Oh, Canada. A sparsely populated country of scenic views, multi-cultural cities, friendly residents, maple syrup, and, of course, poutine.
While it seems that everyone has their own ideas of what it means to be Canadian, one thing everyone can agree on is that Canada is one of the most beautifully diverse countries on the planet.
So how do you plan to visit a country that has oceans, mountains, prairies, bustling cities, varied climates, and many world cultures thriving on top of it all?
Here’s what you need to know for backpacking Canada:
It Ain’t Cheap
First of all, you have to know that generally speaking, Canada can be an expensive country to visit. Unlike Europe for example, Canada only has two major airlines that fly from the Atlantic to the Pacific – Air Canada and Westjet. With the monopoly on the skies, these airlines can charge pretty much whatever they want as far as supply and demand goes.
Likewise with train travel. While ViaRail is a trusted name in the Canadian rail market, it is also the only public company that travels cross-country. And while traveling by train across Canada is something everyone should do in their lifetime, it is definitely something for which to save up.
If you plan on eating out in Canada, know that a meal in a restaurant can easily run you $15-$25CAD a pop in chain restaurants. And while street food is readily available during the summer in the bigger cities, if you’re on a budget it’s probably best to plan to purchase some of your food locally and cook at your accommodation.
Canada can be relatively nice on the backpacking budget when it comes to accommodation. It is home to a great variety of lovely hostels, or, if the hostel life isn’t for you, Airbnb’s.
But know that if you are looking at a hotel-based stay, accommodation can quickly eat away at your budget, especially in the larger cities.
Believe it or not, not all of Canada is a permafrost-covered glacier all year round.
The time of year you visit Canada, along with where you plan to go once you hit the country, will make a huge difference to your overall experience. Also, remember that the weather in Vancouver will be different from the weather in Whitehorse or Toronto no matter what time of year, so make sure you research the climate of each destination before you go.
And don’t ever expect a mid-summer ski in Banff.
Travel around Europe for a while, and you will find that a popular stereotype of Canadians is that they’re all from Montreal, and that they all speak French.
Although all of Canada will have signage and product labelling in both English and French, you will be hard pressed to find many French-speaking Canadians outside of Quebec. In fact, about 85 per cent of all Canadian Francophones reside in Quebec, and next to that, 3.1 per cent live in New Brunswick, and 4.2 per cent live in Ontario.
Other than that, you can probably find some people who will be able to tell you in French where the bathroom is or if it’s raining, but not much else.
If you are heading to Canada in the summer, consider a camping adventure. Canada is home to some spectacular campgrounds that will run you less money to on par with what you would spend at a hostel.
Because Canada is so sparsely populated in some areas, the setting for star-gazing out in the wilderness with minimal light pollution is perfect.
For a great overall view of what Canada has to offer, make sure you plan an equal amount of time in both the city and nature.
For a great big city feel, plan some time in downtown Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, or Montreal, but once you’ve had enough of that life, get out into the wilderness or find a charming small town in which to spend some time. Not only will you find incredible Canadian hospitality once you leave the metro behind, you’ll also find incredible landscapes.
There are now more than 40 national parks in Canada to explore – ranging from lush greenery to sand dunes to glaciers.
There aren’t really “typical” Canadians
A huge part of what makes the Canadian identity so interesting is that there isn’t a mold. Canadians are comprised of people from many different ethnicities, backgrounds, political views, and religions; and that’s a beautiful thing.
Perhaps the real things that bind Canadians together are as simple as the fact that they say “sorry” for no reason at all, and consider a hefty parka a necessity.
And Tim Horton’s, everybody goes to Tim’s.