The North Eastern Travel Veteran. An Interview with Michael

Michael, A veteran traveller who has visited over 83 countries…

I met Michael at a sunset point in Nagarkot, a popular short trek just outside of Kathmandu, Nepal. He recognised my accent when I was talking to my guide (we are both from the North East of England) and we instantly became friends.

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

As we got to know each other, I found his story and history moving. Of course, as well as his love and passion for travel.

Being a similar age to his daughters and seeing some of my dads qualities (mainly really, really bad jokes) in him, we struck up a unique friendship.  We had lots of fun, meeting for breakfast and an evening meal. Also hitting the nightlife and bars of Kathmandu, which ended in some dancing!

Michael started travelling the world a lot more when his wife passed away. He has been to some amazing and unique places around the world and I thought his story might inspire some people.

Do you dare to push yourself out of your comfort zones and travel? Here is north easterner Michael’s interview.

Michael in the Galapagos

Great to talk to you again, Michael! Thank you for letting ‘Touching The Summit’ interview you.

– Could you tell us about yourself? –

I’m late 50’s, widowed, with two grown up daughters. Originally I’m from a very working class background in Ashington, Northumberland. Living in Burnopfield, which is a small town on the Newcastle/ County Durham border, in England.

At school my favourite subjects were Geography and Geology however I somehow “fell” in to a job in a Finance department. Flash forward to a few years later I qualified as an Accountant, and my career developed over the course of time in the house building sector.

Eventually I progressed to Finance Director, and ultimately Managing Director. During these times, I had always loved to travel with my family.

When my wife passed away, it affected me greatly.

She was and still is a great lady who lives on in fond memories. It spurred me on to go on the adventures I hadn’t before, and head out solo.  

Michael and his wife.

 -What inspired you to travel so frequently? –

School times instilled a passion for Geography. To this day, I can still remember drawing the map of South America and learning all the capitals and the flags. This was my early inspiration.

As a family, in my youth, we only holidayed in this country [England].

The first time I went abroad was a ferry trip to France. This was part of a French field trip when I was  sixteen. The first experience on a plane was when I started working. My friend and I saved up and took an eleven hour flight to Los Angeles. We hired a car and drove around California! It was an adventure I will never forget. 

From that point on I think I was hooked on travel. The very next year we went to Belgium, Germany, Austria and Italy by bus!

Next year we travelled to Tunisia where I was fortunate enough to meet a lovely lady who would become my wife. We were always fond of travelling together.

Present day: I think I have visited 82 countries.

Chernobyl, Ukraine

– What do your family and friends think of your travels? –

My daughters are happy that I have something in my life that keeps me going following the sudden death of my wife in 2009. 

Questions are raised sometimes about some of the places I have ended up. Some questions of the situations I have got myself in to also, but they haven’t disowned me yet!

Michael and his Daughter at Les Ecrehous, sand bar islands off the coast of Jersey

Friends enjoy reading my stories and seeing my photographs on Facebook of the weird and wonderful places I have been. Positive feedback from them, such as “we’re proud of you” or “I’m in awe of what you’re doing” is great to read.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India

– Can you share your top 3 travel pictures, with a description of what was going on when you took the photos? How did it make you feel, to be in these beautiful moments you have captured? Have any of these moments changed your perception on life? –

Choosing only 3 photos is very difficult but here goes! My first choice, and still probably my favourite country overall is Canada.

As a family we have had the pleasure of visiting it a good number times; from the Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland on the east coast to the Rockies in the Midwest, to the stunning city of Vancouver and finally the dramatic Pacific coast of Vancouver Island. It consistently delivers!

That coupled with probably some of the nicest people in the world makes it a great place to experience.

It is indeed my happy place.

The photo below is of the stunning Lake Louise in Alberta, which is frozen in winter and makes for a great walk !

Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

My second choice is a photo of a small boy I took whilst travelling through Namibia, which again as a country has so much to offer. I was on a small group tour, when we stopped for lunch near a small settlement.

This boy got his eye on my apple and bottle of water which I was more than happy to give him. I’ll never forget how happy he was to get these. Moments like these really put life into perspectice in lots of ways.

Boy in a settlement in Namibi

My third choice would be a photo from a recent trip to the a Galápagos Islands. I think this photo sums up life down there, a place where man and wildlife are happy to integrate and co-live together in harmony.

Having a love of landscape and wildlife photography the place was a dream for me! I find being in nature really peaceful and calming for the mind. Interacting with different animals is wonderful for the soul also.

Galapagos Islands

– How has travel helped you, mentally and emotionally? Has it helped you to overcome any demons? –

Travel inspires me, and therefore gives me a positive mental attitude, not just in terms of the actual trip itself, but also in respect of the researching and planning stages.

Travel also brings about feelings of adventure, coupled with peace and tranquility. There is something very calming about being out in new landscapes and exploring new terrain. It really helps to still the mind.

When you first embark on solo travel it can however be daunting so I would recommend that you choose your first destination wisely. My first solo trip after my wife died was to Mauritius.

It was full of couples. I felt very conscious of being alone and thought everyone was staring at me.

I found it difficult to engage at first and genuinely struggled a bit for a while. I did however gradually start to come out of my shell and realised that I could enjoy my time alone and socialising by myself. 

Indeed it was a realisation that I needed to do this if I wanted to continue travelling.

It pushed me out of my comfort zone, but I gained a lot from this trip.  I overcame the monkey mind thinking that being alone wasn’t ok and found peace and clarity in being a solo traveller. This brought about big changes in life for me and was a turning point for my future travels.

For me travelling is also a great conversational asset.

I love travelling and exploring new destinations, talking to like minded people about their adventures. We could talk about these experiences for a long time. Getting over this hurdle was a huge turning point in life for me.

Many people struggle with travelling solo, but it is a great experience. You always meet likeminded people and I often make friends for life on every trip. So its good to explore those feelings and it is a turning point for many people in their life.

SSossuvlei, Namibia

What is your opinion on using travel for therapeutic reasons? Such as overcoming difficult situations in life, for those who suffer from anxiety or depression.

I think travel not only broadens the mind, but also opens the mind to appreciating and respecting different cultures. 

The one thing none of us can influence is where we are born, 

and therefore an arbitrary border on the land should not influence our perception of countries or people, but sadly, too often it does.

From a personal perspective whilst I have been down at times in my life, I fortunately have not suffered from anxiety or depression. I do however believe that if you are strong enough to travel alone this could help your self esteem, and ultimately the root cause. Although I am no expert in this.

– Does it [travel] have any physical benefits for improving health? –

Apart from the positive mental attitude and the calm mind travel gives me, I enjoy it physically too as I rack the miles up just wandering .

Walking is great for the mind, body and soul.

It gets our heart pumping and blood circulating, without being too much of a stress on our bodies. This releases endorphins (feel good hormones). It also helps with keeping muscles joints and ligaments moving.

Some of the places I’ve visited involve a lot of trekking. The Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, many parts of Nepal are a few of the trekking places I have ventured to.

When I get back home I find stairs really easy to handle! It keeps my lungs healthy, I never get out of breath doing difficult chores.

The sunshine is real plus to my ageing bones these days too, due to the fact it helps the body produce vitamin D naturally. This is often known as the sunshine vitamin!

Mandalay, Myanmar

– Have there been any moments on your travels that have changed your outlook? –

I think I have always had a reasonably positive outlook on life. However, seeing different cultures and how poor some people are, yet so grateful and happy, is really humbling. It brings about compassion and a want to keep travelling, connecting with people and doing good in this world.

The more I travel, the more I want to travel and keep having these experiences.

Whilst many people have said to me “why do you want to go there” or “I’d be frightened to go there” I have a view that, if you are sensible and don’t put yourself in danger, 99.5% of people will help you if you need it.

Most people in the world are kind hearted souls and it’s natural for them to share experiences and to have a generous nature. I must admit I have been humbled many a time whilst travelling from relative strangers who have a lot less than me.

I think in having these experiences, it makes you more open minded.

Many people who do not venture out of their comfort zones can be close minded to other cultures, countries and life outside their bubble. This is one of the reasons travel is crucial in expanding peoples minds and being able to see world problems from a different angle and perspective.

Mount Cook, New Zealand

– Are there any friends or inspirational people you have met along the way? –

Please share a funny story or two…

I have met a lot of kind hearted and inspirational people whilst travelling many of whom I remain friends with today. One of my most interesting stories was in India when after tracking leopards out in the sticks, I somehow ended up having dinner with a gentleman, known as the Leopard Man of Bera, in his stately home.

This experience came complete with a waiter who served cold beer on a silver tray!

It transpired that during the evening he was a good friend of Sir David Attenborough (who would stay with him when he visited), and he was also Godfather to the children of the Maharajah of Jodhpur, who was a friend of Prince Charles!

It also never amazes me how small a world it is too. Earlier this year I was in Kathmandu and took a very early morning trip out of the city to see the sunrise over the Himalayas. There was only a handful of people at this spot, and as my guide was talking to another guide, I recognised a familiar accent and said hello to a young lady.

She recognised my accent straight away and soon realised that we lived only 40 miles apart! After breakfast together, and evening meal and a great night out in Kathmandu we remain good friends… despite never seeing the sun rise that day! (Clouds can be pesky at times, but from darkness something great can prevail!)

– Can you summarise why you think others should travel? –

As you can probably tell I’m a huge advocate of travel ! I can however appreciate those people who want their 2 weeks all inclusive, and just want to chill in the sun… lifestyles these days are just so busy.

Having said that the world is so big and beautiful that I believe people are missing out on so much if they don’t break the mould, or step slightly out their comfort zone.

It really does change ones outlook for the better, whether its calming and stilling the mind, expanding ones horizons, seeing how others live and the compassion that brings. Or experiencing different ways of life and different cultures, or the beauty of seeing magnificent wildlife in its natural habitats and the changes that instills to protect the planet and its inhabitants. It’s something I believe everyone should endeavour to do sometime in their life.

Thank you so much for your time today, Michael!

The world is full of awe and wonder, if only we allow ourselves the space and the time in life to embrace it to the fullest. (I wrote this, what a quotable saying huh? 😉 ) hehehehehehe.

I think michael’s story is inspiring! I hope this stirs something in you, to want to satisfy your wanderlust.

Whats your opinions of Michaels interview? Have you had any solo travel experience or stories to share? I would love to hear from you!

Peace & Love…

Aimee Lou

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