Youthful. Charismatic. Adventurous. Not words strongly associated with high-profile politicians, but they’re often used to describe Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
From demonstrating his yoga skills in public with a tricky ‘peacock’ pose to playing hide-and-seek with his toddler in Canada’s House of Commons, Trudeau has dared to be different. So it’s no surprise that his unconventional style has caught people’s attention, a fact underlined by his following on social media, which regularly feature his travels at home and abroad.
We caught up with Canada’s 23rd prime minister to talk about his homeland’s broad appeal, get insider tips for visitors and hear what travel means to him, starting with his days as a backpacker exploring the world with a trusty Lonely Planet guidebook in hand.
Prime Minister Trudeau with his family enjoying a spectacular view of the Canadian Rockies, British Columbia © Adam Scotti / PMO
Lonely Planet named Canada the best country in the world to visit in 2017 – how would you sum up its allure in one sentence?
From dogsledding in the Northwest Territories to surfing in Tofino, from the history of Old Quebec to the vibrancy of multicultural Toronto, from breathtakingly empty prairie skies to the warm welcome on George St in St John’s, from the thrill of skiing in the Rockies to the serenity of paddling past a moose in Algonquin Park – there’s nowhere else on earth that offers the range of adventures that await you in Canada.
The prime minister on a visit to the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation reserve in Manitoba © Adam Scotti / PMO
What might surprise people about Canada?
Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King once said, ‘While other countries have too much history, Canada has too much geography.’ Canada certainly does have a lot of geography, but we also have an incredibly rich and diverse history. Any proper story of Canada cannot be told in one sitting, one language, or from one perspective. That’s why I hope visitors spend some time learning about the Indigenous Peoples – First Nations, Métis and Inuit – who have lived here for thousands of years.
I also hope visitors check out our national historic sites. These sites are a great way to connect to the extraordinary individuals and events that helped shaped Canada. There are almost a thousand of them across the country, in all 10 provinces and three territories. (And yes, there's an app for that.)
The country is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year – what sort of atmosphere can people expect?
Friendly, festive and warm as ever. We hope you come celebrate with us and discover everything our beautiful country has to offer.
What’s unique for travellers this year?
As part of our Canada 150 celebrations, we’re offering free admission to our national parks, marine conservation areas and national historic sites throughout 2017. There’ll also be unprecedented opportunities to learn about Indigenous Peoples, and to explore Canada’s rich heritage and cultural diversity through the Pan-Canadian Signature Projects. And let’s not forget about Canada Day. July 1st will be a once-in-a-generation celebration from coast to coast to coast.
Any insider tips or local secrets you can share with would-be visitors?
Maps can’t provide any idea of the real scope of Canada, and air travel doesn’t do it justice. So, I encourage visitors to explore our country from the ground level. Hike around glacier-fed, turquoise lakes in Banff National Park, cycle along the craggy cliffs of the Cabot Trail, kayak through the spectacular waterways of Haida Gwaii. These are just a few of the many ways to appreciate Canada’s geography, and to meet the people who cherish its vastness and beauty.
The Trudeau family celebrating Carnaval de Québec (Quebec City’s famous winter festival) © Adam Scotti / PMO
We believe that responsible travel is a force for good – have you seen this principle in action during your time in office?
I’ve always seen travel as one of the best ways to understand people, including one’s self. Travelling removes us from our usual surroundings, and that space from our daily routine helps us reflect and recalibrate. Travelling also exposes us to incredible diversity. We meet new people, hear their stories, learn new ideas and discover common ground. We become more comfortable with our contrasts, and realize just how many shared values and aspirations unite us.
While all this is a force for good, we also can have unintended impacts when we travel. Being environmentally and culturally aware is important. I carbon-offset my travel, which is a small example.
Were you a big traveller in your youth?
I had extraordinary opportunities to explore Canada and many places around the world as a boy travelling with my father, and as a young man after I graduated from university.
Prime Minister Trudeau out jogging during a visit to Cuba © Adam Scotti / PMO
Which travel experience has had the most lasting impact on you?
In my early 20s, I backpacked around the world with various friends for 10 months. First Venezuela and Colombia, then Western Europe, across North and West Africa via overland truck, Christmas in Helsinki, New Year’s on the Trans-Siberian Express, weeks across China and Hong Kong, Vietnam for Tet and finally Thailand to finish up on a beach. My only constant companion? Lonely Planet.
As a parent, tell us what you’ve learned about travelling as a family – the good and the (let’s be honest) not so good. Any favourite places to go with kids, in Canada or abroad?
Many cities have wonderful children’s museums and science centres, and I find that they’re a great way not just to help the kids learn where we are, but to get them to associate travelling with learning new things. Science North in Sudbury, Ontario, is a family favourite.
The prime minister visiting Paris' Eiffel Tower with his youngest child, Hadrien © Adam Scotti / PMO
What travel dream do you most long to fulfil?
I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to do some serious, off-the-beaten-path adventures as a family. Paddling the Amazon, trekking in the foothills of the Himalayas, camping in the Torngats of Northern Labrador, or horseback riding in Patagonia, to name a few.
Do you have any travel routines or anything you can’t leave home without?
I never travel without a Leatherman multitool and a paperback (or three).
What about travel horror stories? Ever had a trip where everything went wrong?
Nope. Lots of tough, boring, frustrating, or worrisome moments, of course, but they all make for opportunities to test yourself and grow as a person. They also make for much better stories once you get home.
After all the places you’ve been and the people you’ve met, what does travel mean to you?
The freedom to be spontaneous, the challenge of adapting to the world rather than expecting the world to adapt to you, and the opportunity to discover more about yourself by discovering people with totally different lives and experiences while learning to find common ground with them.