FAQ Van Life Canada

a VW van in Waterton National Park

About a month ago we started to really dig into what it would take to travel in Canada with our van. Our neighbor to the north has always held our interest but up until recently we just haven’t been able to time it right. Until now! In this post we’re going to discuss some of FAQ van life Canada questions that we had as well as the answers that we found. We’ll be sure to update the post after our adventure.

What’s the best time of year to visit Canada?

We could quite easily make a case for visiting Canada any time of year. Skiing, hiking, photography, dining … there are numerous things to see and do in this vast country but we’re aiming for summer since we want to avoid the cold as well as inclement weather as much as possible. If you will be having a van life Canada adventure during the winter months you will need snow tires and an emergency kit.

Can our van travel through Canada?

a woman cooking in her van in Canada
Caroline making some spaghetti out of our van in Banff National Park!

Yes. We plan to take our regular vehicle, our Ram Promaster City with a Wayfarer Kit. We have, however, decided to upgrade our tires. We have about 48,000 miles on the original tires that came with the van and though we could probably stand to drive several thousand more on them, we wanted to get four season tires with new treads. We ended up going with the Yokohama Avid Ascend GT 215/55R16 tires. We got four of them for $110.99 each and $443.96 total. There was a $70 rebate on the tires as well. One thing we wish we had done was rotate our tires every oil change. We’ve noticed a slightly uneven wear which we believe could have been avoided had we done regular rotations to our front-wheel drive vehicle. We’ll definitely be doing that on this set.

Will a US drivers license permit you to drive in Canada?

A foreign drivers license is valid in Canada for varying amounts of time. It depends on which province you’re in. At a minimum, to drive your van in Canada you will need to have your vehicle registration and vehicle insurance paperwork. It’s also recommended that you get a Canadian Non-Resident Inter-Province Motor Vehicle Insurance Liability Card (also known as the Yellow Card.) Your insurance company should be able to provide you one. We contacted our company in Asheville and they were able to send one out to us that same day!

How do gas stations work in Canada?

They’re very similar to America. You can pump your own gas and the choices at most stations are three types of gasoline and a diesel pump or two. Although the prices are listed in Canadian Dollars and the amounts are listed in liters, the pumping part is the same. Many places require prepayment so you’ll have to do a bit of math to figure out how much you’ll need but other than that, they’re the same.

What is it like to drive in Canada?

mountain sunrise from inside a van in Banff National Park
Early morning alpen glow in Banff National Park!

Driving in Canada is very similar to driving in the United States. The street signs are very similar to those in the United States and the lights operate in the same way (red, yellow, green.) Drivers drive on the right hand side of the road. The biggest difference is that the speed limit is in kilometers per hour. Luckily, in most vehicles including our van, you’ll find kilometers on your dashboard. Ours are a bit smaller than the mph numbers but they do the trick.

Are there many National Parks in Canada?

Yes! There are 47 National Parks in Canada! We hope to visit as many as possible. We plan to visit Waterton Lakes, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Riding Mountain, Pukaskwa and hopefully even La Mauricie as we make our way east. In addition to the 47 National Parks, there are numerous National Historic Sites, National Marine Conservation Areas, National Urban Parks and many, many Provincial Parks. To save money, we went ahead and purchased the Discovery Pass (Family). We ordered it online and it was in our mailbox in about 10 days time. In the envelope was our pass as well as a small map that highlights all of the sites. It’s in both French and English! To get your pass or learn more, head to parkscanada.gc.ca

Is there much free camping in Canada?

A quick check on freecampsites.net shows a bunch of green markers in Canada. We went ahead and booked most of our campsites online. The national parks in Canada have some great campsites. We stayed at ones in Banff and Waterton and will also be staying in Jasper and Kootenay. If you want to camp in a national park be sure to book ahead of time as they fill up quickly. Check online for a full list of National Parks and campgrounds in Canada.

What are the average temperatures?

Ah this question is too broad to answer. The country is quite large. And the seasons are too varied. For us, since we are traveling in the southern regions of Canada in July and August, we’re anticipating daytime highs in the mid to upper 60’s and lows in the 30’s in Banff National Park. Calgary that time of year looks to be a bit warmer temps in the mid 70’s during the day and high 40’s at night. So far the averages have been accurate but we’ve been lucky in that some of the day time temps have reached into the 80’s. We have almost always carried a layer for warmth and rain with us as there have been showers almost daily.

What are you packing?

Team Ketchup and Mustard in Banff National Park

We brought all of our essential van life gear items as well as enough clothing to keep us comfortable in the above weather conditions. Neither of us like being cold so it includes cold weather gear like down – puffy jackets and snow caps as well as shorts and flip flops since we love to wear as little as possible, whenever possible. Our most valuable piece of gear so far has been our rain layer, both for our camera backpacks and our bodies. Luckily we can share clothing so we’ll be bringing just enough that we can go about 2 weeks before we have to find a laundromat. Also, since we’ll be on assignment for a few running pieces for the Adventure Sports Network, we’ll also be bringing our full running gear.

Will my cell phone work in Canada?

Good question. We didn’t know the answer so we hopped online and chatted out our story with a customer service rep from Verizon. Apparently our plan covers Canada for free but we had to activate the service. The person on the other end of the line was able to activate our phones and our hotspot while I waited. I received a confirmation e-mail a few minutes after I logged off the chat. Your best bet is to contact your service provider and see if Canada is in your plan for both calling, texting and data usage. Our cell phones have worked fairly well although our data becomes ridiculously slow once we reach .5 GB of data. As for our MiFi wifi hotspot, it hasn’t worked well at all. We’ve had to seek out free wifi as a result.

Do you need Canadian money?

We’ve so far been able to use American dollars and our credit and debit cards everywhere we go. The one time we ran into an issue was when we tried to do laundry. The machine required Canadian coins called Toonies. At the time of this post the dollar was equal to about $1.34 Canadian Dollars.

Van Life Canada Recap

If you’re planning a van life trip to Canada, you’ve got a lot to look forward to! The country is vast with most of the population living near the border and clustered in cities. But if you have a love of the outdoors and parks, you’re in for a real treat. We highly recommend British Columbia and Alberta and are excited to share more about our thoughts on the rest of the country as we make our way east.

We’re currently shooting several different products for clients as we make our way across the country as well as working on websites and freelance writing. If you have a project in mind that you think we might be a good fit for, please let us know, we’d love to hear from you! You can see more of our work in our portfolio at www.authenticasheville.com

Published by Erin McGrady

Erin McGrady is a filmmaker, photographer, and writer exploring Asheville and beyond. My work focuses on sharing about LGBTQ safe spaces, camper van life, and the outdoors.

2 thoughts on “FAQ Van Life Canada

  1. You just answered EVERY QUESTION I HAD, and those that I didn’t realize I had, about a trip to Canada.

    Perfect timing, too. My fiancé and I were planning a trip to Canada (I just received my passport in the mail today) and had no idea where to start. Love that you linked the national parks and the camping websites to your article! I’m comforted knowing that gas stations are generally the same, that cell phones WILL work (thank you for the activation tip) and excited to check out the cash difference situation! I wonder if there’s an app to compare US v Canadian?

    Enjoy the rest of your time up there! Maybe we will cross paths at a park!

    1. Hey there Kat! Thanks so much for the feedback. So glad that the info is useful to you! Definitely check to make sure your phone is activated – it’s super easy and can be done via phone or online chat. As for the app to compare US vs. Canadian, there’s an online calculator that we’ve been using and it’s been handy! Would love to meet up with you guys in the park. Thanks again!

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