Meet The Stamp Collectors: Marie of Big Travel Nut

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.

Marie-France Roy of Big Travel Nut has been traveling solo since 1992. She initially hit the road on her own because she couldn't find anybody to go with her to Europe. Originally from Montreal, she now lives in Toronto but still loves to adventure by herself.  She's made her way to all 7 continent and explored 64 countries. She shares her adventures in order to inspire other people over 40 to get out there and see the world.

What was the 50th country you visited? 

Chile. My goal has always been to visit 100 countries before I die. Getting to the half point was only that, the half point, leaving lots of countries still to be visited. However, it was encouraging knowing that if I had seen 50 countries in 20 years, there was a good chance I could reach my goal in another 20 years or so.

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

The United States, not surprisingly. I think the first time was in 1980 on a day trip with my English immersion summer class. Back then, Canadians could travel to the US without a passport so it's even possible that I may have driven in with my family even earlier, for a picnic or something casual. We lived less than an hour from the border.

What is your favorite travel quote?

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page." - Saint Augustine

Which country cemented your love for travel? 

France, which was my 4th country to visit. I'd been dreaming of traveling to Europe since I was 12. But with university and starting a career, I was 29 by the time I finally landed in Paris, making France the first country I visited outside of North America. This was also my first solo trip and my first trip overseas. Basically, this is the trip that made me feel like a "real traveler", the kind of traveler that I wanted to become, and became. From that point on, I started planning a new trip almost every year and travel became a priority in my life.

Which country left a lasting impression on you?

. I only went twice, 15 years apart, and spent most of my time in two cities: Vientiane (in 1997) and Luang Prabang (in 2012). On each occasion, however, I was surprised by how calm and peaceful (and devoid of mass tourism) the country was. In 1997, Vientiane was a small sedate capital with many dusty streets and not a lot of traffic (compared to other cities in Southeast Asia like Saigon or Bangkok). Luang Prabang's town center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so trucks and buses aren't allowed. At the confluence of two rivers, the city is sprinkled with Buddhist temples, orange-robed monks, and locals on motorcycles. The people are also very friendly and gentle, reminding one of the Thai, but the food is unique (based on sticky rice) and quite different from Thai food.

Which was your favorite country for nature? 

New Zealand. In terms of natural beauty and diversity, this country is hard to beat. You can find forests, lakes, ocean beaches, volcanoes, mountain peaks, fjords, and glaciers in close proximity to each other in this small country. I especially enjoyed hiking in those lush forests full of stunning tree ferns and mosses that brought to mind the Jurassic era, or an enchanted forest!

Which was your favorite country for food? 

Singapore. This country is a food paradise where you find cuisines from all over Asia. It's also known for its night markets where you can stuff your face for very little money. I haven't been back since the mid-90s so don't recall many specific dishes. However, I do recall all those exotic canned drinks like winter melon juice and chrysanthemum ice tea. I also loved the steamed buns with various fillings than came in pastel colors and all the noodle dishes. I would just graze all day long.

Which country exceeded your expectations?

Slovenia. I went there in 2003 expecting things to be a little ramshackle and disorganized, which is the way I used to think about Eastern Europe (after my experience in Hungary in 1999). To my surprise, the country was just as clean and organized as any Western European nation at the time, with the bonus of being cheaper and less touristy. I also didn't expect the different parts of the tiny country to look so different from each other. Bled could have been in Austria, and Piran in Italy! Ljubljana, the capital, was totally elegant and charming.

What country are you eager to get back to? 

Mexico. It's one of my top 10 favorite countries, and when the weather gets freezing in Toronto, Mexico is the country that always comes to mind. It's a short flight from Canada, it's affordable, it's colorful, and during the winter most places are beautifully warm and sunny. I've been there five times already, visiting different areas. I try to avoid the tourist resorts and spend most of my time in colonial towns inland, or Pacific beaches frequented by the locals. The town where I've spent the most time so far is Oaxaca. The thought of retiring there for part of the year has occurred.

Which country would you not go back to? 

Egypt. The first reason is that I've seen most of what I wanted to see there (with a small group tour back in 1997). The other reason is that the few days that I spent on my own in that country were pretty dismal. The constant scams and harassment just went on and on. I think the only place I was left at peace was an upscale shopping mall. It's not the safest country. Even our tour bus had to travel in a convoy with a police escort on some highways.

What is your all-time favorite country? 

People have been asking me this for two decades, and I could never pick just one country. This year I reframed the question–If I could only travel to one country for the rest of my life, which one would it be? The answer sprang forth immediately: Greece! Although Mexico is a close second. Why? Its long history, its antiquities, archeological sites, and of course its beautiful islands, great food, and friendly people. There are enough things to discover in that country for a lifetime!

What keeps you motivated to continue traveling? 

You only live once, and there is a big world out there. I'm hoping to visit at least 40 more countries to reach my goal of 100. There are many amazing things I have yet to see. Besides, the alternative of spending all my time cooped up in one small apartment or office is just too depressing. The Canadian winter is also a great motivator to get out and explore countries with warmer climates. 

What is your top travel tip? 

Pack light. Almost nothing will destroy the will to keep moving faster than overweight, awkward, and uncomfortable bags. Pack for 7-10 days no matter how long you're traveling for. Wash your clothes and buy toiletries as you go.

What countries are on your bucket list? 

There are at least 40 countries on my bucket list! But the top ones at the moment are Madagascar (mostly for the wildlife and landscapes), Romania, Jordan (Petra, desert landscapes, culture), and Bolivia (Salar de Uyuni, hiking on Isla del Sol, Inca ruins).

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