Meet The Stamp Collectors: Becky van Dijk, Founder of We Are Travel Girls

Meet The Stamp Collectors is a series of interviews with travelers who've reached the milestone of visiting 50 countries, hence they've collected 50 passport stamps. This elite group of adventurers share real-life insights about their love of exploring our precious planet. They are voyagers who seek out unique experiences and develop their own perspective through immersive travel experiences. I hope their stories and sage advice will inspire you to push your boundaries and continue to travel near and far. This is not a contest about who's been to the most countries but a reflection on what it's been like to visit at least a quarter of the world's nations.

Becky van Dijk shares experiences from her journeys on her namesake site with city guides and stunning photography. She's also the Founder of female travel brand, We Are Travel Girls which operates one of my favorite Facebook communities with over 10,000 explorer babes. If you haven't joined do so here and send me a message on Facebook so that I can add you! Becky is living her best life part-time in Bali as she builds the We Are Travel Girls travel company by planning events and getaways around the world for like-minded female travelers. The #WeAreTravelGirls Instagram feed is seriously inspiring, check out the account for a serious case of wanderlust.

Becky was born in England and her love for travel started at a very young age as she explored the United Kingdom from Scotland, Wales, to the Dorset Coastline. Her Dutch parents took her to Holland when she was a baby to get in touch with her roots. She was born a traveler and has traveled to 55 countries, many of them twice or more. 

What was the 50th country you visited?

Finland, which is absolutely stunning, especially in the winter in Lapland. I stayed in an igloo and an ice hotel! At the time I didn't actually realize it was my 50th country. Travel is not only about how many countries I have visited, but how much of those countries I have experienced. Over the last year or two, I have gone back to countries that I have been to before. I go to see places again and visit new things that I had not been to before. I recently spent 3 weeks in Cambodia, a country I had first visited 14 years ago. I loved seeing how the country has changed and embraced tourism which is helping many affected by Cambodia's complicated history to find employment. 

Which country cemented your love for travel?

Probably Egypt, which I visited when I was 18 years old. This was around the 10th country I had visited and probably the first that had such an interesting ancient history. At school, I loved to read about classical mythology. Ancient history and art were my favorite subjects. Egypt brought together all of this through impressive architecture built in ways that are still debated to this day, stories of the Gods, Goddesses, and hieroglyphics used to record history. We cruised for several days up the Nile River and visited all temples from Aswan to Luxor. I only missed out on seeing the pyramids, so that's a good reason to go back and explore again! 

Which country left a lasting impression on you?

Every country I have visited has left a lasting impression on me. One that stands out is Vietnam. I visited in 2003 and at the time many of the towns like Hoi An, Dalat, and Mui Ne only had a few backpackers making their way to them so we got to enjoy these places with relatively few tourists. What stood out to me was the people of Vietnam and their relationship with tourism and westerners. It was evident there was still a lot of anger held towards westerners and particularly the U.S. due to the involvement of the U.S. in what they believed was their war. It was interesting to hear about this from locals and learn the history of the country being there, rather than in a textbook or documentary that shows this history from a western perspective. Perhaps things have changed, and I would be very interested to return to the country and see for myself. 

Which country exceeded your expectations?

I've visited Spain at least 20 times as my mother has a property there. Previously I had disregarded the country and didn't really love it. As I have grown older my appreciation for everything Spain has to offer has grown. Stunning cities like Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville offer incredible art and architecture. I love to drive up into the mountains and explore small local Spanish pueblos. There are amazing historical complexes, such as the Alhambra in Granada which is an excellent example of Moroccan influence on this country. Spain has so much to offer its visitors, and I am ashamed that despite all my visits I had not been an advocate of the country until now!

Which was your favorite country for nature? 

Costa Rica is absolutely stunning for nature and there are so many national parks to explore. Manuel Antonio in the south of the country is a great place to see monkeys, sloths, birds, and even jungle crabs! Nearby you can also experience other activities, such as white water rafting, surfing, or having dinner in a converted airplane. 

Which was your favorite country for wine?

My favorite country for wine tasting has to be Argentina. In the northeast, you can visit the Mendoza wine region and bicycle around the wineries. I recommend spending a day or two going from one to the next, enjoying tastings with some Argentinian empanadas on the side! End your day at the Mendoza Chocolate Factory where you can sample dozens of different dips and mezze and also a tasting of several liquors, including absinthe!

Which was your favorite country for food? 

I love Indian food so having it every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in India was a dream for me! You can also experiment with different dishes. It's interesting to see the culinary differences between the north and south of the country. Since India is so large, the way the Indian meals are prepared, the spices used, the way bread is baked differ hugely throughout the sub-continent. 

Which was your favorite country for architecture?

India again! The architecture in India is simply incredible and while I've been to many beautiful countries with beautiful architecture I don't think anything can beat the spectacular palaces and intricate details in India. When I planned my trip I was not especially excited about visiting the Taj Mahal, it hadn't been on my bucket list, but I was absolutely overwhelmed with it when I arrived. Nothing can quite explain the feeling you get when you see this building in real life. 

Is there a country that changed the way you travel? 

I don't think any country has specifically changed the way in which I travel, but with each journey, I have learned more about how to travel better, more responsibly, and safely. I think the media, social media, and blogs have helped us to understand more about ecotourism, responsible tourism, and how to take small steps to improve the way we travel and reduce the negative impact tourism can sometimes bring to a country. 

Which country was completely different than what you expected?

I had expectations that Brazil would be very developed and cosmopolitan, at least in the cities. But I was surprised to find that compared to its other South American neighbors it's a much more closed country with fewer people speaking English. You won't find Starbucks or Zara (which is a good thing by the way), but you also won't be able to replace your Go-Pro if you drop it in the ocean (yes, I did) or your camera lens if you drop it at the top of Sugarloaf (I did that too). There are such high taxes on imports there are very few electronic products and the ones they did have are 3-5 times the prices you will find at home. What this does mean is that local and Brazilian businesses are supported instead of the big corporations which makes it a unique place. 

What is your all-time favorite country? 

I love so many countries, but I really enjoyed Ecuador. If you can spend some time there you get to see so much, and it's a quick hop over to the Galapagos islands. You can enjoy city life in Quito, go whale watching and surfing in Montanita, and get adventurous in Banos. There are so many different adrenaline packed activities to choose from like natural hot springs, exploring the Amazon rainforest, and staying in a jungle lodge. I don't hear that much about Ecuador, there is more press about its close neighbors Peru, Colombia, and Brazil, but Ecuador definitely should not be overlooked!

What country are you eager to get back to?

I visited New Zealand when I was 23 and I absolutely loved the country. I traveled through the north and south of the island for six weeks. I would love to go back, hire a van, and venture around for a few months. There is nothing quite like a sunrise in New Zealand, plus the activities and water sports are some of the best in the world! As a whitewater rafting fan, I need to go back and do that there again. 

Have you had any responsible travel experiences? 

I try to travel responsibly and support eco hotels and businesses that give back to the community. One of my favorite travel experiences was swimming with whale sharks in Holbox, Mexico where the practice is strictly ethical. It's much better to see these incredible animals there than swimming with them in Cebu in the Philippines where the sharks are baited, not protected, and are often injured by the boats and too many tourists circling them. I also absolutely loved the Phnom Tamao Rescue Centre in Cambodia. 

What's your favorite phrase that you've learned through your travels?

"Neuken in de koken" is a Dutch phrase I learned when I was very young. My mother is Dutch and somehow I found out about this phrase which many people in the Netherlands will tell tourists means hello, but in fact, it means sex in the kitchen!

What is your top travel tip?

Don't be scared. Many people are afraid to travel because they think bad things will happen, or they'll be robbed. Many of the bad stories we hear about from people traveling abroad are often things that can happen close to home too. I have never been robbed while traveling abroad, but I have been three times walking home from the tube to my apartment when I lived in Notting Hill, London. 

Is there a book that has greatly influenced you as a traveler? 

When I was 5 years old in 1985 I was taking a train with my mother from London Kings Cross back to our house in Hertfordshire. We sat down and immediately a gentleman opposite us starting chatting with us. I was very young so I don’t remember the conversation in detail but I remember the topic very well. The gentleman told us about the country of Cambodia, the history of the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian genocide between the years of 1975 and 1979. It was very recent history and I could feel the intensity of the conversation as they discussed what had happened in the country. The gentleman then reached into his bag and pulled out a book, The Killing Fields by Christopher Hudson. He told my mother she had to read it and gave her his copy. My mother read the book and it stayed on our bookshelf for many years, she always recommended it to friends so that they could learn about Cambodian history. Years later, before I embarked on a 6 month trip to South East Asia, she gave me that old copy as I was planning to visit Cambodia. Reading The Killing Fields and understanding the countries history before I visited shaped the way that I travel today. I take the time to learn about a place before I arrive and then like to hear about it from the locals when I am there. 

What is your favorite travel quote?

“People take different roads seeking fulfillment's and happiness, just because they’re not on your road doe not mean they are lost.”- His Holiness the Dalai Lama 

What countries are on your bucket list?

Antarctica, Sri Lanka, Panama, the whole South Pacific, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Madagascar. Everywhere is on my list but these places are near the top. I would also like to explore more of Africa, I have only been to Morocco and Tunisia. I will be visiting Malawi next year with We Are Travel Girls, so I hope to add some more stops in Africa and a safari!

What is the most prolific lesson you've learned through travel?

Travel is a privilege and those who can afford to travel and have the ability to do so should be extremely grateful. Having spent a lot of time in Bali I have found so many of the locals have never left the island. For many of them earning $100 a month is a good wage, but not enough to travel overseas. The same goes for many other countries, where people do not have the means or the opportunity to travel, even if they want to. For those of us who can travel, we should do so responsibly, respect the countries that we visit and appreciate every moment we have in them. When things go wrong, or something isn't as easy as it is back home, I try to always remember what an honor it is that I am able to travel and see the world. 

What keeps you motivated to continue traveling? 

I don't feel that I need the motivation to continue to travel! I have a list of countries, places, activities all over the world that I want to experience and I am constantly adding new things. I absolutely love to travel and cannot imagine not seeing new places, and going back to countries that I have visited before. The only motivation that is required is for me to get on the plane, as I really am scared of flying! But the fear would never stop me from going out and seeing the world. There is so much to learn from travel and experiencing other cultures. I love that with every trip I take I come back with new stories, new learnings, and new friends. 

Where are you headed next?

I am headed to Japan in November for the first time! I'll be hosting a weeklong photography workshop with Lisa from The Wandering Lens. I am so excited to head to all of Japan's temples and the bamboo forests to photograph them with a group of like-minded travel lovers!

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