Meet The Stamp Collectors: Jill of Reading the Book

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.

Jill is a UK native who had always wanted to travel. She dreamed of faraway places ever since she was old enough to spend hours poring over atlases. Her first realization of the beauty of travel is when she went to France when she was 8 and thought it was the most exotic place. She's pursued her dreams to the edges of the world and has explored 59 countries! Jill is passionate about exploring other countries and cultures and shares her experiences on Reading the Book

What was the 50th country you visited?

Country number 50 was Malaysia, which I reached in April last year. It was definitely a milestone, but was overshadowed by circumstances–I tore a muscle, couldn't spend 3 days walking around Kuala Lumpur as I'd planned and ended up buying a last minute plane ticket to Sandakan in Malaysia Borneo to visit orangutans instead. 

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

I have always loved reading about other cultures, and admit to being a huge fan of Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner. His novels about life in Afghanistan have really opened my eyes to Islamic cultures in general and given me a passion for this part of the world. 

What is your favorite travel quote?

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page" by Saint Augustine. It's the inspiration for my blog name, Reading the Book, and sums up travel for me.

Which country cemented your love for travel?

I've always looked farther afield than Europe, but France was the country I first spent a significant amount of time in and was where I realized how much I loved exploring landscapes and cultures different from my own. In particular, I visited and later lived in the south of France, where the culture is Mediterranean and the landscape is white cliffs, blue seas, and vineyards everywhere–which couldn’t be more different from the UK! Learning to become comfortable in another country and language really set me up for exploring further afield as I got older. I still feel at home whenever I go back to France.

Which was your favorite country for food? 

That would have to be India. Growing up in the UK, I've always eaten Indian food, and it's heaven to be able to eat it every day! I'm also a pescatarian, and so many Indians are vegetarian that it's a great country to eat out in; there are always dozens of menu choices for me instead of the 2 or 3 I usually get at home.

Which was your favorite country for architecture? 

I love Islamic architecture, so any country in that culture. But I was really struck by Oman, and particularly Muscat, in terms of how they have managed to develop and still maintain a very local style of architecture. All new building in Muscat must be built using Islamic architectural features in some way. The result is a very modern city but one which doesn't lose its identity in the process, which I loved. 

Which was your favorite country for nature? 

I absolutely love the desert. I've always loved wide open spaces and big skies, and deserts combine that with the exoticism of sunshine and sand dunes! My two favorite countries for deserts have definitely been Namibia and Oman, and I couldn't choose between them. I've seen some incredible landscapes in both.

Which country left a lasting impression on you? 

One country that left a lasting impression was Moldova. I didn't really have any particular expectations before I went, but the thing I found the most remarkable was the almost complete lack of tourists. It meant that the country is still very unspoiled, which isn't great for the residents–it's underdeveloped and struggling financially–but was an incredible experience as a visitor. It reminded me of Russia in the mid-90s. If you want a European trip with a difference, Moldova is definitely somewhere I'd recommend.

What is your all-time favorite country?

My all-time favorite country, without a doubt, is India. I just love the color, the vibrancy, and the unapologetic nature of India. It feels like there is no pretense, people are who they are and have no intention of trying to be anything else. It's dirty, noisy, and chaotic, but it has incredible food, lovely people, and such a rich history. It's the one place I keep going back to. I've been twice so far (once to the south, once to the north) and have already booked to go there again next spring and explore Mumbai and Gujarat, but there are still more parts of the country I would like to explore. There's such variation between the different regions of the country, differences in language, food, and culture, that I don't think I could ever see enough of it.

What is your top travel tip?

Plan to the maximum, especially if you're on a short trip, but then allow yourself to be flexible when you get there. I spend loads of time planning the perfect itinerary then generally abandon it as soon as I arrive! But it means I've prioritized sights in my head, and have researched where things are in relation to each other, which takes a lot of the pressure off me when I'm actually on the trip.

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

People are the same the world over. The more countries I visit, the smaller the world becomes to me–but in many respects, that's a great thing, because it has enabled me to really learn how alike we all are. Once you get past the stereotype of the Indian beggar or the African tribeswoman, once you look into their faces, you realize that they have many of the same needs and experiences that you do. The other thing that always strikes me is how interconnected the world is commercial: you see many of the same brands and stores in even the poorest country because surprise–the people there have the same wants and aspirations that we do. It takes away some of the exoticism, but it's experiencing reality, and that's what traveling is all about for me.

What keeps you motivated to continue traveling?

There will never be enough days in my life to see everything I want to see–especially with the need to earn money in between trips! I would dearly love to see every part of this world: every mountain, every desert, every country, and culture. I don't think we should ever stop learning about each other, and every nationality has different things to teach us; the more places I visit, the more I find it shapes how I live my own life and the outlook I have on the world. Travelling is addictive; once you've seen one place, you just want to keep going!

What countries are on your bucket list?

My bucket list is absolutely enormous! I like to try and vary the regions I go to, and it's been a while since I've been to Latin America so there are a few on there: Belize, Nicaragua, Panama, and Ecuador are high on the list. I really want to get to West Africa too: Benin/Togo or Senegal.

Where are you headed next?

I'm just about to head off to Central Asia: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. I have wanted to go to Uzbekistan in particular for many, many years, so this is a real bucket list trip. It's back to Islamic culture, which I love, but I'm excited to see what it's like outside of the Middle East. I can't wait to see the Silk Road cities–Samarkand, Bukhara, and Turkestan–as well as the mountains and nomadic life in Kyrgyzstan.

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