Guide to a Working Holiday in Canada (free illustrated PDF guide)

Chapter 28: EXPLORING CANADA - Getting around in North America

Published: 02-03-2020




Getting around in North America

Most WHP holders aren’t just looking for potential work opportunities in Canada—at one point or another, you probably want to explore the country and maybe even venture into the US, right?

The most intrepid and dedicated backpackers might consider biking or hiking (yes, it has been done!) across Canada but “just” visiting local national parks, heritage sites and local communities can keep you busy for weeks.

If a 5,500-kilometre coast-to-coast bicycle ride isn’t your idea of fun, don’t worry—there are other less draining ways to travel around Canada.

Good to know
Montreal and New York City are the only two cities in North America that prohibit making a right turn on a red light.
Getting around by car

For starters, it’s probably a good idea to remind Europeans and Kiwis that Canada is a big country and that driving distances between two cities are much longer than what you’re used to. For many Canadians, visiting relatives who live 500 kilometres away is “a quick weekend trip”!

Cars are the dominant form of transportation in Canada and the US. The love affair with four-wheel vehicles isn’t waning despite higher gas prices. From a practical perspective, it is the easiest way to get around since mass transit solutions are underdeveloped in most cities. It’s also cultural—North America was designed for cars.

Indeed, Canada’s extensive road network can take you almost anywhere in the country. However, because of extreme weather conditions, many roads are not in good condition—expect potholes, ongoing construction work, etc. Every year, the CAA even asks Canadians to vote for the worst roads in their region and publish the list to shame public authorities! Roads in the US are generally smoother because there’s less snow and ice, and thus less damage due to road salt.


Many WHP holders choose hitchhiking, which is a cost-effective way to get around and meet people from all walks of life. This mode of transportation adds a good dose of the unknown to the adventure and it may take you places that weren’t initially part of your plan.

Hitchhiking can be safe and fun if you follow basic guidelines. It’s better to hitchhike with a travel partner rather than standing on the side of the road alone. Always trust your gut feeling when assessing a driver. Don’t get in the car if you feel uneasy.

Note: In Canada, hitchhiking laws vary between provincial and territorial jurisdictions. For example, in British Columbia, it’s illegal to hitchhike around most major highway junctions and bridges, and on municipal roads where bylaws have been enacted. In Ontario, the Highway Traffic Act does not permit a person on any public roadway to solicit a ride. In the US, it’s illegal to hitchhike in Utah, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Nevada. Generally speaking, hitchhiking is also prohibited along interstate highways and highways. Check laws and bylaws before thumbing!


Carpooling and ride-sharing are a popular option, especially on busy routes like Toronto-Ottawa or Montreal-Quebec City. The easiest way to find a driver (or passengers if you have a car!) is to use one of the ride-sharing websites or apps like AmigoExpress, Covoiturage, Ridesharing or Poparide.

Popular routes:

Renting a car

Opting for a long-term car rental program is more expensive than buying a used vehicle but it offers peace of mind since you can count on a reliable car and any mechanical problems will be taken care of. You will also skip the usual car-purchase chores—buying insurance, registering the vehicle, etc.—and you won’t have to sell the vehicle at the end of the trip.

Shop around and compare offers to find the best deal as prices vary greatly from one location and one company to another.

Read the fine print carefully to make sure you understand the terms and conditions of the offer, e.g. fuel policy, limited/unlimited mileage, rental equipment, cross-border fees, insurance, etc.

Beware of hidden costs like early return fees or age penalties (young drivers might be charged extra).

Always buy the rental company’s minimum insurance coverage (loss damage waiver).

Taking the bus

Riding a long-distance bus is a worthwhile adventure in itself. It’s not the most comfortable way to travel but it’s very affordable whether you choose to go from the West Coast to the East Coast or just to explore a few cities in your province. Many companies also take you across the border to popular US destinations.

Greyhound Canada, the icon of bus travel, is the largest provider of intercity bus transportation in Canada. The running dog will take you pretty much anywhere but take the scheduled arrival time with a grain of salt. That said, what’s a two-hour delay when you’ve been sitting on the bus for ten hours…!

To score a good deal, book at least two weeks ahead. “Companion fare” tickets (i.e. a second adult ticket) are discounted as well, so it’s cheaper to travel with someone.

Megabus is a popular company with service in Ontario, Quebec and New York State (US). Coach Canada operates in Quebec and Ontario with service in main centres such as Toronto, Montreal, Kingston, Whitby and Niagara Falls. Many other companies focus on local destinations within the province, go to your nearest bus terminal for more information and up-to-date schedules.

Good deals ahead!

With promo codes, get discounted rates or special perks when you rent a vehicle with Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty. Check the promo codes now!

Taking the train

Taking the train is yet another mode of transportation where the journey is as precious as the destination.

VIA Rail, Canada’s national train company, operates across eight Canadian provinces and 12,500 kilometres (7,800 mi) of track—and yes, it offers an unforgettable (if pricey) 4-night coast to coast rail adventure.

Different passes are available (e.g. Canrailpass, BizPak, etc.), the most basic one costs $456 for seven one-way trips over a 60-day period. The unlimited 60-day CanRail pass is $857.40.

The most popular routes are often on “must take train trips” lists, such as the “Ocean Route” between Montreal and Halifax where the Atlantic Ocean and sky blend together at the horizon or the famous Toronto-Vancouver “The Canadian” trip where the train glides through the Prairies and takes you through the Rockies.

South of the border, you’ll board an Amtrak train. Rail pass deals are a bit better than in Canada. For instance, the 15-day USA Rail Pass costs $459 for eight segments (Amtrak considers a travel segment any time you get on and off a train, regardless of length). Among the best train trips are the “California Zephyr,” coursing through the Western United States from Chicago to Oakland or the “Coast Starlight” from Seattle to Los Angeles with long stretches of Pacific Ocean shoreline. For more details on passes, check Amtrak.

Travelling by train is more expensive than bussing but it’s also more comfortable. You will have more legroom, even in coach class, as well as large panoramic windows to enjoy the scenery. It’s a different experience with a different crowd and atmosphere.


When the destination matters more than the journey, flying is still the best option to go from point A to point B quickly.

The three biggest airlines are Air Canada (the flag carrier of Canada), Air Transat and WestJet (both low-cost airlines with a relatively good reputation). Many US airlines (American Airlines, Continental Airlines, US Airways, etc.) also fly from Canada to the United States, the Caribbean and Mexico.

Domestic air travel is still expensive in Canada but keep in mind that flying from Toronto to Vancouver saves you a multi-day drive.

To get the best deals on airfare, compare prices, be flexible with your travel dates and consider leaving from another airport nearby. Be patient and you should find “cheap” tickets!

Chapter 28 of 34


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