Meet The Stamp Collectors: Mapping Megan

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.

Megan is an Australian Journalist and the founder of Maping Megan; a niche adventure travel blog with a focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She visits off-the-beaten-path destinations to cover corners of the globe which still remain relatively unexplored. Having visited 60 countries across all seven continents, Megan has accumulated a wealth of knowledge about what the world has to offer. At 18 she took off to travel the world and spent the following 10 years traveling through over 60 countries. She believes adventure can be achieved at any age, and that there is no right or wrong way to travel.

What was the 50th country you visited? 

The 50th country I visited was so memorable that I actually wouldn't be able to tell you which was it was! I used to have a rivalry with my father to see who could collect the most passport stamps. We read a newspaper article once that said the most well-rounded people were those who had traveled to more countries than their age. I had a significant 20-year advantage over dad! I much prefer slower travel and immersing myself in another culture as opposed to feeling like we have to rack up as many countries as possible for the sake of saying we’ve been everywhere.

What was the first country you visited?

That I do remember! I first visited Japan in 2003. It was a school trip with my Japanese class when I was 15, so I was incredibly excited to be heading overseas with 30 of my friends–HUGE credit to the teachers who chaperoned 30 girls to Japan for two weeks! At 15 I didn't have a huge appreciation for global culture, and honestly, the highlights of the trip were Tokyo Disneyland and my homestay. We visited a sister high school in Tokyo and each of us was paired up with a Japanese student who we stayed with for 3 days. This was an amazing experience which not only improved our language skills but also planted the travel bug within me. I was intrigued and amazed at this completely different family, in this completely new country nothing like that of my own. They spoke a different language, they dressed differently, they had different customs, and they ate differently. I had to request a fork from my host mother after repeatedly failing at chopsticks! But the one thing which really struck home was that despite all of these differences, we were still the same. Despite the language barrier my host sister and I liked the same musicians, watched the same teenage girl movies, had the same plush toys; and the family's hospitality was amazing. Ever since all I have wanted to do is travel the world and experience how other people live–it fascinates me!

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

Not a phrase, but a single word, depaysement. It's French and means all of the feelings that hit you when you're away from home and visiting a strange place for the first time. Depaysement is shocking, but it's also exciting. It's intimidating, but also electrifying. It sums up what you go through when you travel and what you become addicted to.

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

Around the World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth is a memoir by Albert Poddel that really inspires you to seek adventure in every destination. It is a remarkable and meaningful tale of quiet courage, dogged persistence, undying determination, and an uncanny ability to escape from one perilous situation after another and return with some of the most memorable, frightening, and hilarious adventure stories.

What is your favorite travel quote? 

From the late Anthony Bourdain, "Drink heavily with locals where-ever possible."

Which country cemented your love for travel? 

Iceland by far is one of our favorite places in the world. I would love to live there if I could. It is one of the last untouched destinations left on earth. It’s exotic, so naturally beautiful, and largely untouched by tourism which we absolutely love. The scenery takes your breath away. Waterfalls, glaciers, dramatic fjords – there is inspiring scenery at every turn. Majestic glaciers grind their way through cracked lava fields, gushing geysers explode with a powerful force, glittering ice caps pierce the sky, and vibrant green fjords rise from the mist of geothermal lagoons. Iceland has a fantastic outdoor adventure scene, which is what I live for!

Which was your favorite country for food? 

It would be a LONG essay if you got me on a roll about Italian food; the coffee, the wine, the gelato, the pizza! So I'll just talk about the pizza. We visited Naples in Italy which is the birthplace of pizza, and the traditional wood-burning ovens used today are identical to those used several hundreds of years ago. The taste is entirely different to that of an electric or gas oven used in many fast food chains, and strict protocols are in place for oven sizes and temperatures which are actually enforced by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. So this is as authentic as pizza gets, and OMG it's MOUTHWATERING! Marinara is the most basic form of pizza, topped with only tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and olive oil. Margherita is your classic pizza topped with red tomatoes, white mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. Pizza is more than just a dish in Naples. It is an art form.

Which was your favorite country for architecture? 

Rome! There's such an incredible mix of ancient Roman architecture, ruins, and architecture throughout almost every age: Classical and Imperial Rome, Romanesque, Gothic and Medieval Rome, Renaissance, Baroque, and Fascist Rome. There is such a diverse heritage here, and there is so much to take in; you can wander the streets without purpose and stumble upon fascinating buildings from era's ago.

Which was your favorite country for adventure?

Favorite country for adventure: Peru. As adventure and adrenaline junkies, Peru blew us away. This is a destination where you can go from culinary adventures in a downtown setting to literally being lost in the jungle in a matter of hours. It offers adventure from the high plateaus of the Andes to the jungles surrounding the Amazon, and there are so many incredible opportunities for wildlife safaris and jungle trekking. And then, of course, you can retrace the ancient trails made by the Incas, on one of the most popular treks in the world: the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Which country left a lasting impression on you? 

Japan left a lasting impression on me due to how clean, efficient, and polite society is there. I've not seen anything like it anywhere else in the world.

Is there a country that changed the way you travel? 

Every country has changed the way I travel to some extent, as you always pick up life lessons along the way. They may be subtle, and you may not even notice the change at the time, but experiences you collect in every country have a way of coming together to change your personality, and ultimately your travel style.

Which country exceeded your expectations? 

We were truly blown away by Bolivia, most likely because we traveled without any expectations, but it is such an amazing country full of phenomenal opportunities for adventure, cultural immersion and nature/wildlife experiences. And it's so authentic. Walking the streets of La Paz, you pass women in traditional dress selling fruits on the side of the road, spectacular Andean peaks looming up ahead, gorgeous historic buildings, and hanging llama fetuses in the witch market! We spent time in the Amazon and cycled "death road" which is a 69 km narrow one-way road which snakes its way around the side of a very sheer cliff. It is known as the most dangerous road in the world! And it's one of those countries where your money literally goes further than you ever would have imagined, so we ended up staying in a one bedroom apartment at the Ritz in La Paz for $80 USD per night!

Which country disappointed you?

I've not been disappointed by a country before, because we try our best to travel without any expectations. When you don't have any expectations, you can enjoy a country on its own unique merits with less chance of being let down.

Which country was completely different than what you expected? 

Singapore! I've come to expect that most of the world's biggest cities have morphed into carbon copies of themselves, so I wasn't expecting much from Singapore, to be honest, thinking I had already seen it all before. But I was very mistaken–it's a truly unique metropolis. One minute you're in a bustling city with sci-fi architecture, and the next minute you're in an ancient jungle with wild monkeys. Temples and mosques sit next to luxe skyscrapers, megamalls are packed with catwalk couture, and ethnic neighborhoods are full of old-school shop-houses and hectic market towns. Singapore is a city of such sharp and constant contrasts and the true definition of a melting pot. I was astounded at how green it was everywhere. The city streets are a thriving green canopy; they really invite the jungle in!

What country are you eager to get back to? 

Iceland! Our first trip to the country was during summer and we benefited from 24 hours of sunlight to explore because the sun literally never sets during summer, it's called the midnight sun. But I would love to head back during winter and have the opportunity to see the Northern Lights–that's one thing I haven't managed to tick off my bucket list yet!

Which country would you not go back to? 

I would only not revisit a country because there's still so much more of the world to explore!

What is your all-time favorite country? 

I bet you can guess...Iceland! It's wild, pure, and life becomes care-free. You leave all of your troubles and pressures of everyday life at customs. Iceland offers a sense of true exploration and real adventure. There are no ropes which tell you that you can't walk here, there are no guides who tell you to stay with the group; it's just you and the landscape in Iceland, and it's an incredible feeling.

Have you had any responsible travel experience?

In 2017 we took an expedition cruise to Antarctica. Being that Antarctica is one of the most remote and fragile environments in the world, sustainability and responsible travel is the core focus of any tourism activity. It takes two days to sail down to the peninsula, and in those two days you're briefed by scientists and wildlife guides about the issues facing the continent, and how to behave responsibly. We had incredible opportunities, like camping overnight on the ice, and close up encounters with wildlife. The wildlife encounters are my most valued memory. Much like the Galapagos Islands, animals here roam free and have no fear of close contact with humans. If anything, they were mildly curious about our presence, but honestly, for the most part, they didn’t seem to care. They didn’t run when you pointed your camera lens, in fact, they would often come closer to stare. Whales swam within 100 meters of our boat, we could sit next to a colony of seals without disturbing them, and penguins would walk over our toes. That said we were always very aware that we were in Antarctica to observe and not interact. As visitors to this pristine land, our job as travelers is to make sure our actions don’t interfere with the behavior of native species.

What keeps you motivated to continue traveling? 

The adventure, adrenaline, excitement, and because there is nothing monotonous about travel! It didn’t take us long to realize that we wanted to see the world in living color as opposed to watching it on a television screen. We wanted to actually feel, taste, and experience the world instead of settling for the version we were reading in books. It’s a completely different experience to journey to the Pyramids of Giza than to watch it on a History Channel documentary. It’s a completely different emotion to watch the sunset over the African Plains while on safari then it is to see someone else’s photo and think “wow!"

What is your top travel tip? 

Prior planning prevents piss poor performance–otherwise known as the 6 P's! Basically, do your research.

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

I don't think there's any one lesson I could single out as having the most impact because, in my mind, each life lesson I've gained through travel has culminated in shaping my personality. Of the many things travel has taught me, it has taught me to be accepting of all people and opinions. It taught me how to survive by myself–taught me to become street smart. It taught me that kindness exists in the world, and that strange cultures should be explored and not judged. It continually teaches me new skills and has opened my mind to new perspectives on history and politics. I will forever be curious, forever be intrigued by different cultural norms, and forever have a thirst for world knowledge and new experiences.

What countries are on your bucket list? 

Namibia, India, and Greenland. I've been fascinated by Namibia ever since I read about the Skeleton Coast, and desert elephants; a species who have adapted to their dry, semi-desert environment and live amid the sand dunes of the Namib and Sahara deserts. I would love to get to India to experience the cultural assault to my senses. I would love to visit Greenland for the same reason I love Iceland so dearly.

Where are you headed next? 

Having recently settled in Tasmania we are currently prioritizing local travel. Tasmania is the Southern Hemisphere's version of Iceland–there's so much incredible nature here; untouched, unspoiled, totally wild, and remote. There are so many incredible adventures to be had right here at home that our passport is enjoying a well-deserved break!

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