An Aussie’s Guide to Backpacking in Canada
Canada is a mystifying country full of great beauty and diversity, with natural sceneries to blow your mind and cosmopolitan cities perfect for any fashion, music or art junkie. Australian’s have long chose Canada as the ultimate travel destination for backpacking and it’s not hard to see why. Canada is extremely welcoming to Aussie tourists, especially backpackers, and the Canadian tourism industry has provided endless opportunities to cater for the budget traveler. Whether it’s hiking through luscious green mountainsides, trying your luck at snowboarding or scoping out the cheapest downtown bar to drink at, Canada truly does offer something for all backpacking tastes and budgets.
Unlike Australia which is separated into states, Canada is divided into provinces, each of which varies greatly in landscape and attractions. Before freaking out about what should be your first destination, your best starting point is to get a grasp on what some of the main tourist towns have to offer:
It never ceases to amaze me how many Aussie’s fall instantly in love with Vancouver. The city is mapped in such a way that even the most beginner of backpackers can easily navigate their way around. Built amongst breathtaking surroundings, with snow capped mountains on one side and ocean on the other, Vancouver is also home to Stanley Park, one of the biggest inner-city parks in all of North America. Truly a haven for Aussie’s, do not be surprised if a majority of fellow backpackers at your hostel also hail from your homeland. Vancouver is very popular amongst working Aussie travelers who have set up long-term camp within this endearing city. The combination of English Bay, Stanley Park and the convenient plan of the city paves the perfect path for cheap, exciting days out and about. And don’t forget the nightlife; Vancouver is an ideal city for leisurely jugs of beer with new found friends and fellow travelers.
By far one of the most popular tourist destinations for Aussie backpackers, Whistler is like Disneyland for snow-sports enthusiasts and adventure travelers alike. A thriving winter wonderland, Whistler offers skiing, snowboarding, and just about any other winter activity you can think of. In the warmer months when the snow level drops the mountains provide a superb ground for hiking and camping adventures and fresh air at it’s finest. Whistler is party central and the slopes are the perfect place to get together for a big night out with travelers from all over the world. A short bus ride from Vancouver, Whistler is a cheap must-see for backpackers.
Often referred to as Canada’s New York, Toronto is the place to go if you like your cities busy, bustling and full of life. Toronto is the entertainment and culture capital of Canada and there is so much to see and do here that you will find yourself stressing that you won’t be able to fit it all in. With some of the world’s very best museums, art galleries and boutique retail shopping, the conservative backpacker will definitely have to keep track of their expenditure. The city is surrounded by one of the largest recreational waterfronts in North America so that even if you don’t have the heftiest budget, you can at least appreciate the beauty and architecture of this incredible city.
Contrary to popular beliefs Canada is not an all-French speaking country. Throughout Canada all products are displayed in both English and French (for example, one side of a milk carton will display the label in English and the other side in French) however do not be surprised if you don’t come across one single Canadian who can string a sentence together in French. In fact, Quebec is generally the only province you will even hear people speak the French language, but be warned that when they say they speak French in Montreal, they really speak French! Street signs, menus, and store names are often written purely in French and the patience for English is not always tolerated. This culture shock should be handled with care and truly embraced, as it’s a complete rarity to find such a culture immersed within a Western country. Complete with cobblestone streets, freezing winters and fine cuisine, Montreal and the whole of Quebec is truly a little piece of Europe right on the borderline of Canada and the USA.
My best advice is to decide what town holds the most appeal and base your first travels around that area. The entire country is full of adventure and beauty so it’s impossible to make a wrong decision, whether its bustling cities that appeal to you or small country towns that are more up your alley. The fact that Canada borderlines with the USA is an added bonus, and short trips across the border to cities like Seattle from Vancouver or New York from Toronto are easy and cheap and can broaden the scope of your travel experience immensely. The best way to travel Canada is by bus or car, as the sprawling landscapes are not to be missed, however flights across Canada can also be inexpensive and convenient if you find the right deal.