All you need to know for an epic solo-trip across Canada
At the beginning of 2017, in the middle of a crisis in which I was questioning my life choices, my place in the world and a bunch of other things, under the constantly rainy and snowy skies of Vancouver, I decided that my answer was an epic solo trip across the country.
In the three years I had spent in Canada, I had never been to any province or territory other than BC, so I felt the urgency to get out there and start exploring the land that so kindly had taken me in. In the span of two weeks I read guidebooks, drafted an itinerary, arranged transportation and accommodation for a good one third of trip. 5 full weeks on the road across 8 provinces by land.
When it comes to an itinerary across Canada, the possibilities are endless. Being it my first trip in the country, I figured I should start with the most popular destinations, the big cities everyone knows about: somewhere in the Rockies, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Montréal, Québec City, Halifax. Still, the adventurous and unconventional traveler inside of me suggested to add some spice and I chose to add two relatively unknown destinations: Haida Gwaii and the Gaspésie peninsula.
Day 1 Flight from Vancouver to Haida Gwaii
Day 2 – Day 5: Haida Gwaii. (I was supposed to leave by ferry on day 4, but I got stuck on the island because of a storm)
Day 5: Ferry overnight from Haida Gwaii to Prince Rupert
Day 6: Prince Rupert
Day 7: Prince Rupert – Prince George – Jasper. (Planned it by train, but because of the storm I had to switch and take the bus instead)
Day 8: Jasper. (Rented a car for the day to explore the area)
Day 9: Greyhound from Jasper to Edmonton + Afternoon in Edmonton
Day 10 – Day 12: Greyhound from Edmonton to Toronto (via Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Thunder Bay)
Day 13 – Day 16: Toronto (day trip to Niagara Falls included)
Day 17: Train from Toronto to Ottawa
Day 18 – Day 20: Ottawa
Day 21: Greyhound from Ottawa to Montréal
Day 21 – Day 25: Montréal
Day 26: Car sharing from Montréal to Québec City
Day 26 – Day 28: Québec City
Day 29: Orleans Express (bus) from Québec City to Gaspé
Day 30-31: Gaspé – Percé – Gaspesie (rented a car to explore the area)
Day 32: Orleans Express to Rimouski – VIARail overnight from Rimouski to Halifax
Day 33 – Day 35: Halifax
Keeping the costs low
When you’re on the road for five weeks, you can’t really afford 5 stars hotels and first class train tickets. And if I could, I probably wouldn’t, it’s just not the way I travel. Keeping the costs low is possible, even in Canada where everything seems so expensive.
Tip n.1 hostel membership
On a budget, and if you’re not a couchsurfer, hostels are your best friends. They are usually cheaper and better located than Airbnb apartments. In Canada, but all over the world as well, there is a chain of hostels called HI (Hosteling International). For an annual membership of 35 Canadian dollars, you get a 10% discount in all their hostels and you are eligible for all their other promos (for example, the hostel in Jasper in low-season gives you the third night for free). Most of their structures are great, friendly, clean and in the city centre. Plus they give you big discounts on VIA Rail trains and Greyhound buses.
Tip n.2 booking transportation
If you travel by land across Canada, your options are pretty much two: the train and the coach.
VIA Rail trains are really nice and have many tiers of price for long hauls, depending on how comfortable you want to be. They are quite expensive, the WiFi is absolutely unreliable (they don’t even have it on the trains from Vancouver to Toronto and viceversa) but the scenery is stunning. To save something, keep an eye on the Tuesday deals: every Tuesday VIARail offers discounts on quite a few routes. Or you can use the 12.5% discount that your HI membership guarantees you.
If you’re not in a hurry and you’re really up for a hardcore adventure, try the Greyhound bus. You get 25% off with the HI membership and you can usually get good deals by booking in advance on their website.
In terms of comfort, it’s not comparable to the train, but you’ll have two seats to yourself most of the time, which makes it easier to sleep. As the road follows the rail tracks, the scenery is often comparable to the train, so definitely worth it! And it makes frequent stops, so that you can get food and stretch your legs. Another upside is the fact that most buses have decent WiFi and plugs (the blue ones do, the white ones don’t, not that you can do much about it).
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend more than 3 full days of travel on a bus though, by the third day you are awfully tired and you need a real shower. I went from Jasper to Toronto with no real break and I didn’t feel that great by the time I got to destination. Still, I could tell many stories about those 3 days: the weirdly fascinating mix of humans I met would be perfect for some social experiment.
Tip n.3 Museums and cultural attractions
Especially in the big cities, there are a lot of museums and landmarks worth visiting but they all cost money… or do they? A good 90% of the museums have a free entry afternoon (usually after 5 pm), so plan accordingly! Ask the hostel staff for advice on what’s really worth seeing. In Toronto, for example, they told me that for a nice view of the city I could just go for a drink at a certain restaurant instead of paying an awful lot of money to go up the CN Tower. Hostels often organize free walking tours: the perfect opportunity to meet new people and get a tour of the city with a knowledgeable person for free.
Things don’t always go according to plans
Final pearl of wisdom: the sooner you accept that a few things could go wrong, the more you’ll enjoy your epic trip. Stranded on Haida Gwaii, I panicked. I had everything booked for the following days and that extra day completely messed up my plans. But I rearranged things and found a solution. And even after that, snow and rain slowed me down, a car company refused to rent me a car, one of my flights got canceled… setbacks happen all the time, they are part of the game. Take everything as an opportunity and your experience will still be unforgettable.
In the posts to come, I’ll tell you all about every single destination, so stay tuned!
Any questions about the itinerary or want ideas on other itineraries? Ask away!