As a well-established travel guy in this great country of ours, I get asked a lot about what some of my favourite travel spots and how I juggle all my flights and what I look for. I can’t really explain how I manage the travel, as my inbox is a veritable jigsaw puzzle of messages and flight confirmations and all sorts of messy details. But I can tell you a little bit about what I look for on the road when I’m writing a story, the essentials I need, and also offer a few tips about great places to see.
I’m a business traveller, so when I get into my hotel room I immediately check out the desk and the chair (I like a swivel chair that adjusts to my height, my being a tad shy of 5-9 these days). I also want decent support for those times I’m sitting for a couple hours. And I want plugs and outlets. Tons of them. And not behind the massive dresser with a 50-pound TV on top that I have to wrench out and struggle with in the hopes of not having the TV crash to the floor. No, they need to be out on the desk or next to the bed (or even both) so I can recharge my phone and my laptop and my camera batteries and maybe my extra chargers for days when I’m away from an electrical outlet and need a quick charge. I also like a room with enough space to spread out. I’d rather stay in a three-star place with a separate bedroom and a small kitchen with a fridge and a coffee maker than I would a fancy five-star place that’s 250 square feet but has mints on the pillow, signed Picasso prints on the wall and toiletries by some fancy French company whose name I can’t pronounce.
I barely know an F-stop from a two-way stop but I’m a pretty good photographer. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s not really the camera you use but how you use the camera you have. I’ve taken AMAZING pics with my iPhone 7 Plus, admittedly a far better tool than the phones we had three or four years ago. It’s also imperative that I have a great phone plan when travelling. I need to stay connected with friends and family back home, and it’s also necessary for being able to capture key moments in real-time and share my adventures with everyone. Tips & tricks around phone usage abroad are essential in my line of work. I have a Rogers Share Everything Plan, and when I travel I use Rogers Roam Like Home. It allows me to use my phone as though I were still at home for $6/day in the U.S. The best part is I’m only charged for 10 days of travel per billing period – even if I’m gone for the whole month. Since I always have my phone by my side and I’m constantly snapping and sharing photos on my travels, a great phone and plan puts my mind at ease.
It goes without saying that we all enjoy a good meal on the road. For me, as a travel writer, it can be tricky to balance things out and find a variety of places that will satisfy my readers. I’m not a luxury travel writer or a budget writer; I cover off all sectors. So I need to try a variety of places. (This, by the way, is not a call for sympathy. It’s a wonderful problem to have and I’m not suggesting that finding good restaurants is something that keeps me awake at night). I love a great meal at a fine restaurant run by someone like Wolfgang Puck (his CUT at the Four Seasons Downtown in New York is fantastic, if not quite bargain priced). But I think I prefer the small, out-of-the-way places that serve more basic food. Anyone can find a great Michelin-starred restaurant on the web, but discovering that small spot where locals go is much more fun. In Chicago, I loved my recent visit to Bang Bang Biscuits, where they serve great coffee and wonderful, fluffy biscuits with sausage or sweet butter and honey and where you eat it (at least in good weather) at picnic tables out back. In Summerside PEI, there’s a great food truck downtown run by an immigrant from Central American who learned to cook Ukrainian soup while living in Alberta. But I also love a place like TOCA at the Ritz Carlton in Toronto or Merchant Tavern in St. John’s.
I’m not one of those crazy people who hikes three hours in the morning and does a mini-triathlon in the afternoon. But I do love to hike and do gentle to moderate bike rides. I also love a good kayak expedition (try Bonne Bay in western Newfoundland, or up in Huntsville, Ontario) or a stand-up paddleboard ride at Ka’anapali Beach on Maui or Okanagan Lake in B.C. There’s no better way to get the feel of the Rocky Mountains than to take a nice hike up Sulphur Mountain in Banff, or perhaps to Sunshine Meadows. I was in central Newfoundland earlier this year and stumbled on one of the great hikes in Canada, the Skerwink Trail. It only takes a couple hours but it takes you up and around a marvellous peninsula and along the top of a tall series of handsome, steep cliffs. It’s not remotely hard, but it’s hugely rewarding. I also love the beaches along Lake Huron and Lake Erie in southwest Ontario in summer. And it’s tough to top a fall drive through Quebec, Ontario or the Rocky Mountains for fall colour. Stanley Park in Vancouver offers great autumn leaves, too.
Interviewing locals is one of the real joys of my job. Last summer I was in the
Kootenay Rockies of B.C. and met a guy who’s a former yodelling champion of Austria, as well as a great accordion player, singer and woodcarver. He’s played at a couple of Olympic Games and played a tune for me. Later he posed for photos and smiled a smile that could light up all of Vancouver. A real treasure. I’ve also loved chatting with organic farmers in the Yukon who live off the grid and Alberta craft beer folks who used to be doctors. You can’t beat a chat with folks from Newfoundland, easily the most engaging people in Canada for my money.