If I had a dollar for every time I've been asked "How did you become a travel writer?" I wouldn't be writing this column. So, let me set the record straight. Before I was a travel writer I was a traveller, a condition I inherited from my parents. Growing up in suburban Toronto, my dad was a high school teacher, which meant summers off for the entire family. When school ended in June we hitched up the Starcraft camper and set off for places unknown (at least to me), returning just in time for the start of classes in September. By the time I was 18 we'd reached both coasts in Canada and the U.S., twice, and I could read a map in my sleep.
The travel bug permanently engrained in my DNA, summer backpacking beckoned once university had started, and that led further afield with friends: Britain, where I worked at the legendary Happy Eater restaurant in London for a couple of months to fund my travels there, and continental Europe a couple of times.
These travels continued during my holidays once I'd started working as a journalist at the North York Mirror and later Today's Seniors. Such was my passion that I once threatened to quit in order to carve out nine weeks (without pay) for an epic Australia/New Zealand/Tahiti/Fiji adventure.
Invariably I found myself writing about these travel experiences simply because I wanted to. I think my first story was "10 reasons to love London." (Note to self: future column idea, though it might be 100 at this point…) Travel writing was proving to be a calling, but also better than writing about flamboyant mayor slash Bad Boy Mel Lastman or Depends.
Fortunately, travel, not just adult diapers, was synonymous with seniors, so I soon had a legit outlet for my musings.
Then the press trips started, as tourist boards invited the publication to visit their destination with the hopes that a story would follow.
My first press trip, not surprisingly given the market I was writing for at the time, was to Florida and it was there that the path I seemed to be heading down was set. Not that world class shell collecting and eating the cheeseburger that supposedly inspired Jimmy Buffet's "Cheeseburger in Paradise" in Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, wasn't life changing enough, but it was there that I came to the realization that "they actually pay people to do this!"
It was also where I met Percy Rowe.
Percy was part of our group; elderly (probably about 70 at the time), unassuming, British, he was known for his ever-present cravat and as the long-time travel editor of the Toronto Sun and, before that, The Telegram. He cycled every morning in Florida while those less than half his age slept in. He was a legend.
He was as debonair as I was like one of the pimply, squeaky-voiced teenagers on The Simpsons ("If I had a girlfriend, she'd kill me!")
And despite being humble and soft spoken, I couldn't help but observe that by the end of every meal that week, our entire group would be sitting, chin in hands, listening to his stories – anecdotes of a life in travel. To this day I remember those stories, like his being the first white man on an island off the coast of Australia. And this one: visiting an African village he bought a small stool as a souvenir. Later, while interviewing the village chief, he recounted his purchase, to which the head man enquired, "How many wives do you have?" Percy laughed and replied, "Well, just the one!" The chief was dumbfounded and couldn't understand why he had bought the stool: it was, after all, for placing outside the hut of the wife one intended on sleeping with that night and thus utterly useless to a man with only one of them!
At that moment, I remember thinking, I wanted to be like Percy; that when I reached his age, I wanted to be able to look back and say, "I led a life like Percy's."
I'm not there yet, but I'm working on it.
This & That
- To this day, Liverpool still revels in its status as the birthplace of The Beatles and there is plenty to do there for both casual and diehard fans. On June 1, the city will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of the band's epic album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with fireworks and more.
- Iceland is considering trying to cool down its over-heated tourism industry by introducing new taxes on visitors. Visitations to the "it" destination have increased five-fold since 2010 and fears are that the tiny nation can't handle it.
- Ordering a Philly cheese steak sandwich may take on a new twist at The Eating Establishment in Park City, Utah. The new restaurant is the third belonging to actor Ty Burrell, better known as Phil Dunphy on Modern Family. Burrell is a serious foodie and lives in the city. He also owns two eateries in Salt Lake City.
- Sandals is soon setting out on its annual coast-to-coast road trip in Canada, calling in more than 45 cities. The agent workshops start in Toronto April 25 and finish in St. John, NB, Sept. 28. Attendees will earn 10 CTC or CTM credits and can become a Sandals specialist. Agents can register online at www.uvisandals.ca. Cost is $40.
- Silversea is conducting a multi-million refurbishment of the Silver Cloud ahead of her conversion into an ice-class expedition ship, scheduled to take place this fall. The new Silver Cloud, which launched the Silversea fleet in 1994, promises to offer the ultra-luxury distinctions of a classic Silversea ship combined with the strength and manoeuvrability required for expedition cruising.
- Air Transat economy class passengers travelling to or from Tel Aviv, Israel, will be permitted one piece of checked baggage of 30 kg. This new allowance will be effective June 18, the date of the inaugural flight from Montreal.
- Unspoiled Isla Holbox (pronounced "ole-bosh"), is Sunwing's newest destination in Mexico, available in one- or two-week (including twin) packages through Sept. 6 from seven Canadian gateways: Toronto, Calgary, Montreal, Quebec City, Edmonton, Ottawa, and St John's. All packages include land and ferry transfers from Cancun.
- Meanwhile, for the third successive year, Sunwing will offer a program to Punta Cana, Montego Bay and St. Maarten from Vancouver (via YYZ). Flights start May 17 and continue through Sept. 3.
Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of legendary ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, on his collaboration on a series of upcoming cruises with Aqua Expeditions:
"The idea of travelling to some of the largest water systems in the world, including the Amazon and Mekong rivers, evokes a feeling of adventure, exotic beauty and remoteness. My hope is to inspire Aqua Expeditions' passengers to appreciate at an emotional and intellectual level how we are part of one global water system. We are the only species that can ensure a biologically and culturally rich future for all species. Protecting our water planet now is our gift to the future."