How to Take an Epic Road Trip Across Canada

Let’s be honest: you may want to come to North America, but you just can’t quite bring yourself to dealing with the United States. I’m from there, and believe me, I know. How about a road trip across friendlier Canada instead?

When I put this up, Canada was celebrating 150 years of Confederation and all the national parks were free. You’ll have to pay now for the entrance, but these parks across the country are well worth it. They’re less crowded than the US ones too, except for maybe Banff.

If coming from the US to Canada:

Border crossings are still reasonably straightforward, but you may be asked to show you’re able to show ‘strong ties’ to your home country. (This is what tripped me up when trying to enter Canada — between having a carful of stuff and no obvious ‘home’ to return to, the digital nomad life is one that confounds immigration agents worldwide!) Canada has already seen a fair bit of immigration (both legally and illegally) from Americans since the 2016 election.

You’ll see other cars with American license plates, and thousands of cars cross the border a day. You shouldn’t have any problems going from one province to the next, but don’t try to sell the car in Canada!

If coming from elsewhere:

Our Canadian road trip car.

You’ll need to make a choice: rent or buy? Renting saves some bureaucratic red tape (every country has it), while buying will be cheaper for most trips longer than a month.

Where to buy? You’ll have the best luck on, a popular buy/sell/trade sort of site. While Craigslist is also around, it’s a distant second place. Kijiji’s where you’ll search for your preferences: manual vs. automatic, the prices in your range, and location (for obvious reasons, you’ll find more offerings in and around larger cities).

How much? While there are plenty of cars in all price ranges, I’ll assume you’re not looking to spend more than necessary. Adequate cars can be found in the $2,000-$3,000 CAD range, but you can find some bargains. Most cars that were less than $1,000 CAD range were for parts, needed serious work, or didn’t have a current safety inspection (meaning they can’t legally be driven). If you’re really on a budget and don’t mind getting your hands dirty, this might be an option for you.

Things to watch out for? Cars need to have a safety inspection sticker to be legal, though the process to get it is different in each province. Your best bet is to get a car with a current sticker that’s good for the length of your trip (and the longer the better). You’ll want to note whether the car has winter tires (which have deeper grooves and specific tire patterns designed to grip the road better in wintry conditions) or summer tires (which use a softer rubber optimized for warmer temperatures). Match this to the season of your trip if you can, though you’ll get some funny looks driving your winter tires during the summer. Also, license plates transfer with the owner, not the vehicle, meaning you’ll need to purchase your own.

When should I come to Canada?

Tim Horton — the hockey player and legendary coffee chain.

Canada’s tourist season is traditionally Victoria Day (the Monday preceding May 25) to Labour Day (the first Monday of September). As I’ve discovered, this is essentially the only time to visit Canada’s non-wintry attractions. Some of the Nova Scotia destinations we tried to reach were closed as late as mid-May (museums in smaller cities tend to rely on student volunteers, so they don’t open until school is out. The weather can also be a factor the further north you go.

Where should I start my road trip across Canada?

Ahh, the most wonderful question of them all! If I had to do it all over again, I’d start my Canadian road trip in a major city, buy (or rent) the car, then set off across the country from there. Depending on where you’re coming from, you might start on one coast and drive your way to the other. Remember that Canada is a big country, and that it can take weeks to completely cross. Major cities like Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal are all worth several days at minimum, while most cities of any size have at least a few things to see — ans as you might guess, the Perceptive Travel Family has written about Canada quite a bit.

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