For my 8th birthday, I got a travel book with stickers to glue onto pages containing stories about exotic locations from Australia to Zanzibar, iconic sites like the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall and the Acropolis and magnificent geographical features like Mount Everest, Victoria Falls and the Great Barrier Reef. These things might as well have been on another planet since, at that time, no one we knew had done that kind of travel. And, as far as I could tell, no one even aspired to it because this kind of travel was clearly beyond the reach of the average person.
Several decades later, I have been very fortunate to have been to many of the places in that book (or at least the ones I remember).
I have travelled to all 13 provinces and territories, half of the US states and 50 countries on every continent except Antarctica. Some of those countries like Yugoslavia no longer exist and others like Iran and Afghanistan were unfortunately, safe destinations for only a brief time.
My experience with Great Canadian Travel started shortly after it opened in 1980 and my good friend Arnie Hydamaka started working there.
Arnie and I were part of a group of a couple of dozen Winnipeg handball players that travelled to regional and national tournaments across Canada and the northern states and world championships in Ireland and Australia. Arnie handled those handball travel arrangements and the frequent side trips which lead me to use Great Canadian Travel for my personal travel. My relationship with Great Canadian Travel continues to this day.
I always appreciated that Great Canadian Travel focused on value for money. In some cases, it involved recommending a less expensive option. As Arnie said, when I wanted to do a Tanzanian safari to see the Great Migration, “the shoulder season is almost half the price and the animals don’t know what month it is”.
Other times it involved a recommendation that resulted in an extraordinary extension to a trip. When we went to Galapagos in February 2020, I mentioned to Martha Banias that we thought we would spend a few days in Quito, Ecuador on our way back. She recommended a trip to an eco lodge in the Amazon jungle that we would never have even been aware of. As our Ecuadorian native guide said, “it isn’t the middle of nowhere, but you can see the middle of nowhere from here”. It turned out to be such a good trip that my wife and I still debate whether Galapagos or the Amazon was the highlight of our trip.
I have always been in awe of Martha and Arnie’s knowledge of airline schedules and connections. When we went on safari to Botswana and South Africa, I was trying to decide whether to fly to Johannesburg from Winnipeg or Florida. Price was a consideration but so was departure/arrival times, connections, layovers, frequent flyer miles and so on. Instead of spending hours on-line or on hold, I was able to take care of it with a phone call to Martha. We wound up with a perfect combination of those factors that I likely couldn’t have done myself——and definitely couldn’t have done with just a ten-minute phone call.
Unfortunately, COVID has disrupted the travel plans of everyone. However, as we start to think about emerging from the pandemic, I think there will be some great travel opportunities available.
I understand that in many cases prices have either been reduced or there has been no increase in the last year. In addition, while there will be pent-up demand for travel, it will take time before the crowds return to pre-pandemic levels. For example, I have friends who have said they do not intend to travel before 2022.
Everyone has to find their own level of comfort with COVID risk. My wife, Theresa, and I are eager to get back to travelling in 2021. We took a year off, but we are not taking two years off. We have trips scheduled for this spring and another African safari beginning in Namibia in October—-all booked through Great Canadian Travel of course. Martha has been doing the leg work and Arnie will be personally leading the trip to Africa.
I am frequently asked what were my favourite trips? I usually say they are like snowflakes—they are all different, but they are all perfect. It is the experience that I enjoy rather than completing a check list of trips. I have made multiple trips to China, India, Africa and Australia. And I wouldn’t hesitate to go to any of those locations again. There is so much to see and revisiting places like the Taj Mahal can never get tired. Each trip is unique, in its own way, and creates new memories.
I would gladly return anytime to the south sea islands—Fiji, Tahiti, Bali and my personal favourite, the Cook Islands. My wife and I loved our first safari so much we went back with my sister who had dreamed of doing that since she was a little girl. It was wonderful to share her excitement at achieving that dream.
But, if forced to choose, I would pick the extended trip that my father and I took when we went to London, India and Sri Lanka, where he had been stationed during World War II. He had talked for years about going back but the timing was never right. However, when he saw the health problems being faced by some of his friends, he realized that delaying the trip likely meant never doing it.
We stayed in hotels he stayed in, drank in bars he drank in and swam at the beaches that he had experienced 50 years before. We had always been close, but that trip made us even closer as we relived the highs and lows of the 20-year-old version of my father. Our trip gave me a great deal more insight to him as a person. And probably vice versa. He lived for sixteen years after that trip and we often talked about the experiences we shared including the last conversation we ever had.
So, a Happy Birthday to Great Canadian Travel and thank you for a lifetime full of terrific travel experiences and memories!