Meet The Stamp Collectors: Hannah Loeb

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.

Hannah Loeb is a New Yorker, but don't confuse her with the delusional Hannah Horvath from Girls. Unlike the sitcom character, our New Yorker Hannah seriously has her shit together. She just finished her Master's degree program in Spain and has managed to visit 54 countries, including 32 in Europe where she's lived the last few years. After completing her Master's degree Hannah recently moved back to New York City, but she's already dreaming up her next adventure. After all, she's been traveling since before she could walk. Her travel ethos is simple, "I often find myself booking trips without thinking about it, and figuring it out along the way. I don't like to plan too much, so usually, I just buy the flight and see what happens!" 

What was the first country you visited? 

Saba, when I was 3 months old. My parents definitely shared their travel bug with me. My mom has been to over 50 countries too! Obviously, I don't remember this Carribean island at all but it's clear that traveling is in my blood.

What's your favorite phrase in another language you've learned through your travels? 

No pasa nada which literally means nothing is wrong in Spanish but is used as an expression similar to no worries. After spending the last three years in Spain, this has become the most important phrase to know in Spanish. The lifestyle in Spain perfectly fits with this phrase, if things don't work perfectly, no pasa nada, if you miss the bus, no pasa nada!

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

I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas while traveling through Thailand. It's a crazy book! The whole time you're following these men on their bizarre road trip. I took away just how strange life can be, and how many ways there are to live life. The world is crazy, but so are we.

What is your favorite travel quote?

Same, same but different. Of course, I learned it in Thailand. And even though it might be super basic, it couldn't be truer. Every country you visit, every person you meet, every time you go back home, everything stays the same, yet everything is totally different.

What was the 50th country you visited? 

I think my 50th country was Bulgaria. Honestly, I didn't even notice. I've never focused too much on being a traveler, its just come to me when I have some time and some extra money to spend seeing the world. 

Which country cemented your love for travel? 

The turning point for me was visiting Argentina. I went there for New Year's Eve with my brother in 2012 and I knew that from that adventure on, I had to see more of the world. Soon after I visited more of South America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and new parts of North America. It was my first long backpacking trip, looking back it was only 3 weeks, but I had my first experiences booking buses and trains last minute, making hostel buddies, and even has a few mishaps along the way. I got stopped at the Uruguayan border for having a worn out passport and having to go to the U.S. embassy. 

Which was your favorite country for nature? 

There are so many beautiful places in the world, but I must say the U.S. has some of the most amazing nature spots in the world. From the northeastern hills to the wide open sky of the west, to the clear blue waters of Florida, there is so much to see in my home country! Everyone should spend a few days in Montana, hiking up mountains and checking out Yellowstone. The great outdoors in the U.S. really doesn't disappoint.

Which was your favorite country for food?

Peru! I spent 7 months there in 2012, and I ate more than I can even remember. The many different landscapes produce such a mix of foods. Ranging from fresh fish dishes like ceviche, sweet maracuya fruits from the Amazon rainforest, alpaca meat, and multicolored potatoes from the highlands. I definitely fell in love with ceviche by the beach, lomo saltado from my favorite hole-in-the-wall lunch spot, and a good strong pisco sour.

Which was your favorite country for architecture?

Latvia really caught me off guard in Riga with the Art Nouveau architecture. Did you know Riga has the most Art Nouveau buildings in the world? I fell in love with the decadent facades intricate details and bright colors that can be found all over the city. Since one-third of the building in Riga are Art Nouveau, you never know what you'll find around the corner while exploring.

Which was your favorite country for meeting locals? 

Turkey was a country where I met many genuine people. Locals there were so kind and helpful. It wasn't easy to get around a huge city like Istanbul, but with help from the locals, we navigated our way. Not only did we get help with directions but locals showed us the best places for baklava and where to get a great loaf of bread. They helped us determine which markets were a rip-off and which ones were where you could find great gifts. Turkey has a lot of beautiful sights, and beautiful, kind people as well.

Which country left a lasting impression on you? 

One country that really affected me, and I think kickstarted my travel bug in my teens and 20s was Israel. In 2011 I spent a few nights of Hannukah and the New Year in this beautiful country. The heritage and culture there are so strong, so the entire time was just magical.

Is there a country that changed the way you travel?

Thailand! I went there with a rolling suitcase! Can you imagine dragging that thing around the dirt roads on Kho Phi Phi? I broke 2 wheels while trying to pull my suitcase up the long hostel stairs and lifting it over my head in the waters of Railay Beach to hop on a ferry. After that trip, I definitely realized it was time to get serious and buy a backpack meant for traveling. I learned how to pack well and that you really only need 1 or 2 pairs of shoes.

Which country was completely different than what you expected?

There are two countries which really blew me away. In Romania, I met some of the nicest people and had a blast in Bucharest, and explored some darling mountain towns. The other was Montenegro, where I recently went with a friend on our way to Croatia. Montenegro has gorgeous beaches, delicious fresh seafood, and awesome walled towns, all for a fraction of the price that you pay in Croatia.

Which country exceeded your expectations?

Singapore was completely not what I was expecting it to be. I went there in 2014 and happened to meet up with some friends of my brother, who took us all around the city and showed us the markets full of mouth-watering food. We ate so well there and tried stingray cooked in a banana leaf, both black and white carrot cake (which is not made of carrot at all), and creamy spicy laksa soup. We also visited the Orchid Garden which is not to be missed and many ornate temples. Singapore was awesome! 

Which country disappointed you?

I was really disappointed in India. Everyone tells you that India is absolutely breathtaking, however, after 2 weeks there, in Mumbai, Agra, Jaipur, and Delhi, I did not feel the same. I would love to go back to India and see other parts of the country because I feel I definitely did not see India the way I should have. 

In which country do you feel the most yourself?

My second home is definitely Spain. I've seen almost the entire country, and I feel really connected with the people and the culture. I learned to speak fluent Spanish in my time there, and I'm really grateful for that. I have some of the most amazing friends from Spain, and I thank them for accepting me into their culture as if I was a Spaniard myself. I'll definitely be back in Madrid soon.

What country are you eager to get back to? 

I really want to go back to Colombia and explore more than just Bogota this time. There is so much more to see and unfortunately, I only got to spent 4 nights in the capital for a conference. So I'd love to see what the rest of the country has to offer.

What is your all-time favorite country? 

I don't know if it's possible to answer this question! I loved so many places. One that gets a serious nod from me is Portugal. The people are kind, the food is amazing, there is so much to do and see. And the men are really really attractive, which always helps.

What is your top travel tip?

Be nice to everyone, eat anything, and do everything! You never know when you'll have a chance to take a day trip with a local to an island off the coast of Finland, or if the travel agent who you helped write something in English will magically find an extra set of tickets on the full bus you needed to get on tomorrow.

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

Don't take life too seriously! You don't get to redo it, so have fun while you can. Even if you spend all your money on a trip, you'll be able to make more money, but you will not be able to make the same memories which you made traveling. It's important not to waste your life doing things you don't enjoy, which is different for everyone. Life is short, have fun!

What keeps you motivated to continue traveling?

When I was 18 I promised myself that I would spend New Year's Eve in a different place every year. So far, I've held up to my promise and I've been in Jerusalem, Buenos Aires, Houston, Budapest, Brussels, and New York City. I love going out and meeting new people, making new friends, learning new words, and just the overall adrenaline rush of hopping on a plane, train, or bus. I travel because it makes me happy!

What countries are on your bucket list?

I'd love to go to Australia, there is so much to see there so I'm planning on going when I have a lot of time. Currently, my brother and I are planning to go to the -stan countries next summer, which I am super pumped for. My brother is the best travel buddy, we both have the same travel style, sense of adventure, and passion for the unknown! I also really want to go to Ireland, Jordan, Mexico, and Chile. 

Where are you headed next? 

Now that I am back home I want to see more of the U.S. I am planning to drive down to Atlanta with my best friend and stop in D.C., Richmond, Charleston, and as many beaches as we can along the way! I love traveling around the US. It's so diverse and full of kind, genuine, and interesting people. Last summer I drove cross-country with my brother from Connecticut to Seattle, we were in complete awe of the beautiful landscapes!

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