For many of us, travel is everything—or at least a very big part of our lives. Travel expands our worldview, it exposes us to different cultures, it connects us to new people, and it gives us something to look forward to. Yes, it can be challenging and frustrating and exhausting, but it’s also one of the most rewarding things we can do for ourselves.
My wanderlust set in somewhere in my teens. My family didn’t travel much when I was growing up yet somehow, I always ached to see the world. Paris was at the top of my list. Why? I have no idea. It probably had something to do with my extremely idealistic and romantic nature. I guess I fell prey to the Paris we see in movies, the site of so many great love stories. (I’m a Pisces and I fully embrace it.)
In addition to being a romantic, I’m also, as my mom often reminded me growing up, “willful and determined.” I don’t remember exactly where the idea came from, but when I was 18 and working full-time before starting university, I decided I was going to go to Paris at the end of my gap year—alone.
Did my parents protest? Try to talk me out of it? Beg me to find someone to go with? Yes, yes, and yes. Did I give in? Absolutely not. Willful and determined, remember?
I saved up, enlisted the help of a cousin who was a travel agent, bought Paris for Dummies and started planning. My trip was to be 10 days, and I wanted to see EVERYTHING.
I boarded the plane with a world of firsts ahead of me. I hadn’t flown since I was very young, so it felt like my first time, and on an international flight no less. I had to transfer in Toronto and a delay in deplaning is when I learned my first travel lesson: always use the washroom before descent begins. I had to pee so badly as we waited for the door to open that I thought I was going to black out.
When we were finally allowed to get off, the window for me to make my connection had nearly been obliterated. Somehow, I found my way to the international terminal and ran up to the first gate I saw, breathlessly tried to tell the agent where I needed to be and asked for help. The travel gods must have been with me because miraculously, the gate I found myself at was the gate my plane was leaving from. I was the last to board.
I landed in Paris and took a shuttle to my hotel. Shortly after being dropped off, I set out for the holy grail of landmarks (to my young mind), the Eiffel Tower. She did not disappoint. Throughout my trip I visited her at least three times. I’ve read that Parisians hate the twinkling lights that were added shortly before I visited, but I loved them. If there’s anything that can make the most romantic place in the world more so, it’s twinkly lights.
My foray into world travel happened before the advent of Google, so each morning I set out with my paper map after planning the day’s activities. I don’t know how many steps I walked each day because, again, this was more than 15 years ago so Fitbits and Apple watches did not exist, but it was a lot.
I learned how to navigate the metro, I got hit on by rogue French men, I got stuck in a downpour after visiting Notre Dame, I bought cheap wine and baguettes to save money on dinner, I experienced the disdain Parisians have for North Americans, I sat in an outdoor café drinking hot chocolate (coffee came later, when I started university), and I wandered through museums. It was everything I imagined and more.
My trip ended with a terrifying cab ride to Charles de Gaulle. The driver I had pre-booked was late picking me up and tried to make up the time by breaking a lot of traffic laws. I arrived to find that the airport had been evacuated earlier in the day and travelers had just been allowed back inside. Once again, I was dangerously close to missing my flight, but I was ushered to the front of the long security line and boarded with a bit of time to spare.
It was a few years before I had the chance to go on another big adventure. In my second last year of business school, I traveled to Israel on an exchange program with roughly 20 other students. I had kept to myself for the first couple years, so I only had acquaintances in the faculty and knew no one else going on the trip.
It didn’t take more than a day or two before we all become friends and by the end of our month-long program, I felt like I had 20 new soulmates. (There’s that romantic side of me again.) Two of the girls I roomed with have become lifelong friends and I was lucky enough to stand up with both of them on their wedding days.
I’m fortunate to also have a job that gives me the opportunity to travel. I visit cities across Canada and the United States each year, but those trips pale in comparison to the fact that I’ve visited Churchill, the ‘Polar Bear Capital of the World,’ multiple times. My first trip to one of our ecolodges was in 2010, just a few months after I started with Churchill Wild.
I went up in July, at the start of the season when the bears were fat after a season of hunting seals on Hudson Bay and easy to spot against the sea lime grass. I had no idea what to expect, but I quickly fell in love with the pristine Arctic air and the convergence of boreal forest, tundra, and ocean.
When I tell people that we take our guests walking with polar bears, their first reaction often is, “Isn’t that scary?!” Honestly, it never occurred to me to be scared. Maybe I was young enough that the invincibility I’d felt before my trip to Paris was still with me. Or maybe I just knew I was in really good hands with our guides. Whatever the reason, that first encounter with a polar bear was so magical I only felt joy and gratitude for the experience.
My most vivid memories are related to travel. Since that first adventure to France I’ve taken a road trip through Spain, seen my two favourite bands play an outdoor concert in Central Park, gone shark fishing in Nova Scotia, driven the Pacific Coast Highway, seen wild sloths in Nicaragua, and had countless other adventures.
Travel can bring out both the best and the worst in us. We get lost, we miss connections, we don’t know the language, and sometimes we want to leave our travel companions behind. In all of this, we also have the chance to learn about ourselves: our limits, our likes and dislikes, our fears, and our strengths. I wouldn’t change a thing about any of my travel mishaps and missteps. Those are the moments that elevate the adventure, challenge us, and make the experience more memorable and more rewarding.
Rick Steves recently said, “this virus can stop our travel plans, but it cannot stop our travel dreams.” Travel is filled with uncertainty, but one thing is for certain: it’s always an adventure. Let’s hold on to and dream about that.
We will travel again.