Fifteen years ago, Justin Wegiel moved to Toronto to study Hospitality Management at George Brown College, in the hopes of landing a gig in the city's blossoming restaurant scene.
One of his courses had a tourism component to it where he completed a case study on a company called GAP Adventures.
"The company's philosophy of small-group, responsible travel that brings social and economic benefits to local communities really resonated with me," Justin recalls. "It was at that point I decided I was going to pursue a career here. I was able to land an internship with them, which was required to graduate my program, and the rest as they say is history. I was hired full-time shortly after my placement and I've been enjoying the amazing ride ever since."
"You could say that this would be my first official big-boy job," Justin said.
Currently, Justin works as a GPS, or global purpose specialist, for the Greater Toronto Area.
"With so much noise out there in the marketplace we play the pivotal role in helping to guide our partners to find the right experience for the right client. The title is a fun double-entendre," Justin says. "My main responsibility is to grow our business via the travel trade and we're constantly looking for creative ways to move the dial by supporting our agent partners with product training, marketing initiatives, events and trade shows. To anyone reading this, I strongly urge you to contact your area GPS with any opportunities and ideas you might have, no matter how big or small. We're here for our partners to lean on for our knowledge and to share our experiences in adventure to ultimately help them grow their business as well as ours."
Here, PAX checks in with the Parkdale resident, who also lives with his fiance Debbie and an adopted Mexican dog, Cholula (yes, she's named after the hot sauce), to learn more about the special spot he proposed to his fiance at, the one thing he'll splurge on no matter what, and his strange penguin encounter in Antarctica.
PAX: What are three essential items you always travel with?
Justin Wegiel (JW): My phone, loaded with plenty of tunes (and Apple music) would be number one. I'm a music junkie and can often relate my travels to what I was listening to at the time. Music is the soundtrack to our lives.
Secondly, snacks with plenty of healthy options: nuts, granola bars, dried fruit, chocolate, coconut etc. Trust me, you don't want to get in my way when my blood sugar gets low.
Lastly, and I'm aware I run the risk of sounding super-cheesy when I say this, is an open mind. It's essential to truly embrace every experience and crucial when stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new things. The world is such a magical place with so much to offer, and just because some customs, cultures and cuisines may seem unfamiliar to you, one should never turn their nose up at them.
PAX: What are some of your favourite vacation spots?
JW: This is such a tough question as I love so many places for so many different reasons. I've always been partial to Mexico, Tulum in particular. I love all the small and unique boutique hotels tucked in between the beach and the jungle and as a self-proclaimed food nerd, the restaurant scene there is bustling and really pushing Mexican cuisine forward at the moment. I just love the vibe there. It's also where I proposed to Debbie last year on the Day of the Dead - it'll always have a special place in our hearts.
I'm always in awe of the vast remoteness of destinations like the Galapagos and Antarctica - places that after you visit, you really appreciate how fragile these ecosystems are and you then become an ambassador for. The food and wine lover in me means that Spain and France are always good options, and if you were to ask me this question come this time next year, I'm sure I'll add Italy to the mix, post-honeymoon.
PAX: What’s your favourite airport and why?
JW: That would have to be Pearson. I's home territory and utterly familiar and comfortable. When I'm there it means I'm either off on another adventure or I'm coming home to my girls, both have equal merit.
PAX: What do you love about your job? The travel industry?
JW: I love that it's constantly changing and that no two days are alike. Consumer tastes are constantly changing and we need to evolve and adapt with the times, it keeps things interesting and there's always something new to talk about. I'm a total news addict and I love feeling so connected and plugged into the world around me. This industry really is the most fun, social and dynamic industry out there with so many incredibly interesting people and experiences to be had, and I'm very lucky to be a part of it.
PAX: What was the first vacation you ever took?
JW: It may not have been the first but it was definitely the most memorable at the most impressionable time in my life.
I was like 10 or 11 and my parents decided they'd take my sister and I on a summer-long road trip to Vancouver and back. We drove through the States on the way out, taking us through the Badlands of South Dakota - including a stop at Mount Rushmore - before heading up to Calgary to visit with family and experience the Stampede.
We then road-tripped through the Rockies en route to Vancouver and stayed in these really cool cabins in the mountains, before heading back through the Prairies to visit more family in Winnipeg. We then made our way south through Michigan before crossing back into Ontario. That trip really gave me the travel bug and opened my eyes to all these new and exciting places. I've always loved geography as a kid and I remember playing navigator in the front seat with a CAA flip map in hand and my dad at the helm of the family vehicle. I'll never forget those moments.
PAX: What’s the biggest splurge you’ve ever made on a trip?
JW: I'm not much of a collector of things and with my passion for food I tend to splurge on meals without thinking twice about the financial repercussions. Which is a great segway into the next question...
PAX: What was the most memorable food/meal you ever ate and where did you eat it?
JW: One of my most recent memorable meals was at this gorgeous restaurant in Prague near the Charles Bridge, a very old-school and very meat-centric establishment connected to a butcher shop right next door.
The waiter asked if I wanted to see the special cuts of the day and presented our table with a massive board of what I can only describe as some of the choicest cuts of beef I'd ever laid eyes on. I decided to splurge and opted for the 32oz, 60 day, dry-aged Spanish ribeye.
Hanging off every edge of my dinner plate was a total meat-sweat and food-coma inducing experience, but I've yet to taste anything that comes close to that steak.
PAX: What’s your biggest travel pet peeve?
JW: I don't want to sound too negative or preachy-preachy, but it really winds me up when people start to compare things to how they are "back home" or in "destination XYZ." If you're looking for all the creature comforts of home or making unfair comparisons to other places you've been, perhaps you should just stay home or rebook that comfortable hotel you're so occupied with.
The very reason why travel is so exciting and interesting is because it's different and new. Embrace the bizarre and venture off into the unknown. If you can leave your prejudice and misconceptions at home all the better, you'll be much better off without them.
PAX: What are your hidden talents?
JW: If there's one thing I can confidently admit to having even a small morsel of talent in, it's my cooking - and that's only because I'm constantly obsessing over my next meal.
I could be having lunch and I'm already thinking about what I'm doing for dinner and the prospect of a delicious breakfast will easily get me out of bed, regardless of the quality of sleep I may have been enjoying at the time.
PAX: When flying: window shade up or down?
JW: I guess that would depend on the time of day. If I'm trying to sleep, definitely down. If I'm awake and alert upon descent, I do enjoy the aerial views when flying into a new city. I love seeing Toronto and picking out its many neighbourhoods from above as well.
PAX: What's your funniest travel anecdote?
JW: Ha, there's been a few but for those reading this, ask me about the time I tripped over a dead penguin in Antarctica.
PAX: What are several things travel agents should know about G Adventures right now?
JW: Next year we're turning 30 and like a fine wine, we're only getting better with age. We've recently launched our Family Journeys with National Geographic scheduled to start in March 2020, the operations of our new Wellness travel style just kicked off this year and we're currently constructing a new and gorgeous yacht in the Galapagos, bringing our total up to six vessels for 2020.
We're also running another Change Makers Summit in 2020, the follow up to this year's well-received global incentive trip to Peru. We'll be taking more than 120 of our top sellers and biggest ravers from all our global markets on an incredible trip through India and Nepal - it's going to be huge! You can expect another banner year for us here at G Adventures and we'll be ringing our 30th year in true G Adventures style.
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