My Journey

I think it’s fair to credit the pursuit of my travel career to my family.

My father, just one more jobless youth in the ravaged remains of Germany in the early 50’s made his way to a boat destined for Canada. My mother, very young and very independent, determined to survive the same miserable circumstances, found her own boat a year later. She did not speak a word of English or French. The two met at a party in Toronto in 1954 and and have been complimenting each other ever since.

Like many immigrant families, once a foothold had been established other family members begin to arrive capitalizing on a proven path to a new life. My grandparents shied away from a big city environment and opted to take up residence in Ottawa and this resulted in our four annual family road trips. My sister and I amused ourselves for hours with “I Spy” instead of Ipods and my imagination was fueled by the incomprehensible assortment and steady numbers of road side hitchhikers: who were these people and where were they going? I just knew I had to do that when I grew up. So I did.

My thumb was out most weekends, with or without friends and with or without a destination. It never took long to catch a ride and every car was a box of Forest Gump’s chocolates: you truly never knew what was inside. I was always alert, always careful, and endlessly fascinated with one encounter teasing me on to the next.

Earning my keep with such a restless nature proved to be challenging. From a satisfying but people starved office job I went on to apprentice for my father’s busy, growing commercial construction business only to find myself struggling with the Entitlement Attitude of unionized workers. I tried to distract myself with flying lessons out of the Toronto Island Airport, but my heart had already checked out. My most painful and vivid recollection to this day remains the emotion around quitting … on my dad.

Stirred by my grandmother’s suggestion that it was possible to make a living in tourism, I immediately set out to learn the basics about the travel industry, went to college, graduated with a seven day Caribbean cruise and began working two travel agencies simultaneously, both selling leisure travel.

And then the doors literally flew off: I joined Swissair and was sent to Long Island New York to train for three months. Six of us were hired at the same time with six apartments and two cars to share. Before the plane even touched down at La Guardia airport, I had managed to coerce two of my newly minted colleagues to join me on a drive into the beating heart of night time Manhattan.

My passport had now become my most treasured possession and incredibly, instead of hitch hiking the roadways, I was now literally hitch hiking the skyways. For those who don’t know about airline benefits, let me tell you that for a nominal fixed fee you can get your hands on a space available ticket to almost any airport in the world. Now really, how cool, awesome, and fabulous is that?

I can remember flipping a mental coin on destination choices for the weekend. If there was enough time, I’d skip over to Europe, if there wasn’t and depending on the weather, I’d head for America , the Caribbean or Western Canada. Looking back on those days I now recognize this is when I honed my most useful skills: negotiation, resourcefulness, extreme adaptability and charm.

There were countless times when due to my standby status, I was left behind on some island or continent for days begging a ride on any available 747 going my way. This was such an escalation of adventure that I should have started the “you’re stuck where?” t-shirt industry. Who knows how many opportunities I may have passed up to make real money, wear a real suit, or perhaps build a divine family instead of becoming addicted to people, cultures, customs, food, local habits, infrastructures, worship, beliefs, and expressions.

It’s an incredible world we live in. If I was President of Any Country, I would ensure that our Declaration of Citizenship would include the following words:

“That every man, woman and child shall leave our shores for a period of no less than two weeks every calendar year with the express intent to surrender themselves to the unfamiliar in order to return home to cherish the joys of heart, home and its miraculous bounty.”

I am a firm believer that life is really, really good, especially when you dive in.
Barbara Dirnberger