Bellevue man goes where his lists take him — even Antarctica
At 68, he’s visited more than 100 countries and every state three times and posted other record feats. Douglas Nickson is not done.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Douglas Nickson makes lists of goals. Lots and lots of lists.
Then, unlike you and me, he accomplishes them.
Eighteen years ago, he was financially busted — bankrupt. He had just gone through an emotional divorce.
Nickson decided it was time to pull himself out of “my own ‘Dark Ages.’ ”
He gathered a bunch of magazines and travel brochures with photos of landmarks around the world. Buckingham Palace. The Eiffel Tower. The Great Pyramid in Egypt.
He cut out the pictures and glued them on 2-by-4-foot cardboard.
“I am going to go to all those places,” he vowed.
Now, at age 68, he says he’s been to more than 100 countries, and all seven continents.
These days, that framed cardboard collage hangs in his Bellevue home office. You bet he’s proud.
If this was a hoax, it would be an incredibly intricate hoax. He has passports with stamps from various nations. He has photos of himself at various famous locations.
That’s him on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn. That’s him on a camel in Egypt. That’s his certificate from a marine cruise vouching he landed at Neko Harbour, on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Nickson’s business as a financial adviser for seniors is thriving. He certainly knows from experience what he can tell clients to avoid.
And he keeps making lists.
In carefully cataloged envelopes, he has currencies from more than 50 of the nations he has visited.
He not only has visited every state in the U.S., but is only six away from visiting every state four times.
He has collected tiny pebbles from 138 well-known locations, from Waikiki Beach to the ruins of Pompeii in Italy, which he keeps in a porcelain vase.
In his home, Nickson has turned a room into a shrunken version of England’s House of Lords library, complete with the well-polished wood bookshelves that are crammed with hardbacks.
Years ago, he says, “I saw a picture of the library in a magazine. I decided that one day, I was going to have a library like that.”
The books in the library aren’t just for show. Nickson reads every night — all kinds of books, about history, about finance, about politics.
He’s even got a 1-inch-tall copy of the New Testament. It can be read, with a magnifying glass.
Nickson finds other lists, such as “the 80 books that changed the world,” and then sets about buying them.
For example, he says, he has read all 11 volumes of Ariel and Will Durant’s “The Story of Civilization.”
“How did I do that? I would start with Volume I on New Year’s Day. Each book has about 600 to 900 pages. I wouldn’t read it every night, but I would average two or three pages a day. At the end of that year, I had read the entire book,” says Nickson.
In addition, he says, he read half an hour to an hour a day, seven to 15 books at once.
Listening to him is like listening to a Tony Robbins, of whom he’s a big fan, motivation infomercial:
“In my ‘Dark Ages,’ ” I became very familiar with two big dragons in my life, fear and doubt. I had four degrees, including an MBA, I was a U.S. Naval Reserve commander, owner of my home in Bellevue, a résumé that included having been a small corporate president. My career hit a wall and things kept getting worse. I remember thinking, ‘How can this be happening?’ ”
But then he remembered his upbringing, when his dad, Roy Nickson, got him interested in scouting:
“As a skinny little kid I wasn’t going to make a big splash in sports, but becoming an Eagle Scout turned out to be the single most important bedrock accomplishment in my life. I had a core belief that I was still worthwhile.”
He kept making lists, inventing his own travel clubs, of which he’s the only member.
The Four State Intersection Club, for having stood at the corner of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Check.
The America’s Cup Triple Club, for having seen the race in three different oceans — Atlantic, Pacific and Indian. Check.
He’s a member of the Travelers’ Century Club, a worldwide organization with 2,000 members who can lay claim to having visited at least 100 countries. The application is on an honor system.
Nickson crams sites into his travels. He estimates that throughout the past four decades, he’s spent $200,000 on travels, relatively cheap for visiting 100-plus countries. At the start, “Europe on $5 a Day” was his companion — “perhaps the greatest investment I ever made.”
Sometimes it’s not exactly leisurely travel.
In April of this year, he visited five states in the Southeast, usually squeezed onto one side of a business trip.
“You rent a car, get two boxes of fig bars, and get going,” says Nickson. “I can’t tell you how many museums I’ve walked into at 5 to 5 in the afternoon, before they closed. I look at the museum and then outta there.”
He keeps on with the motivation talk:
“One reason people don’t write down their goals is that if they don’t achieve them, they will think they are a loser, and that is just too painful.
“It’s not failure that they should fear. It’s simply not trying.”
In the late 1990s, Nickson decided to try to find love again.
He went on Match.com and placed his bio. This year, he and Karen Nickson celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary.
She hadn’t traveled much before they met. Now Karen’s been to 38 countries and 20 states, she says, although she stays home from the more grueling trips as a few years ago she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
She also now talks the motivation talk: “Visualize what you want, make it a goal, and it WILL happen.”
Easy enough to make fun of.
But at his Bellevue home, Douglas Nickson has the photos from those 100-plus countries.
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @ErikLacitis