Canada travel tips for active baby boomers

10 things to know before traveling to Canada

Prior to our recent visit to Alberta and British Columbia, we reached out to Canadian expats and fellow bloggers like Kelly Dunning seeking key things to know for planning a summer trip. We found these helpful and hope you will, too.

A loonie is not a crazy person and a loonie-toonie is not a cartoon series

Canada uses a one-dollar coin– called a loonie because it features a common loon — instead of paper currency. So when Canada issued a two-dollar coin in 1996 it became known as the toonie. Good for travelers to know so that if you get asked for loonies you won’t start spilling the names of all the crazies you know. Canada does not use the penny. Transactions are rounded to the nearest nickel.

Distance and speed are measured in kilometers

“Slow down, you’re going 100.” “Relax, that is kilometers. We are going 60 miles per hour.” Excerpt from a conversation during our recent trip to Canada.

Americans traveling abroad always face the challenge of understanding metric numbers and Celsius temperatures. Kilometers are pretty easy to convert to miles in your head; just multiple by .6 or if that’s difficult take half the number and then add back 10 percent. So half of 100 kilometers is 50 + 10 percent is 10 = 60 miles. The actual number is 62.14 but 60 is close enough!

Driving Canadian Rockies
Driving the Canadian Rockies is a bucket-list experience. But allow time to get out and explore!

Temperature is Celsius

To convert Celsius to Fahrenheit, multiply the temperature by 2 and then add 30. So 20 degrees Celsius x 2 is 40 + 30 = 70. The actual formula is to multiply by 1.8 and then add 32, but that requires a calculator. This formula is great for dressing appropriately for the day’s activities. But we discovered the couple of degrees variance do make a difference when setting the thermostat in your hotel. So my 70 degree Fahrenheit example is actually 68 degrees. Good to know if you prefer to sleep at a specific temperature.

Do not go below a half tank of gas

We were warned by everyone not to let the gas tank get below half full prior to embarking on a new destination. Unlike the U.S. east coast where we live, gas stations can be hours apart. During the summer, construction delays are common so a full tank is all the more important. In winter, running out of gas is downright dangerous. Thorny is notorious for letting the gauge get to empty and then frantically searching for gas. But he took this advice to heart and our tank was “usually” near full.

Yoho National Park less crowded than Banff
Yoho National Park has half the visitors of Banff next door. But the hikes are stunning.

Cities are more spread out than you think

Canada’s land mass is about the same as the U.S., with only about 10 percent of its population. So things are a lot more spread out. We were told time and again that Americans underestimate how long it takes to travel between cities, especially in the Canadian Rockies where speeds are slower and construction common. Twice we adjusted our itinerary to reduce the cities visited, giving us more time outdoors and less in the car. Yet we still drove more than 2,000 miles in 10 days.

Tim Hortons is your friend

Need a coffee fix or food in a hurry? Tim Hortons (named after a Canadian hockey player) is the largest fast food chain in Canada, so nearly every town has one. “Timmies” has coffee, donuts and sandwiches and is as Canadian as maple syrup.

Long summer days avoid crowds Jasper
It's 10:49 p.m. and still plenty of daylight in Jasper. Plan to visit more popular places after the crowds are gone for the day.

Be prepared for the weather

During our July visit to the Rockies, we experienced snow, sleet and blazing 90 degree F temperatures all within a couple of days. Mornings temperatures are often near freezing, but warm as the day progresses. So take layers. For our glacier hike, we wore five layers so we could peel them off as needed. We started the day bundled and cold. By the end we were sporting t-shirts.

Summer days are long in Alberta, allowing you to avoid peak crowds

During our late June visit is was still daylight after 11 p.m. We quickly learned to use this to our advantage and plan visits to crowded venues like Lake Louise in the evening when the tour buses and most of the crowds had departed.

Gotta go? Ask for the “washroom”

Essential before traveling to another country is learning the local custom for finding a toilet. “Where is the bathroom” in some countries might get you a blank stare or a return question, “What, you want to take a bath?” Who knows what other cultures think when Americans ask, “Where is the restroom?” In Canada, “washroom” is the term to know. But Canadians will figure out what you mean if using U.S. terms. Not the case everywhere, so know before you go (pun intended).

End every sentence with “Eh” so they’ll think you’re a local, eh

Canadians make fun of themselves for using “Eh” as much as possible in conversation. One proudly showed me the “Eh” t-shirt he purchased for Canada Day. Another explained how many times Canadians use “Eh” when they spell their country – C-Eh-N-Eh-D-Eh.

Visiting Banff National Park? Learn about Yoho National Park — the beauty of Banff without the crowds. Then head down the Icefields Parkway for a guided hike on Athabasca Glacier.