By Chris Tait
It always amazes me to hear about people traveling to other countries and listen to all their very diverse experiences along the way. Canadians love to travel.
One question I inevitably ask tourists I meet visiting Canada, having caught the travel bug myself, is about their homeland. I’ve boiled my curiosity to this: I’m interested in both the diversities and similarities of people and places around the world.
This question is often answered similarly in that it is always localized. People don’t seem to be as interested in their own country and so they usually only know a few places close to home.
Most Canadians I know haven’t seen the entire country. If they’ve seen the West Coast they haven’t seen the East and vice versa.
That was the problem.
"When someone asks me about Canada, I won’t be a schmuck," I told myself, packing my 35-kilo bag’o’gear. "I will be one with ‘our home and native land.’ I will be the true Canadian tourist."
On the basis of this Zen-like mantra, the debauchery was to begin.
Despite my best efforts, I was fortunate enough to have graduated from a fairly academic high school. The best part about knowing people from these types of places is that they actually go places–both metaphorically and literally. Some of my friends decided that Queen’s Engineering was the place for them, with the purple hair and the "Golden Party Armour." Others went to UBC to study pharmacology and hippyology. Some even went to St. John’s, Newfoundland to study exotic languages such as Newfinese and Drunkenese.
My Grand Plan was to head west to Vancouver Island, then travel east to St. John’s and return home–anything in between was open season.
With just enough advance notice, I bought a Greyhound Discovery Pass and left my job, my questioning coworkers and my concerned parents behind to begin my misadventures. A trick for anyone planning on traveling this way is to purchase as many tickets as you’ll need for your entire trip in Alberta, as the tax on $600 will bite doubly into your travel fund anywhere else. Just be careful to squeeze them tight, Greyhound doesn’t replace lost passes.
I’d packed a set of all the telephone numbers and addresses of family and friends I could find and attempted to give at least a week’s notice before passing through town, hoping to mooch some warm water and floor space now and then.
There are hostels and tourist homes across the country, so staying anywhere else was not usually a problem. As a rule, Hosteling International hostels are the cleanest and safest, though some of the indie hostels are really well kept. One can get a pretty good idea of the quality be peeking though the front door.
Take a peek and, if you don’t like what you see, don’t stay there. Few things are worse than bed bugs.
If you’re not prepared to sleep anywhere–and I do mean anywhere–then you’d best arrange things in advance.
Being a typical North American arts student, foresight and planning are evidently not my forte. This sometimes conflicted with the way the rest of the world worked. Upon late arrival in Halifax, around 11:30 p.m., I tried to get a bed at the one hostel open in the off-season. They closed at 10 p.m. and wouldn’t take me in. There were a couple hotels nearby, including one at the bus/train station, but the cheapest rate was $60 a night, which was a little steep.
I wound up sleeping on a bench in the adjacent park.
Not to be sexist, but I wouldn’t recommend the same tactics to women, as they seem to make easier targets. Generally, if booked a week in advance, it’s possible to either reserve a bed or make a contingency plan.
If stuck with no other option, there are a couple of things to remember when sleeping in a North American, outdoors, urban environment (and it’s a little frightening that I can make generalizations about this). Unless it’s sweltering, wear as much clothing as possible. It will often be cold by morning, especially on the coast. Police will not usually give you problems either. This is not to say that you should attract attention or anything, but don’t get too stressed about them. They’re usually only there to keep people safe and out of trouble.
At the beginning of my travels, I was Ultra Budget Man, defender of the dollar. It became a little bit of a game, seeing how little I could survive on if I really wanted to. Not including the times I was staying with people, I think I managed to make it on less than five bucks, but that was sleeping outside and not on purpose I might add. Yay granola bars.
I guess, like with most games, I took it a little too far. In the homestretch, with about a third of my trip to go, I managed to have spent only half of what I was planning on, which was originally a cushy $40-50 a day. With a huge chunk of excess change, I decided to attempt to drink it all away. No matter how much I drank, no matter how much I tried to party all my money away, I just could not get rid of it.
I arrived home with about $1,000 and a handful of stories inappropriate for print.
Now think what would have happened had I started partying right off the bat. The moral is that you can spend next to nothing on living, but when you get a chance to party, party hard.
Useful languages to speak in Canada: English and French. Who’d have though you could add German to that list?
In the three months of traveling around Canada, I met German tourists on at least 10 separate occasions (maybe I’m a German magnet). Anyhow, I’ve come up with some interesting conclusions.
German tourists are generally very personable, active people. They are good people to stick with during your travels, as they ensure you will get up and out the door. Strange trivial tidbit: every single German tourist I talked to was excited to see a moose. As a Canadian, born and raised, moose is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a national animal. Who knows where those crazy Europeans are getting their information.
While in PEI, I met a German girl on the bus and wound up taking a spontaneous two-day bike tour with her. I kindly informed her she was looking in the wrong place for our large, antlered friends.
Being one to learn things for all the wrong reasons (read: foreign girls), I’ve since taken some German classes and begun my extensive research of foreign tongues.