Meet The Stamp Collectors: Jess of Expat Getaways

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. If you're interested in being featured in the series please fill out this form.

Jess of Expat Giveaways is an expat who's been living in Hong Kong since 2015 and jets off to travel the world whenever she gets the chance. Prior to moving to Asia, she traveled all over her home country of Australia as a tour guide which took her too less-traveled destinations such as the East Coast and the Outback. Jess uses her expertise as a tour guide to curate itineraries for quick getaways and long weekends and shares travel tips and adventures from the 51 countries she's visited on Her first international trip from Australia was to the USA when she was 11. The trip left her with a desire to see more of the world, and a tolerance for long flights!

What was the 50th country you visited?

My husband and I did a big trip to Africa earlier this year. We crossed into Zambia at Victoria Falls which technically was my 50th country. But, I am kind of not counting it because we just crossed over for the day to see Victoria Falls. The country I’m really counting as the big 5-0 is Botswana and it was simply magical. We started with two days camping in Chobe National Park surrounded by elephants, giraffes, lions, hippos, and leopards and then flew into a remote safari lodge in the Okavango Delta. Botswana should be on everyone’s bucket list!

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

In Costa Rica, the phrase you hear all the time is pura vida–pure life. Costa Rica is all about the beaches and the rainforest– it truly embodies the pure life. Living a pura vida is something I’ve tried to do throughout my own my travels and daily life. 

What is your favorite travel quote?

"The world is a book and those who don't travel read only one page." - St. Augustine

Which country cemented your love for travel?

I studied abroad in Ecuador and made the most of my trip by backpacking through Mexico, Cuba, and Costa Rica on the way and finished up traveling around Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. The trip transformed me! It was the adventure of a lifetime and I made every moment count. There was volunteering at a sea turtle sanctuary, scuba diving with sea lions, floating in a mud volcano, and spending a few nights in the Amazon jungle. I fell in love with all things Latin American and the luxury that is being able to travel and experience the world. Since then I’ve been back to explore more of South America and the continent will always hold a little piece of my heart. 

Which was your favorite country for food?

If I had to pick just one, probably tapas in San Sebastian. But I love all food. There is no better way to start to understand a culture than to eat like a local. If a destination is famed for its food, I’ll book a food tour for my first day in town. I’ve now taken food tours in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Spain, India and of course here in Hong Kong where I now lead food tours myself.

Which was your favorite country for nature? 

For nature, you can’t beat Australia. Before I moved to Hong Kong I lived in Cairns in Far North Queensland, where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef. It was the perfect place to get back to nature. If you’ve had enough of the green, jump on a plane and in a few hours you’ll be in the deserts of the red center or exploring the mountains of the Great Dividing Range. That along with the best beaches in the world and you can’t go wrong. 

What country are you eager to get back to?

I can’t wait to get back to Myanmar. I spent a week exploring Yangon, Inle Lake, and Bagan and it was one of the most spectacular countries I’ve ever visited with the friendliest locals around. In a week I just got a taste of what was on offer and now I know there is so much more to explore.

Which country left a lasting impression on you?

I’ve just come back from Laos and absolutely loved it. I spent some time working in South East Asia including Laos about five years ago and it was one place I always wanted to get back to. I was so pleased to see that not too much has changed in the past five years, unlike other destinations that I’ve revisited. What gets me is how lovely and friendly the people are, despite being some of the poorest in the world.

Which country exceeded your expectations?

Portugal has got to be the most surprising country I’ve visited. I was expecting it to be very similar to Spain and after spending quite a bit of time in Spain I thought I knew what I was heading into. I wasn’t expecting it to be so unique, the food so fabulous, and the scenery so stunning. I spent ten days driving around the countryside with my husband. We ate in Michelin starred restaurants, relaxed on beaches in the Algarve, and drank so much good wine. If I had to pack up and move somewhere tomorrow, Portugal would be pretty high on the list!

Which was your favorite country for architecture? 

My adopted home, Hong Kong is great for architecture. The skyline is ever changing and spectacular. There are iconic skyscrapers like the Bank of China tower, ICC, and IFC that dominate the skyline, but my favorite is the HSBC building with its amazing feng shui. Stand in the atrium of the building and feel the money making energy around you! 

Which country was completely different than what you expected? 

I traveled to the Guangxi province in China a few years ago and it was nothing like what I expected. When I think of China I think of big cities, pollution, and chaos. The Guangxi province was the complete antidote to all that. Stunning rivers running through limestone karsts, rice-terraced mountains shrouded in mist, and a lively city scene.

Have you had any responsible travel experiences? 

I try and support responsible tourism projects wherever I go. It could be as simple as visiting training restaurants like Koto in Hanoi which trains street kids with genuine hospitality skills or purchasing handicrafts from fair trade shops so the profits go back to the community. One memorable trip was to a little village called Chi Phat in Cambodia. The whole village has been set up around community-based eco-tourism. Chi Phat is located in some of the most pristine rainforest left in Cambodia and instead of logging, the villagers have turned to tourism to make a regular income. It was a privilege to visit and gain an insight into traditional Cambodian life. 

What keeps you motivated to continue traveling? 

Hong Kong is an incredibly small place. A huge city, but a small, densely populated metropolis. As much as I love my life here, I love having the opportunity to be somewhere else after just a few hours flight. I travel to swim at beautiful beaches, explore tropical rainforests, breath fresh mountain air, and eat exotic foods. The more you travel, the more you understand how much more there is to see and I want to see it all!

What is your top travel tip?

Pack your suitcase, take everything out and repack half. Now double your budget and you are set to go. 

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

Traveling has taught me how much more there is to learn. The saying goes that you don’t know what you don’t know. Traveling is like going down the rabbit’s warren. Everything you’ve learned is turned on its head. There is so much more to the story than the one you learned in your history classes. There are so many stories you’ve never heard of. 

What countries are on your bucket list?

My ultimate bucket list destination is Antarctica. I had the dream to get to Antarctica, my seventh continent, by the time I was 30. Unfortunately, life got in the way and I didn’t quite make it in time. It is still on the list and who knows, maybe I’ll get there by 40?

Where are you headed next? 

My next trip is to Japan with some friends. The current plan is to fly to Fukuoka and spend 5 days driving around Kyushu Island. We’ll stay in traditional ryokans, relax in onsen hot springs and eat good Japanese food. 

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