Outdoor Connection

Tips for RVing through Canada


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This is the third article in a three part series that CampingRoadTrip.com asked me to write. RVing to Alaska has always been a dream trip for us, and as we embarked on this adventure we quickly learned many valuable hints and tips - enough to fill an entire book! So here are a few nuggets of information that we wished someone told us before we left for our road trip to Alaska.

We travel in Canada nearly every year. We have had the good fortune to visit all ten provinces and one territory (of three) and have returned to some of these locations several times. You will have to visit at least two provinces if you drive your RV to Alaska and three if you take the Alaskan (formerly ALCAN) Highway.

To visit Alaska, you will have to drive about 4,000 miles up and back so here are tips about money, credit cards, and other odds and ends while traveling in Canada. This may be new information especially if you have not previously RVed in Canada.

The most common and consistent difference is the Canadian use of metric measurement. I have added suggestions and information below regarding what you will need to be aware of when purchasing consumer goods in Canada.

Handling Money

  • If you are NOT going to exchange any money, take an excess of small U.S. bills... lots of $1's, $5's, $10's, and a few $20's. Small bills are best for payment, if the small business chooses to accept American currency.

    Author's Note: Canadian businesses do not have to accept your U.S. money. Also, if you insist on only using American money in another country, don't complain about the exchange rate. It's their country. This advice applies to the other countries in the world, too - not just Canada!
  • Many Canadian businesses will accept U.S. bills but not U.S. coins. All change for purchases (bills and coins) will most likely be made in Canadian money - it's what they have and use.

    Interesting Fact: Many Canadian businesses close to the USA / Canadian border may have a checkout register that has two cash drawers - one for Canadian money and the other for U.S. money!
  • Canadians commonly use two coins unfamiliar to us. The coins are called the "loonie" and "toonie". Their $1.00 coin has a picture of a loon (the bird) on it and became known as the "loonie." The loonie is brass colored. When the $2.00 coin was released, it was nicknamed the "toonie" - short for "two loonies." The toonie has a silver outer ring and a penny-sized brass section in the center so the toonie is two-colored. Both are about the size of our half-dollar. If you use a laundromat in Canada, it will typically take loonies.

Using Credit Cards on the Road

  • Your credit or debit cards will typically work at ATMs in Canada. Check with the bank or company that issued your cards to verify if there are any additional fees associated with using the ATM outside the USA. These fees are common and sometimes very high. Don't be caught off guard and surprised later on!
  • Find a credit card that does not charge an "International Processing Fee" or other fee with a similar name. Most cards do! Typically, it is about 3% of your total charges, which can quickly add up.

Eating In or Out in Your RV

  • Generally, Canada has slightly higher prices than the "Lower 48" for food (both for groceries and eating out). From experience, my "guesstimate" is that Canadian prices are about 10% higher but I cannot verify that.
  • Food in restaurants is very typical to the food found in the USA. You will occasionally find some local or (to you) some unusual foods. Try them. They are usually good. It's how we learned about foods such as Peameal bacon, poutine, and Montreal smoked meat - all different, all wonderful.
  • Canned goods and dry foods found in grocery stores in Canada are very similar to what you are used to. These foods will be measured in metric quantities.

    One option is to simply look at the container. We all know know from years of experience about how big that can of chicken soup ought to be. Most recipes using canned goods are not that precise anyway. Guess the approximate size if you don't know your metric measurements.

    Author's Tip: Another alternative is that before you cross over into Canada, is to use Google to convert your recipe food quantities to metric measurements. Just ask Google a simple question such as, "what is 14 ounces in grams." Also, round off to whole grams.Bulk food (meat, etc.) is weighed and sold by the kilogram or gram (the conversion is 1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds). Since there are 1,000 grams in a kilogram, one rule of thumb is that 500 grams of anything (hamburger, for example) is very close to one pound. Yes, you can ask the Canadian butcher or grocer for 500 grams of meat and they will know exactly what you want - even if you don't.

Fueling Your RV

  • Canada always has higher prices for fuel (gas and diesel)
  • One rule of thumb is that Canadian fuel prices will be about $1.50 higher per gallon than U.S. prices. This is a rough estimate I use for roughly calculating costs of travel up there.
  • Fuel is purchased by the liter (litre is the correct spelling) in Canada. For your sanity, think of a litre as really close to a quart. The quick way to think about this is there are about four litres to a gallon. That will get you by and you will be really close on your fuel estimates. The actual conversion is... 4 liters = 1.056 U.S. gallons.
  • When you see the Canadian station advertising (posting) a fuel price of, for example, $1.12 or $1.25 - that is the price per litre in Canadian dollars. Multiply that posted price times four and you have a pretty close equivalent of what you would be paying per gallon in the USA. It's okay to use your calculator if you want to be exact!

Calling from Canada - Toll Free and Phone Use

  • You can often call from Canadian pay phones to toll-free numbers (800) in the USA without depositing any money. Hey, whatever works! However, don't assume you can call all USA toll-free (800) numbers. The toll-free numbers can be blocked by the USA based owner of that number so that no toll-free international calls can get through.
  • Before you head off, check if your vehicle insurance claims number accepts toll-free calls from Canada? It may come in handy in an emergency.
  • When driving close to the USA/Canadian border, be very careful when using your cell phone to make or receive a call. Simply look at your cell phone screen to determine if your phone is automatically on "Roam." If it is, you may actually be connecting with a cell tower in Canada. If so, you will be charged for an international call regardless of where you are at that moment. Check your manual for the "Roam" indicator, and you may also want to turn your data roaming off (for those who have iPhones, Blackberrys and other smart phone devices).

Driving in Canada

  • Driving in Canada is very similar to driving in the USA. Canadians drive on the right (like the USA).
  • Lane markings (passing/no passing, yellow, double yellow, white lines, etc.) are similar also.
  • Canada has a type of traffic-light warning that is wonderful. You will likely pass a big yellow warning sign and light with an illustration of a stoplight painted on it. There will be a notice that states something like, "Prepare to Stop When Flashing". If the yellow light on that warning sign is flashing, you will NOT make it through the stoplight - even if you speed up - so don't try. If it is NOT flashing, keep your speed steady and you will go through on green - guaranteed. This is useful in Canada, where the highway speed limit is higher, especially for RVers. Driving at, say, 55 mph and having to do almost an emergency stop for a traffic light in a big motorhome - especially at a light with a short yellow - is not fun!!! I've only seen this a number of times in the USA but wish we would adopt it nationwide.
  • In British Columbia it is legal to park overnight in pull-offs or rest areas, unless posted otherwise. This permission does not apply to private property. After lots of effort, I finally received confirmation of this in May 2010 from the RCMP office in B.C. Please note that this permission has no bearing whatsoever on the other provinces and is not "blanket" permission across Canada. I continue to research this same question with the other provinces.

As an RVer, you will have to cross through Canada to get to Alaska. Canada on its own is spectacular and we absolutely love to travel in Canada and do so about every year. As in the USA, there are a gazillion places to see and all are fascinating. Having the ability to travel in both countries is wonderful and exciting. Being an RVer helps make it happen.

Some useful links from CampingRoadTrip.com to help you through Canada:

  1. Metric conversion
  2. Canadian time zones
  3. Local gas prices
  4. Canadian money
  5. Canadian food
 

Ron Jones is the author of "RVing to Alaska" (©2010). In his book, you will discover about 150+ pages of details on how to plan a trip to Alaska, what to see, suggested routes, Canadian tips, time needed, and what to expect. Ron Jones has kindly touched on a few of these issues our newsletter. The details are in the book. Ron can be contacted via email at alaska@aboutrving.com

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