My college career was a blur. I don’t remember much except for the many bowling pins struck, many a Frisbees thrown, and many friends met. Mike, one of my long time friends, has lived quite an adventurous life after we graduated and it’s my pleasure talking with him now about being the most interesting man in the world. Follow him on Instagram @mhhicks for amazing pictures of his travels near and far – and for pictures of his regal dog Amador.
Up Up and a Bear: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Mike: I grew up in possibly the best place on Earth: Marin County, California. I studied Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering at UC Davis. I then moved to San Francisco and decided to use my brainpower to promote clean technologies and clean energy. For most of my career I worked on building and growing SolarCity, which is now one of the largest solar energy companies in the world.
I’m very passionate about preserving the planet but also exploring it. In 2013 I took a “mini-retirement” for over two years to travel all over the world. It has been the highlight of my life and the best decision I have ever made. I’ve seen and done incredible things and feel like I’ve gained more intelligence and wisdom in the past two years than I did in the 29 years before that.
I’m a big believer in not waiting until old age to travel. My motto is YOYO: You’re Only Young Once.
Up Up and a Bear: YOYO – you should really trademark that! When did you start traveling, as a child or very recently?
Mike: I traveled a bit as a child because my parents also liked to travel but I didn’t travel extensively until I was in college. I was studying engineering at UC Davis and I really wanted to do a study abroad program but none were offered for engineering students. So I just made it happen myself, without the studying part. I traveled to Italy by myself for a month in the summer of 2005 and had the time of my life. Italy was so vibrant and different that it changed my perspective on everything, and I was hooked on traveling after that. Even today Italy is still my favorite country to explore.
My motto is YOYO: You’re Only Young Once.
Up Up and a Bear: Make your own study abroad program – genius! Tell me about your mini-retirement – how did you travel at that time?
Mike: I didn’t do a full year abroad like some people do. Instead I broke it up into several 2-3 month trips coming back to San Francisco between journeys. My longest trip was a full 3 months traveling through Western Europe for the whole summer of 2014. I’ve done several other 2+ month trips but this one was the longest one and I visited the most countries. I was 29 and had never seen the rest Western Europe besides Italy.
I started my trip in Lisbon, Portugal, which I highly recommend. I then did a loop through Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Czech Republic, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, back to France, and then onto the UK. Traveling around Europe was especially good because I had already traveled to other places and made friends with Europeans whom I stayed with for parts of my trip. I loved Europe so much that I went back for the summer of 2015!
Up Up and a Bear: That sounds epic. How did you pull it off financially?
Mike: Travel is expensive and I couldn’t have afforded to do so without having extra cash. The company I previously worked for had an IPO and I received a good payout and used some of the money I made to travel. It was money well spent. In Europe I stretched it by staying mostly in youth hostels, cheap hotels, and with friends. But I made sure to splurge on food and more expensive experiences. Especially in Italy and France – spend your money on food!
Up Up and a Bear: What did you learn while on this trip?
Mike: I learned that it is impossible to see and do everything. There are more places to see in the world than anyone has time for in their lifetime, so I learned to pick my battles. I usually choose a place to spend several days in, and I spend a lot of time enjoying the sights, culture and food.
…it’s risky to NOT travel.
Up Up and a Bear: What was the craziest thing you did on this trip?
Mike: I arrived in Copenhagen during the summer solstice, the biggest party week of the year. During this week young adults graduate their version of high school and they come to the city to party like crazy. It got pretty wild and it seemed like the whole city was drunk and celebrating. To top it off, they have a tradition where, after graduating, they will jump into the water naked. So at about three-o’clock in the morning there were dozens of naked Danes jumping off the walkways and into Nyhavn Harbor wearing only their white graduation caps. It was crazy.
Up Up and a Bear: Of course! How else would anyone celebrate graduation? Any other way would be barbaric! In light of what you’ve learned from your trips, what would you say to people hesitant to travel?
Mike: Just do it. People put off traveling because they think it’s risky to travel but the truth is it’s risky to NOT travel. You risk living your whole life having never done what you wanted to do. Do you want to live like that? Neither do I. So go do it.
Up Up and a Bear: Do you think the world would be a better place if more people traveled? How so?
Mike: The environmentalist in me says “don’t travel” because transportation contributes so much to global warming. But culturally I think it would be a huge benefit for people to see the way other people live. The only geographical region I think is truly internationally cultured is Europe. People from other parts of the world like North America and Asia just don’t get as much exposure to other cultures as people do in Europe. It would be so beneficial for our country if more Americans traveled. It is eye opening seeing how people in other countries live and behave so differently around the world.
…when you visit one place you suddenly realize you want to go to two or more places!
Up Up and a Bear: Agree with you 100% there. There were several quotes from my previous post, 99 epic travel quotes that will inspire you to travel, that I truly believe in. One of my favorites is “Traveling – you realize that differences are lost…” by Italo Calvino. When we’re isolated, we only understand as much of the world as the media and our circle of friends could tell us. When you travel and interact with people from different corners of the world, you come to realize that we’re all the intrinsically, but it’s our cultural differences that make life so beautiful. Anyway, I digress much. What’s your traveling style – slow and relaxed or fast and furious?
Mike: I like to travel slowly – if I’m traveling and I really like a place then I will stay there for a few days. In Copenhagen this summer I decided I was going to hang out there with my friends and explore the city more so I rented an apartment and stayed for an extra two weeks. When I was in Southeast Asia I relaxed on the Gili Islands off of Bali for three weeks and read a couple of books and learned how to free dive. You may see fewer things this way but it is so much more satisfying to travel slowly.
Up Up and a Bear: So what’s the next epic trip, back to the bridge where the Danes jump off for graduation?
Mike: I don’t know yet! In Greek mythology there is the legend of the Hydra – if you cut off one head then two will grow back. Traveling is the same way, when you visit one place you suddenly realize you want to go to two or more places! Come to think of it… I want to go to Greece and Croatia next!
Up Up and a Bear: Mike, thank you for your frank responses. It’s been a pleasure interviewing you. It’s clear that traveling has made a significant impact to your life. Thank you for spreading the gospel and good luck on your next journeys.
You can find and follow Mike on his next adventures on Instagram @mhhicks or http://instagram.com/mhhicks. Fun fact: Mike’s favorite supermodel Petra Nemcova follows him on Instagram – so you should too!
You can find Mike’s upcoming iOS app, Daily Good, with daily challenges to do good for the environment at www.DailyGood.us.