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For the Love of Travel

WestJet Magazine

I fell in love on a rainy night in Fredericton. Backpacking New Brunswick in my late-20s, I sheltered in a rock-walled pub, complete with glowing fireplace, perfectly-poured Guinness and twinkle-eyed locals playing lilting ballads on old fiddles.


The beer helped but it was that wrapped-in-a-blanket feeling of being fully transported yet completely at home that had me grinning like a giddy lover all evening. At last orders, I wanted to stay; worried I’d never be this contented again.


I’ve had a long-term affair with travel ever since, craving those deep, heartwarming connections that make hopping on a plane an exercise in romantic possibility. Over the years, I’ve renewed my vows everywhere from London to Maui to Montreal.


I’m not alone in my ardour. Robin Esrock’s Great Canadian Bucket List reads like a love letter to travel. This month, he releases two new books: The Great Northern Canada Bucket List and The Great Canadian Prairies Bucket List. For him, cherished trips – like first love – “stay with you forever, reigniting goosebumps.”


It was love at first sight in Yukon capital Whitehorse. “I was determined to dogsled in a true northern Canadian winter,” he says. Well-wrapped for the bone-chilling cold, he was soon in the hands of an expert guide and a gaggle of lively pups.


“As I glided over a frozen lake, the dogs working in unison to pull me through the exquisite landscape, I felt a tear freeze on my cheek,” recalls Esrock. “It was just so exhilarating and liberating for the soul.”


But you don’t have to be a travel writer to be lured by the siren song of life-affirming trips. Anyone with a plane ticket – and an open heart – can experience the blissful endorphin-rush of a new beau.


Vanessa Salopek, owner of Calgary restaurant Market, was deeply smitten on her first Ireland visit. “I’ve been around the world but this trip made me fall in love with travel. Flying into Dublin and renting a car, we were awestruck by the lush landscapes, ruined castles and small cottages – it was straight from a movie.”


There was some smooching – she kissed southern Ireland’s legendary Blarney Stone – while the regional food, pubs and golfing renewed her lust for life, especially in Killarney National Park. “It was like a fairytale forest. I kept saying it’s too good to be true,” says Salopek, adding she found the cheeriness of the Irish contagious.


Toronto family travel blogger Corinne McDermott agrees that the locals often help her fall head over heals for a place – even with kids in tow.


“We had our 11-month-old daughter with us on our first Cuba trip,” she says. “We were wandering around Havana, soaking-up the sights and sounds – including a noisy jackhammer. The old fellow working it turned it off, came over and coochie-cooed our daughter's cheek. She rewarded him with a big smile – one as big as his.”


It was a special moment. “We didn’t speak Spanish and he didn't speak English but the gesture helped us comprehend how important family is here. And we suddenly realized we’d be much happier if we took more time to smile at babies!”


It’s the kind of tender connection anyone can make in the arms of new destination. But for Josh McJannett, co-founder of Ottawa’s Dominion City Brewing, visiting familiar places can also rekindle dormant desires.


“Flying to Calgary a few years ago reminded me why I love to travel,” he says. “We met passionate brewers, boundary-pushing restaurateurs and we ate and drank our way through the city. You always get an energy from being away – it’s about meeting new people and trying new things.”


It’s a feeling echoed in my memories of that long-ago Fredericton night. Closing my eyes, I can still see the locals smiling around the hearth-warmed bar. Between songs, we talked of the destinations some of us had fallen for or still ached to visit. And as a floorboard-rattling rendition of The Irish Rover began, I knew I’d be on the road again soon, looking for love in all the right places.

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