Travelling in North America is rather expensive compared to other parts of the world. When you’re backpacking, it gets worse. You have to budget your travel and your expenses, otherwise your trip doesn’t last a month. It can be tirering to think about the money all the time, especially when you want to have fun and enjoy life. Let’s say that when you backpack you are -most of the time- running away from this routine life in which you have to watch all your expenses. But there are fun ways to do it.
This is how you can backpack Canada from East to West.
These tips represent what we did when we crossed Canada. It was early winter (November-December) so you have to allow a slightly larger budget if you’re travelling at that time of year. You need warm clothes and good warm waterproof shoes and it’s best if you buy them in Canada. They know what they need to wear in winter, and you probably don’t.
If you need clothes and/or shoes, watch out for opportunities. I’ve bought my snow boots at Zellers because the store was closing and they cost $15 instead of $40. I didn’t need that many clothes, just a warm jacket that I found at Walmart for $20 and mits. (Don’t forget mits!) I’m happy with what I bought, it has been very useful so far. What I’m trying to say is, don’t rush into the first store you see, especially if you know the brand. That means it’s expensive.
Couchsurf. Couchsurfing is becoming very common among travelers. But some people don’t understand what it’s about. Yes, you can sleep for free at someone’s house but that’s NOT the only interest. You stay at someone’s place because you WANT to meet people and talk to them, because you want to share or learn something from them. So there are some “ground rules”. You are independent and free to do what you want but there are good and bad ways to do it. Don’t expect your host to leave you alone and not talk to you. If your English isn’t good but you want to learn it and you want to communicate, then it’s great, you get to practise a lot with your host. If it’s not good and you don’t make any efforts make yourself understood then forget it. It really shows that you’re here because it’s free and nothing else. Couchsurfing is an amazing concept and I think it should never disappear. When I say and repeat that the people you meet are the ones you’ll remember a place for, well, couchsurfing is the very essence of that thought. If you do it, do it with your heart and not your wallet.
Hostels are more expensive than in Europe, you have to count $25-$30 for a bed in a dorm. They’re not always good but they’re a fine option if you don’t find a couchsurfer in the city. But it’s over budget.
During summer you can camp. Canada is best known for the nature and Canadians love hiking and outdoors activities. Camping is a great solution and it will cost less than hostels.
Hich-hike. In Canada it works amazingly well. There are risks everywhere but Canada is a fairly safe country. Hich-hikers usually make their way through the country without much difficulty. Be aware that hich-hiking in winter can be very tough. Winter in Canada is not something you want to consider lightly. So wear appropriate clothes and good shoes, you’ll need them.
Share a car. Sharing a car is a concept I used in France but it’s becoming popular around here, especially in Quebec and Ontario where they have special websites such as: www.amigoexpress.com or www.allostop.com. In the rest of the country there are no specialized websites but you can try www.kijiji.com or craigslist. If you can, I really advise you to do it. Travelling with locals is always more interesting than being on your own in a train, plane or bus.
If neither of these options worked, then you can take the bus. Greyhound or Megabus are the cheapest options (I can’t give you a range of price because it depends on the route you want to do). But to give you a slight idea, we paid $110 for both of us to go from Ottawa to Toronto. If you’re short on time, the plane is often a good solution. The network is developped and there is an airport in all the cities. Look out for sales prices!
That was a big debate in our travel. Usually we recommend cooking food instead of going out but in Canada groceries are expensive. Bread can cost around $2 and $3 but a bit of (cheddar) cheese will cost $6 or $7! Same for ham. Veggies are quite expensive too, but you can get away if you’re not too picky: tomatoes cost around $2/lb and fruits cost usually less. For cheap groceries, go to a chinese supermarket!
So, we actually discovered that it costs less to go out for food. It’s not the healthiest solution but if you do it right it can be cheaper than cooking your own meal. Check out this website: www.urbanspoon.com to find people’s comments and advise on restaurants. If you can read French, Guillaume also writes articles about restaurants and food: www.secretsdevoyage.fr. (if you can’t read French tell me which article you want to read and I’ll translate it, don’t be shy!)
If you’re looking for more tips on how to travel for cheap and longer, there’s this great blog: www.nomadicmatt.com. A reference!