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).



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!


That Time I Visited The Same Café as J.K Rowling

Okay, so she wasn’t actually there at the same time I was. But she had been there before and this café was known for being the very café where J.K Rowling began writing Harry Potter.

The Elephant House is a café located in Edinburgh, Scotland and is the self-proclaimed Birthplace of Harry Potter. I am a Harry Potter fan. I will admit it with no shame because only the best people truly love Harry Potter. I was eleven when the first book came out, which Harry is eleven in as well, and I grew up eagerly waiting for the next book to be released; Only to finish it within a day or two. I have read each book multiple times as well as the movies although, as always, the books are much better. The books were my childhood, a series that I will always remember and most likely will continue to re-read again and again. I plan to read it out loud to my unborn child when that day comes.

When I found myself in Edinburgh three summers ago, I had to find this café. Luckily, I was traveling with two friends who were just as crazy about Harry Potter as I was, so that worked out well. Together, we searched the cobblestone streets high and low until we found The Elephant House. There are three wonderful things about this café: J.K Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter there, the food is pretty cheap and delicious, and it is filled with elephants!

A very popular café in Edinburgh, the Elephant House can get quite crowded at times. Despite that, this café has a peaceful, sort of inspirational feel to it when you sit down there. My friends and I went there twice and each time we had a pleasant experience. Our second time there, we were seated in the back room next to a window at a rather large table for the four of us. As we were mulling over the menu, one of us noticed that this table had drawers that opened! Being the book-loving, cheesy-story-loving group that we were, we all got incredibly excited to find that within these drawers were what seemed like hundreds of letters.

What had been planned as a quick stop for lunch turned into hours spent going through all of the drawers and reading all of the letters within them. Letters from others who had been seated at this table, many of them from travelers. There were letters from people who were unsure of where to go in their life, letters of doubt, letters from people offering words of hope and encouragement, letters of happy things to put a smile on your face and letters of inspiration that made me want to do so many more things in my life.  Of course, we all left a letter of our own to tuck away in the drawers for the next person to read.

I thoroughly enjoyed my two experiences at The Elephant House. Although it has been made popular due to J.K Rowling’s having written there, it is charming for other reasons as well. I will leave it up to you to find out why.

*Breaking News: according to my brother, who also had the pleasure of visiting The Elephant House, there is a wall in the bathroom dedicated entirely to people writing lovely things about Harry Potter! Wishing I had gone into the bathrooms, now!*