The best way to travel across Canada

If you want to see all the expansive Canadian cities and rural Canadian towns, what’s the best way to go about it?

Unfortunately, Canada is huge. It is the world’s second largest country but doesn’t have the population to make everything accessible or close together. Because the population doesn’t match its size, the activity in Canada is really spread out. Ask anyone who has travelled through the Prairies, you can drive for eight hours and you won’t see a single soul, or so they say.

Below, we’ll explore some of the major modes of transportation. Depending on your budget and how much effort you’re willing to put in, seeing Canada from coast to coast IS possible. Also, we’ll give you some helpful tips and ‘things to know’ about the country if you’ve never been here before.

Canada has many attractions that tourists put on their bucket lists: the Canadian Rockies, the Arctic, Banff, Niagara Falls, Whistler, the CN Tower, Peggy’s Cove, The Bay of Fundy, etc., etc. There is a lot to see.

A vehicle is almost a requirement to see what Canada truly offers. Without it, you won’t be able to veer off the beaten path. It’s what real Canadians use to get to cottages and lakes. If you’re on a bus, and they drop you off somewhere where you need to travel another 15 minutes to get somewhere, would you really want to order a taxi to get there? But some people do not have licences, so their trips may be narrowed a tad, but that’s okay too.

Planning your trip

First, I think you should decide on what you want to see in the country. Do you want to see every nook and cranny from the historic Halifax Harbour to the mountains of British Columbia, or would you feel satisfied seeing only a handful of locales?

Make a list of your priorities, are they natural wonders? The more “natural” your needs (ie, a hike through Banff) the more affordable your trip will be.

After you plan your trip around your preferences, decide on your accommodations. Are you in the camping mood? Fancy a cottage, cabin, hotel or Airbnb? Based on the expansiveness of Canada itself, you’ll probably end up staying in all of these options.

Travel options

Below are all the ways you can travel the Canadian terrain, coast to coast.

Bus

No one wants to be stuck on a bus with strangers for what feels like an eternity, but the fact of the matter is, taking the Greyhound from the east coast to the west is the least expensive option and it will only set you back about $500.

You will not be able to get off the bus and sight-see unless you buy one-way tickets to the cities you would like to check out. You’ll hop back on the bus with another ticket to the next destination once you’ve gotten your fill in Ottawa.

For students, Greyhound offers a 25% discount and for seniors there is a 20% discount. Please see their website for details on all their available discounts.

Train

If you can afford the luxury that is Via Rail, you can get across the country for about $800 one way. Check out their deals page and discounted Tuesday fares that seem to shave off about $200 or more from the price to some locations.

Car or RV    

One of the most convenient ways to travel Canada is by car or RV/motorhome. Having or renting your own vehicle for the trip gives you an independence that all of the other transportation options do not.

You’re going to want to stick to rentals with unlimited mileage, so you can take the scenic route, or diverge if there’s something interesting at a left turn. Secret waterfalls in Hamilton, anyone?

Plane

Feeling like a jetsetter? Domestic flights give you the speed of arrival, but may sacrifice some of the adventure of a road trip. However, if you have something to do in each place you land, and split your flights a week or two apart, you should be able to enjoy each Canadian destination on your list with relative ease.

You can find one-way tickets from Halifax to Quebec City for less than $250, Quebec to Toronto for $160, Toronto to Winnipeg for less than $200, then Winnipeg to Victoria for $167 on late notice.

That totals to $777 even. You’ll probably save even more if you book well in advance, and you’ll definitely want to compare prices across flight providers.

Combining travel options

Why not combine all of the options? Take a plane to a city, take transit to your accommodations, rent a bicycle for city exploration, then pack up and take a bus to your next destination. You can get creative, especially if you give yourself a good chunk of time to make your way around the country.

Things to know about Canada

Ah, here are some insiders tips from a true Canuck. Hopefully this little list will help you plan your trip a bit better:

Weather

Full disclosure: it gets very cold here. Our country is so big that temperatures can plunge to -30 or -40*C in the winter and soar +30*C in the summer. We complain every year to Mother Nature but nothing really changes. Monitor the weather frequently, you never know what could happen.

Some travellers heading over here may be shocked if they arrive in the winter. Even the most popular cities can get extremely cold and tend to break records thanks to our proximity to the Arctic. If you do prefer winter travel, you’re welcome to come any time that works for you! 

It’s recommended you come with warm, thermal layers, warm jackets and scarves if you’re visiting between November and February (at least). Bring a toque, and if you don’t know what that is, find out.

The summer is where Canada shines, and we’d actually prefer if you come during the warmer months so we don’t have to explain how freezing it is all the time. In the summer you can enjoy the cities and towns like the locals, without having to grin and bear it.

Currency

Only some retailers will accept USD. You will be farfetched to find a retailer that accepts any other foreign currency. USD to CAN hovers around $1.20 to $1.30.

Find out where you can exchange money ahead of time, and how much the exchange rate is so you won’t be stuck paying everything on credit, unless that’s your thing.

Official languages

Majority of Canada exchanges verbally via the English language. However, as one of the most diverse countries in the world, over 6 million people reported speaking a language other than English or French at home. If English or French is not your first language, you should not have too much trouble finding some common ground in the big 3 Canadian cities.

Since we’re on the subject, one of our provinces is entirely French speaking. This is not to say that the residents of Quebec don’t know English, some were taught it in school as a secondary language, but you should know that the Quebecois prefer speaking in their mother tongue.

It’s best to learn some directional terms such as sortie, arrêt, nord, sud, est et oust if you’re travelling through the province or its popular metropolis Montreal.

Oh yeah, we also have English accents and particular vernaculars just like any country with linguistic variance. We think it makes us quirky.

Gas prices

Gas prices vary by province, but if you’re renting a car this is something to include in your budget. 

If you’re thinking about staying outside of the city (maybe in a suburb) and travelling by car to destinations during the day, you will save money on accommodations but spend a bit more on gas. It might bite a couple of hours out of your day-trip commuting, but people do this every day! If you’re trying to save money on your trans-Canada journey, this is a useful tip.

Alcohol & cannabis

The availability of alcohol varies by province, and some provinces are holding on to their rather antiquated and strict liquor models. For example, you may buy beer and wine at corner stores in Quebec until 10 or 11pm but will be forced to purchase beer and wine at provincially [state] owned liquor stores in Ontario or Nova Scotia during regular business hours. Grocery stores are beginning to be allowed to serve alcohol to patrons of age in limited quantities.

Canada is gearing up to national cannabis legalization in July 2018. Though details are still sparse, provinces will be regulating the sale and distribution of cannabis related products through their own mechanisms. Some will follow the state-run model similar to alcohol availability, while others will allow private, free market competition.

Please drive responsibly on our Canadian roads. Never drink and drive, drug drive, or drive tired.

Travel insurance

If you’re a Canadian traveller, you should know that your provincial health insurance only covers you within your home province. Crossing the border only allows for certain coverages to continue up to a certain dollar amount.

For international travellers, your travel insurance will likely be nationwide and must be purchased before you leave your home country. Be sure to read your policy to ensure you are properly covered.

Enjoy and have fun!

Make sure to have a healthy and safe trip, we hope you enjoy your stay where ever you decide to visit. You'll be back, we know it.