This week, we’ve got another unique guest who sort of calls herself an adventure philanthropist. We also take another look at that pesky word “fearless,” and how it relates to the travel lifestyle. Our guest, Erin Michelson, has traveled to more than 60 countries and lived and studied in New Zealand, China, Hong Kong, and South Africa, but I think she’s calls San Francisco home…for now.
Could you introduce yourself?
Sure. You know when you play that game of describing yourself in 3 words? Well, my three words are: adventurous, disciplined, and creative. I guess I’m a combination of all these things and full of contradictions (like anyone else).
Like I’m a highly “structured” person, and yet don’t hesitate to jump in the car and take off on a road trip for 2 weeks without any clear direction. Or like my craving for the solitude of my Mini House in the country, and yet I love to host social dinner parties for my friends.
Someone called me “fearless” once. Actually, he was describing my style of fundraising. But maybe this is the best descriptor of all, since it incorporates both my thirst for experiencing this big wide world first hand, as well as my laissez faire approach to my own safety and comfort and for what I’m leaving behind.
Andy: Sounds awesome. Balance is overrated. Nothing wrong with a healthy combo of structure and fearlessness.
You spent a lot of your childhood abroad. How do you feel that’s affected your view on travel today?
Let’s just say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. When I was 15, my parents sold our family business (a small town grocery store), our house, and put our furniture into storage (for a full 10 years).
We then left America to explore Asia-Pacific. We started in New Zealand, where I ended up attending Form 5 at Rangitoto College, then toured around for a few more months hitting Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Japan, before landing in Hawaii for a rest. At this point, my parents decided to get me back in school so I could graduate on time.
My father then became a consultant to Pacific Island nations, working in Pago Pago on American Samoa, The Marshall Islands, and Yap. I think I very much structure my international consulting life after his model of taking an assignment, then taking a few weeks / months off.
It’s funny…yesterday I figured out that I’m the same age now that my Mother was when we decided to de-camp the U.S. Maybe it’s hitting our early 40s that inspires people in my family to embark on a massive worldwide trip.
I definitely think my parents’ spirit of adventure and curiosity about our world was passed on to me. They weren’t afraid of the unknown and neither am I. I fact, I thrive on not knowing what’s around the corner! This element of surprise is one of the most addictive qualities of adventure travel.
Andy: Indeed. This unknown and fear of surprises is what stops people from traveling, but we so easily forget that life is full of surprises that are both bad and GOOD. And statistically, there’s a heck of a lot more Good ones out there.
Tell us about your mini-house.
I love my mini house — It’s absolutely perfect! It’s only 400 square feet but brilliantly appointed so it seems spacious, with pitched ceilings, skylights, and windows on 2 sides. It has 1 closet, no dish washer, and a mini washer / dryer in the carport. The materials used in its construction are fairly high-end, with concrete counter tops, a stained glass window, and wood floors.
It has a lovely garden area, a view of the woods, and backs right up to a mountain for immediate access to the outdoors. (I see fox, deer, raccoons, coyotes everyday). It’s a solid 1 hour and 15 minutes away from San Francisco, which is both a curse and a joy.
I’ve loved every minute of living in the mini house, but after almost 2 years, it’s time to move on. I was planning on buying / building my own mini house, but then the travel bug bit and I’m off on a new adventure!
You’ve lived in so many places in the world. Any favourites, places maybe you’d go back to someday or would suggest as a must-hangout-for-awhile-in locale?
My top 5 places in the world are:
- Sahara Desert: I had no expectations of the Sahara Desert and it is hands-down my favorite place on earth. The color of the desert sands is mind boggling, as is the sheer vastness, and the utter isolation. The beauty and mystique of this place (almost) leaves me speechless.
- Mongolia: Mongolia is truly the Wild West! When you visit you know this place is on the verge of lawlessness. The people are fiercely proud and the landscape is just as fierce. The throat singing, the shared mountain and desert terrain, and ger living – all are eye-opening in our “western” view.
- Vietnam: Asia with a French twist, Vietnam is really surprising. The green of the rice paddies is palpable, the food is amazing, and the people are engaging. As an American, I think I have a soulful perspective on the country’s troubled history and our role.
- Zanzibar: Stunningly beautiful, with a rich history to investigate: the last slave market in the world, the clove plantations, the surrounding islands and beaches. It’s a “spicy” combination of Africa in the Indian Ocean.
Can you explain your concept of ‘adventure philanthropy’?
Sure. “Adventure philanthropy” is really a sort of “Know No Boundaries” take on travel. The more you can push yourself beyond your comfort zone, the more rewarding and rich your experiences.
The best way to really experience and know a new place is to engage with the people in the community on a deeper level. Leave “tourism” behind, and embrace the idea of sharing what you have and learning from your new friends. The most impactful travel experiences are those that provide an authentic connection – through conversations, sharing meals, lending a hand.
What’s been your most inspirational travel experience?
Boy, it’s hard to choose just one – I’ve had several inspirational travel experiences:
1) Sse See Islands, on Lake Victoria in Uganda. I met a man there who showed me the true meaning of hope. Hokey, but true.
2) Usambara Mountains in Tanzania. The children’s desire to go to school and learn was so uplifting.
3) Climbing Kota Kinabalu, island of Borneo in Eastern Malaysia. Character building from a personal perspective.
Any interesting items on your bucket list you’re hoping to tackle in the next couple of years?
Yes! For this upcoming trip, I have 3-4 adventures that are calling my name:
- Ice camping in Antarctica – the last frontier! I’m thinking the ice will be like the Sahara, wild in its beauty and starkness.
- Bike riding through the mountains of Laos. I think this will be a great way to see the country, meet the people and get a little exercise.
- I’m dying to explore Ethiopia. I’m not sure what’s luring me, but I can’t wait to find out!
- Annapurna Trek. I’m planning a full 21-day hike, combined with an overland journey – through Everest Base Camp – to Tibet. Booya!
- I’m also trying to complete my own tennis Grand Slam this year. With Wimbledon and the US Open under my belt, I have my ticket to the Australian Open in hand and my eye on Roland Garros in May.
The rest of the trip is flexible in terms of where I go and what I do. I plan to figure it out along the way.
Wow, Erin, what some incredible experiences – both those you’ve had and those coming up! Folks, to tune in to Erin’s relentless travel adventures, be sure to visit her site, www.GoErinGo.com. Thanks for joining us today, Erin, and sharing your travel experiences!