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Vancouver Island Without a Car

Good news backpackers! Vancouver Island offers one of the best places in Canada to travel and see a large area without needing a car. Reduce your carbon imprint by moving by foot, mass transit or bike to compensate for the flight to get here. Save money at the same time. Most of the great places to visit can be reached in one of these ways, with no rental car required, only confidence and openness.

First, you must step foot on The Island, so you’ll need to catch a ferry. Luckily, walk-on passengers get the best rates ($13, one way) and sometimes special CoastSavers sailings can discount the prices (www.bcferries.com.) BC Ferries tries to entice you with cafeteria food (you'll likely get on during a meal,) coffee shop, gift shop, arcade, etc. The best way to spend your time and hold on to your money is to check out the sundeck. With clear weather, the view describes quintessential BC coastal terrain. If it rains, sit under the cover to listen to the wind and experience typical “rain coast” weather. When arriving in Nanaimo, the Departure Bay ferry provides easier walking access than the Duke Point one, which drops you south of the city, by 20 minutes. Walk from Departure Bay to downtown in 35-45 minutes or catch the #2 bus for $2.25.

Bus travel can get a person to some fairly remote places on the west and north coasts as well as all the stops on the South Island. They come in all types and scale. Ride the classic Greyhound from Nanaimo to almost anywhere on the island. Or bring your surf board along and focus on the west coast with the Tofino Bus (www.tofinobus.com.) If you’re hiking the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail or the West Coast Trail, try the West Coast Trail Express May 1st-Sept. 30 (www.trailbus.com.) Nanaimo’s regional bus service accommodates bikes, too, at no extra cost. Use this service to get anywhere between Nanaimo and Qualicum Beach (www.rdn.bc.ca/cms.asp?wpID=127.) Try out the rails with a $28 ride on The Malahat train servicing all stops between Victoria and Courtney. From the train station, walk 3 blocks to the corner of 17th and Piercy and jump on the town shuttle to the Driftwood Mall. Then transfer to a Cumberland bus and find the hostel on the corner of 2nd and Dunsmuir (www.busonline.ca.) Riding Fool (www.ridingfool.com/index.html) provides a very bike-friendly environment with a lovely fireplace in the common room. Get on and off as many times as you like for the price of one ticket! It’s a cheap, easy, comfy and convenient way to see the South Island. You have to purchase three days in advance to get this deal, though, so plan ahead (www.viarail.ca/trains/en_trai_roch_vico.html.)

The final option is to hitchhike. Although inherent risks exist in this endeavor, many people of varying age, gender and culture feel comfortable hitching on Vancouver Island. Do your own research regarding the legality, but from my reading, as long as a person does not stand in the part of the highway where cars actually drive, within municipalities or where signage prohibits, the most a police officer will do is stop to make sure of your safety. In some areas, signs state “NO HITCHHIKING PICKUP IS ILLEGAL”, which means those who might offer rides risk the consequences and tend to show more reluctance. Using the old Island Highway, 19A affords a prettier trip through forest and ocean views while passing through small but colourful communities.

Come enjoy the island life that draws more and more people every year. As the world discovers the scenic environment and temperate climate, housing development pushes into the same wild beauty that enticed those new residents. Traveling sustainably aligns you with the underlying vibe of communities that grew up on the natural island and makes connecting with the people much easier.

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