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7 Things to Know Before You Travel to Canada

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Planning a trip to the Land of Snow and Maple Syrup? Here are a few things you should know before you travel to Canada.

travel to Canada
A long, flat Saskatchewan highway.
  1. The Distances Are Enormous

Don’t assume that you are going to be able to cover most of Canada during a short visit. It’s a huge country and getting from one city to the next involves travelling long distances. Many people don’t schedule enough time for their trip across Canada and find themselves rushing from one city to the next.

If you only have a limited amount of time, consider choosing a section of Canada to cover – such as the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, the West Coast of BC or the Maritimes. By focusing on one region, you’ll be able to spend more time and really enjoy yourself.

Looking for some ideas to start planning your trip? This post by Brooke from World of Wanderlust has a great Canadian Bucket List with things to see and do.

2. Be Prepared for the Weather

The three words that you need to remember when packing for a trip to Canada are layers, layers, layers. Even if you are visiting in the summer, there can be thunderstorms on the prairies and in the mountains the temperature dips at night.

In the winter it gets cold. Unless you are on the mild coast of BC where the weather is moderated by the Pacific Ocean, you can expect Siberian temperatures. On the prairies where I grew up, it was not unusual to see winter temperatures of -20, -30 degrees Celsius and below. With the windchill factor, it feels even colder. Bring a warm woolen hat (Canadians call it a toque), gloves and a scarf to wrap around your face to prevent numb extremities.

travel to canada
Toronto, Ontario

3. Get Your ETA Visa in Advance

ETA stands for Electronic Travel Authorization and it is a new entry requirement for visitors to Canada. It is now mandatory for all visa-free nationals except Americans since November of 2016.

Depending on where you are from, you might need an ETA before you board your flight to Canada. Getting your ETA Canada visa is a simple online process which takes only a few minutes to complete. You will need a credit card, a passport and an email address and you will need to answer a few basic questions and enter your personal information. You will also need to pay a small fee of $7.

In most cases, you will have your ETA granted within a few minutes of applying. Once it is approved, your ETA will be valid for five years or whenever your passport expires. It is important that when you travel to Canada, you travel with the same passport that you used to apply for the ETA.

travel to Canada
Quebec City, Quebec

4. Use Couchsurfing to Stay for Free

Accommodation is Canada is not cheap. Although some of the major cities and tourist spots have hostels these days, they are still quite pricey. If you have to stay in a hotel this will eat up a lot of your budget.

Why not give Couchsurfing a try? If you haven’t heard about it before, it is a website that allows travellers to connect with locals who are willing to let them stay in their spare bedroom or on their couch for free.

Lee and I used Couchsurfing a lot when we were in Canada. We stayed with hosts all across the country, from Kamloops to Winnipeg to Prince Edward Island to Newfoundland. Our hosts were wonderfully kind and generous. They made us feel welcome in their homes, they cooked for us, they showed us around the local sites and they treated us like old friends – even though we had just met.

The value of Couchsurfing isn’t just in the free accommodation, it’s also beneficial because you are staying with a local who knows the area and can give you more tips and insight than a guidebook ever could.

Canmore, Alberta

5. Tim Hortons Is Your Best Friend

You’ll notice very quickly that nearly every town in Canada, no matter how small, has a Tim Hortons. It is a coffee, sandwich and donut shop chain, it is named after a hockey player and it is as Canadian as maple syrup and apologizing for everything.

Tim Hortons is great because it is everywhere and it is your best bet for a cheap coffee or snack. You don’t have to pay a lot for a fancy Starbucks latte when you need a caffeine fix – just find your nearest Timmies.

Plus, if you visit Canada during Roll Up the Rim to Win season from February to April you can join in the excitement. You will probably just win a free donut or a “please play again” but you never know… your next cup of coffee could win you a car!

travel to canada
St. John’s, Newfoundland

6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!

Travel insurance is always a good idea when you travel, but especially in Canada. If you are not a Canadian citizen but you hurt yourself or become ill when traveling in Canada, it will cost you a lot of money. Lee broke both of his wrists while in Canada and if we didn’t have travel health insurance it would have cost us nearly five thousand dollars.

When you are choosing your health insurance policy, make sure that you read the fine print and check that you are covered for any and all activities that you plan to do while you are in Canada, such as skiing or snowboarding or whitewater rafting.

travel to canada
Cape Auget, Nova Scotia

7. Get Out Into the Great Outdoors

Yes, Canadian cities are cool. Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Winnipeg, Halifax and all of the other main centres in Canada have lots of culture, great food and plenty of things to do. However, the true joy of visiting Canada is getting out of the city and into the vast Canadian wilderness.

Canada has a population of just under 36 million, but a land mass nearly as big as the entirety of Europe. This means that most of Canada is wild and unpopulated. There are huge areas of pristine, unspoiled wilderness waiting to explore. Whether it is tramping across a glacier in the Rocky Mountains, hiking through coastal rainforests on Vancouver island or canoeing through Ontario’s lakes – Canada’s great outdoors is the ultimate playground.

If you love hiking, canoeing, camping, fishing, bird watching and other outdoor sports you will be in your element here. If you are a winter sports enthusiast, the skiing and snowboarding is world famous and truly superb. (Just remember to get a safety briefing from the locals before you head out – so that you are aware of how to avoid bears, frostbite, getting lost and other dangers.)

travel to canada

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