Americans: Here's Why BC, Canada Should Be Your Next Weekend Trip
As I was cycling the Seawall in Vancouver and going whale watching in Victoria, one thing has been nagging me since I fell head over heels for this country...
How come nobody ever told me to go to Canada before?!?!
Why is this majestic country so overlooked and underrated? How come, in the past ten years I've been traveling, nobody ever said, "Hey, why don't you check out Canada?" Why do Americans keep looking elsewhere for adventure when Canada. Is. Right. There? Look up, America!
People who know me know that when I'm passionate about something, I'm real damn passionate about it. Canada is on my passionate list. I think this country is freakin' beautiful and I can't wait to come back. And I don't want you to miss out, either! So here's why you should consider Canada when you're thinking about your next trip.
(PSA: I've only been to British Columbia, the westernmost province of Canada that sits above the US' Pacific Northwest. I absolutely love BC and can't really speak for the rest of Canada, but I'm sure its worth a visit, too!)
1. Canada is totally doable over a long weekend.
Since Americans get a paltry 14 days a year for vacation on average, I know how valuable those days are. Luckily, you can manage quite a bit in Canada in 3-4 days if you stick to one area and the flight time isn't too bad depending on where you are flying from. I had 3 full days in Vancouver and another 2 days in Victoria. While the short trip left me wanting more, I definitely felt like I was able to cover a lot of ground and get a feel for both cities. Choose a national park or city that interests you and go at it!
2. Your dollar will go further.
As of today, $1USD is equal to $1.26CAD. With that exchange rate, if a coffee costs $5CAD, it only costs $4USD. My whale watching tour cost a steep $130CAD, but the blow was lessened (a tiny bit) when I realized that it was only $98USD. Basically, you can get more bang for your buck in Canada. It won't make the country too much less expensive, but it does help.
3. Canadians are SO friendly.
Every Canadian I met while backpacking was super kind, open-minded, and easy to talk to. So it's no surprise that they're like that in their home country, too! When a girl I met in Thailand learned I was ending my trip in Victoria, she offered her couch for me to sleep on, picked me up from the ferry terminal, took me up to a viewpoint to watch the sunset, and dropped me off at the airport on the last day. Her genuine hospitality made Canada that much more amazing for me, and I cannot say with total confidence that an American would be that willing to help a tourist out.
4. It's just as cheap to fly to Canada as it is to fly to Mexico.
A quick Skyscanner search showed a roundtrip flight from Chicago to Vancouver over a September weekend for $390USD. Similarly, a flight to San Jose Cabo, Mexico cost $370. Mexico is slightly cheaper, but not enough to write Canada off as a valid vacation option. With some advanced planning and flexible dates, you can find an affordable flight to Canada for the same price as flying elsewhere.
5. The scenery is unreal.
I can't even begin to describe the stunning views I had in Vancouver and Victoria, and that's only a small slice of what Canada has to offer in terms of the outdoors! There was a surreal moment when my friend took me to Mount Douglas to catch the sunset and I thought, "9 months of travel, ten different countries, and countless sunsets... and this is by far the best sunset I've seen." Never did I think that sunset would be in Canada, of all places. I loved watching the sunset with mountains and the sun on either side, and the city of Victoria sitting beneath its rays. I want to go back to Canada to explore more of Vancouver Island and to visit Whistler and Banff National Park.
6. Canada is not the US (in a good way).
I think it's easy for Americans to assume that Canada must be similar to the US, just colder. But this isn't true. Yes, English is the same spoken language and we share the same continent, but Canada has a very proud, distinct history all of its own with significant French and British influences. If you're worried that Canada won't give you that same international rush, let me assure you that you will find enough differences to explore in Canada's culture, people, and history. On the other hand, one of the conveniences of Canada is that it is distinctly Western, so the money is easy to handle, there is no language barrier, and the outlets and voltage are the same as the US. Most US phone carriers also offer special data plans for Americans visiting Canada, making it easy to use your phone on the go without exorbitant data charges.
7. It's safe.
I felt far safer in Vancouver, a city with a metro population of 2.3 million people, than I have in any American city. Violent crime is far less common in Canada and the most common crimes are car and property theft. In fact, a sad 2015 statistic shows that you are more likely to be shot to death in the US than you are to die in a car accident in Canada. As a solo traveler, I never felt unsafe walking through downtown Vancouver or taking the subway at night.
8. It's inclusive.
LGBT rights in Canada are some of the most advanced in the world, so if you are LGBT, you will find no shortage of gay neighborhoods and night life. Likewise, Canada's major cities are extremely diverse, celebrating all kinds of ethnicities from Chinese to South Asian to Filipino to African American. Canada has also set a world example for embracing refugees and helping them settle in a new country. Regardless of your sexual orientation, race, or religion, I am sure you will encounter plenty of smiles and friendly faces as you travel through Canada.
9. Canada boasts three of the world's top five most livable cities.
Vancouver, Toronto, and Calgary regularly make the annual list of most livable cities, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The rankings take into account safety, health care, educational resources, infrastructure and the environment. For 2017's list, Vancouver was ranked third, Toronto fourth, and Calgary tied for fifth. No American cities crack the top ten list. So, whether you're a city person or an outdoors person, you're gonna something to suit you in Canada.
10. You will never be bored.
A quick but brief list of things to do in Canada: stroll through Chinatown in Vancouver, cycle the Seawall, ski in Whistler, lift off the water in Victoria Harbour in a seaplane, cruise the Gulf Islands, go on a whale watching tour, go on a hike (or three, or five!), wander through the Royal BC Museum, feel classy drinking high tea at The Empress Hotel, stroll through Old Quebec, take a cable car up Grouse Mountain, take incredible photos of Moraine Lake in Banff National Park, get a dose of modern history at Parliament Hill in Ottowa, try poutine (which I didn't get to do!). There is no shortage of things to do in Canada! And while I think there is something for everyone here, surely those who love the outdoors will appreciate Canada the most.
11. And if you're not gonna take my word for it...
Lonely Planet rated Canada as the number one destination to travel to in 2017, topping other unique destinations on the list such as Myanmar, Colombia, and Bermuda. Why? For the same reasons I listed above: friendly people, stunning scenery, a weak Canadian dollar (sorry, Canadians!), and its birthday celebration of 150 years. Done and done!
The Fine Details...
Americans need a valid US passport with at least one blank page to enter Canada.
The best time to visit BC is April-October, with July and August being peak season with many cruise ship passengers and tourists. You can score cheaper accommodation rates if you're willing to brave rain and cooler weather by visiting in shoulder season.
Yes, Canada can get cold. I was there during the best time of the year (July) and still found it chilly in the morning and evenings. Bring a windbreaker and jeans!
Whether you're a backpacker or traveling in style, know that accommodation, transportation, food, and souvenir costs will quickly add up. Canada, like any other Western country, is expensive. Plan your budget accordingly to make the most of your trip.