The Peak caught up with seasoned travel writer and Burnaby resident Robin Esrock about his new book, wanderlust, and his upcoming “Adventure Travel Journalism Bootcamp” to take place on March 15 at SFU Vancouver.
The Peak: During your career as a travel writer you’ve hosted the National Geographic series Word Travels and visited more than 100 countries, including unusual destinations like Chernobyl and Papua New Guinea. After adventures like those, what made you want to write The Great Canadian Bucket List — an entire book about Canada?
Robin Esrock: People I met travelling were always asking me about the best things to do back in Canada. In my haste to explore the rest of the world, I’d forgotten about my adopted home. The book would be a fun exercise, not only to discover the best experiences in the country, but also to allow me, an immigrant, to really understand what makes Canada unique. Since The Great Canadian Bucket List quickly became a bestseller, it seems I was not alone.
P: Young Canadians who dream of travel typically set their sights outside their own borders to regions like Southeast Asia and Australia. Do you think Canada rivals these destinations?
Esrock: Canada is effectively 13 countries in one. Each province is unique, with activities and destinations you won’t find anywhere else in the world. I wasn’t sure what I would find, but by the time I was done, I realized there are few nations that can compete with the sheer amount of experiences Canada has to offer. We might not have the beaches of Thailand, but walk on powder-white Grand Beach overlooking Lake Winnipeg, and you’d think you slipped down a wormhole to Southeast Asia.
P: How long did the research for The Great Canadian Bucket List take? Did you personally do each of the 115 activities listed in the book?
Esrock: I spent 18 months travelling to every province and territory, usually more than once, and also gathered experiences from previous adventures over the years. Weather, budget, timing and other factors came into play, so in the end I managed to personally tick off 104 of the 115 experiences. I didn’t want to write a dry guidebook, so I pushed all the practical info, with videos, maps and galleries to [the website]. The book is more of a journey, full of characters, observations and quirky trivia.
P: Canadian food doesn’t have much of an international reputation. Did you taste anything on your travels that was uniquely Canadian?
Esrock: The book features uniquely Canadian dishes like beavertails, poutine, and brewis. I tried smoked seal recently, which wasn’t too bad (although wasn’t too great either). You don’t get any more Canadian than the Sour Toe cocktail. It’s a drink served in a Dawson City bar with a real severed human toe. Seriously.
P: You credit a car accident with the motivation — and the cash — to start your travels. Any tips for students on how to save money to fund their travels?
Esrock: I received $20,000 for a broken kneecap. When I tell people I cashed in an insurance cheque to travel they assume it was a lot more than that. My budget was $35 a day, and I managed to travel to 24 countries over 12 months. To see the world on limited cash, avoid expensive countries (Australia, Western Europe, Chile) and focus on places like Central America, India, Southeast Asia, Turkey, Eastern Europe. You can live well for $10 a day in India.
Another option is working holiday visas. Lots of Canadians go to the UK and Australia, but you can also get visas to work in places like Latvia, Denmark and Costa Rica.
P: What can aspiring travel writers expect to learn from the “Adventure Travel Journalism Bootcamp?”
Esrock: There will be three working journalists spilling the beans on the reality of the print, broadcast, photography, blogging and social media travel industry. Together with Darryl Leniuk and Jeff Topham, we’ll talk about developing your niche, generating ideas, pitching editors, producing publishable content, press trips, and how to build a sustainable career. It’s a vast subject that requires far more than an afternoon, but our bootcamp will definitely provide some real-world context for a very dreamy profession. It’s a tough business to get into, but the perks are tremendous.
Need some inspiration to start planning that summer 2014 Canada road trip? Here’s a one-of-a-kind experience for each province and territory, as mentioned in Robin Esrock’s The Great Canadian Bucket List. For more ideas and details, visit canadianbucketlist.com.
BC: Snorkel among thousands of spawning salmon in the Campbell River. The best time of year to do this is in August.
Alberta: Play paleontologist while looking for T. rex fossils in Dinosaur Provincial Park. Tours and opportunities to join an excavation are available June to September.
Saskatchewan: Horseback ride along one of the last surviving bison herds in North America at Prince Albert National Park.
Manitoba: Believe it or not, this prairie province is home to one of Canada’s best beaches — Grand Beach. There may not be any palm trees, but the sand is as white and powdery soft as any beach in Thailand.
Ontario: Conquer your fear of heights once and for all by leaning off the edge of the CN Tower — while hooked to a harness, of course.
Quebec: Indulge in the ultimate Canadian foodie experience — a plate of foie gras poutine.
New Brunswick: Get an adrenaline rush by zip-lining across a waterfall at Grand Falls.
Nova Scotia: Enjoy a history lesson and a cold beer at the same time on a tour of the Alexander Keith’s brewery in Halifax.
PEI: Learn how to use a traditional wooden lobster trap then eat what you catch cooked on a boat in the Charlottetown harbour.
Newfoundland: Spend the night in a lighthouse on Quirpon Island and enjoy views of icebergs and migrating whales.
Yukon: Try to strike it rich by learning to pan for gold near Dawson City.
Northwest Territories: Gaze up in awe at the Northern Lights in Yellowknife, one of the best places in the world to witness Mother Nature’s light show.
Nunavut: Get ahead on your schoolwork by reading a textbook outdoors at 2am in the Land of the Midnight Sun.