- Luisa Yu has visited all 193 member states of the United Nations.
- Yu told BI she spent 50 years traveling to every country in the world.
- Yu said she worked two jobs at a hospital and was a part-time travel agent to afford her trips.
Luisa Yu is an accomplished woman. At 79, she's skydived in Dubai, climbed the cliffs of Angola, and stargazed on top of a volcano in Vanuatu.
And in November, Yu visited Serbia, completing her five-decade-long mission of visiting every country in the world. But Yu told Business Insider in a phone call that it was anything but easy, as she had to work two to three jobs to finance her trips.
"It was kind of difficult; it was a lot of work. I juggled driving from one hospital to another. But I was young at that time, in my 30s, so I could do it," Yu said, referring to her career in the medical field.
Starting out with $300 in her pocket
Yu was born in the Philippines in 1945 and moved to St. Louis for an exchange program when she was 23 years old. After graduating, Yu said she found a job as a medical technologist and began traveling around the US in her free time, hopping on and off Greyhound buses and visiting 45 states over three years.
"I first traveled as a backpacker, and I only had $300 in my pocket when I first arrived in the US," Yu said.
"I couldn't afford hotels, so I would take the late hours of the bus so I could sleep. In the morning, I would be in another state, and I would go to the bathroom, clean my face, and start sightseeing," she added.
In the 1970s, Yu began to dream of traveling overseas. She took on another job at the hospital and started working part-time as a travel agent to save money for her trips.
With time, and as she worked more, the roadblock to her travel dreams changed: Now, she didn't have enough vacation time to travel as much as she wanted.
"It took me five decades to finish. It's not easy as I worked at the hospital, where it's 24 hours, seven days — you have rotations, and you don't have your own time or schedule," Yu said.
"I was also a single mom, so I had to take care of my daughter and work. Every time I took vacation, I had to make arrangements for somebody to take care of her," she added.
Founding a travel agency
Yu said she eventually felt burned out after working 16-hour shifts at the hospital and earning little commission as a travel agent. She went on to found a travel agency in the late 1970s.
But when the Gulf War began in 1990, Yu said her business took a hit, so she sold it. It turned out to be kismet.
Yu said she took the profits she earned from the sale of her agency and invested it in several properties in Miami. It eventually paid off, Yu said.
"I worked hard and saved money, and I thought I would someday quit my job and do what I enjoy so much. I learned so much being alone and being independent," Yu said.
In recent years, Yu said she's spent most of her time visiting the far-flung corners of the world, where she's camped with the Mundari tribe in South Sudan and lounged at the white-sand beaches of the South Pacific island of Kiribati.
And although it took Yu a long time to complete visiting every UN member state, she said the journey was well worth it.
"It was amazing, and it was a big accomplishment. Age is just a number," Yu said.
"I lived life and wasn't afraid," she added.
Yu was one of 51 recorded travelers who completed a goal of visiting every UN member state in 2023 — the year with the most number of people to have achieved the feat in history, according to the travel site Nomad Mania.
While Yu spent half a century traveling to every UN member state, several people have accomplished the same feat before turning 30 in recent years. In December, a 26-year-old Singaporean completed traveling to all 193 UN member states in five years. And in 2017, a 27-year-old Connecticut native achieved the same feat in just 18 months.