Meet The Stamp Collectors: Sarah Goes Global

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.

Sarah is on a mission to reach 100 countries by the time she turns 40 and she is well on her way. Currently, at age 34 she has made it to 84 countries and all 7 continents! She shares her journey across the globe on Instagram @SarahGoesGlobal. It has been a lifelong dream of hers to see the world–she's been an avid traveler since she was 15! She reached her first goal of visiting all continents before she turned 30 and decided to set a new goal for the upcoming decade. She's not a travel blogger or famous Instagrammer, she simply aspires to inspire regular people to explore the planet. She's based in Texas and we she's not traveling abroad she can be found discovering the beauty of America. Most recently she went on a trip to Vermont to see the changing fall foliage.

What was the first country you visited outside of your birth nation?

I grew up very close to the border with Mexico, so it was Mexico for sure. However, the first country I visited that I couldn't drive to was Germany, and the trip was life-changing. I was 15 and I spent the summer outside Frankfurt living with my aunt, uncle, and two cousins. I was such a little travel nerd! I kept a notebook where I wrote down everything that was different from Texas–even small things like how the light switches and toilets worked. I was fascinated by how different life was for my cousins and that really developed a thirst in me for seeing the rest of the world.

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

"Fernweh" which is the German word for away sickness, basically the opposite of homesick. I loved learning this word because it really described how I feel a lot of the time, anxious and a little bit sick to get on to my next journey!

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

I like to pick up books that are relevant to the countries I'm in. On my recent trip to Central Asia, I read The Silk Roads: A New History of the World. It was a great primer for my visit and also really puts what we learn in the western world into perspective. While Europe was in the dark ages, astronomers and scientists in Central Asia and the Middle East were making discoveries about the earth and the solar system centuries before the western world! I also read three or four different travel novels on India and then spent a month backpacking there.

What is your favorite travel quote?

"The only true failure would be not to explore at all." - Ernest Shackelton. This is such a moving quote from him, as he's known for leading the most successful failed expedition ever. It just goes to show that as long as you're living life and pushing yourself forward, there is no such thing as failure.

Which country cemented your love for travel?

My first true immersion into another culture was spending the summer living with my family in Germany when I was 15. School in Germany goes longer through the summer than school in Texas did, so I woke up with my cousins and went to school with them every day. I met their friends, went to parties, went to all the summer street festivals, and thoroughly enjoyed that summer. I also wrote down all the words I learned in German. That summer was so enlightening and formative at such a young age, that it really set me off on a lifelong quest to see the whole world.

Which was your favorite country for architecture?

I love Persian architecture. While I saw some amazing things in Iran, the most impressive Persian architecture I have seen is actually in Uzbekistan as many artisans from Isfahan, Iran came to Uzbekistan to build. Mosques and mausoleums glitter in intricate patterns in all shades of turquoise and gold. The Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum of Timur has the most incredible interior I have ever seen. It's many times more impressive than the Taj Majal. The lower part of the walls is covered with translucent, light green onyx slabs. The upper parts are carved into intricate, geometric niches, which are then covered with raised papier mache reliefs, and painted in gold leaf, navy, and turquoise designs. Honestly, words cannot do it justice, it's breathtaking.

Which country disappointed you?

I'm sure I will be vilified for this answer, but New Zealand. I had such high expectations that I don't think the country really got a fair shake. Throw in some bad weather on the west coast of the southern island that ruined my bucket list dream of hiking on a glacier and you get slight disappointment. That being said, we still had a very good time partaking in skydiving, sailing, wine tasting, etc. I will certainly go back someday and give it another chance.

Which was your favorite country for food?

This is a cruel question for anyone who loves traveling and food! I can't pick just one, but I will limit it to two–Vietnam and Italy. Vietnamese food is extremely flavorful while also still being light so you can eat a LOT! I loved the different broths scented with lemongrass, fried spring rolls, and Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk. 

Italy is quite an obvious choice for best food in the world, but it's just plain true. Spend a week in Tuscany eating and drinking wine, and tell me you're not in heaven! However, my all-time favorite dish in Italy is a staple of Romebucatini amatriciana. The simple dish consists of handmade bucatini (similar to thick spaghetti but hollow inside), a spicy tomato sauce, pecorino cheese, and most importantly, flecks of tasty guanciale. 

Which was your favorite country for nature?

The world is such a beautiful place! We have so much in the way of nature here in the United States of America. However, two places stick out in my mind. Turks & Caicos, and Botswana. I am a beach lover and to me, the color of the water is what sets a place apart. I'm always looking for brilliant, clear, turquoise colors because they make me so happy! Turks & Caicos delivers on that promise time after time after time. I just haven't seen it better anywhere else. 

As for Botswana, I didn't go there expecting to see a beautiful countryside, but I was pleasantly surprised. While exploring the Okavango Delta we had a guide who took us in a long thin boat that could go through small channels in the reeds. Everything was so green from the lily pads and reeds, to the little islands that we'd stop on and look around for wildlife. While in Botswana, we also visited Chobe National Park. It was the end of rainy season so everything was a lush green, and because the park is so well protected, there were hundreds and hundreds of giraffes, elephants, hippos, birds, baboons, you name it. The scene was like something out of a storybook!

Which country left a lasting impression on you?

My trip to Iran in 2015 was an amazing experience and definitely left an impression. Though American citizens must be on group tours, I felt I was able to get away enough to meet some locals and get a feel for the culture. In getting out and meeting people, I was amazed at how friendly everyone was. Many people introduced themselves to us and told us how much they love the US, that they know the people are great, etc. Many invited us home for tea, or out for lunch. I met a couple who was so interested in learning more about us that they took a day off work to treat me and a friend to lunch! I am still in touch with them and we chat every month or so. 

I was reading an amazing book, Understanding Iran by William R. Polk, that included a history that I had never been taught in school. It shed light on the reasons for the revolution and the current regime's deep distrust of the United States. I met a couple who were in the wealthier set of Iranians. Hearing their family stories through the revolution and the corruption of Ahmadinejad was fascinating. Through them, I also got to see hope for the country through their patronage of the arts and learning about the burgeoning entrepreneurial scene in Tehran. I left with a perspective on Iran that many Americans will never have because of the way our governments interact. Both of our countries have committed some inexcusable atrocities, but the people of both countries are inherently good, and that is what I choose to focus on.

Which country exceeded your expectations?

Not technically a country, but Antarctica! I thought the trip would be neat, but I really booked it because of my goal rather than because of a lifelong desire to go. My husband and I went on a trip to The Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and Antarctica just before I turned 30 so I could hit my goal of all 7 continents! The first time we stepped off a zodiac onto a beach covered with penguins and seals, I about died! As we were pulling to shore, penguins were jumping out of the water on both sides trying to get a glimpse of us. When we walked on the beach it was sideways snowing and so windy that penguins were toppling over. Seals were laying around looking disapprovingly of us. It was such a surreal scene. Other highlights of the trip included visiting South Georgia Island and a colony of 500,000 penguins, as well as visiting Ernest Shackelton's grave, seeing kilometers long icebergs at sea, whales, visiting a research base, and experiencing the snowy whiteness of Antarctica. 

What country are you eager to get back to?

I visit Turks & Caicos or other countries in the Caribbean a lot for long weekend getaways. I also would love to go back to Thailand with my husband as he's never been.

Which country would you not go back to?

I probably would not go back to Serbia. It is a relatively small country and when there I was able to enjoy Belgrade as well as the beautiful country in the Uvac Nature Reserve in western Serbia. But I visited Bosnia & Herzegovina afterward and fell in love with it. I learned a lot more about the wars in the early 90s and though there were wrongs on all sides, it is apparent that Serbia was the main aggressor. 

What keeps you motivated to continue traveling?

Aside from the fact that I have followers on Instagram expecting me to reach 100 countries? I really feel that sense of fernweh. I have a deep desire to continue to see new countries, experience other cultures, learn about new ways to approach life, and have fun while doing so!

What is your top travel tip?

If you want to be serious about traveling and learning about the world avoid big, package group tours. Group tours are designed to be as easy as possible to move non-experienced travelers from place to place. They are not designed to get the best out of a country, to give you authentic experiences, or to cater to your specific interests. 

Going at it alone or with friends makes for much more of an adventure. I still love to tell the stories from my trip to India when my friend and I would hop a train to a new town and figure out where to stay by calling hotels from the train station. What we lacked in certainty, we gained double in flexibility and fun. 

Planning your own routes, booking your own hotels, and finding local guides for day trips or city tours is still very satisfying. This way you ensure you get the best guides, find the most interesting hotels or Airbnbs for your money, and that you are visiting the destinations particular to your interests. 

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

In traveling around the world I have learned a lot about other cultures but I have learned more about myself. I've learned that I have grit, am a problem solver, and like to put myself in front of challenges to continue to learn and grow. Learning this about myself has given me the courage to be an entrepreneur and step off-the-beaten-path in my life at home. So the lesson is, at its core, traveling is really a journey of self-discovery.

What countries are on your bucket list?

Japan, especially Kyoto and the outlying islands, Croatia where I am planning to rent a boat and sail around the Dalmatian Islands, Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni is on my bucket list, St. Lucia ideally in an open-air villa overlooking the bay, Sri Lanka for culture, natural beauty, and spicy food. I want to go to Kerala and stay on a houseboat. South Africa for wine, Madagascar for interesting wildlife and scenery, The Maldives to stay in an overwater bungalow. China as I still haven't been because I want to go for 1-2 months! Ireland where I'd like to do a hike from the East to West coast. Bhutan, as who wouldn't want to visit a country that measures Gross National Happiness

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