Meet The Stamp Collectors: Natasha of Life in Miniature Pictures

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.

Natasha of My Life in Miniature Pictures is from the United Kingdom but is living in Sydney, Australia working in International Development, most recently managing youth projects in Africa and Asia. She's also lived in India, China, Mali, Zambia, and France. She's explored 65 countries; the 50th country she visited was Brazil where she went on her honeymoon and spent New Years Eve 2015 celebrating Réveillonon Copacabana beach with 2 million people dressed in white. 

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

It was the USA when I was 5 years old. My Aunt had moved there a couple of years earlier and we visited for her wedding. I remember it fondly–being a flower girl, the hot weather, eating lots of different foods, and going to Disney Land! I was lucky that we then visited the USA every couple of years throughout my childhood to see my family there. However, other than France and Belgium I didn't go to any other countries until I was about 18. 

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

Not really a phrase, but I love that Natasha means 'I'm thankful' in Bemba, a Zambian language and can be used to say thank you. I had no idea until a few months before I moved to Zambia and my Zambian colleague asked me what my name meant in English and explained how he expected me to be of Zambian origin because of my name. It really helped strike up conversations in Zambia, as when people found out it was my name they couldn't believe a Muzungu had it as their actual name and I often had to get my passport out to prove it! In fact, people in a lot of countries I've visited tell me that my name is from their country–such as India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Russia, and Malaysia. So to me, it kind of feels like I was destined to travel the world. Unfortunately, it does have negative connotations in Turkey.

What is your favorite travel quote?

One would definitely be "When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable" by Clifton Fadiman or "Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life" by Michael Palin.

Which country cemented your love for travel?

My love for travel existed before I even had the opportunity to travel. I had this innate desire to see the world, even from a young age and wanted to go to places that were completely different from the UK. I remember a girl from school going on holiday to Malaysia, and even though I had no idea where it was or what there was to see or do there, I knew I wanted to go and see it for myself. Egypt was the place that cemented my love for travel, as it was the first place I went to that wasn't in North America or Europe. Feeling comfortable and excited by somewhere that was so different from home or anywhere I'd been spurred on that desire to see more of the world. 

Which was your favorite country for food? 

As a vegetarian, it definitely has to be India! Coming from the UK, I grew up eating Indian food anyway, so I was used to the flavors, but the food there is on another level. I remember eating my first curry in India and thinking it was the most delicious thing I'd ever eaten. Although I wasn't vegetarian on my first two visits to India, I tended to stick to paneer (Indian cheese) curries anyway, as I love paneer and there was so much more choice compared to the two standard paneer curries you get in the UK, saag and mutter. My favorite is paneer makhani. Other than India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, there are a few other places that are also heaven for vegetarians–Cusco in Peru, Chiang Mai in Thailand, and Singapore. 

Which was your favorite country for architecture? 

I'm a really big fan of Islamic architecture because I adore the geometric and interlace patterned ornaments. It's hard for me to pick a country as there are so many great examples around the world. I love the architecture of Istanbul, the Islamic architecture in India in places like Jaipur and Agra like The Taj Mahal and also Southern Spain for the Moorish Architecture there in places like Granada, Cordoba, and Seville. 

If you also love Islamic architectures check out these 75 incredible Morroccan doors.

Which was your favorite country for nature?

Malaysia, specifically Borneo. When it comes to nature, I don't think I've been anywhere in the world that is so diverse. It has the oldest rainforest in the world, the highest diversity of flora, and the highest peak in Southeast Asia. It also has a number of endemic species which can only be found there, such as orangutans, proboscis monkeys, and Bornean gibbons, which I was lucky enough to see in the wild, as well as different birds and frogs. It has so many incredible national parks, which you can visit in the day and explore, but you can also stay overnight at some and take guided tours to spot frogs and other nocturnal creatures. It also has incredible islands with pristine white beaches with the clearest blue sea and one of the top dive sites in the world, Sipadan, where the underwater diversity is just as exceptional as that above water. 

Which was your favorite country due to local people?

From the moment I arrived in Zambia, I felt comfortable and at home, and that's due to Zambians being the friendliest and most welcoming people I've ever met. Like much of Africa, as you walk down the street, strangers will greet you on the street and ask you how you and your family are. You cannot simply say hello or hi to someone, you must also ask how are you and respond to this question. You will often find yourself making new friends and exchanging contact details. Zambians have a great sense of humor and a culture of teasing and joking between the various different tribes. 

Which country left a lasting impression on you?

Other than the countries that I’ve lived in, it has to be Croatia. I first visited Croatia in 2010 and fell head over heels in love. When visiting Dubrovnik I thought that it was the most magical and beautiful city I had been to and declared there and then that it was where I wanted to get married. So in July 2015, we got married in Sponza Palace in the beautiful old town of Dubrovnik and danced the night away under the stars, overlooking the Adriatic Sea and Dubrovnik’s famous walls with all of our friends and family. 

Is there a country that changed the way you travel?

Australia, in two ways. Firstly, when we explored the East Coast in 2011 we hired and campervan, and when we explored Western Australia this year, we bought a van, kitted it out, used it, and then sold it. We’ve not used campervans anywhere else on our travels, but it got us into the van life and we plan to do the same when we visit New Zealand and would like to maybe buy another van and kit it out here in Melbourne to explore Australia some more. The other way is housesitting. Since arriving in Australia in June we've been housesitting until we get ourselves sorted with jobs and a home of our own. It’s been a great way to explore the different ‘burbs of Melbourne, save money, and have the added perk of a pet! We'll definitely look into housesitting when traveling to different places in the future. 

Which country exceeded your expectations?

Mali is the country that most exceeded my expectations. I didn't have low expectations before going it's more that it’s a country I really hadn’t heard a lot about before going. Although everyone has heard of Timbuktu, very few know that it’s an actual place and that it’s in Mali. One of my favorite places in Mali was Le Grand Marche in Bamako, the capital city, where I lived for a few months in 2011. Visiting a market like this gives you the opportunity to observe people in their daily routine, see what they eat, how they dress, how they buy and sell, etc.  I spent many a Friday and Saturday at the market and got to know some of the vendors quite well. Without a doubt, my favorite experience was being at the market at Friday during lunchtime when the call to prayer from the nearby Grand mosque would begin and the vendors would all leave their stalls unattended, perform wudu, and pray together in the middle of the market. 

Which country was completely different than what you expected? 

Montenegro, because I really didn’t know what to expect and hadn’t given it much thought. We had planned a week-long road trip with the aim of visiting Croatia and Bosnia and it made sense to visit Montenegro. The scenery just blew me away, I remember driving past beautiful lakes surrounded by mountains and wishing we had given the country a lot more thought and time! We were on the way to other places, and because we’d booked hotels and had an itinerary, we couldn’t really spend more time there, but we did make an unscheduled stop to swim in one of the lakes, which we had all to ourselves. 

What country are you eager to get back to?

There’s a few of these on my list actually! Nepal to trek Annapurna Circuit and go to Gokyo Lakes; Argentina to go to Patagonia; Thailand as I have only been to Bangkok and the North so I’m keen to explore some of the islands; Indonesia to visit different places such as Raja Ampat; China because it’s so big and there’s so much to see, and back to Montenegro! 

Have you had a responsible travel experience? 

My work in International Development has taken me to live in India, Mali, China, and Zambia, where I volunteered or worked with local NGOs on community-based projects. Then since being based back in the UK, my work has taken me to Ghana, Malawi, Senegal, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Bangladesh for shorter trips to work with country offices or partner staff to monitor and evaluate projects. My favorite part of my job is being able to see and hear about the impact of our work on individuals’ lives and also being able to get feedback and learn to make improvements to projects and have a bigger impact going forward.

What keeps you motivated to continue traveling? 

The fact that there’s still a whole lot of this world to see! Not to tick them off the list, but just to experience new places, cultures, people, and history. Wherever I go I learn new things about myself, others, and about history–it’s this above all else, that motivates me to continue traveling. 

What is your top travel tip? 

Always spend locally, particularly in developing countries. By using local guides, buying local products, and staying in family-run hotels, you're not only ensuring that you give back to the community but also get a real sense of the country you’re staying in and the people who live there. Do your research try to find a locally owned company. I did this for Everest Base Camp Trek and Inca Trail. It's also becoming a lot easier these days, with accommodation, because a lot of locally run 'hotels' are now on Airbnb and Booking

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

To travel respectfully. Be respectful of people, local traditions, way of life, religion, culture, and the environment. Take the time to find out about any cultural no-no's before you arrive somewhere, be prepared to adapt and appreciate the environment you're in. Take the time to interact with and learn from those around you. I've always tried to be respectful but the more I travel the more I see people being disrespectful or the consequences of people being disrespectful. Whether this is seeing all the dead coral from being trampled on by snorkelers, someone putting their back to a Buddha in Sri Lanka, or wearing inappropriate clothing in a Muslim country because it's hot and they want to look fashionable. 

What countries are on your bucket list? 

I actually have a rather long list that I keep adding to! The list includes a lot of Pacific Islands like East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Samoa since I haven't yet been to this area of the world and now that I'm living in Australia they feel within easy reach! Also on my bucket list are some of the 'Stans as it's a region I have not yet visited and there looks to be some beautiful landscapes, amazing culture, and architecture. 

Where are you headed next? 

We've only just recently arrived in Australia, and need to get settled a little with jobs and a home etc. I'll be heading back to Europe in August, as I have a wedding to attend in Italy, so perhaps will head somewhere I haven't been like Austria. 

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