This is a post in a series here at Whirlwind Travel. Every month will feature a new interview in
the “What It Means To Be A Canadian Traveler” series. If you are a Canadian traveler and would like
to be interviewed like Mary, please head on over to the “Contribute” page to find out how to get in touch.
What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Mary Chong and I’m from Toronto, Ontario. I’m a first generation Canadian of Chinese descent.
Do you have a blog? Tell me a bit about it.
My blog is Calculated Traveller. It’s a site with advice, photos, articles, and stories on a wide range of topics, all related to travelling and being prepared for anything!
I’m the founder and main blogger but I have a few friends who contribute regularly, which means we are able to cover a wide variety of different subjects. For example, I travel on cruise ships or do road trips. My friend Kim, on the other hand, is the type of girl who will jump out of a plane! Another friend, Martin, is a photographer/instructor based in Nova Scotia—he’s my tech guy.
What does being a Canadian traveller mean to you?
I’m proud to be Canadian and although I’ve travelled to many different places in the world I can’t see myself living anywhere else but here. When I’m in another country I wear my Canadian flag with pride and try to represent my country in the most positive way I can. Every encounter with someone I meet is a chance to leave him or her thinking, “Wow, that Canadian girl was so nice and friendly. I bet all Canadians are like that.”
What got you started in your traveling endeavors?
When I was 18 my parents sent me on a month-long student tour of Taiwan. The students, aged 18 to 24, came from Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa and were all of Chinese descent but were born outside of Asia. The goal of the trip was to learn Mandarin and Chinese culture in general, but really, I think the goal was for us to find our future spouses! It was an amazing adventure and was my first time away from home by myself. While I didn’t find a husband there I did find a love for travel.
I’ve been fortunate that my husband also has a love for travel; we’ve been all over North America, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Europe, and Asia.
Do you think you are more likely to be helped or treated better because you are a Canadian?
Yes, I think this is true, mainly because Canadians are viewed as being polite and non-confrontational. On a recent trip to Athens, Greece we were lost trying to find the entrance-way to the Acropolis. We chanced upon a couple of police officers and asked for directions. They were quite abrupt and leery of us when we first approached but their mannerisms and demeanor quickly changed once they noticed my Canadian flag on my backpack. After telling them we were lost and chatting briefly about Canada, they walked us over to the correct pathway.
On that same trip, we were in Izmir, Turkey. Again, asking police officers for directions to the nearest Internet cafe, we were met with a similar response. Not only did we find a great cafe but we also got invited to join them for Turkish coffee!
What are the two most common stereotypes you have heard other travellers say about Canadians?
I’d have to say that the most common stereotype I hear is that we are very polite… and that we say “eh” all the time. I have to admit, I’m guilty of both those stereotypes!
Why do you think so many Canadians travel the world?
As a very multicultural nation, I think we are more open-minded and willing to learn and experience different cultures and religions than other nations are. People, foods, and customs aren’t as foreign and strange to Canadians as they may be to other nations.
Nearly all Canadians have ancestry from somewhere else, after all, don’t we? I don’t think I know a single person who can say that their family has been in Canada for more than three generations!
I can’t speak for all Canadian travellers but I’m so used to people saying that they’re going “back home” to see family that I always wonder what “back home” is really like to them. This is the reason I wanted to visit India, Italy, and Hong Kong. I wanted to be able to relate to people more closely and become more personal in sharing in their culture and heritage. What better way to do this then to go to their home country and share similar experiences and live in the culture, if only for a brief moment?
For travellers coming to Canada, what is your favorite spot?
I’m biased, but I’m going to say my favorite spot is Toronto, my hometown. Toronto is just so multicultural, and we have a great transit system that is easy to navigate. For $10.75 you can get a one-day transit pass and eat real authentic lox and bagels, sushi, dim sum, perogies, butter chicken, roti, empanadas and lasagna—that is if your stomach can take it. Not to mention the fabulous waterfront, museums, art galleries, and attractions—there is lots to keep people engaged and entertained.
If you were to come in the summer, you’d be guaranteed that there is some type of free event happening within the city—there is always something going on!
Do you have any tips or advice to other Canadians traveling abroad?
If I’m travelling outside of North America, I always register my itinerary with the Canadian Government at travel.gc.ca. and I bring with me the contact information for the Canadian consulate offices for all the cities in my itinerary.
I also bring the US and British consulate information, just in case Canada doesn’t come to my rescue. I like to have all my bases covered, just in case…