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 upon is that Canada is one of the most diverse countries on the planet.
So how do you plan to visit a country full of 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 Canada can be an expensive country to visit. Unlike Europe, Canada only has two major airlines that fly from the Atlantic to the Pacific – Air Canada and WestJet. With the monopoly in the skies, these airlines charge a pretty penny for an airline ticket.
This is the same with travelling by train. While Via Rail 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 to save up for.
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, you might as well pay ballpark prices for “street meat and a soda.”
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, try 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.
Your experience may change based on when you visit. If you avoid peak seasons, you’ve split your airfare and hotel costs in half. Also, remember that the weather in Vancouver will be different from the weather in Toronto no matter what time of year, so make sure you check The Weather Network for accurate weather patterns and forecasts during your stay.
If you travel around Europe for a while, you will come to realize, despite popular belief from non-Canadians, that not all Canadians are from Montreal, and not all Canadians 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 you’re more likely to encounter non-French speakers where you go.
If you are heading to Canada in the summer, consider a camping adventure. Canada is home to some spectacular campgrounds that will cost less than any stay at a hostel.
Because Canada is so sparsely populated in some areas, the landscaping for star-gazing out in the wilderness features minimal light and far less pollution than the city- an ideal alternative.
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 woodland areas.
For a great big city feel, plan some time in downtown Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, or Montreal, but also get out into the wilderness near the water or mountains, or find a charming small town in which to spend some time in. Not only will you find incredible Canadian hospitality once you leave the metro behind, you’ll also find incredible landscapes and experience all Canada has to offer.
There are now more than 40 national parks in Canada to explore – ranging from lush greenery to sand dunes to glaciers.
There aren’t real “typical” Canadians
A huge part of what makes the Canadian identity so fascinating is that there isn’t a singular identity. 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.
But let’s not start stereotyping, eh?