Welcome to Canada Eh!
Canada is a vast country with only a few major cities separated by long stretches of great wilderness. From the Pacific Ocean, Gulf Islands, temperate rain forests, Rockies Mountains, centrals plains & forests, great lakes, swamps, tundra, to more oceans & islands… Canada is a nature lovers paradise. Planning a trip depends heavily on whether you are making it a road trip, or flying in from overseas. So I will include a guide for each region with both options in mind. Dividing Canada into regions is useful both in terms of understanding the geography and the many people that call themselves Canadian.
I will include some basic info on the Geography, People, Safety, Daily Costs, Transportation and History of Canada here. Over the next few weeks, I’ll dive a little deeper into exploring each of the six regions in Canada as well as some of my own trips inside my home country.
The Geography of Canada
Canada is the second largest country in the world, borders only the United States by land and three oceans: The Arctic, Pacific & Atlantic. In fact, Canada and the USA share the longest border between any two countries in the World. This international boundary has no fences, only a handful of major border crossing, and is mostly just a random line of cut down trees following the 49th parallel. North of this line in the woods are ten provinces and three territories. Provinces have their own governments like States in the USA, while territories are governed directly by the Canadian Government in Ottawa. Provinces can form their own laws for labor, health, taxes etc… This is why prices in Canada are listed ‘pre-tax’ as each province can choose their own tax rates, making final prices different when you go to pay.
It stretches 6,500Kms from the West Coast Vancouver to the East Coast Halifax (Via TransCanada Hwy with stops in Toronto & Ottawa- Driving Route). So a trip to Canada is best planned based on how and where you will travel. You won’t just happen on place by accident, you actually have to make plans if you want to see the good stuff!
To make your trip planning easier, I would divide Canada into six regions that I will cover in a series of posts in the future:
- Pacific West Coast – Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands, Vancouver & Whistler
- Rockies Mountains & Plains of Central Canada – Banff, Jasper, Calgary to Winnipeg.
- Southern Ontario – Toronto to Ottawa
- Southern Quebec – Montreal to Quebec
- Maritime Provinces – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI & Newfoundland
- Northern Territories – The best places to see the Auro Borealis
Map of Destinations
People of Canada
Canada has two official languages (French & English), but you might find people speaking other languages like Mandarin, Hindi, Japanese, Italian or one of the many native languages of North America.
The major cities in Canada are very multi-cultural. In Vancouver and Montreal, you can expect many people to speak at least two languages. Immigrants from Asia, Europe and Africa have settled into the urban centers while the rural areas are still pretty divided. In small towns in Quebec, most people still only speak French. While in Richmond, British Columbia, the most common language is actually Mandarin – Chinese. Canada’s North is populated with indigenous peoples that still use their own languages. On a map of the Maritime Provinces, you’ll find French, English, German and Native town names side by side. To tourists, most Canadians will sound pretty similar to Americans, but to Canadians we have many accents that make it easy to pinpoint where exactly someone is from.
These are extreme examples as English will do for most destinations you’ll want to visit and communication is pretty easy, but it’s important to know that not only are Canadians different from Americans, but also have very different cultures across the country. In an area a little larger than China or the USA, Canada has only 35 million people and a handful of very different cities, but they can be very different and worth exploring!
Safety & Equipment
Safety is also very important.Although Crime in Canada is low, one of the lowest in the world, the danger in Canada is really the weather and wilderness. I’m not kidding. Getting lost on trails, caught in storms, falling through the ice or tumbling off snow cornices have claimed the lives of tourists and residents alike. Not to mention wolves, bears, mountain lions, bison and moose (Yes Moose! At 2 meters tall and 1,500 lbs fully grown please do not assume they are harmless). You need to know what precautions to take before you leave. Please don’t hang bear mace around your neck by the safety clip. Either learn how to use your equipment or stay on the main tourist paths.
Parks Canada has some great resources available online in many languages . They have guides on how to get started camping, to bear safety, and more for your next visit. Please take the time to check it out if you plan on visiting one of Canada’s beautiful National Parks.
Or take a look at this fun safety video.
If you need help packing for your next day hike, I recommend checking out a few videos on Youtube. It’s a quick and easy to way get advice on what essentials you need on a trip into the wilderness.
Canada is an expensive country to travel as a backpacker, so having Canadian friends will go a long way in helping you reduce your expenses. Luckily Canadians are a well-traveled people and friendly (I’m totally biased), so making Canadian friends is easy! Accommodations, transportation and food is expensive. You may have some favorable exchange rates when you visit, but in international terms, you are dealing with developed country prices. Worse, If you plan on visiting the North or other remote places, be prepared to pay three of four times the normal price for everything.
Here is a list of prices you can expect in most cities:
- Hostel per Night: $30-$50
- Hotel per Night: $80-$150
- Airbnb: $70-$100
- Car Rental:
- City Transit Bus & subway: $2.50-$9.00
- City to City Bus: $20-$60
- Airfare: $250-$600 return flights
- Restaurant Meal: $9-15 for an entree
- Groceries: Prices vary by province, $20-30 for a basket of basics (Milk, eggs, vegetables, meat)
Getting around in Canada can be a little challenging! That’s why I recommend making your next Canadian adventure a road trip with a friend. That way, you can get to the best places with ease and make use of some of Canada’s most spectacular National Park campgrounds.
But for those without a car, public transportation varies from good to non-existent, and you won’t find the deals on airfare or bus lines like you would in Europe and the United States. The only silver lining in my experience is that you don’t need to book tickets far in advance. Most buses and flights don’t sell out, so getting a seat is almost guaranteed. Bellow I list some of the larger train, bus and airlines. I will also include popular ride-sharing website which I find to be reliable and safe.
As always, I refer to The Man in Seat 61 for the most up to date information on train routes. There are several lines across Canada connecting the major cities. However, I find the train in Canada to be extremely overpriced and slow. For a budget traveler with plenty of time, the bus is way cheaper. Flights are far quicker for a traveler on a tight schedule as 12+ hour bus rides are common. I’ll dive into further detail for each specific region, but you are basically looking at different sections of ViaRail Canada.
- Greyhound – Western & Central Canada (Check out Hostelling International Discount)
- CoachCanada – Ontario & New York State
- Megabus – Southern Ontario – United States
- Maritime Bus – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island
- Air Canada – Nationwide Airline
- Westjet – Nationwide Airline
- Porter – East Coast Regional Airline
- Canadian North – Central & Northern Territories
Ride-sharing in Canada is very popular! $20 for gas, friendly conversation and new friendships are often made over a long ride to small towns. For young people traveling around Canada, reaching out on Facebook and to friends of friends to get hooked up with a ride is easy. When you can’t find friends, Facebook groups and ride-sharing boards online work just as well!
Living in Vancouver, I used Facebook groups for rides up to Whistler, BC for one day ski trips. This isn’t just for locals or other Canadians. In major cities people won’t treat you like a tourist unless you act like one. . No matter what country you come from, the color of your skin or language you speak, you can blend into to the multicultural cities fairly easily. So be open minded and don’t be afraid to reach out!
- KangaRide – Ontario, Quebec, Eastern United States
- CarpoolWorld – Nationwide in Canada and United States
- Poparide – Central & Eastern Canada and United States
- KootenayRideShare – British Columbia
- Shareyourride.net – Nationwide in Canada
- Kijiji.ca – Popular in Eastern Canada for general posts (Like Craigslist)
- Craigslist – Popular in Western Canada
I will keep adding ride-sharing platforms as I come across them. There are lots of popular carpooling/ride-sharing apps these days, but Canada is slow to adopt them because we hate paying fees to an app service for what should be a community based network of people.
Car & RV Rental
For a small family or a group of friends, renting a car or RV for a great Canadian road trip is one of the best ways to go everywhere you want at an affordable rate. Rent a car and bring a tent to go camping, or rent an RV for even more comfort.