Though most of us can’t physically travel right now, there’s still a wonderful world out there for us to explore together. Traveling In Quarantine spotlights people and places through which we can escape our sequestered realities… and in the process expand our Traveling IQ.
Traveling In Quarantine: Robert Sharp in Toronto, Canada
Robert Sharp is the Owner and Co-founder of Out Adventures, a global tour operator and provider of active, cultural and luxury LGBTQ tours.
Based in Toronto, the company recently celebrated 10 years of adventures!
An admitted ambivert (you’ll have to continue reading for the explanation), Robert has spent the last decade scaling mountains, cruising oceans and devouring street food. Yet what entices his loyal clientele most is the Out Adventures model of connecting travelers to locals, all around the world.
Robert also hosts “The Gay Travel Podcast,” the world’s first LGBTQ travel podcast, and is a fabulous ambassador for his home city of Toronto.
Traveling In Quarantine interviews Robert Sharp and together we explore Toronto:
IQ: How did you get involved in travel?
Robert: My ex-partner was in the adventure travel industry and we had the opportunity to take an expedition cruise to Antarctica. Seeing the vastness of the frozen continent, the wildlife unbothered by humans, and mile-wide icebergs for some reason made me question every decision I had made in life. We were burnt out in our careers, so we decided to sell our house, quit our jobs and hit the road for a once in a lifetime around the world trip. During the trip we decided to launch Out Adventures, and we partnered with the world’s largest adventure tour operator Intrepid Travel to offer an LGBT trip style on their roster. A few years later, my ex and I broke up, and shortly after Out Adventures and Intrepid Travel parted ways. Since then, we’ve grown to be one of the most respected LGBT travel brands in the world.
What are three things you’d like readers to know about you?
I love the mountains, and I always make it a priority to experience some of the world’s best hikes. I’ve done some serious trekking in Peru, hiked to Mount Everest Base Camp in Nepal, and climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro – the world’s tallest freestanding mountain in Tanzania. Second, I am a huge foodie, and I love to cook. I will seek out the best of the best in a destination, from street food to fine dining and I’ll try almost anything – twice. Always try something twice, just to be sure! Lastly, I’m an introvert, believe it or not. Well, I guess you could actually say I’m an ambivert. Basically I love hosting Out Adventures groups, showing people the world, and even public speaking, but typically I go into isolation mode immediately following a tour or large event. I tend to get very emotionally drained, and it often takes a few days for my energy level to ramp back up again. I’ve made it a habit of laying over for a day or two on my way home from a trip in order to decompress before jumping back into life at home and the office.
When you went on your around the world trip, where did you go and how did you prioritize locations?
We started with a big gay cruise from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro where we disembarked in the midst of Carnival. Wow – what an experience. I was so blown away at the scope of Rio Carnival which is known for its massive street parties and an over the top parade which runs basically from dusk till dawn on two different nights. From there we headed to South Africa, followed by Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Turkey, then finally Australia. We had planned to offer most of these destinations as core Out Adventures trips, and ultimately it’s easier to sell a destination that you experience first-hand.
Where are you from and where do you live now?
I grew up in Calgary, Canada. Imagine the oil industry of Houston mixed with the nature and mountains of Denver. It’s north of Montana, west of the Rocky Mountains, and was home to the 1988 Winter Olympics. It’s a beautiful city, but in my early 20’s I decided I wanted to pursue love and life in a bigger city, so I packed my bags and moved to Toronto where I’ve been ever since.
Describe Toronto and what makes it unique:
The city is known as the home of Drake and the CN Tower, but in my opinion the best thing about Toronto is its diversity. Home to over 230 nationalities, 51% of residents were born outside of the country, making Toronto arguably the most multicultural city in the world. It’s full of festivals like Pride Toronto, Caribana and the Toronto International Film Festival. This city is teeming with life, but doesn’t overwhelm. There are skyscrapers juxtaposed with heritage buildings, and it has one of the world’s most under-appreciated food scenes. But what really makes this city special are the cultural pockets and neighborhoods. We have three different Chinatowns, along with a Greek town, little Korea, little India – and even a Cabbage Town, the neighborhood made famous by poor Irish immigrants who grew cabbage in their yards. With these people come new cultural institutions, languages, and food. They make up neighborhoods, but are rarely segregated. You know, it’s rare that I promote a tourism video, but Tourism Toronto put together a spectacular video a few years ago that I feel really illustrates what I love about the city.
What makes Toronto a place for LGBTQ travelers?
With our diversity comes an openness and willingness to appreciate and accept others for who they are. As the largest city in Canada, Toronto has always been at the forefront of the LGBTQ+ movement. We have a traditional gay village, but to be honest, most of the city is queer friendly. We also have one of the largest Pride festivals in North America, Pride Toronto – which has sadly been postponed this year.
What are a few spots that you love in Toronto and why?
Queen Street, aka “Queer West” is a top spot for locals and visitors. The area has tons of boutique shopping, some of the city’s top restaurants, and my favourite place – Trinity Bellwoods Park, where on a warm summer day you can roll out a blanket, read, hang out with friends or just enjoy the “scenery”.
Toronto Island is not only home to one of the world’s best airports (according to Condé Nast Traveler’s 2017 Readers’ Choice Awards) but it also has Hanlan’s Point – the Queerest nude beach in Eastern Canada. To get here, there are regular ferries, water taxis, and en-route you’ll have the most fabulous view of the city.
So you’re a foodie, “eh”? What are your favorite restaurants in Toronto?
Sabai Sabai – To me, this place is the epitome of Toronto. Owned by a gay Laotion couple who immigrated to Canada as refugees when they were children, this spot is on the cusp of Yorkville and the Gay Village, and hands down is some of the best Thai and Laotian food outside of Asia.
Edulis – Unpretentious fine dining is the best way to explain this place. Located near Queer West, the 7-course tasting menu is to die for – but reservations need to be made months in advance.
Alouette – A french diner and sister restaurant to Canada’s number one restaurant, Alo. This place has all the flavours, but takes no reservations which makes it more accessible to people visiting the city who don’t want to make reservations months in advance.
If Coronavirus is magically cured overnight and quarantine ends abruptly, how will you celebrate?
I’ll go for a walk with my husband through the park I proposed to him in, then we’ll go for dinner with our closest friends at Sabai Sabai. We’ve become good friends with the owners over the past 10 years, and I can’t imagine any restaurant or people I would rather support and see when this passes.
If you could choose anywhere in the world to Quarantine, where would it be and why?
Definitely a deserted island with a beautiful beach. Location – unimportant. I imagine taking a nap in a hammock with my husband, under a palm tree, listening to the waves. And if there happens to be a mountain nearby, even better! 🙂
I am a big fan of your travel podcast and I realize you are paused during the pandemic, but what are some destinations you’ve planned to discuss this year?
Funny you mention “The Gay Travel Podcast” (available on Apple and Spotify). Just the other day we recorded a Covid-19 episode where host Peter Graham and I talk about what we know, what we don’t, but most importantly our desire to still travel when this is over, and to dream in the meantime. It also sets the tone for our remaining two episodes of Season 3 which were recorded prior to the pandemic. Some of the destinations we’ve featured are Berlin, Tokyo, Reykjavik, Peru, and Cuba – but we also talk about broader issues like travelling with HIV, wellness and our season finales when our entire team joins to kiki about our year of travel.
Experience welcoming Toronto in the video below:
Follow the Traveling IQ (In Quarantine) series, highlighting people and places through which we can escape our sequestered realities.