Getting Around Canada
As the second largest country in the world, you will definitely need several days to fully explore just a small portion of Canada. For example, St. Johns in Newfoundland is geographically closer to London than it is to Vancouver!
Canada by plane
Since you’ll be traveling very far distances to get from one place to another if you go to Canada on your gap year, the best way to get around is by air. There are a few different options for airlines in Canada.
- Air Canada, a member of the Star Alliance, is the national carrier. It has the widest network and offers more frequent schedules than the other Canadian airlines.
- From major city centres, WestJet is another option that offers very competitive prices for flights.
Because of protectionist policies from the Canadian government, fares in Canada tend to be more expensive than flying in the United States, Australia, China, or other countries. Sometimes, transiting in the United States can be cheaper than a direct domestic flight.
Most major airports are served by public transit, with buses typically running on a schedule from 5-15 minutes or less in major cities. Service is largely variable or even nonexistent at night or on weekends, especially outside of the city centres. To travel to the city centres from the airport, you will be required to make a connection on public transit in most cities except for Vancouver, Montreal, Winnipeg and Ottawa, so taxis and shuttles may be options to consider.
Canada by air hitchhiking
There is a way to get from place to place in Canada for free – hitch-hiking by air. Small planes, called float planes, fly from lake to lake in northern Canada, and you can fly for free out of a variety of airports by getting access to pilots, who are typically delivering mail from lake to lake. Finding a pilot can be a tricky process, but many people simply catch up with the pilots when they take a break to eat or drink. Sometimes, in the airports, you can meet pilots coming in and out of the Environment Canada weather offices.
Canada by bus
Bus travel is common practice between major Canadian cities, with the most populated service located in the Windsor-Quebec City corridor, including Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa.
Coach Canada, Greyhound, Orleans Express and Megabus are the main bus companies, offering competitive rates and frequent schedules. Coach Canada and Megabus offer routes between Toronto and Montreal, Greyhound offers a Toronto to Ottawa route, a Montreal-Ottawa route, and routes between Toronto and southwestern Ontario, as well as to the west of the major corridor. Orleans Express offers a Montreal-Quebec City route as well as routes to the east of the corridor through Acadian, a subsidiary of theirs. Because only one company can run each route, there is little competition between the companies. Typically, American bus companies run the routes the routes to Niagara Falls that continue into New York and the United States. Traveling through the prairies by bus can be long and strenuous, often with routes over 48 hours and few stops for food and restroom breaks.
Intercity buses are typically very safe, but it is important to stay alert and watchful of your items at all times. Typically municipal governments run the bus routes with stations located in very populated areas of each city.
Canada by car
Car rentals are also popular among travelers, although they can be expensive, especially for solo travellers. Car travel in a group can be an extremely reasonable alternative to other methods of transit. However, there are a few restrictions:
- High surcharges for dropping off the car at a different location than pickup
- Unlimited kilometers are typically only offered within the province you in which you rented. Outside of the province, kilometers can be very limited, less than 200 per day with most companies.
- Driving is typically only permitted on paved roads. No off-roading in these parts!
- There are no manual transmission rentals available. At all.
Getting around Canada is easiest with a car except in urban centers like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal (where public transit is much more feasible) and areas with no paved roads.
Gas prices typically range from $1.30-$1.40 per litre in the main urban areas of Canada, about 50% more than those in the United States. These prices elevate in March for the summer travel season. Usually American credit cards don’t work at the pump at gas stations, but can be used if you bring it inside to a cashier.
Like anywhere, avoid running red lights and speeding, for you can receive fines for these with added fees from your rental company.
Canada by RV
If you’d like to explore Canada’s natural landscapes, an RV can be a cool and affordable option, saving you accommodation costs by combining your transportation with your living space. This method of transit gives travelers full flexibility over their schedule.
Few tips for you:
- Canadians drive on the right hand side.
- In Quebec province, roadsigns are in French.
- In many areas, it is legal to turn right on a red light. It is also legal to turn left on a one-way street on a red light if coming from a one-way street.
- Pedestrians have the right of way at crosswalks.
- Using mobile phones while driving is illegal.
- In the winter, snow removal vehicles are present with flashing blue lights. In the western provinces, amber lights indicate these vehicles.
- In British Columbia, a slow flashing green light means that the traffic light is green but is controlled by pedestrians. In Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia, a fast flashing green light means an advanced turn, signaling the driver can make a left turn across traffic because the oncoming traffic is stopped.
- In British Columbia, there are roads that require vehicles to be equipped with winter tires or carry chains from the beginning of October to the end of April. In Quebec, winter tire use is mandatory for any passenger vehicles from December 15 to March 15.
Canada by train
Travelling by train is certainly an option with a variety of accessible locations, but it is often an expensive and less convenient alternative to flying, buses, and other transportation. However, these rides can be very scenic, like the three-day train ride between Toronto and Vancouver through the prairies and the Rocky Mountains. This specific route offers passengers a domed car, enabling to see a panoramic view of some of Canada’s most beautiful landscapes.
VIA Rail is the main rail service in Canada. By booking in advance, you can secure lower train fares.
Canda by ride sharing
If you want to go somewhere not on the usual serviced routes in Canada ask around in your hostel to see if anyone wants to ride share. You can split the price of fuel and make some new friends too.