Meet The Stamp Collectors: Cherene of The Wandering Red Head

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.

Cherene is the persona behind Wandering Redhead. She enjoys adventure, cultural, off-the-beaten-path travel, responsible travel with a bit of luxury. As a traveler, she wants to see everything–especially seeing wildlife in their natural habitats.  Sometimes she camps in the middle of nowhere and other times she stays in luxurious resorts. But before she spent time in Africa, Asia, and beyond, she was a young girl with big dreams in a small Pennsylvanian town. She's traveled to over half of the United States and has been to 75 countries so far!

What was the 50th country you visited?

Iceland was the 50th country. It was memorable because I had set this goal for myself to see 50 countries by age 50. I never imagined I'd reach this at age 41. It was also exciting because this happened on New Years 2017 which was the year I quit my traditional job to have a more untraditional life that allowed me more travel.

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

Syria was the first country I visited although I don't remember since I was 1 years old. My father is from Syria and my parents took me there as a baby to see family. The first country I actually remember visiting was Switzerland. My parents loved traveling in Europe and I remember loving the cows in the mountains with bells around their necks and eating lots of chocolate.

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

It's kind of silly but there is a German phrase, specifically Bavarian, that some German travelers taught me in Malaysia. I'm going to for sure misspell it but here it is Freiluftbacken. It one of those wonderfully specific German words that roughly translates to that feeling you have when you're in a beer hall drinking and don't realize how drunk you are until you go outside into the fresh air. 

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

In the Bourne Identity series (the books, not the movies), the second book is set in Hong Kong. I had never been anywhere other than a few countries in Europe when I read it. It isn't a travel book but the descriptions of Hong Kong life were so colorful and vivid that I became tantalized by the Orient. I knew after reading that book that I was one day going to visit these crazy exotic places! It turned out the first time I went to Asia (other than the Middle East) I went to Thailand and Hong Kong!

What is your favorite travel quote? 

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” – Mark Twain. This couldn't be truer and especially in my home country. I think if more people traveled we wouldn't have some of the issues we have.

Which country cemented your love for travel? 

France was my first love. I studied French in high school and became quite the little Francophile. It was a dream come true to see this country that I had fantasized about my parents took me to France at age 16. I loved trying to speak French, eating croissant au chocolate, baguettes, all the cheese, and every type of patisserie. The Eiffel Tower was cool also but I tend to get distracted by food. I got to see Versailles which was exciting to me since I had been studying French history. We visited the Loire Valley on this trip and stayed in chateaus that produced their own wine, which I was allowed to drink! I felt like a princess. I ended up spending more time in France while in University during a study abroad program. France will always be very special to me.

Which was your favorite country for food? 

India. Indian food has always been my favorite but going there took it to a whole new level. I was in heaven eating that food three times a day for 2 weeks. My stomach at some point begged for a plain meal, which I ignored. I couldn't get enough of the masala chai (spicy tea), dal mahkni (black lentils simmered in spices and finished with cream and butter), and garlic naan. I'm drooling just thinking about it.

Which was your favorite country for architecture? 

Spain, specifically the region of Andalucia. That architecture is mind-numbingly gorgeous. It's so incredible that the Catholic Monarchs expelled the Moors but couldn't bear to tear down their beautiful buildings. That says a lot! I walked around opened-mouthed in Cordoba's Mezquita. The Seville Cathedral and Alcazar are too stunning for words with the intricate tile work, calligraphy, and arched doorways. Then there's the Alhambra in Granada–there's a reason it is on every must-see list of places in the world. The Moorish architecture is unrivaled.

Which was your favorite country for nature? 

Indonesia had some of my most memorable natural experiences. I lived on a boat in Borneo and visited Orangutans in the rainforest, which was a dream come true for me. The next week I went to Komodo National Park and saw the infamous Komodo dragons! Komodo island also had unreal diving with vibrant healthy coral reefs, sea turtles, and manta rays. Then, the next week I hiked a volcano. I also spend plenty of time on insanely beautiful beaches. I loved that one country offered all of this!

Which was your favorite country for street food?

Favorite country for street food (and street art) was Malaysia, specifically Penang. Malaysia is a great place to eat street food because they have high hygienic standards. The wide variety and low prices will blow your mind! I'm still thinking about the satay and laksa there. Unparalleled! The street art in Penang is super cool too. It is like going on a scavenger hunt to find all the famous ones throughout the old city. Malaysia is such an underrated country!

Which country left a lasting impression on you? 

Thailand changed me. I went there during the height of my materialistic Miami days. I was very much concerned with what car I drove, what shoes I wore, what brand purse I carried and all that flew out the door after Thailand. Thailand humbled me and made me reconsider everything. Made me recognize how fortunate I am and how I already have more than I needed. I came back and attempted to live more simply and to focus more on experiences than things. This has been integral to my life as I have learned to divert time and money towards travel and away from other things.

Is there a country that changed the way you travel? 

Turkey. Visiting Istanbul was the first time I had really been outside of Europe. It was that perfect next step for someone who at the time wasn't very adventurous. I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie or on some trippy magic carpet ride. I loved the whole exotic vibe and it gave me the taste to start visiting more "exotic" places. It also gave me an appreciation for ancient history. Many of my trips after that were cultural and geared toward ancient civilizations.

Which country was completely different than what you expected? 

Vietnam. I thought it would be just like Thailand as far as scenery and architecture. I was delighted to find that it has its own very distinct culture and vibe. I was impressed with the efforts made to preserve historic cities. I found the people to be hardworking, affable, and happy. I loved the culture and food. Vietnam has so much to offer from hiking to beaches to culture and history. Vietnam is in my top 5 favorite places now!

Which country exceeded your expectations, and why?

Romania, I was expecting a run down dreary place. I was stuck on what I had read about Romania's sad recent history. Romania is vibrant, colorful, happy, and really easy to get around. Although the train system is a bit older and slow, it was perfectly functional and better than I thought it would be. I found people who spoke good English, wonderful food, and a gorgeous countryside full of historical and cultural gems. The Saxon villages in Transylvania were also very photogenic and interesting. Bucharest is probably the most underrated capital city in Europe. I was blown away and can't wait to go back and explore more deeply.

What country are you eager to get back to? 

Croatia. Croatia is another one of my favorite countries. I've been three times and always have such a great experience. I never feel like I've seen enough. I want to explore every inch of this country! I love the people, the food, the wine, the islands. Croatia is one of those places where I'm always super sad to leave.

Which country would you not go back to? 

Liechtenstein, not because it's not nice, just because I have seen it once and that's enough. It's beautiful, mountainous, has nice people, and all that. However, it is very expensive and really doesn't look that different than other surrounding Alpine countries. I'm happy I saw it but I would rather spend time in the future elsewhere.

What is your all-time favorite country? 

Greece is my love. I could easily spend the rest of my life exploring Greece. I'm entranced by the history, the mythology, the architecture, the glittering seas, the idyllic island life, the scrumptious food, and the warmth of the people. I've visited three times now and will go back many more times. I want to see all the islands, road trip across the mainland, learn about all the local dishes. My love of Greece was further deepened after volunteering with Syrian refugees there. I was impressed by how generous and kind local Greeks were towards the refugees, especially considering they are having their own economic crisis. Greece feels like home to me in many ways.

Have you had any responsible travel experience? 

Seeing Orangutans in Borneo was one of the highlights of my life. Orangutans are on the verge of extinction from habitat loss in Malaysia and Indonesia. I truly believe that tourism may be the only thing keeping them alive. There are protected areas where palm oil plantations cannot be developed–these small areas are sanctuaries. Orangutans that have been rescued from pet trade are introduced back to the wild here. It's ethical because they enforce the rules that humans stay 10 meters away. There are no selfies with orangutans and nobody can touch them. The boat trip employs local guides, local chefs, and a local boat captain. These are great alternative job options for working at a palm oil plantation!

What keeps you motivated to continue traveling? 

Travel is literally like a drug to me. There is a chemical adrenaline rush that travel gives me and when it's over, I'm full-fledged depressed, albeit temporarily. It's also an addictive drug. Nothing else gives me the childhood sense of wonder that is being in a new and unfamiliar place does. Furthermore, the fact the world is so rapidly changing, that certain environments are being destroyed, that not all things will always be the way that'll give me a sense of urgency to take opportunities to see things while I can. Every place I go, I meet people that tell me about other amazing places and my tank of wanderlust is constantly replenished. I want to keep traveling until I run out of money or energy!

What is your top travel tip? 

Keep an open mind and be flexible! Be ready to step out of your comfort zone and don't expect things to be the way they are at home or the way you want them! light!

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

I've learned to appreciate what I have. It sounds so cliche but to literally stop every so often and just reflect on how lucky I am and how privileged I am to be able to explore this planet. I have met so many people around the world who aren't lucky enough to have a "good" passport and can't simply move as freely as I do. I also have seen horrific poverty and sadness around the world.  I wish more people recognized how lucky they are. I've seen people who are content and happy with very little. I've also learned how little I truly need to be happy. This has been perhaps the most profound lesson of my life.

What countries are on your bucket list? 

Iran is very high on my list so hopefully, I will make it there soon. I'm fascinated by their culture and I think that it is important to visit countries where not many tourists go, places that many are afraid to go for silly reasons. Bhutan is also a country that greatly intrigues me. It has a mysterious quality that is magnetic to me. I also must visit Antarctica because there is nothing like it. It is the last frontier for many travelers. Images of massive blue glaciers always make me stop and stare. 

Where are you headed next? 

Uganda. I'm going to fulfill another long-term dream of seeing the mountain gorillas in the rainforest. I am bubbling over with excitement about this and can't really believe I'm finally doing it. I had posters of gorillas on my walls in college so this has been on my mind for over 20 years!

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