For most people a car accident is a devastating point in their lives, but for Vancouverite Robin Esrock, it was the best thing that happened to him.
Esrock was zipping through Metro Vancouver on his scooter in 2004 when a car collided with him, a catalyst that would change the course of his life. After the pain had subsided and the $20,000 settlement arrived, Esrock left his marketing job and used the money to travel the world for a year, keeping a website-based journal along the way.
“In the process I realized travel writing was a means to do things I couldn’t otherwise afford,” he reflected.
One thing led to another and today Esrock is the Canadian bestselling author of The Great Canadian Bucket List (Dundurn Press). His reality television show Word Travels took him to 36 countries in three years, was dubbed in 21 languages and was picked up by National Geographic.
Esrock’s latest is called The Great Global Bucket List (Harper Collins). The 420-page book is full of fascinating experiences, from swimming beneath an underground waterfall in Belize to barbering an agave plant in Tequila, sand-boarding down an active volcano in Nicaragua, bungee jumping off a TV tower in Macau and visiting a church made with human bones in the Czech Republic.
He’s a sought-after public speaker, a brand ambassador for companies and tourism boards and is in the process of writing a novel. Along the way he also became a husband and a father of two.
Esrock was born in South Africa, moved to London in 1997 and two years later landed in Vancouver. As he set off for his travels in 2005 he found himself chasing one-of-a-kind experiences, many of which would end up in his books years later. “I’d arrive in a place and think what can I do here that I can’t do anywhere else? That fortuitously merged with the bucket list phenomenon that started in 2007.”
The 420-page book is full of fascinating experiences, from swimming beneath an underground waterfall in Belize to barbering an agave plant in Tequila, sand-boarding down an active volcano in Nicaragua, bungee jumping off a TV tower in Macau and visiting a church made with human bones in the Czech Republic.
This is not a guidebook in any sense of the word. Esrock delivers each experience in an essay with wonderfully conversational prose and beautiful images. His Judaism definitely played a part in some of the destinations he visited, notably Poland, where he looked for his grandmother’s house outside Krakow, his trip to Lithuania, where three of his four grandparents came from, and Auschwitz.
There’s no shying away from psychologically challenging experiences in the Great Global Bucket List and Esrock’s 85 essays are poignant, reflective and often inspiring.
“I spent a night in an Istanbul hostel, got talking to guys from Lebanon and Saudi Arabia and went out with them to drink tea and delve into the Arab- Jewish conflict,” he recalls. “We spoke like human beings and by the end of the night we were hugging and crying under the shadow of the mosque.”
There’s such a thing as too much travel writing, though, this seasoned traveler admitted. “When we were filming Word Travels we did Ethiopia, Dubai, Latvia, Lithuania and Thailand in four weeks and there just wasn’t time to process the cultural diversity and contrasts we were experiencing,” he said. “I had to crank out between 3,000 and 9,000 words a day and condense the world’s highest bungie jump, largest casino and other experiences in the space of days. Every day was an 18-hour day of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It got to the point of absurdity!”
It was a far cry from the kind of travelling he’d done previously as a lone backpacker, where he could take the time to meet fellow travellers, see where the road would take him and absorb the culture and beauty of his destinations slowly.
His bucket list books are a handbook for those adventurous travellers looking for different experiences, as well as couch potatoes who prefer reading to doing. Esrock cautions that bucket lists can lead to unrealistic expectations and disappointment when people create goals that can never be met.
“Start your bucket list close to where you live and do things you can do, things that are realistic,” he suggested. “Right now my bucket list is to take my three-year-old daughter camping. She’s excited, I’m excited, and to me that’s just as special as camping on the ice in Antarctica. Start with where you live and what you know, and you’ll find that simple things you may not have considered interesting actually are interesting.”
Many of his friends and colleagues call him lucky. That’s not entirely true, Esrock said. “I got hit by a car. Yes, I got a TV show, but I figured out how to get one. I created my luck, to some extent. I believe that like respect, luck has to be earned.”