Marie-Anne is an adventurous traveler and talented photographer from Belgium, and she has had many exciting adventures all around the world. We are pleased to feature this interview with her along with some of her stunning photographs of Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and beyond. Enjoy!
Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from, what do you do, what is your blog about, what is your story?
I am Marie-Anne Grillet. I am from Belgium, born and bred, and 27 years old. I graduated as an architect in 2007, and have since worked for 3 years as an architect. I am also someone who suffers from a serious travel itch. In 2010, I decided I had enough of the rat race and wanted to get out there, explore and see the world. So I did. I left on 6 September 2010 for New Zealand, Australia and SE Asia. I have traveled there for about 7 months, before I returned to Belgium. My first blog is about this episode. It started out as an easy way for me to reach all my friends and family in one go and tell them what I was doing, instead of writing each and everyone an email. While writing this blog though, I realized how much I actually enjoyed it. So when in June 2011, I decided that I still hadn’t had enough and left for New Zealand again – albeit for a completely different reason – I started my second blog. Back in Belgium, I again looked for another way to spend my days and found a job in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, and moved for that to Chur, Switzerland. My third blog relates this story.
Apart from writing, I love taking pictures of everything that I see. I edit them and try to treat each and every one of them as a special item.
Can you describe the moment where you realized you wanted to travel?
There is not one set time where I figured “Ah, alright, I’m off.”
When I was 21 and studying, I applied for a scholarship called Erasmus, which is an exchange program between European universities. To be different from everyone else, I chose to go to Poland instead of Spain, Italy, … the more ‘classic’ choices.
That year in Poland changed everything for me. It was a real eye-opener. It made me realize that there is so much more in this world than what is in your ‘safe zone’, and it feels so good to break out of it.
I returned to Belgium with heaps of experiences, good or bad, and new contacts, and finished my last year of university in true beauty. After that I started work, ‘the real life’, but because of a bunch of problems in my first office I soon got bummed out. I changed offices and started my second job with renewed energy, but again, soon, I realized something was wrong. It took me a long time, heaps of talking and questioning myself, before I realized that I just wanted to do more, see more, experience more. It was that simple. From the moment that fact dawned on me, I knew I was ready: I quit my job, I booked some flights, and off I was, in September 2010. 25 years old, backpack on my bag and never before so excited in my life.
What was your first travel experience?
My first travel experience was when I went to the USA with my parents when I was 11. The first solo experience though, was when I was 17 (I turned 18 during that month) and I went to Chicago on my own to visit family. I stayed there for a month and got to taste the first sips of traveling solo, albeit with my family (aunt and uncle) close by.
In the years after the States, I travelled all across Europe. My Erasmus episode helped me in this. I also visited London heaps of times because one of my very good friends lives there.
The first ‘big’ travel after that was a trip to China for just over 3 weeks. That was my first contact with Asia and I loved it. I also like to tell people how we (my sister and me) ended up in China. Our uncle planned to go to the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 and was telling this all around the family. My sister and me were so jealous and immediately said (by way of joke) “If he can go to China, so can we.” And indeed, the year after we wanted to plan a travel, and there you go, China it was. Good choice! My China trip was one of the triggers that made me realize that a desk is not a place for me, by the way.
What has been the destination that felt most like home to you?
Definitely New Zealand. It was the first country that I started my travels on, and the first country where I felt total freedom. There I took a deep breath and the travel plunge. Because of personal reasons, I have returned to New Zealand 3 times, which only made me grow on the country more and more. Every time I cross the Tasman Sea from Sydney to Christchurch, when you fly over the Alps on the South Island, I feel this sigh of relief escaping from me. I truly keep this country in my heart.
What is the most breathtaking view you have ever witnessed on your travels
This was, again, in New Zealand, in the very beginning of my travels. My travel partner and I were driving our campervan – which we called Tony – from Fairlie to Tekapo. We were just happily chatting away, two girls on the road, and suddenly she turned around the bend and the view opened up over Lake Tekapo. I literally fell quiet. The only thing coming out of my mouth for a while was “Wow”. The water was crystal clear, the sky was gorgeously blue with some sheepish clouds, and reflected perfectly in the water. In the distance we could see the mountains. It was, as they say, picture perfect.
We found a place to park the campervan and each strayed on our own path along the lakeside. We both sat down for a while and I don’t know about my travel partner, but I just kept on breathing deeply and my mind went blank. Everything there was just so peaceful, and though I have seen many more beautiful spots before and after this, I’ll never forget the feeling I had on the lakeside of Lake Tekapo.
What do you miss about your home when you go traveling?
To be completely honest, I don’t miss much when I’m traveling. I keep in touch with my friends and family through all kinds of social media, and that suits me fine. I do miss taking a nice, long, pampering bath though, when I’m on the road. What I also miss, is the several girls’ nights I always do when I’m in Belgium. These happen on average once per two weeks, and I always feel a pang of ‘missing’ when I hear that such an evening is planned and I can’t be there. But then on the other hand, I experience super nice things myself, so that’s the price to pay I guess.
What item will you always carry in your backpack?
When I’m alone, I sleep with a little teddy bear that someone special gave to me once. It sounds ridiculous seeing as I’m “too old to be sleeping with a teddy bear”, but I can’t help it. If I don’t have little George with me whenever I go crashing on someone’s couch, or whenever I’m traveling, I feel weird, and sleeping goes difficult. I guess it means a lot to me. He is pretty ragged by now, to be honest.
What I also always have with me, is my ring. It’s not a ring that came from any shop, but it is a shell that the same special someone picked off from the beach during a walk and put on my finger. It fits perfectly and now, just over a year later, I still feel naked without it. Some people love it, some people find it freaky, but for me things just aren’t right if I don’t at least know that it is close to me, when I’m not wearing it.
Did your life philosophy change once you started traveling?
It definitely did. What ‘they’ say about traveling, is so true from where I’m standing. My travels really opened my eyes. It changed my perspective on certain things and made me make choices more consciously. I have never been very interested in politics and economics – cross that, I have never been interested whatsoever in these matters – and I still am not, but am I becoming more and more aware of their influence on the social part of mankind. It changed my perspective on the world.
But first and foremost, it changed my own behavior. I used to think so rationally and practically. I have always been a dreamer, but left those dreams in boxes on the shelves and went on with whatever I was doing. Now, I am much more inclined not to settle for just something. I’d rather take a plunge, take a risk, but listen to my heart, and feel happiness – or pain, whichever way things turn out, than stay on the safe side and feel the same way all the time. The pleasures I have had when taking a risk, make all the negative moments fade away.
Who was the kindest or most generous person you met on your travels, and what did they do?
They have to be the 2 Canadian people who helped me in Bangkok. I don’t even know their names, which is a shame. I arrived in Bangkok from Sydney. It was already 1 am. I was supposed to be meeting someone in the airport, who had booked the hotel, but that person didn’t show up. I was alone, tired, had no destination address, no phone numbers and was panicking. Those two Canadians saw me stressing out and started talking to me, tried to calm me down (and succeeded). They helped me with phone calls and trying to find out where I was supposed to be, and offered to take me there in their taxi. They paid everything and along the way kept talking happily and said that everything would be fine. At the destination they even got out with me until they were 100% sure that I was where I had to be and had a place to sleep, before they left. I’m sure I said thank you to them at that time, but I feel it is not enough – their company at that time was just what I needed. If you are reading this, you know who you are! Thank you again :).
Which destinations are top of your list for future travel?
I fear my top list already consists of 45 countries, so that is a difficult one to answer. I have to say though, if someone put me on a plane right now, the general direction would have to be east from Belgium, meaning Asia/New Zealand/Australia/… I did Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore in Asia, and would now love to finish that part off with Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. That is definitely high on the list. Another one would be the Philippines, Fiji, the Cook Islands. I think my priority is just Asia and Oceania, afterwards South America, then the Middle East, later Africa and last (but not least) North America. Obviously, if someone dropped me off somewhere that I didn’t prioritize, I wouldn’t complain! 🙂What are your future plans?
Future plans are hard to say. I am now working again because I had to save some money again. I only moved to Chur, Switzerland about 2 weeks ago, so I would like to stay here a while longer and stay put for a while. It’s hard to define ‘a while’, but I’d say around a year. After that, everything is open. It is very possible that I hit the open road again when I really can’t handle myself anymore. I find it better to say ‘we’ll see’, and then indeed see where I end up. One year ago today I had no clue I’d be in Chur today, so that’s a nice thought, isn’t it?
What I would like to do though, and I’m in the process of doing it, is gathering all my writing material and all my pictures, and put them on one website. In other words, I want to expand my blogging activities and see where that leads me. I just haven’t found the right way to do it yet.
Apart from that, I like to say ‘We’ll see!’
Thank you Marie-Anne, and happy travels!