Gary McKechnie and his wife Nancy Howell own and operate the Coconut Cottage Inn in Mount Dora, Florida.
In addition to cooking breakfast, making beds, and scrubbing toilets at the inn, Gary is also a two-time Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award winner, author of America's best-selling motorcycle guidebook Great American Motorcycle Tours, a two-time National Geographic author (USA 101 and Ten Best of Everything: National Parks, is probably the only writer who has a column in a meetings magazine (Smart Meetings) as well as a motorcycle magazine Road Bike), is the official "Off the Beaten Path" reporter for Visit Florida, a lecturer aboard the Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria...and is also a frequent bed and breakfast guest.
By Gary McKechnie:
I have to admit it was the missus who got me involved with B&BS. About 20 years ago she had the desire to buy an inn and to that end arranged two "inn-ternships" in North Carolina and Massachusetts. Fortunately I wasn't put off by the dawn to way-past-dusk workday and each of us were ready to invest in a bed and breakfast. Our search, though, took a little longer than we expected. Nine years.
Among other things, I'm a travel writer and one monumental assignment was a year-long two-wheeled road trip which resulted in Great American Motorcycle Tours which became the first motorcycle guide to win the Benjamin Franklin Award gold medal for overall excellence as well as the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Silver Medal, known as the ‘Pulitzer Prize of Travel Writing.’ All the while we were on the road, we searched in every state for a bed and breakfast. The odd thing was, when we returned to Florida we found what would become the Coconut Cottage Inn just two doors from our home. We opened in November 2000 and have purposely kept the inn small (just three rooms), but we share many of the same experiences as those of larger inns.
I'd imagine what sets me apart is how the inn continually piques my curiosity about life, which manifests itself in new books and articles and assignments. My travel features have appeared in newspaper and magazines across America including National Geographic Traveler, the Washington Post, Denver Post, Orlando Sentinel, Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Continental Airlines’ Profiles and United Airlines’ Hemispheres, among others. I also became the correspondent for Fodor’s Florida guides and have spent years traveling around the state to cover Orlando, Miami, the Space Coast, and the Panhandle. I wrote a book about Florida for the British Automobile Association and headed back on the road for nearly two years to write National Geographic’s USA 101 which focuses on 101 icons, places, and events that collectively reflect the American experience, from drive-in theatres and tent revivals to Kitty Hawk, cable cars, and the Statue of Liberty. During all of this, I was also traveling across America to write for Harley-Davidson. One of my features, Prairie Hog, about a ride across Kansas and Nebraska, resulted in my second Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Silver Medal.
Just after the release of USA 101, I realized I could pair up my background as a performer with my experience as a traveler and (hopefully) inspire others to hit the road. I was fortunate to be invited to become a member of the Cunard Lines’ Insights Series and now sail often on the Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria to lecture international audiences on American history and our cultural heritage.
It's a wonderful life.