Mikael Staffas a Swedish traveller (and one of our partons) has lived in multiple cities across Sweden, as well as in the US, Germany, France, Japan, and Russia. Despite his management career in base material industries, he has developed a passion for exploring new cultures and regions and visiting four new countries every year. With a particular interest in culture and history, he enjoys sightseeing and exploring museums with his family and is a member of the Swedish Club100 travel club
Mikael, please tell us something about yourself. Where do you come from and how did you start traveling in the first place?
I am a Swede born in northern Sweden but mainly grew up in Stockholm. I have moved around a lot, having lived in five cities in Sweden and also in the US, Germany, France, Japan and Russia. Now I am back in Stockholm again. I am married to Louise, whom I met already in high school, and we are empty nesters as all our three children have moved out. Two of them still live in the Stockholm area and one daughter lives in Amsterdam
How did you become in love with travel?
I have always liked to see new things and I early on began to collect travel “items” on a low scale like regions in Sweden, Norway and Finland as well as towns and cities in Sweden. When I was 18 years old I looked at a world map that I think at that time had 173 countries. I had been to 10 countries at that time and figured that if I would visit four new countries every year I could get to visit all countries.
You are one of the rare big travellers that are not professionally involved in travel in any way, at least to the best of our knowledge. How do you combine your demanding work with your travels?
It is true that I don’t work in the travel industry in any way (even though I did work as a tour guide in the summers during my university years in the 80s and I did serve as a non-executive director of the Swedish State Railways for five years about 10 years ago). I have been pursuing a management career in different base material industries and five years back I am the CEO of Boliden (A major European base metal mining and smelting company).
I travel around 100-150 days per year for work (and have done so for the last 30 years). This travelling usually does not take me to any new places as it tends to go to places I have already been. I have, however, been able to extend trips to also see new things.
I have also been using all my vacation time to travel. Usually, I have travelled with the family so I have been able to look at new things at the same time as spending time with them. My wife is already over 100 countries and all three children are approaching 100.
Are you also on your way to visit all UN countries? Why/why not?
As I said before, I have the ambition to travel to four new countries every year, so yes – I am on the way to 193. Having said that, I am in parallel travelling to deepen my coverage of countries and visiting regions. I really like NomadMania’s focus on regions rather than just countries.
Who do you travel with most of the time and what is your most preferred travel style?
I have usually travelled with my wife and my children. As all three children are in dedicated relationships we can now be a group of eight persons. I have also travelled with other members of my extended family including my mother and father, my brother and my wife’s family. In the last ten years, I have also travelled extensively with other members of the Swedish Club100 travel club.
What are your biggest travel interests? Where do you go before you go everywhere else?
I am more interested in culture and history compared to beaches, etc. I spend more time on sightseeing and in museums. I have always liked North America and Europe – partially because it is easier to travel there (and I can usually combine travel there with business trips) but also because Europe and North America have great varieties of culture and history.
I travelled a lot to the US for business and I decided early on to try to get to all 50 states (which I finished in 2012) and now I am focused on visiting all 50 state capitals (I still have about 25 to go).
What were some of your biggest surprises on your travels so far?
It is difficult to think of any really big surprises. Right now I am rediscovering travelling by rail (I travelled a lot with trains in the 80s but not much since) and I am surprised by how nice it is. I was also really pleasantly surprised by how nice people were when I visited countries like Yemen (now 15 years ago) and negatively surprised by how bad the security situation has gotten in Santiago when I was there last month.
Do you have some special travel stories to share with us?
Of course, I have many but they are difficult to tell in only a few words. I have never had any really bad security situation (never been robbed or anything like that). I have had to go to hospital in Addis Ababa with kidney stones but that worked out really well and I was well taken care of.
Once in Yemen, I was in a restaurant in the countryside. About half the restaurant was filled with tourists (mainly Germans) and the other half were locals who were all dressed in traditional clothing. Some of the Germans were behaving (in my mind) very poorly. They were stepping up very close to the locals to take pictures and not really asking for permission.
The locals were very polite and did not say anything. I spoke to our guide that we should give a camera to the locals so that they could step up close to the Germans and take pictures of them. Our driver and some of the locals bought into the idea and started taking pictures of the Germans really close up. The scenes that we saw were hilarious as the Germans looked more and more uncomfortable being treated with their own medicine….
Another fun story is my “Crocodile Dundee” hat that I always travel with and that you see in many of the pictures. I was on Vancouver Island in 2011 and there was a brand new app out where you uploaded a picture of yourself and the app gave back an answer regarding what celebrity that you were most like.
I did this and the answer was that the celebrity that was my look-alike was Paul Hogan. My friends who were on the same trip right away bought the hat for me so that I would really play the Crocodile Dundee role to the fullest….
What is it about the travel that gets you excited the most and what keeps you going even when it is tough?
Meeting new people.
How did your general view of the world change with traveling?
I have of course gradually changed my views of the world as I have gotten more exposure.
What kind of benefits do you find in joining travel clubs such as NomadMania? What other travel communities are you a part of?
Apart from NomadMania, I am very active in the Swedish Club100 travel club. It is a great pleasure meeting like-minded people to talk to and discuss travel. It is also easier (and more cost-efficient) if you can travel in a small group together.
You are one of NomadMania’s most generous donors for the past year. Can you please tell us more about why you chose to donate in the first place and what would you say to other members of the community?
I am happy to provide donations to organizations and causes that I like and where I get the feeling that the money is well spent. I think that NomadMania gives great value through its website and I am happy to support that.
We have the signature question that we ask all of our guests: if you could invite 4 people from any era to dinner, who would your guests be and why?
There are many historical figures that it would be great to meet and discuss both the way that they saw the world that they lived in and also how the world has developed since. Since I like to read and have many classics I have chosen four of my favorite authors from different times. It would be really great to listen to them debate how the world is developing. The four I would choose would be:
Nicolai Gogol. He wrote great novels like “Dead Souls” and looked upon the world with clear views but also with great scepticism
Jules Verne. For being a very early author of travel books if you want to call “Around the World in 80 Days” a travel book. But also as an early Science Fiction writer, he had some idea about where we were heading
Voltaire. For his clear views that we need to continue to work with the world that we have gotten and not just sit back and enjoy. This is marvellously expressed in “Candide”.
Thomas Mann. For his clear descriptions of the political and philosophical developments as described in “The Magic Mountain”