Family Travels: Canada

Saturday, 21 March 2009

The Travelers: Australians Rayene and Rachel Murphy, and their daughters Anna and Grace, who were 2 and 3 years old at the time of travel.

Destination: Canada

The Plan: To fly to Vancouver and take an RV motor home for a two-week odyssey through the Canadian Rockies. Their route took them on a large loop to Banff National Park and back to Vancouver.

The Planning: Rachel booked flights direct to Vancouver through Air China. Air Canada also offers direct flights from Beijing but tends to be more expensive. The ten-hour flight takes you over Alaska. RV company AllDrive was remarkably helpful in helping the family plan their journey, even down to the actual route. AllDrive picked them up from Vancouver airport and took them straight to their vehicle, where they were given a rundown of the RV’s components before hitting the road.

Getting Around: Canada honors all valid foreign driving licenses; a standard license is all you need to drive an RV, and there are many vehicles to choose from. The Murphys chose a camper that slept five and included a kitchenette, shower, toilet and plenty of storage room. The family brought the girls’ car seats with them, and AllDrive fitted the seats to give them great mountain views through a large window. Child safety seats, bicycles and other equipment can also be hired through the website.

The Campsites: The Murphys believe there isn’t a country more perfect for RV travel than Canada. AllDrive provided them with comprehensive maps, and their route was dotted with Kampgrounds of America campgrounds. At the campsites, an on-site fee covers power and sewage removal; travelers can also drain and re-fill their water, buy snacks and use on-site facilities such as laundromats, toilet blocks and swimming pools.

On the Road: The family drove roughly four hours per day and took frequent pit stops – a leisurely pace that allowed them to easily cover the round trip to Banff. Their route took them through the town of Hope and on to Kamloops, which is surrounded by 200 lakes. They camped at the foot of Revelstoke National Park, then drove through the Okanagan Valley and up into the cooler mountain air, where they happened upon a black bear mom and two cubs crossing the road – a priceless moment for the family. Moose, woolly mountain goat, elk, beaver, bighorn sheep and deer sightings were also common.

The Lakes: The Murphys drove through Rogers Pass, along the TransCanada Highway, then stopped at Peyto Lake, climbing to a lookout for breathtaking views of the milky blue lake. Nearby Emerald Lake was a great spot for a picnic. Lake Louise, like most Canadian lakes, is glacier-fed; during the summertime, you can boat on it. You may even opt for a night of luxury at the famous fairytale hotel – Fairmont Chateau – on the lake’s shore.

Glacier Hopping: After Banff, the family continued on to Jasper and Whistler, which are some of the best skiing spots in British Colombia. En route is Athabasca Glacier, part of the enormous Columbia Icefield, and one of the largest south of the Arctic Circle. Rayene walked on this glacier, amazed at the massive cracks in the surface. If you want to traverse the glacier in true Rockies style, you can also take a trip on a jaw-dropping, monster ice-trekking vehicle.

Biggest Cost: Fuel, and yet the Murphys still feel this holiday was very cost-effective. They paid around RMB 18,000 for over two weeks of accommodation and all transport, which included insurance, breakdown coverage, unlimited mileage and all bedding, linen, plates, pots and pans. Food, park entry fees and purchases were extra. Living in an RV meant comfort levels were high for the money spent. The family didn’t need to book accommodation in advance, and this was worth every stress-free cent, especially because they were traveling with small children.

Other Costs: A pass is required for visitors to all national parks in British Columbia. These can be bought at park gates, or call Parks Canada (1 250 837 7500). The family bought a 14-day pass. Parks open as early as 7am, which means you can get started when the kids wake up.

Shopping Fix: If you get tired of the great outdoors, head to West Edmonton Mall, Alberta’s number one tourist attraction and the world’s largest shopping and entertainment complex.

Launching Point: Vancouver, where the family stayed two nights at the Holiday Inn (from around RMB 1,600/night for four, (1 604 684 2151) before flying back to Beijing. Local transport in Vancouver is fantastic and the whole family loved Gastown with its shops, art galleries and cobbled streets. Stanley Park was also filled with things for kids to do.

General Tips: If you rent an RV with AllDrive, ask as many questions as possible – they have expert suggestions for planning your itinerary. The Murphys suggest staying overnight in Vancouver – after the tiring flight from Beijing – before you pick up your RV. Stock your RV fridge with supermarket purchases, and cook your own meals in the kitchenette – it will save you a bundle.

The Best Part: The Murphys enjoyed the flexibility, fresh air and stunning scenery. They loved traveling without time constraints and finding treasures along their route, especially wildlife like deer, birds and squirrels, not to mention occasional encounters with bear or moose!

First published in beijingkids magazine and on the beijingkids website.

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