I know, I know, I've been neglectful. After some great interviews last year with Greg, Rich, Dave, Frank and the Engelmans, I let it slip as the TP Overlords had me focus on some other big projects (like this and this).
But I'm back. New Year's Resolution #34: Do more interviews with Travellerspoint members.
So here goes, the first in a brand new series of interviews. Who's up first, I hear you ask? Michael Burm - or, as he's known around Travellerspoint, Utrecht.
At 30, Michael's tally of 39 trips through almost 70 countries is pretty impressive. In 2007 alone, he made trips through Asia, Europe, North America and Australia - while keeping his job back home in Holland.
I caught up with Michael to find out how he manages to do all this travelling - and why he just can't stay away from the road.
You made quite a few trips in 2007: Australia in March/April, Ireland in May, Iceland and Canada in September, and finally China in November. Where do you get all this time from?!
Well, that's one advantage of working for the (local) government - I get extra holidays. The standard is about 5 weeks of holiday, but because I work 40 hours a week and get paid for 36, I save 4 hours each week on top of that. That, and about 1.5 weeks of working overtime, means I have about 11 weeks of holiday a year. And almost all of that I use for travelling. I realize I am in a rather luxurious position, because compared to other jobs and other countries I just have more days to spend.
Do you travel on a really tight budget to be able to do all these trips?
I certainly do not splash with money, but I am not really travelling on a very tight budget either. The plane tickets alone sometimes cost a fortune and countries like Iceland and, to a lesser extent, Ireland and Canada are not really cheap. But when travelling in countries like Iceland, I sure am trying to find the cheapest double rooms possible and sometimes also living on cheap food. On the other hand in China things are so cheap that it is possible to stay in really nice mid-range hotels and have a good meal in a more up-market restaurant. Those things can also be highlight of a holiday. For example: a nice lodge in Namibia, or restaurant M on the Bund in Shanghai with a killer view of the skyline of Pudong. But I stayed in rather crappy places while travelling as well, like cold hostels in Bolivia and Peru and breeding nests of cockroaches in Jordan and Syria. I just like it diverse and I really prefer some mid-range travelling in general, with charming small hotels or guesthouses being my favorite. It just adds something to a trip in my opinion.
Out of the four trips you did last year, which was your favourite? Why?
Ok, not to do you a favour, but that was definitely Australia. It had been on my list as a favorite place to go for a long time and finally me and my girlfriend had the chance to go there for about a month. Of course we had to choose which part - and that also answers the 'why'. We chose to travel straight through the centre of the country from Melbourne to Darwin. Mainly because I like deserts so much. The outback of Oz is something amazing and although some people may think it is rather monotonous, it is not. And even on those rare occasions when you travel for 100 kilometers and things barely change, that still is great fun. It just empties your mind totally and gives such a good feeling about the emptiness of the country as well. Compared to the Netherlands, there couldn't be a bigger difference when you ask me. Yep, after Namibia (another empty country), Australia is my number two ever!
Uluru at sunset.
What do you love about travelling?
Basically what it all comes down to for me is the chance to leave the everyday life and just experience something totally different in a totally different environment with new cultures and natural stuff to explore. Although I have about 11 weeks of holiday, that still leaves about 41 weeks of work and of course enjoying the weekends and evenings. But that's a life with a pattern that, although being nice, hasn't got that many surprises. Travelling does. Since I was a little kid I have always been interested in geography, topography, climate related things all over the world. I dreamed of going to far away places, seeing unique landscapes and awkward animals not be found anywhere else. I mean, seeing a koala, cheetah or whale in his natural environment just gives me the shivers. It's pure - and I hope it will stay that way eternally.
When did you make your first big trip?
The first trip outside Europe immediately took me to the extreme other end of the world, New Zealand. During my last 6 months of study I worked more to save money than I actually studied. The money I saved I used to start realising my travel ambitions. And why not start at the end of the world and slowly make my way back in the years after that! I stayed about 5 weeks or so in New Zealand and after that I went to Bali to relax and party a bit. And of course see something of that island as well.
It was also my first big trip that I made by myself. Later that year, when I was already working where I work now, I again left for about a month, to Chile and southern Argentina. Both trips I did just by myself, which was a bit strange in the beginning of course. But I liked it and although most of my travels are with somebody else, travelling alone sometimes gives the best impression of a country. Although I must admit I like it more to travel with somebody I know from home, so you have something to share in the future as well. That also can be one of those rewards about travelling, saying to each other '...do your remember...' and thinking back about that place far away from home and far away in the past as well.
What are your travel plans like for 2008?
I am just about to arrange tickets to Brazil for next June. My girlfriend and I will be visiting the Amazon, the Pantanal and the Iguazu Falls and steer clear of beaches and big cities. I have never been to the real tropical rainforests, so I am looking forward to that trip for sure.
Although more doubtful, I also have my mind set on visiting the mountain gorillas later this year in Rwanda and/or Uganda. If there is one creature that has difficulties surviving in a world of poaching and destroying the forests, it is this animal closely related to us mortal human beings.
That still leaves me with 4 weeks of holiday...any ideas someone? No seriously, I am sure I will drag some places out of my list. The Galapagos, Antarctica and tigers in India are very high on my list as well. But that will be for another year I guess, as this year (well, actually this January already) we are moving to another house as well, which costs time and money. I might just fit in a nice European city on the other hand, I still haven't been to countries like Croatia, Bulgaria or the Baltic States. Strange, that people want to travel to far away places, but haven't seen their own surroundings.
Finally, stroke our egos a little... What's your favourite feature on Travellerspoint?
Surely the forum. I like to ask questions and answer others' as well. A good second is the photography feature and I must say, there are loads of really good pictures in that gallery. But of course I like a good deal of joking around on the forum as well, sometimes with sarcasm and an ironic twist. Sometimes I am a bit misunderstood though...wonder how that happens..;-)
Check out these other interviews with Travellerspoint members: