Backpackmojo asks 10 questions to Mike Cooney - Antoine Heber-Suffrin on 10/05/2012
Mike has been travelling for decades. He started working on a Ship in his early 20s where he caught the travelling bug. In 2008, he and his wife Catrell sold everything they owned to travel the World for a year with their three teen-age sons.
For those who don't know you, you started travelling by working on a ship in your early twenties. Can you tell us about this experience, and would you recommend it ?
Working on the ship in the Merchant Marines was my first big adventure. It's another great example of not what you know, but who you know. In 1978, I received a call from an uncle who was chief engineer on an old rust-bucket ship. He asked if I wanted to go to Egypt and earn $80 per day. Today, that is equivalent to nearly $300 per day - the decision was a no-brainer. I worked on and off the Point Judy over two years. As a result, I traveled to Egypt twice, Greece twice, South Korea, Hawaii and transversed the Panama Canal four times. During the summer of 1979 a friend and I backpacked in Europe for three months and visited 17-countries. So I guess you could say that working on the ship and trekking through Europe helped solidify my passion for travel. The chances of anyone having the same opportunity today to work on a ship as I did is probably non-existent. My recommendation is travel whenever there is an opportunity. The only regret you'll ever have is not traveling when given the chance.
You have managed to make a living in the Travel industry, can you tell us what you do and whether travel blogging is essential to your job ?
Travel blogging is essential. It helps establish a level of expertise that sets you apart from the pack. As an example, I just booked a tour for a client to Australia. She contacted us because she heard we had traveled there, and believed we could offer her a lot of information and free advice based on our experience. We are able to recommend places for her to visit that the average travel agent would probably not know about unless they had been there.
You have been to 50 countries, which makes you a heavy traveller. Where do you plan to go next ?
The bigger question is where don't I want to go. I would like to visit Eastern Europe, go to Columbia, Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Turkey and revisit Peru, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. When our sons are out of college, my wife and I plan to adopt the vagabond lifestyle again. We always said after returning in 2009 from our around the world trek, living a "normal" lifestyle again was only temporary. As any traveler knows, once bitten by the proverbial travel bug, it becomes an itch that can only be scratched by more travel - metaphorically speaking of course.
What kind of traveler are you : World tours only or one country at a time ?
When my wife and I travel, we'll go much slower and plan to spend more time in each country, eventually making our way around the world. When we took our three sons on the trek, we had finite financial resources and had to return for them to begin college. Even so, I don't envision spending more than a month or two in any one country because we like diversity and get bored easily.
You have been travelling with your family for a year. What is different from travelling solo and how did you handle it ? Which one is your favourite ?
Wow! Since this is going to be printed I will choose my words carefully. Traveling with family does have its share of challenges including way too much together time. We are a very close family; however, there were days we had had enough of each other and craved some "me" time - that included my wife and me. Overall we all got along remarkably well, but there were also times we were at each other throats. Traveling in a motorhome on New Zealand's South Island for two weeks comes to mind. I have plenty of stories to tell about the good, the bad and the ugly of five-people together nearly 24/7, but at the end of the day I wouldn't change a thing. What wasn't very funny at the time, we now remember back and joke about. Although each of us always seems to remember the same "situation" differently. I've never traveled solo, but have talked to many people who have and believe it's the only way to go.
In case of an Apocalypse in December 2012, if you could save one natural wonder and one man-made monument in the World, which one would you choose ?
Gosh, that's like saying if I could only take one of my sons with me, which one would it be. If it were a man-made monument I'd have to choose Machu Picchu and the natural wonder would be the Amazon. But the Amazon would have to also include all of the animal life.
What is the most adventurous experience you had while travelling, one that made you feel like Indiana Jones ?
If you don't count the bus rides in Vietnam, I believe walking around the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia was the most Indiana Jones-like experience. The trees growing up, over and through the structures definitely gave the impression of being on the set of an IJ movie.
Which Country made you feel like you could settle there ? Why haven't you ?
If cost were an object, and it usually is, I would say one of the Central American countries. If cost were not an object, I would choose Australia and use it as a base to explore that region of the world including Antarctica. Once our sons finish college and on their own, we've talked about living in the Yucatan, but that's at least three to five years away.
In 2008, you sold everything to embrace a life of travelling, have you ever regretted your decision?
No, absolutely not! We had originally planned to finance our trek by selling our house. Unfortunately, in 2008 as everyone knows the housing market didn't just take a nose-dive, it imploded. My wife and I were so committed to taking our sons on an around the world trek that I cashed in nearly all of my retirement. Our theory was if we gave them a real-world, hands-on immersive education they could attend a community college, state university and do anything they set their minds to. We are proud to say our theory has been confirmed as fact. They constantly reference the experiences they had and incorporate them into their studies and everyday life. As evidence the twins are headed to South Africa for five months to participate in a counter-poaching program for rhinos.
When are you coming to visit us in Paris ?
I visited Paris when I backpacked in 1978, so I am sure a few things have changed. Catrell has always wanted to see Paris so it's only a matter of time before we get there. I would love to sit at a sidewalk cafe and enjoy a great cup of coffee while savoring a delicate pastry and watch the world go by. Okay, so maybe it just got moved up on the priority list.