Marci Ien is a Canadian media icon, most widely known as news anchor on CTV’s ‘Canada AM’ and now, co-host on 'The Social'. Life has taken her from one corner of the globe to the next, sometimes for work, and other times, for personal exploration with friends and family. Regardless, the necessity to explore, discover and ask questions – innate to any journalist in unfamiliar circumstances – is how she finds the value and beauty in travel. Here, Marci tells Canadian Traveller about her travels and what she has learned along the way.
When did you start travelling?
From the ages of 10 to 16, I did a show called ‘Circle Square.’ It was filmed partly in Toronto, but we filmed segments in the West Indies, in the U.S. and in other parts of Canada, so travel was a huge part of my childhood; I spent a lot of those years away. And that was apart from my family – that was with the others on the show, that was with chaperones, that was with the producers…and we were working!
At that time, could you appreciate how unique it was to be so young and travelling?
I did – I look back now and think of the places we stayed; they were pretty darn swanky for a 10- or 11-year-old. I loved travelling; I loved the idea of getting on a plane and going to a new place – it’s still the most exciting thing in the world for me. I never got home sick; I loved the places we went.
And what about as you go older?
After my first year of university, I went on a trip with my grandmother, who is no longer alive. She was Grenadian-born but moved to Trinidad at a young age, and eventually, lived in New York. So together, we went to Trinidad, which was our base, but from Trinidad, we flew to Venezuela, and came back; we flew to Grenada, where I met family members for the first time, and came back; then we went to Tobago. In my final year, my family gave me a trip to Greece because my friend Cathy was Macedonian-Greek. She would travel for the summer and I had to work, but my parents arranged it so I would meet her there later in the summer. Cathy ended up meeting a man while she was there, and ended up not meeting me. My parents were freaking out – Cathy and I were meant to meet in Athens but we hadn’t booked anything because we were going to island-hop. But I went myself and made my own way – finding a hotel, making friends.
And with your husband and family?
My husband (Lloyd) and I, our anniversary is at the end of September, and we’ve almost always done what we call “a really good trip” around Sept. 25. Through the years, we’ve travelled to Paris, we’ve travelled to Argentina, and we’ve travelled to a lot of different places in between; we’ve been married 16 years in September and we’ve done a trip almost every year. The kids have been to Mexico, to Jamaica on a cruise, the Eastern Caribbean on a cruise; they’ve been all over the place.
Do you find that as you matured, what you were looking for or wanting to experience in travel has changed?
Yes. I like the real experience; I’m not much for staying on a resort, although that’s exactly what we did in Mexico – it’s different when you’re with kids. But when Lloyd and I travel together, we always walk and get to know a city – the real parts of a city; we’re exploring, we’re getting to know the history, we’re going to places off the beaten path. I’m not much into touristy things. I mean, hey, I love a good hotel; I’ve done Marival four or five times by myself, and I appreciate that when I need to recharge and just be still. When it’s with the kids, I often say that you almost need a vacation when you get home because it’s all about them. I remember a couple of years ago, Lloyd was in New Orleans on business and I went to meet him. I got in a cab when I landed and asked the driver to take me to the Ninth Quarter. She refused and said it was too dangerous. I said, “I’m a reporter. I want to see it.” And she wouldn’t take me. So, I find these places myself; I’m always trying to investigate different things, and especially things that have been in the news that I’ve covered and want to see.
Where has your role as a journalist taken you over the years?
I went to Sierra Leon on behalf of Journalists for Human Rights, as a reporter/auditor. I had to go in and find out whether their program there was working, how it can be improved, and to meet with journalists to understand how they were doing their jobs – many under threat because of what they were reporting. Many worked with editors who would say, “You know, it’s five o’clock. I’m not going to give you this story because you have to be home to make dinner.” They were dealing with oppression at work, as you do in an African nation where women are seen as “lesser than,” especially in a newsroom. They were working under duress and also working in conditions where sometimes they’d have a camera that works, sometimes not. I also went to Sri Lanka; I did some work for World Vision through the years, and the tsunami happened while I was on mat leave. I flew to Sri Lanka and brought my mom with me; she was retired and available to go, and they thought it really important that I be able to decompress and talk about things after each day. And they were right about that; I saw a lot. Other than that, I went to Ireland with ‘Canada AM’ for the 100th anniversary of the Titanic. I’ve done a lot of travelling, even just across the country with ‘Canada AM’, through the years. We did a whole show out of Montreal, the Olympics in Vancouver; we went everywhere!
What does it mean to read about or report on these things, and then to be able to see it firsthand?
I’ll tell you what struck me in Sri Lanka: When we reported it – I think, and this is just my perspective as a North American press – we think that these are poor people who live in huts and don’t have proper homes. But what I realized when I was there is that the fishermen are middle class; their kids wear uniforms and go to proper schools. I got there and saw a community that worked well. So, it was interesting because I had that perspective; you go in with preconceived notions of who people are and how they live, and I saw something completely different. There was a young girl named Nirasha, and she lived with her dad. I remember his hair being a shocking kind of grey colour. He was out on his boat when the tsunami hit, as were a lot of fishermen, and he survived. His wife and Nirasha’s little brother tried to climb a tree outside their house and they were taken in the storm; this man was left to raise this little girl by himself. Nirasha showed me a family picture, and her dad was in it; his hair was jet black and what the translator explained to me is that through shock, it went white. This was literally weeks later. I realized then how a child was going to be parenting her parent; this seven- or eight-yearold would be taking the reins for a while because her dad could not deal. I remember her and I was so saddened by the situation – but the strength of this kid! I had not one worry because she was telling me, “We’re going to be OK. We have a lot of loss, but we have each other.” And I will never forget that. And in Sierra Leon, I learned so many lessons about what it means to really want to tell a story from a justice perspective. When your life is on the line and you’re being threatened, but you write anyway – knowing the government is not going to be happy about what you’re writing and there could be repercussions – that’s a whole other level. There are some people risking their lives to report the truth, and they’re doing it because they want their voices to be heard. These were women who had several layers of threat because first, they were women, and then they were writing against the government and the government wasn’t happy. Seeing that made me want to be a better journalist; I was supposed to be there teaching them, but they taught me more.
What other travel experiences have helped shape you?
It’s that whole idea of walking in someone else’s shoes and understanding what it means to live in that place, even for a little bit. But the biggest idea of all is that we really don’t need as much as we think we do. What’s really important in life? Because I’ve met people who, by our standards, don’t have a lot but they’re some of the happiest people I know. Or who have gone up against huge challenges, like Nirasha, and still manage to smile and say, “We’re going to be OK.” It’s that idea of, “What, really, do I need?” What is happiness? What is passion? What is love? Because for a lot of people in this world, it’s not the trappings; it’s not a house and a garage and a car. It’s community. It’s having each other’s backs. And it’s really understanding what life is about. The most important things in life aren’t what we think they are most of the time, and travelling reminds me of that. I like to get to know communities. I like to see the nitty-gritty. There are times and places for spas and this and that and I call that recharging. But my favourite trips, the ones that stick with me, are those trips where I got to know people, and walked places, and asked questions, and discovered the beauty in the people.
When you're deciding where to go next, what are you looking for?
For Lloyd and I, it’s firstly, have we been there before? Can we go somewhere we haven’t seen yet, so we can discover it together? Believe it or not, I’ve never been to London, so that’s on the list big-time. The places on my radar are the places I haven’t seen, although I do keep going back to Jamaica; I love it there. I think it has a lot to do with reconnecting to childhood. When ‘Canada AM’ ended, it was the first place I wanted to go, and I went by myself just to think. I went with journals, and I just wrote, and tried to plot out what’s next. I think it has to do with being 10-years-old and going there, and it being a place of rest and a touchstone for childhood; it’s a place of great joy for me.
Speaking of London - do world events influence your travel choices?
No, no, no! You live once. I can’t even think about that. Things happen everywhere. I think you just have to go where your heart wants you to go, and my heart wants to go to London. So, I’ll be going. And I’d say the same for Paris, and the same for anywhere terror has struck. This is the idea behind terrorism; it’s that psychology of fear where people are paralyzed and stay at home. I just don’t live that way; I refuse to.
Tell me more about this feeling of liberation you get when you step on a plane.
It’s not even just stepping on the plane; it’s on the ride to the airport. It’s the excitement of, “My bags are packed and what will this new adventure hold? What interesting people will I meet? What places will I discover? What will create a lasting memory? What stories will I be able to tell my kids? What stories will our kids have because they got to travel somewhere?” Getting to the airport, checking-in, knowing there’s an impending flight, getting onboard, clicking the seatbelt – it’s knowing a new adventure awaits. I love that feeling – love it! It never gets old.
This article originally published in the fall 2017 issue of Canadian Traveller.