn’t really cost a lot of money to be kind,” Yui says.

Giving back to the global community

Distributing gifts and supplies – Morondava, Madagascar.
Distributing gifts and supplies – Morondava, Madagascar. Image source: Yui Pow-Redford

It is with this belief that Yui started Goodyus, a non-profit entity that supports charities worldwide through fundraising, volunteering, skills-sharing and donation of materials.

She recalls: “On my first trip to Tanzania, Africa, in 2013 where I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, they suggested for us to bring along some items to give to the porters, the climbing team and the cooks. I packed some spare hats, gloves and T-shirts.”

“When I presented these gifts to the locals after the climb, they were so grateful and happy. It made me think, ‘how many of us have items that are collecting dust in our wardrobes when they could be used by someone else around the world?’”

“Goodyus grew from the belief that every resource – not just material possessions but also time, money and skills – might be able to help somebody in need.”

This year, due to Covid-19, support for Goodyus has mostly been in the form of donations to Covid-relief causes.

Yui says Goodyus has also supported schools by donating digital materials and sharing curriculum and worksheets she designed to help students from emerging countries with their language skills.

Home is where the heart is

Admiring the vastness of the Sahara – Chinguetti, Mauritania in northwestern Africa
Admiring the vastness of the Sahara – Chinguetti, Mauritania in northwestern Africa. Image source: Yui Pow-Redford

Now that Yui has completed her mission, what’s next?

“Besides working on Goodyus, I’m spending a lot of time learning languages because I hope to travel the world through them,” she says, adding that she also devotes more time to her two other passions – music and writing.

And for someone who has been to all the countries in the world, where would she choose to live?

Yui says that travelling and living in all these places has completely altered her concept of home.

“A lot of people think home is a place, but for me I would say home is more of a state of mind. It’s a place where I feel comfortable and happy, a place where I can return to anytime and it’s familiar.”

“Where would I live? I am quite happy where I am now. Or I would say Singapore. I love the food. You can take me out of Asia but you can’t really take Asia out of me! Singapore is somewhere I would always be very happy.”

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Top Image: Yui Pow-Redford