Ever since I was little, I’ve been in love with road trips. Blasting music down the open road, wheels spinning towards an exciting destination … drinking coffee and eating road snacks while having long deep conversations because there’s simply nothing else to do but talk and take in the sights.
Since we met a little over a year ago, my boyfriend Chase and I have spent many hours adding to the list of places we someday want to explore: Japan, France, Thailand, Germany and Western Canada to name a few. We had talked about doing a road trip before, and since we can’t exactly drive across the ocean, travelling out West seemed like the best place to start. But exactly just how long would it take us to drive across Canada - or from Toronto to Vancouver at least? What route would we take? Where would we stay? Can we afford it?
There were literally times when we looked at our ever-decreasing bank accounts and cried, but with both of us about to enter our final year of school, we knew we might never get an opportunity like this again. And so, we decided - this summer, we would drive across the country.
Beginning our journey in the small town of Georgetown, Ont. and travelling all the way to one of Canada’s most western cities, Victoria, B.C., we quickly got a sense of life on the road. A typical day averaged between six and eight hours of driving, the longest day being a 10-hour drive through the Prairies, while the shortest days were about two to three hours. One of our biggest concerns with driving over flying was that we would spend too much time on the road and not enough enjoying each place. But it’s like they say after all: It’s about the journey; not the destination.
With the freedom of our mighty Honda Civic, we were able to get a small taste of so many great Canadian cities. As we spent a few hours exploring each city’s core, eating at local restaurants, interacting with the people and shopping for souvenirs, I realized that every city has its own unique culture and personality.
Winnipeg, for example, was the most pleasantly surprising place we visited. I had heard good things about the city, but I was astounded by the beauty of the city’s Forks area. Imagine a huge riverside park next to an indoor and outdoor marketplace, trendy restaurants and tons of outdoor art installations, with a unique influence from Indigenous communities. Another notable personality can be seen in Vancouver with its unique mix of urban city life and natural mountain landscapes for an active outdoorsy character. Below I’ve listed most of the places I visited and the unique personalities and highlights of each one.
THUNDER BAY: Lake Superior was the town and the region’s highlight - a massive body of water that gives life to the city.
WINNIPEG: With an artistic riverside park, outdoor art installations, and Indigenous influences, Winnipeg was a welcome surprise.
CALGARY: Surrounded by nature, Calgary had a cool city centre with colourful architecture and a welcoming, homey feel.
KANANASKIS: This beautiful drive through the mountains felt like a gathering spot for wildlife including bears, elk and deer - only one of which we saw, but I’m not too upset about not running into bears during our hikes.
BANFF: Although it was very tourist-filled, you can’t beat the astonishing mountain landscapes, wildlife, hot springs and turquoise, iceberg-fed lakes, with a dark but unique history and origin.
VANCOUVER: With a huge park and ancient forest only moments away from the downtown, Vancouver is the ultimate balance of urban life and nature.
VICTORIA: As the capital of B.C., you can feel Victoria’s colonial influences, along with beautiful harbours, delicious food and cute shops for anyone to explore.
SEATTLE: With its one flaw being a lot of up and downhill walking, this urban hub has an amazing art scene, with galleries, independent shops, green spaces, and its fair share of hipster cafés.
YELLOWSTONE: Hosts the most colour you’ll ever see in nature without being too touristy. The park works hard to stay natural with no Wi-Fi and no artificial lights at night so that guests can fully appreciate the nature and wilderness.
CHICAGO: Despite its accurate nickname as The Windy City, it’s the place to go if you love architecture and delicious food. Pizzeria Due is the restaurant to go for traditional Chicago style deep dish pizza and strong margaritas.
Also as a disclaimer, keep in mind that I’m listing the best things of every place I visited. I’m aware that I’m not focusing on things like the percentage of homelessness in Vancouver or the violent crime rates in Winnipeg or the inflated gas prices that made deeper and deeper dents in our wallets.
One of my biggest takeaways from this trip - something that I found myself saying on multiple instances was how nice these cities were compared to Toronto. Growing up in the more suburban area of Mississauga, I hated Toronto when I was young - it was this big gross city with very few green spaces, gross smelling air, weird people on the subway with its biggest tourist attractions being the CN Tower and the Eaton Centre. I just thought it was kind of a boring city even before I had the opportunity to experience much else.
After two years of commuting to school, I finally decided to move downtown and it has definitely grown on me over the last couple of years. I started to think of it as more of a home. Based on my aspirations and the opportunity that Toronto provides, I had come to the conclusion that I may live in the GTA forever. Now I recognize Toronto for its exciting city life, delicious eats, vibrant neighbourhoods and diverse culture. But after visiting so many other major Canadian and American cities, it has changed my outlook on where I might want to call my home someday. Who knows where I’ll end up?
So how long would it take us to drive across Canada? 9,000 kilometers, 5 provinces, 10 states and 16 days. What route would we take? Canada on the way there and the States on the way back. Where would we stay? Cheap hotels, Airbnb rentals, whatever we can find. Can we afford it? Not really, but what the hell right?