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customer experience canada

A once-in-a-lifetime adventure around Canada

I was incredibly grateful for Liz’s help in organising my bucket list trip: a tour around the Canadian Rockies, with a couple of city stays thrown in for good measure.

I found Liz at a local networking event. We sat together, completely by chance, and started talking about what we did for a living. As soon as I found out that Liz is an independent travel agent and specialises in Canadian holidays, I thought to myself, this must be fate. Only a couple of weeks beforehand, I’d been telling friends about how I’d wanted to visit Canada for so long – for well over 13 years, in fact, since I returned from a year-long working holiday in Australia – and how I should just bite the bullet and book the thing. And only a few days prior to our meeting, I’d been poring over my bank accounts, wondering how I’d find the funds to do what I wanted to do. I needn’t have worried about that – a small, unbelievably timed windfall just a few days after my conversation with Liz meant that I now had some cash to splash, and I needed her help to find the best value deals out there! There’s destiny, and then there’s destiny.

I want to add at this point that I didn’t need Liz to book my travel for me. I’ve planned plenty of trips in the past, and they’ve all gone without a hitch, thankfully. But it had been a while since I’d booked a holiday that lasted longer than a week, and because I knew I would be travelling on my own for most of my journey, I wanted the extra reassurance that somebody would be in my corner if anything went wrong. I was also amazed by Liz’s first-hand knowledge of the region I wanted to visit. I felt that if I was going to do this right, I needed insights from someone who has been there and bought the t-shirt(s).

I had a very clear idea of the tour I wanted to book, and luckily, Liz was able to secure a spot for me in the middle of September, right at the end of tourist season. My trip started with a pain-free 9-hour flight to Calgary on the 18th, where I met up with the rest of the group I was going to be spending the next 10 days with. It was a real mixed bunch – mainly older American, Australian, and Irish couples, but with a handful of other solo travellers I could identify with. It’s funny how you naturally gravitate towards people with similar interests and personalities; I was worried I’d be lacking those connections, what with being cast into a group of strangers, but actually, the opposite ended up being true.

We set off in the rather comfy coach for Banff National Park. In a way, I wish I’d somehow managed to save Banff for last. I knew it was going to be my favourite place, and it didn’t disappoint. The photos I managed to take here were out of this world, but somehow, they don’t do the scenery justice.

Aside from taking a leisurely solo stroll around Banff itself and gawping at the incredible mountain-topped backdrop – easily a highlight of my life, let alone the holiday – other highlights from this region included the eery Lake Louise, the foreboding Mount Rundle, the panoramic Lake Minnewanka, the stunning Icefields Parkway, and the incredible Athabasca Glacier. I enjoyed a guided plant medicine walk into the wilderness with some of my bus crew before it was on to Jasper, a really charming little town that’s a bit further to the North West. Here, a few of us set off on a misty river cruise early in the morning to try to catch sight of some wildlife. (We didn’t see anything, but our guide was a laugh.) Maligne Lake is a must-see, not least because I had the best flatbread I’ve ever tried at the restaurant adjacent to the water’s edge. (I have to say, as a side point, that Canadian food is/was amazing; poutine is now up there in my list of all-time faves, and even the meals I tucked into in the regular chain restaurants were of excellent quality. Beavertails are worth a try, too, although if you struggle with two much sweetness, I’d suggest sharing your portion with somebody.)

After a one-night stopover in Sun Peaks – a sky village that wasn’t as bustling as it usually would be – it was onto a ferry before arriving at Victoria, on Vancouver Island. The British influence here is palpable and I really liked marvelling at all the architecture. The Butchart Gardens were gorgeous and are well worth a visit, even if you’re not a huge horticulturalist, like me. After that, I had a full afternoon to myself, during which I took a long walk around the city centre before ending up at a cinema to watch the new Barbie movie. (What I love about trips like this is that you can truly make them your own, and sometimes, that means just immersing yourself in the ‘everyday’. That’s what I like to think, anyway. The landmarks are great and all, but sometimes you just want to see how other people spend their time. Everyone in my group respected each other’s independence and there was never any pressure or obligation to take part in group activities or meals. As lovely as it was to get to know some of my co-travellers and forge some new friendships, I revelled in the opportunity to head out and make my own adventure, even if it was only for a few hours at a time. I’m all about balance, and this trip definitely delivered in that respect.)

Vancouver was interesting. Its streets were certainly eye-opening. I had a bit of downtime here once the tour had ended (during which I ordered far too much room service and made the most of the pool at the rather posh hotel) before jetting off to Toronto to meet my partner, who flew out from the UK to meet me for my birthday weekend. The next three days in Ontario were a bit of a whirlwind, but we managed to pack in a beautiful meal at Canoe in the city centre (I will tell anyone who will listen to me that the chefs here do the BEST onion soup I’ve ever tasted), a frightening trip up the CN Tower (no, I wasn’t brave enough to walk on the glass floor…), a day trip out to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls (where we got drenched leaning over the side of a boat and loved every second of it), and a fun little bar crawl around The Distillery and a few other trendy places downtown.

I was scared I’d feel like my trip was over before it began, but I can honestly say that time didn’t fly. I felt like I made the most of every minute. After some confusion at the airport (I didn’t know being put on ‘standby’ was a thing until it appeared I didn’t have a seat on the plane I was due to catch…lesson learned here), I finally dropped myself into my back row seat on the evening flight back to Heathrow and spent most of the journey home organising my phone’s camera roll. It’s a shame my luggage didn’t get the memo – I ended up having to wait a day and a half for it to taxi its way back to me. But whatever. I’d had the most incredible time away and nothing was going to dampen the buzz of such a life-affirming experience.

It feels strange talking about this trip in the past tense, as I’d been dancing around the idea in my head for so long. Thank you, Liz, for your advice and recommendations, and for looking after me when a couple of small things didn’t quite go to plan. And for anyone who is thinking of taking a similar trip: DO IT. I like to think I’m fairly independent, but I was a bit intimidated by the thought of being on my own in another continent, and not being able to share a big portion of my holiday with people I know. It didn’t matter. I pushed myself, I learned new things about myself, and I got to see everything I’d dreamed of.

Other highlights from my Canadian escapade include:

  • Putting my big girl pants on for a gondola ride up the side of a mountain in Banff. I hate heights, so I’m giving myself a big pat on the back for being so courageous. Gold star for me.   
  • Getting to know our tour guide, Elizabeth. She was a fascinating lady who has lived a fascinating life, and despite the fact she’s approaching 70, she still continues to search for things that push her outside her comfort zone. She was inspiring.
  • I chatted to a lady for much of my outward journey. She was sitting next to me on the plane. I think her name was Teresa. I ended up bumping into her again about a week into my tour, in the middle of nowhere, during a wee stop on the way to Sun Peaks. How does that happen?!
  • Walking past the store where Kim’s Convenience is filmed. Life made.
  • Making some new friends. For real. We don’t have much in common apart from our love for travel – but sometimes that’s all it takes, isn’t it?

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