Monday, December 23, 2013

A Goal Worth Keeping: My Favourite Travel Moments from 2013

Santa Cruz, Guatemala, November 2013. Photo by Canice Leung

“I’m curious; what are your long-term goals? Do you have a five-year plan?” he asked as I awkwardly attempted to spear my sushi with chopsticks.

It was nearly the end of 2012 and in the wake of my break-up with Jay, it was one of the first proper dates that I’d been on. The question was normal first date fodder, but I was stumped. The truth was that at 28, with no real job or savings and without a single asset to my name (unless you consider a sizeable vintage dress collection a worthwhile investment), I had no real personal or professional goals.

I only had this one thing:

“I want to travel to 30 countries before I turn 30,” I told him. “I’ll figure out the rest once I’m done that.”

As the words left my mouth, I realized how superficial they sounded. It was a goal that was rooted in white privilege. I had become no better than those rich American women that Helka and I made fun of when we toured through Europe—attempting to collect their silver spoons just to prove that they had been somewhere, without much consideration for where they had actually been.

But in a time of uncertainty, it was the only goal I had. So I focused on that. It was something to work towards.

On the road to the Isle of Skye, Scotland, December 2013.

It’s been a busy year. As I write this, I’m somewhere over Manitoba, homeward bound for the holiday season. It’s my 27th flight of the year. In the last 12 months I fully took advantage of my mobile office, travelling enough kilometers to circle the earth nearly three times. I went to eight countries, four provinces and one territory, and for good measure, visited Montréal no less than four times. (I am not going to bother tabulating the amount that I spent on plane, train and bus tickets this year. I think it’s fairly safe to assume that I spent at least a quarter of my income on transportation alone.) In 2013, I also achieved my one and only goal of visiting 30 countries before I turn 30. (Actually, I made it to 31 with five months to spare.)

But even though I may have ticked off border crossings and collected passport stamps like they were silver spoons, I also remembered that it was never a superficial goal. My travels have always been rooted in people rather than places. This year I helped Sophie open up her ice cream shop in Honduras, reconnected with old friends in Sydney and London, and spent two weeks in an RV with my mom. The goal was never really 30 countries—the goal was to take advantage of the life that I’ve created for myself and to learn to be present in it.

The other night, I went out for dinner with Jay. We talked about the year that’s passed and the things that have transpired since our break-up.

“You know something Jay? I’m really happy right now,” I told him. “I kind of feel like I’m killing it.” 

So as I sit here on my penultimate flight of the year, I can’t help but reflect on my favourite travel moments of the year:

Photo by Mike Pace

1. Picnicking on the Painted Rocks on Georgian Bay, Ontario.

“I’ll be fine,” Jeff assured us. “It’s beautiful. Trust me, you’ll want to spend at least a couple of hours there—you should pack a lunch before you go.”

I had driven up to Parry Sound to spend the Canada Day weekend with Mike. Although we had only met a couple of months earlier in the depths of the winter doldrums, our friendship was quick and fast. Of all the people that I’ve met in the last year—which, surprisingly, is a lot—Mike had stood out as genuine and uncomplicated. Our relationship was easy. I baked for him, he tuned my bike, and we spent our mornings sitting on a bench on Dundas West drinking coffee and soaking up the first rays of spring.

So when Mike left to spend the summer at a boat-in cottage acting as a caretaker for Jeff, an elderly artist and former architect, I couldn’t resist inviting myself up for a visit.

We spent the weekend picking wild strawberries, swimming and sitting beside the fire. I had plans to write, he had plans to paint. We did neither. Instead, we hopped in the canoe and paddled to the Painted Rocks, where we spent the afternoon exploring the endless expanse of smooth stone and sharing a picnic beside the water.

Jeff was right to tell us to pack a lunch. It was absolutely beautiful.

2. Watching my mom watch pelicans in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. 

Are you young and able-bodied? Are your parents?

Take them someplace now. I promise that you won’t regret it.

3. Travelling with these two through Central America.

Do I have to pick a moment? Sure, I hit my 30th country, but when it happened it didn’t even really matter. All that mattered were the moments building up to it—celebrating Day of the Dead in a massive graveyard in Guatemala, eating marshmallows roasted over a volcano, using my hands to scale upwards on a rocky 13-kilometre hike around Lake Atitlan and watching the sun set over a beach in El Salvador—all of it with Canice and Chloé by my side.

4. Drinking at the Union Tavern in Fortrose, Scotland. 

It was the end of the night. The pub was meant to have closed more than an hour earlier but the fisherman, who had just returned from weeks at sea, insisted on buying Jules and I another round. (“You’re a lovely couple,” he told me at the end of the night, planting a kiss on my right cheek.) We were gathered around the fireplace, whisky in hand, along with the bartender and a guy who couldn’t have been more than 20.

“That’s Hugh,” the bartender told me, pointing to a framed photo on the wall. (Earlier, I had asked him about the owner of “Hugh’s Pew,” a labeled stool at the bar’s edge.) Soon, the young guy and the fisherman joined in, enthusiastically pointing out all the people in the photo collages surrounding the fireplace and telling us their stories.

After they were done, we stood back, reflecting on the photos on the walls. The bartender broke the silence.

“We don’t get many visitors around these parts,” he said, walking back behind his bar. They were just as puzzled as we were about how we had ended up in Fortrose, just north of Inverness on the Black Isle. But they were pleased that we had chosen their little pub to drink in; their little community to make our home for a night.

Later, back in our room, Jules and I climbed into bed, giggling and leaning against one another. "That was excellent," Jules said, happy and satisfied with the night's events.

Drunkenly, we decided that next we would go to the Isle of Skye to stay with hippies because we could. If Fortrose had proven anything, we didn’t need any more reason than that.

And to the rest of the good times:

Photo by Nettika Berthelot

1. Participating in Canadian rites of passage in Prince Edward County.

2. Celebrating spring with honeybees and new friends in Beamsville. 

3. Tourism Australia sending me on the trip of a lifetime to South Australia. 

4. Getting up early to bake cinnamon buns for the crew at our annual Eagle Lake cottage getaway. 

5. Enjoying a Friday evening glass of wine on a rooftop with Jane and Nick, New York City as our backdrop. 

6. Returning to Roatan for the second time with friends in tow—and catching the big one.

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