After finishing my first year in Uni and thankfully living at home with my parents, I had saved up some student finance to join my friend travelling across Canada. Here are some well needed travel tips to surviving across the waters for the first time.
#1 Hostels 101
Always try to stay in Hostels or somewhere social especially if you are travelling in limited numbers. This is where you will find the best tips from the locals or others who know the area well. Hostels are also a great place to make new friends and discovering the best things to do either in the area or other places in the country. Most hostels we stayed in provided multiple tours of the cities and parks for a very small price, following these will give you a more in depth experience and let you in on the free or cheaper things to do while you’re there.
- Bring a padlock to lock your storage space that should be provided.
- Pack flip flops for the showers.
- Take a free map of the city from reception.
LINKS TO THE HOSTELS I STAYED IN AND WOULD RECOMMEND…
Like travelling to any country you must familiarise yourself with the local currency. Canada uses Canadian Dollars and unlike the USA their money has the Queen’s head on it like ours due to being members of the Commonwealth. But shopping and paying in Canada is surprisingly slightly different to home. Make sure you have a travel card that has the local currency on it this will save you being charged extra for using your bank card from home. Also it seems obvious but carry the appropriate currency. Tax is not pre added and it differs from province to province. So the price you see on that Anastasia Beverly Hills palette will not be the price at the checkout so be aware.
- Paying by card is for some reason an absolute nightmare. You will get hit with what feels like a million questions about your card before inserting it in the machine so be prepared.
- Tipping is compulsory so always leave a tip of 15-20%.
- They call their £1 and £2, Loonies and Toonies respectively, I hope I am not the only one to giggle at that.
#3 Street problems
Surprisingly walking about Canada especially in the Cities is a lot more difficult than you would think, and it’s not just because they drive on the other side of the road! If it wasn’t for my friend already living in Vancouver for a month before me I reckon we would have been walking around in circles or nearly ran over because North America rules of the roads are very different to home.
- The street sign facing you directly is the name of the street you are on…not the street on the left or right as we would think.
- Crossing the road can be scary because drivers still can turn right on a red light. And while the white man (their green man is glowing white instead) is there to seemingly give you right of way, still be careful crossing at any lights.
- Download an offline map of the area you are in. This one is probably my number one tip, it is difficult not having access to that lifesaving 4G.
#4 General advice for packing
This is all-round basic advice for packing for any long haul travelling. Some tips I figured out the hard way like lugging around full bottles of Shampoo and Conditioner for a month when I only wash my hair every week to 10 days. You really do not need as much toiletries as you think! Especially when they end up taking up room for shopping. Also pack as light as possible because you will end up messing up directions and pulling a 30Kg suitcase across a City that is at least 3 times the size of Belfast is never fun for anyone.
- Portable chargers will be your new best friend. Make sure you have one and it is always nearly fully charged.
- Having a pack of cards on you will always keep you entertained no matter how old you are.
- All the shops are more or less the same in every City. So save yourself the room in your luggage and buy all your shopping near the end of your trip. It will save you the stress of everything not fitting in your suitcase when it came to repacking every time.
#5 Random tips for surviving Canada
- They have two national languages so brush up on your French. You will be surprised at how little English some Canadians speak especially in the province of Quebec. I found this out the hard way, by attempting to place a McDonald’s order in a language I’ve never studied whilst hungover – an experience I don’t want to relive again! Also finding out that the saver menu is a UK thing was added heartbreak.
- You need two pieces of ID to buy alcohol or get into anywhere selling alcohol. I still am unsure whether this is because my ID was foreign and they needed to see backup or it is a general rule especially in Vancouver, BC. So be prepared because they can turn you away on one piece of valid ID. And yes the legal drinking age is 18/19 depending on the province you are in – this may or may not have been the first thing I googled before deciding to go.
- Another fun fact is that weed has recently been made legal, according to my friend Canada’s Cities smell worse that Amsterdam.
I hope these tips help if you ever decide to travel through Canada. I would highly recommend a visit to this beautiful country. It is also incredibly safe, you should find everyone kind and helpful, Canadians are almost as friendly as the Irish!
Niamh McMordie is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at: Twitter – @niamh_mcm99 and Instagram – @niamhmcm_