While the other kids were exploring the neighbourhood and catching their favourite shows on TV, Cailin O'Neil experienced the world on a bigger scale---and looked at it through a wider lens.
"My mother worked for an airline growing up," she says. "I loved travelling and making little films."
Her mom, who received employee-discounted fares as an agent "working on the gate" for Air Canada, has since retired. Now, the 25-year-old O'Neil, born and raised in Halifax, is starting to edit footage for the pilot episode of her own travel TV program called Travel Yourself. The premise of the series is straightforward: it's about the joys, opportunities, challenges and lessons of travelling on your own.
"It opens you up and gives you a chance to think about yourself," O'Neil says.
Going it alone doesn't mean spending every minute of every day in solitude. Rather, a solo sojourner, who doesn't have to reconcile a schedule or negotiate an itinerary with a partner or group, is free to meet and hang out with new people and to follow the unplanned route and enjoy the unexpected experience. The only person O'Neil has to reconcile and negotiate with is herself.
"The filmmaker in me wants to have shot after shot planned," she says, "while the traveller in me just wants to go."
O'Neil has met many solitary sojourners in her travels. "There's a lot of solo travellers out there," she says, adding they stay in touch with each other and have developed their own following via online communications vehicles such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs. O'Neil is building her own audience online and has just filed a guest post to the blog solotravelerblog.com.
In the same way some people might hesitate before taking a trip on their own, O'Neil wondered if she was taking on too much by committing publicly to making a show when she didn't have a commitment from a broadcaster to air it on TV or an internet company to screen it online.
Then she asked herself a simple question: "Why not just do it?"
She also found herself "out of a relationship all of a sudden." Breakups, getting dumped, have long been motivators for travel. For a travel TV show? This could be a first.
Besides the emotional drive, O'Neil has credentials. A graduate of NSCAD's film program, she's screened her film Forgotten at the Atlantic Film Festival. These days, O'Neil works as an assistant production coordinator, on a freelance basis, in Halifax's film industry. During downtime on the city's sets and locations, she travels, using funds she's saved from film work.
This year alone, O'Neil has visited Cuba, the UK (England, Ireland and Scotland) and Spain. Over the past year-and-a half, she's gone to 16 different countries. O'Neil shoots during each trip, with an eye to basing future episodes on her experiences.
For now, "I'm doing it out of my own pocket." Things could change---she's talking to the Outdoor Life Network (OLN) and CTV Travel. OLN carries one of her favourite travel shows, Departures. O'Neil is also talking to internet TV producers too. And, if it comes down to this, there's always posting episodes to her website travelyourself.ca or on YouTube.
Listed on her website as host, producer and director, O'Neil hopes to stay directly involved in Travel Yourself, if it's purchased---picked up---by a TV or online broadcaster. At the least, she'd like to sell the concept and work as producer.
For now, she's about to start work on the pilot episode based on her time in Spain. She went there to experience and to shoot the Tomatina Festival, basically a big food fight with tomatoes being tossed by thousands, among other things. Cam Erais went as her camera operator and director of photography.
"I didn't have a budget," O'Neil says. "I was just going with it."
She estimates she spent between $5,000 to $6,000 on the trip, which included an excursion to Morocco on her own. O'Neil paid for Erais's airfare and most of his related expenses.
On a visit to a bullring in a hilltop Spanish town, the scene felt familiar to O'Neil. A short while later, she realized it was the same site in a photo from one of her mother's holidays. Her mother played the bull while a friend had unfurled his jacket like a cape.