What It Means To Be A Canadian Traveler: An Interview with Brooke Willard

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 Brooke, 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 Brooke and I’m from Southern Ontario, Canada.

Do you have a blog? Tell me a bit about it.

Yes, I have a blog! It’s called Heroic Hearts. When I started it, I had no intention to use it as a travel blog. I’ve always been an avid writer and it felt like a good tool to get me writing more often. When I went on student exchange to Sweden, however, it came in handy! After posting about my different experiences and sharing my photos, I realized how much I had learned and how much I wanted to help people that were looking to do the same thing. It was tough to continue on a regular basis during school, but now that I’m graduated I feel like I’m only just getting started!

What does being a Canadian traveler mean to you?

As a Canadian traveller, my pride travels with me everywhere I go! Once I left our soil, it was like my patriotism skyrocketed and I proudly felt my duty was to well-represent this amazing country and our values. To be a Canadian traveller means to embrace every stranger and every culture as something new to appreciate, learn about and respect. I believe we as Canadians are raised to welcome differences and the unfamiliar with an open mind, a vital and transformative mindset to have beyond our borders.

Brooke biking through Vondelpark in Amsterdam
Brooke biking through Vondelpark in Amsterdam

What got you started in your traveling endeavors?

My love for travel had early beginnings and I have my amazing parents to thank for that. In high school I was lucky enough to travel Europe twice with my family. I was a bit young the first time but on the second trip I absolutely fell in love. There’s a certain link between the countries there, yet they are all so diverse and unique. It’s fascinating. I just wanted to see and experience it all, and I suppose that is what led me to study in Sweden a couple of years ago. Ever since, I’ve been hooked. I caught the bug. I’m actually moving to the UK for two years on a working holiday visa in two months! After that, I’m hoping to tackle Australia. It’s a never-ending addiction.

Do you think you are more likely to be helped or treated better because you are a Canadian?

Brooke on top of the Azure Window in Gozo, Malta
Brooke on top of the Azure Window in Gozo, Malta

I know, for a fact, that we definitely are. We maintain a rather honourable reputation around the world as being open-minded, friendly and very respectful. Americans do wear Canadian flags on their backpacks in order to be treated better and I even met some on the road (while their sewing skills were top notch, their accents were not and clearly from the South)! While at home we tend to feel overshadowed by our neighbours to the South, out in the world I’ve learnt that it pays to be from a country that welcomes everyone with open arms. It’s truly flattering.

What are the two most common stereotypes you have heard other travelers say about Canadians?

The one stereotype that encompasses all of them by a long shot is: Are you all like Robin Sherbotsky from How I Met Your Mother?!

In Sweden I did a presentation on “Canadian Culture” and we played a YouTube video mocking all our stereotypes made by a Canadian. My classmates found it hilarious! If I learnt anything about our stereotypes while abroad it’s that we really do embrace them and show our humility. Half the time, we do it on purpose just to laugh at ourselves, and that just isn’t the case with other cultures. That’s a stereotype, if you can call it one, that I’m more than happy to have.

Why do you think so many Canadians travel the world?

It’s crazy how many Canadians are out there! Which is to say, we’re just as common hanging around the hostel social area as Americans and especially Australians. I think having our history inextricably tied to other countries is a good reason to go explore your roots. We are such a young country that it often feels like richer history and culture precedes us elsewhere, making it feel so exciting to discover. We are also very isolated where we live so it’s a much bigger deal to travel. When it’s as monumental as it is to leave North America and browse through countries in less time than it takes to reach a different province, it’s exhilarating.

Brooke in the Alps near Innsbruck, Austria
Brooke in the Alps near Innsbruck, Austria

For travelers coming to Canada, what is your favorite spot?

I have yet to travel to the West coast of Canada, but I still say that the best is in the East! Though I love the entire coast, I think my favourite spot has to be Prince Edward Island. Its small, quaint and undeniably charming. Not to mention, absolutely gorgeous and full of natural wonders! I don’t know what it is about red dirt, but I do know it’s beautiful. I’ve always been fascinated by their slower pace of life, something I envy as an Ontarian. Friendly people, colourful character, breathtaking cliffs and coastal views… what’s not to love?

Do you have any tips or advice to other Canadians traveling abroad or for travellers coming here to Canada?

Canadians Abroad:

If you haven’t worn it in the last two weeks, you don’t need to bring it.
Keep an open mind. The unexpected and the unplanned are often the most worthwhile and memorable.
Do a little research about where you’re going. Knowing small customs, gestures and manners go a long way!
Just go, before you think twice about it. Odds are, you’ll regret what you don’t do rather than what you do.

Calton Hill at dusk in Edinburgh, Scotland
Calton Hill at dusk in Edinburgh, Scotland

Travellers in Canada:

Prepare for all seasons. Yes, we have real summer here!
Accept tap water. Don’t waste your money on expensive disposable water bottles.

Save lots of $$$. Transportation here isn’t cheap! And yes, we tax everything. On top of the price tag.
No, you may not pee or drink in the street. You will get a ticket (sorry).

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ABOUT BROOKE:

Brooke in Florence, Italy with the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in the background.

A recent university graduate, my student exchange to Karlstad, Sweden in 2012 opened my eyes up to the wonderful world of travel. Not yet ready to enter the career world, I’ve been waiting to pack my bags again ever since. My wanderlust has now led me to obtain a two-year working holiday visa for the UK, starting in April. I’m extremely interested in helping others embark on their own adventures by sharing my personal experiences abroad. You can read about what I’ve learnt on my blog Heroic Hearts. Happy travelling!

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Sunday Snapshot: A Snapshot View of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam Canals

The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Amsterdam was the massive overload of garbage everywhere. An unfortunate greeting seeing as this city is generally aesthetically pleasing. The garbage men were on strike. Once I tore my eyes away from the mountains of garbage, I was fascinated. I arrived in Amsterdam knowing exactly what I wanted to do and what I wanted to see. I ended up seeing and learning much more than I was expecting. From riding bicycles from our campsite on the outskirts of the city to listening to buskers in Dam Square to admiring the many canals, Amsterdam has a certain feel to it that I would love to get back to.

Do you have a photo you would like to share for Sunday Snapshot? Submit it to whirlwindtravel@hotmail.com to see it here the next week!

The Anne Frank House.

Amsterdam, the European city known exclusively for it’s Red Light District of window girls in glowing lingerie and it’s legalized marijuana and green cafes. In fact, Amsterdam is a beautiful city with much more to offer for those looking for something other than sex and drugs. Despite the city’s beautiful canals and artistic squares, Amsterdam has a harrowing past. As a result of the Holocaust, about 80% of the Jewish population was murdered. Those that survived were often living their lives in fear, hiding in many non-Jewish homes. The Frank family, along with the van Pels family who shared the Secret Annex with the Franks, are just two of many families in hiding during that time. Located alongside one of the city’s many canals is the building where Anne Frank and her family hid for two years. This building has now been turned into one of the most popular tourist attractions in Amsterdam: The Anne Frank Museum.

As I have always been interested in the Holocaust, a tour of the Anne Frank House was at the top of my list when visiting Amsterdam. After waiting in a line that ran from the entrance of the house to the corner of the street and then down the connecting street, it was finally time to go inside.  It is reassuring to know that when the Anne Frank House was reconstructed, as it was close to being demolished, it was reconstructed as close as possible to what it was like before and during the war. Touring the Anne Frank House is one of the most profound experiences I have ever had. Although the museum is filled with tourists, nobody speaks a word. Instead, there is a respectful silence all throughout the self guided tour as people are struck with the intensity of simply being there. Before walking up the stairs that lead to the bookcase, photos of Anne line the walls along with quotes from her diary. Part of the museum provides visitors with an educational experience through the use of original writings from Anne herself as well as facts of World War 2.

My favorite part of the tour was, of course, walking through the door behind the bookcase.Walking up the narrow staircase that is often mentioned in Anne’s diary is emotional in itself, but there is no feeling like the feeling you get when you walk into the rooms that those eight people once lived. As you move through the house you see little things that made up a family. Small horizontal lines scale up one of the walls, indicating the height of the children as they aged. In Anne’s room, the wall is plastered with pictures of celebrities that she admired; a typical young girl’s bedroom. As you move into the bathroom you can see the sink, somewhat rusted over the years, the mirror that they all looked into each day. Being in those rooms, touching the things that they had touched so many years ago and seeing the remnants of a hidden life is overwhelming, to say the least. Once the tour is over, visitors are able to spend time in the bookshop that contains hundreds of copies of Anne’s diary, books about Anne’s time in the concentration camps(written through interviews of women who knew Anne in the camps) and various other books, all in multiple languages.

As of 2012, the admission fee for touring the Anne Frank House is being raised from euro 8,50 to euro 9,- for adults, which is not much of a raise. For anyone who is or ever was interested in the Holocaust or in Anne Frank and her diary, I strongly suggest taking a tour of the Anne Frank House if you are ever in Amsterdam. I have no doubts that it will be a profoundly inspiring experience for you, just as it was for me. The Holocaust developed due to extreme racism and I urge you to be strong enough to stand up against any form of racism that you encounter in your life, no matter how small the comment. All human beings are equal human beings. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, or your hair. It doesn’t matter who you love, what language you speak, or where you come from. We all feel the same feelings and we are all a part of someone else’s family. So please, show respect and love to everyone in your life.

“We cannot change what happened anymore.
The only thing we can do is to learn from the past and to realize
what discrimination and persecution of innocent people means.
I believe that it’s everyone’s responsibility to fight prejudice.”

-Otto Frank, 1970