Mostly Gentle Footsteps

By Kevin McKay

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On July 1, while millions of Canadians celebrated Canada Day with picnics and backyard barbecues, Irene Butler and her husband Rick ventured out into the world on a journey that would have them visit 12 countries in 12 months.

“It was a life-changing experience,” says Irene. “When we took the trip, we had already decided to hang up our tourist hats and put on our traveller hats. We stayed where the locals stay and immersed ourselves into all the cultures as much as we could.”

Prior to their global adventure, Irene and Rick had visited a number of countries over several trips.

“When we started holidaying together... We used to have suitcases like trunks with shoes for each outfit. We learned that if we pack what we think are necessities, then cut that in half, we have everything we need.”

Frustrated by the limitations of package deals with planned itineraries, Irene longed to see a country on their own terms. Their first trial run was to Morocco for a three-week stay without so much as a hotel room booked for a single night. They went where they wanted and saw the sights they wished to see.

“It was amazing,” says Irene. “The exposure to the local people and the culture was so real, we knew we had hung up our tourist hats forever.”

Despite moving away from packaged tours with set itineraries, Rick and Irene were not prepared to rough it for an entire year. The pair operated with a motto: “We are not here to suffer.”

Initially, Irene did not give much thought to how much the year-long trip would cost. “Rick came to me and said, ‘What if we can travel for this year for the same money as we would spend staying at home?’ I thought he was kidding,” she says. “We can’t travel around all these new countries and not see things. Rick figured out a budget where we would balance the time spent in countries that were more affordable with those that were more expensive... hence, we agreed upon the motto to [override] the budget when necessary. We were more immersed in the places by not staying in resorts... In the end, our living expenses, accommodations, food and sightseeing cost about the same as the price of staying at home.”

Armed with their Oneworld plane tickets and a loose plan of where they intended to visit, Irene and Rick set off. In each country they departed from a different city than the one they landed in so they would have as much time as possible to travel overland and see the places they were visiting. They toured through Australia, China (including Tibet), Nepal, India, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Switzerland, Germany, France and the U.S.

“We stayed where the locals did and immersed ourselves in each culture. Time goes by and no one knows about you and your life. It is a very humbling experience,” says Irene. “The foreignness fades away as you learn about them. Your prejudices evaporate. You come to realize people all basically want the same things: to provide for their families and find happiness. It’s the people that make travel worthwhile. It was the most daring and enlightening year of our lives.”

Over the year, Irene started writing travel articles about their adventures. Vancouver-area newspapers started to accept and publish them. As a freelance writer, she became a member of several travel writers associations, which eventually led her to write a book about their 12-month trek. “I was inspired by how this trip changed our lives and I was inspired by so many people around the world,” she says. “I felt I just had to share. I figured that if I shared our journey with others, then maybe it would prompt some people to say ‘I should do that.’”

It took Irene a couple of years to write the manuscript from the journals she kept, and *Trekking the Globe with Mostly Gentle Footsteps* is being published by Granville Island Publishing.

“The reason I added the word ‘mostly’ is because despite our idealistic good intentions to leave a favourable impression wherever we went, our footsteps were often clumsy, usually due to a lack of understanding. These misadventures along the way made for some humorous, bizarre and hair-raising experiences.”

The couple's future holds the promise of yet more adventures - and misadventures. Though Rick and Irene have been to 70 countries already, there are far more still waiting for their usually gentle footsteps.

For more information or to purchase the book, visit or most Chapters, Indigo and Black Bond Books.




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