I Backpack Canada » Train http://ibackpackcanada.com A backpackers travel guide to Canada Mon, 26 Jan 2015 19:54:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 13 Reasons to Ditch Airlines for VIA Railhttp://ibackpackcanada.com/13-reasons-to-ditch-airlines-for-via-rail/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/13-reasons-to-ditch-airlines-for-via-rail/#comments Mon, 27 Aug 2012 17:26:53 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=5089 Henry Miller, the famous writer & painter once wrote – “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” In the last 60 years, travel has evolved for the impatient. We board a plane, melt into our in-flight entertainment consoles, look out the window a couple of times, and arrive at […]

13 Reasons to Ditch Airlines for VIA Rail is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Henry Miller, the famous writer & painter once wrote – “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” In the last 60 years, travel has evolved for the impatient. We board a plane, melt into our in-flight entertainment consoles, look out the window a couple of times, and arrive at our final destination. Journeys that once would have taken days, weeks, or even months can be completed in a matter of hours. While I’m not one to complain about the advances of technology, I can’t help but feel that flights have removed some of the romanticism of travel. To experience the “real” Canada, the vast distances, the picturesque landscapes, the topography changes from one corner of this country to the next, nothing can beat travel by train. Having spent over 200 hours on VIA Rail in the last 60 days crossing eight provinces, I have found a new way of seeing things. I have discovered 13 reasons to stop flying and travel Canada by VIA Rail.

Via Rail Lower Berths - Sleepers

Lower Berths

Traveling for days on end can lead to exhaustion. While the economy seats on VIA Rail are massive, with enough leg room that would make a 6’8 basketball player smile, spending a little extra money on a 40+ hour train ride can make all the difference. Stretching out in a freshly made bed, and sprawling in your newfound privacy is something everyone can appreciate. Having your own bench seat during the day (or bed should you choose to leave it down), where you can properly lay back, read, and relax not only helps pass the time, but better lets you enjoy the sights from your window. Sleeping through the night in a comfy bed and waking up well rested and that much closer to your destination is easily worth the price bump.

Via Rail Train - The Showers

The showers

Showering while traveling is important. No more so than when you’re in a train with 28 cars traveling for 2 days straight. While Economy tickets don’t have access to shower, all Sleeping Cars come with them. To wake up refreshed from a full nights sleep and to have access to a clean and hot shower is one of the best ways to start a morning.

Pro Tip

Keep in mind, showers are reserved for anyone in the sleeper cars, so those of you taking economy I would recommend bringing along some soap or some resealable wet naps.

work-on-train-wifi

Time to Work

While Wifi is typically limited to the Corridor (between Windsor & Montreal), if you are able to continue to work disconnected from the rest of the world, you’ll have plenty of time to do so. During my countless hours on the train I was able to organize and edit all of my photos, consistently write new blog posts, and edited three videos.

Pro Tip

If you have to stay connected for business, or just for updating your Facebook status to “I’m on a train!“, a decent cell phone data plan along with the ability to tether can keep you online whenever you’re in 3G coverage.

Via Rail Dining Car Food - Breakfast

The Dining Car Food

VIA Rail’s incredible selection of fully cooked and prepared meals makes the thought of airline food sound like the gruesome meals that were likely prepared in the middle ages. You won’t hear a single moan coming from the dining car as VIA Rail’s helpful staff serve everything from smoked salmon to veal, with your choice of beer, wine, juice, or coffee.

VIA Rail Manitoba Winnipeg

The Lack of Anxiety

While I wouldn’t consider myself a very nervous flyer, there have been times where I couldn’t help but start thinking about the fact that 36,000 feet is a long way down. The closest thing to uncomfortable turbulence you’ll find on VIA Rail is the occasional bumpy line of track, which means nothing more than a gentle rock left to right. No sudden drops, no feeling your stomach in your throat, just a smooth & gentle ride.

The Canadian Train - Via Rail - Observation Car

The Space & Comfort

While I can’t stress how awesome an upgrade on VIA Rail is, even in Economy seats, the amount of room given is on average MUCH more than you’ll find on most airlines. Combined with the ease of getting out of your seat to wander to the Snack Car, the Lounge Car, the Obvservation Car, or just walking to get your blood circulating, having that ease of moving around simply can’t be beat.

VIA Rail Gate Montreal

Less Hassle

My biggest pet peeve with flying is being stuck behind a giant line at airport security, anxiously waiting to get through in fear that I might not make it to my gate on time. Security on airlines isn’t just strict, it’s border-line de-humanizing. While VIA Rail has it in their right to check your luggage, their security is far more realistic for the average traveler. You show up, check your luggage, grab your ticket, board, and go. Removing the scans, the pat downs, the 20 questions of “Where are you going?“, “What do you do?“, really speeds things up and makes for a much more enjoyable experience boarding the train. I traveled between Montreal & Toronto with Riley of Riles For Miles, and she couldn’t stop saying “That was so easy!” after boarding the train.

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The Sights

VIA Rail trains will never win a race with airlines, but that’s not what train travel is all about. The slower pace of train travel on VIA Rail allows you to truly take in the size and scenery of Canada. You’ll be hard pressed to see moose, bear, deer, and a variety of Canadian birds from 36,000 feet up. Traveling  by train, this becomes a daily occurrence! A seat atop the Observation car during the day (or night – with the lights off) offers an astounding view of the scenic landscapes Canada is so famous for.

Via-rail-tracks-on-tracks-bombadils-travel-music

The Sounds

Many people don’t know this, but VIA Rail offers free train rides to musicians for performing two 45 minute sets per day on the train for passengers. While this is a great way for musicians to get around the country and tour for cheap, it also gives passengers a unique experience. There’s nothing like watching as the rugged Canadian landscape goes by outside the Lounge Car and some of Canada’s most talented artists serenade guests from all over the world.

I was fortunate enough to catch The Bombadils performing on VIA Rails “The Ocean”, between Halifax & Montreal. I also caught Morgan MacDonald perform on “The Canadian”, between Toronto & Winnipeg. Discovering new artists performing on VIA Rail might have been one of my favourite parts of the entire journey.

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The Social Side of Travel

When I fly I am a grumpy human being. I don’t want to talk to the person next to me. I typically want to scold parents for bringing children on the flight, and I am generally just not somebody anyone would ever want to talk to. Perhaps it’s the discomfort, the nerves, the terrible food, the state of fear the media has us all worked up in. But the last thing I want to do is talk to anybody I don’t know while I travel on a plane.

The opposite couldn’t be more true on train travel. There is nothing more common on trains than seeing people who didn’t know each other as they boarded the train disembark as newfound friends. Partaking in conversation with both young and old, about their jobs, their past travels, their future aspirations, and their general interest in how you ended up on this same train. During my journeys on board VIA Rail, I became a conversationalist. A suave, interesting guy who wanted to speak to anyone who would listen. I couldn’t have been more of the opposite to that grumpy human being I am when flying.

friendly-via-rail-staff-1

The Staff

Airline staff can often times feel a bit robotic. Any conversing with staff can lead you with somebody (passenger or staff) glaring at you as if you’re putting the entire world in jeopardy. Staff on VIA Rail behave differently. They are relaxed, happy, comfortable, rested, and it all shows. From the way they’re happy to assist you, to the fact that they’ll spare an extra five minutes from their busy schedule to converse with a passenger about anything from beer preferences, to destination tips. Did I mention they’re hilarious as well?

VIA Rail - Wildlife - Mountain Goat

The Wildlife

The beauty of traveling slow is that you have time to look. Time to take in what you’re seeing, where you are, and who you’re with. In my opinion, one of the best parts of traveling with VIA Rail is the amount of wildlife you’re sure to see. Between bears, moose, elk, and even mountain goats, it’s hard to spend a day on the train and not see something out of the window. What I love is that the staff aboard VIA Rail take time out of their day to announce if there’s wildlife coming up. I scored this great photo of a mother and young mountain goat, a couple dozen kilometers outside of Jasper.

via-rail-ticket

The Cost

Trains are usually on par with your average budget flight, and at times even less expensive. Train travel isn’t as pricey as many people make it out to be. One has to remember that most legs of train travel are over an entire day and night, saving you a night of accommodation and giving you a comfy ride and a whole new experience.

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Don’t believe me? I took a look at a one way Economy Fair on VIA Rail for September 8th from Toronto to Saskatoon. The adult pass came up at $273.46 ($242 fare + $41.46 tax). I took a same look at Air Canada for a flight on September 8th from Toronto to Saskatoon. The adult pass came up at $420 ($278 fare + $148 in tax). Making VIA Rail the cheaper choice by $146.54! Add on top of that the fact that you’re saving 2 nights of accommodation by sleeping on VIA Rail and you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

Via rail map of Canada stations

Photo Courtesy of VIARail.com

As you have probably figured out, I am a convert! Train travel is the bee’s knees, wearing cat’s pyjamas. It’s for those people who aren’t in a rush, who have learned that in life, it’s not only good, but essential to stop and smell the flowers. Canada was built by the railroads, and I think one of the greatest ways to honour this fact is for every Canadian, and every visitor, to see this magnificent country from coast to coast with VIA Rail.

Special thanks to the folks at VIA Rail for having me aboard their train and giving me access to shoot photos & video. 

13 Reasons to Ditch Airlines for VIA Rail is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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The White Pass & Yukon Route – Gateway to the Northhttp://ibackpackcanada.com/the-white-pass-yukon-route-gateway-to-the-north/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/the-white-pass-yukon-route-gateway-to-the-north/#comments Thu, 02 Aug 2012 17:19:18 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=4712 Driving from Whitehorse in the Yukon to Fraser, B.C to climb aboard the White Pass & Yukon Route is an experience unto itself. The scenery in this region can hardly be described. Hues of blue & green with sharp contrasts of icy white and dark charcoals and black cover the rocky mountainous terrain. It’s as […]

The White Pass & Yukon Route – Gateway to the North is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Driving from Whitehorse in the Yukon to Fraser, B.C to climb aboard the White Pass & Yukon Route is an experience unto itself. The scenery in this region can hardly be described. Hues of blue & green with sharp contrasts of icy white and dark charcoals and black cover the rocky mountainous terrain. It’s as if a painter had only a few colours on his pallet, but somehow managed to make a masterpiece with various tones and shades. The old train parked along the tracks overlooking this natural work of art is a stark reminder that you’re still a part of civilization, even if you can only see a few dozen people.

whitepass-yukon-route-train IN FRASER-BC

All Aboard the White Pass & Yukon Route

After awing over the beauty of Fraser, B.C, I boarded the train and was greeted by a friendly young train employee who happily points out the Train Engineer and the Conductor. At a cost of $135, taking the WhitePass is a great way to get to and from Skagway, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon. It’s worth noting that this isn’t your typical Eurorail type of train. These carts are old, and the rail line is practically ancient. While it may not be the fastest train you’ll ride, the slow pace gives you ample time to take in the breathtaking views during the ride.

whitepass-yukon-route-train-tracks

Old Sounds on an Old Train

As I acquainted myself with my seat, the train slowly began to move forward and I watched as the natural skyline began to change. My cart rocked gently back and forth, swaying to the beat of the precise heavy bass caused by the turning of the wheels. The hissing cry of metal on metal added a sense of old time flavour to the experience. The steam whistle screams and makes me jump. I laugh at myself for not expecting that. As the train passes through canyons covered in snow and ice I couldn’t help but feel as if it’s winter. It’s June 1st – practically summer – and snow in these regions are still measured in feet, rather than inches.

yukon-train-to-alaska

A low ceiling of misty white clouds hangs over the mountains. Sleet and rain gently pour down, adding a sense of adventure to the slow moving train. Walking outside of the trailing cart I snap photos of the ever changing terrain. After passing through a few tunnels it’s clear to see we’re approaching a rainforest. Snow trades it’s place for massive trees and the temperature begins to warms up. Waterfalls and cliffs can be found every few kilometres along the rail line.

yukon-bear

Does a bear sh*t in the woods?

As the train curves around bends, I hang over the iron rails and snap photos. Then suddenly, as if waiting to see the train go by, a large brown bear is crouching beside the tracks. He isn’t moving, and one passenger asks “Is it real?” – as our cart is dragged a little further down the track we see the bear from another angle and quickly find out that yes, he is real, and yes bears do in fact shit in the woods. Our cart erupts in laughter as someone jokes “It’s the Charmin bear!“.

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On to Alaska

Moving slowly along cliffs and waterfalls, across old bridges and rivers, we made it to our final destination – Skagway, Alaska. While I have many thoughts and opinions on Skagway; I’ve decided to leave them be for now (separate post on that coming soon). A train with this much history and beauty along it’s path really needs to be experienced to fully understand it’s allure. You don’t have to be a train buff, history geek, or arctic explorer to enjoy the Whitepass Yukon Route. All you need are some curious eyes interested in seeing one of the most beautiful stretches of rail you can find in North America.

whitepass-yukon-route-sign

The History of the White Pass & Yukon Route

The rail line between the Yukon and Alaska was built in 1898 in response to the Klondike Gold rush. Over 100,00 men & women stormed the Klondike region in hopes of striking it rich. These stampeders needed a quick way to get themselves and their gear into the region, and wealthy entrepreneurs of yesteryear tried to strike it rich by providing a futile service to the region. The single-track rail is 27.7 miles and takes you through the Norths most rugged terrain, including the Coast Mountains, Tongass National Forest & The White Pass Summit between British Columbia & Alaska, which sports a soaring elevation of 2,865 ft or 873m.

The White Pass & Yukon Route was designated an International Historic Civic Engineering Landmark in 1994, alongside such other engineering feats, including the Eiffel Tower, The Statue of Liberty and the Panama Canal.

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Discovering Canada By Train with VIA Railhttp://ibackpackcanada.com/discovering-canada-by-train-with-via-rail/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/discovering-canada-by-train-with-via-rail/#comments Tue, 17 Jul 2012 13:30:24 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=5056 Up until now, most of my travels across Canada have been done by campervan, car, bus, and countless long and boring flights. While I’ve been fortunate to see some of the most incredible sights that this massive nation has to offer, it always felt like I was missing something, like the journeys I had taken […]

Discovering Canada By Train with VIA Rail is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Up until now, most of my travels across Canada have been done by campervan, car, bus, and countless long and boring flights. While I’ve been fortunate to see some of the most incredible sights that this massive nation has to offer, it always felt like I was missing something, like the journeys I had taken weren’t officially complete. Like “I Backpack Canada” had somehow become “I Backpack Parts Of Canada“. It was an unnerving thought.

Then after a visit home to Saskatchewan I became infatuated with the train tracks that ran across this country and their part in making this country what it is today. Without rails settlers wouldn’t have been able to make it west. Towns wouldn’t have prospered and turned into cities. The railway lines literally helped carve the face of this country. Then it hit me like a punch in the side of the head – “I must ride these iron rails with VIA Rail from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Vancouver, British Columbia. A true coast to coast journey stopping at several major city centers to explore the country at a slower pace to better take in the sights & sounds. A summer journey filled with writing, photography, and video. The Summer of VIA Rail

On July 4th I began my travels with VIA Rail and will be documenting my journey over the coming months. First leg – Halifax, Nova Scotia to Charny Quebec then a quick shuttle to Quebec City. Be sure to stay tuned and follow along on Twitter with #ViaRail! I’ll be posting as fast as possible; however, there’ll no doubt be some lag time due to the amount of photos and content I need to create. I’ll fill these moments of silence with a few posts in my back catalogue. Keep an eye out for some video as well, now let the ~7000km+ journey begin!

Discovering Canada By Train with VIA Rail is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Two discount cards you should carry when traveling in Canadahttp://ibackpackcanada.com/two-discount-cards-you-should-carry-when-traveling-in-canada/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/two-discount-cards-you-should-carry-when-traveling-in-canada/#comments Wed, 09 Jun 2010 22:27:11 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=2001 Two discount cards you should carry when traveling in Canada is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Backpacking in Canada can be crazy expensive, but if you play it smart, and take advantage of the discounts available to you, you can make the journey quite a bit cheaper. There are countless discounts out there, many places don’t charge children, or offer a decent percentage off for being over 60 years old. But if you’re in your 20’s and you’ve got no kids and have yet to trade your backpack in for a fanny-pack, you might be wondering, what about me? Thankfully there are a couple discount cards out there to make life a bit easier while you’re on the road.

ISIC Card

The international student identity card is out there for anyone 12 years old and up, in elementary, high school, college, university, or any type of post secondary. If you’re a student somewhere, you’re eligible. This card can be used in over 120 different countries around the world, including Canada. Discounts include anything from restaurants, accommodations, flights, tours, and shopping. The cost of ISIC card varies depending on which country you purchase it in, some schools give them away for free, others charge upwards of $20. Regardless of the cost of the card, the savings can be immense. One of the most popular places to save money with the ISIC Card is Via Rail, they offer some great student discounts for anyone considering traveling Canada by train. Visit ISIC for more information. Not a student? No problem, if you’re 26 years old or under, you’re eligible for the IYTC (International Youth Travel Card), which gives you the same great savings.

HI / YHA Card

The HI / YHA Card can come in handy anywhere there’s a hostel that is part of the HI or YHA Network, which as luck has it, is just about anywhere in the world. In Canada there is over 400 different places that accept the card, including every HI Hostel in Canada. On average you save $4 everytime you book a night in an HI Hostel. You might be thinking, couple toonies saved per night, not bad. But here’s when the big savings come in. When you travel by Greyhound with your HI/YHA card you can save 25% off one way and round trip tickets anywhere in Canada. You can also get 5% off any bookings made with Moose Travel Network. Big savings abound, and with a yearly cost of only $35, the card pays for itself after the first couple weeks. Visit HI-Canada Card for more information.

I’m sure there are a few other cards out there worth trying as well, but these are the only two I’ve ever personally had experience with. They’ve treated me well thus far and saved me a bit of coin on travel and accommodation and such, hopefully they can help you out too.

Two discount cards you should carry when traveling in Canada is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Train Travel in Canadahttp://ibackpackcanada.com/train-travel-in-canada/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/train-travel-in-canada/#comments Thu, 24 Sep 2009 17:51:09 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=828 Train Travel in Canada is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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train travel canada

Train Travel in Canada is still very much a part of this country’s heritage. There are many ways to see Canada, but the to see the Great North by train is easily one of the most memorable. With countless different routes you can choose from, such as long haul coast to coast trains, to just city to city rides. Each of them provide a unique look into the Canadian landscape.  Below are some of my favourite train trips in Canada.

The Canadian

Easily one of the greatest train journeys in Canada, VIA Rail’s “The Canadian” runs thrice a week, 365 days a year. The Canadian links Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Jasper, and Vancouver. This scenic journey takes 4 nights from start to finish. VIA Rail still uses the original 1955 built stainless-steel coaches to get you from point A to point B. There are two classes to choose from.

Economy Class – Comfy seats with plenty of room to stretch and relax, along with full-coarse meals, snacks, hot and cold drinks, and booze is available for purchase. Pillows and blankets are also provided during the night.

Sleeper Class – Cosy accommodations in a berth, a cabin for one, two, three, or four people, or go all out and get a suite. Delicious meals which highlight regional specialties. Exclusive access to the Park Car, with lounges, and the famous 360-degree panoramic views.

Click here for more information on “The Canadian”

The Rocky Mountaineer

train travel rock mountaineerFor one of the most majestic train travel experiences, look into The Rocky Mountaineer Train. It’s a unique experience, considered by most to be a trip of a lifetime. The Rocky Mountaineer follows the historic route which was constructed over 100 years ago, uniting the East with the West. The journey will take two days from start to finish. The Rocky Mountaineer only travels during the day, which is probably a good thing, as you don’t want to miss a sight on this ride. Stops include Vancouver, Whistler, Jasper, Banff, and Calgary. Expect to see plenty of wildlife, and some of the most beautiful scenery you can imagine.

Click here for booking information on The Rocky Mountaineer

“The Ocean”

This train departs from Montreal in the evening and arrives in Halifax roughly 20 hours later. The Ocean is an overnight journey which follows the St. Lawrence River, before crossing into New Brunswick, followed by Nova Scotia. Take a peak out into the Atlantic ocean, and on a calm night reflections of the train can put any insomniac to sleep. The Ocean is a year round train, which offers plenty of room. Stops include Montreal, Halifax, and Moncton. The Ocean is one of the best ways to view the East coast of Canada.

Click here for booking information on The Ocean

Winnipeg – Churchill

via rail canada tripsFinding your way to the Arctic can be difficult, one of the best alternatives to flying up North, is grabbing VIA Rail’s Winnipeg to Churchill train. Watch as the prairies cross into boreal forest, and view what so few have seen before. The Arctic Tundra. This train journey is 1,700 km (1, 000 miles), in two days you could find yourself in Northern Manitoba. The perfect location to spot polar bears, balugas, and the Northern Lights. To top it all off, it’s a relatively cheap ride too.

Click here for booking information on The Winnipeg – Churchill

Train travel however can be expensive. In order to cut as many costs as possible, be sure to take advantage of their youth and student promotions. Students and Adults (18-25) with an ISIC card are eligible for a discount on regular adult economy class fare. Or try the VIA 6 Pak, which gives you 6 voucher for one way travel between any two pre-selected cities on VIA Rail.

Click here for more booking information with VIA Rail

Train Travel in Canada is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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