Well, that went fast! After more than three years, around 80,000 words and 130 columns, it's time for me to wave a fond farewell to the Travel Concierge slot. The big surprise? I lasted more than six months.
When I was offered this regular question-and-answer gig back in 2013, I was simultaneously surprised and butt-clenchingly alarmed.
As a full-time freelancer with a work routine defined by the phrase "organized chaos," the idea of adhering to a schedule – initially, once a week and later every two weeks – seemed destined for a dramatic crash and burn scenario.
But after that first column on London's best pubs – start with what you know, as Mark Twain probably never said – I eased into the routine like a luxury soap sliding off the edge of a fancy hotel bathtub. And if I didn't personally know what that fancy hotel was like, I always found someone who did.
I covered some questions from my own travels – Dublin's best attractions, Britain's Doctor Who sites or what post-earthquake Christchurch, N.Z., was like, for example – but the best columns were those that tapped the wisdom of apposite experts, providing wannabe vacationers with invaluable insider tips.
Carolyn Banfalvi pointed us to the deep-fried langos (flatbreads) at Budapest's Central Market Hall; Brendan Sainsbury talked up the traditional music houses in towns throughout Cuba; comedian Richard Herring explained why you shouldn't heckle at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (unless you're really funny); and Nick Ray recommended Angkor Wat's East Gate for relatively crowd-free sunrises.
Equally popular were columns on how to travel. Sandra Pearson noted that full and frank communication is the secret to successful home exchanges; Jeff Jung recommended spending more time in fewer places on a travel-based year off; and Claudia Laroye explained that vacationing with seniors is all about tact – and ensuring you have everyone's meds.
The most popular columns, though, covered Canada. A recent one on indigenous travel experiences was shared a lot, while others on mountain biking hot spots (don't miss British Columbia's Powell River, said Teresa Edgar); amazing hikes (including Kananaskis Country's Northover Ridge, said Craig Copeland); and kid-friendly heritage attractions (try Manitoba's Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site, said Jenn Smith Nelson) struck many local chords.
But the most frequently forwarded column tackled an issue of much deeper gravitas. Thousands gnashed their social media teeth over the question of Canada's best beer destinations, with experts from Joe Wiebe (Victoria) to Chris McDonald (Halifax) toasting their beery backyards. Like many topics, it lit up my Twitter feed with intriguing recommendations – I'll be spending my Travel Concierge retirement sampling as many as I can.
Feedback such as this was my favourite part of the job. For each column, I asked readers the question at hand and many of you sent great tips and suggestions. We included most at the end of each column, either in print or online. Heartfelt thanks to all who contributed: You kept me sane while I stared at my blank screen, deadline looming.
It's been my most enjoyable assignment in 17 years as a freelancer and I sincerely hope we helped some travellers plan their trips along the way. Connecting with locals from Brisbane to Buenos Aires and from Oslo to Cape Town certainly fuelled my own wanderlust.
And if you spot me at an airport, please stop and say hello. Despite the fresh-faced, matinee idol head shot that's always accompanied this column, I'm actually a bearded old travel hack with itchy feet who can't wait for the next big adventure.
Follow me on Twitter: @johnleewriter