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Take the Trans Canada Highway through Banff National Park and keep going east. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
Take the Trans Canada Highway through Banff National Park and keep going east. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

How to plan the perfect cross-Canada road trip Add to ...

Since the closest I’ve come to a countrywide trundle was a sleepless Greyhound adventure from Vancouver to Montreal when I was 17, I’ve steered this question to a couple of experts.

Mark Richardson (markrichardson.ca) is the author of Canada’s Road: A Journey on the Trans-Canada Highway from St. John’s to Victoria. He thinks every Canuck should hit the coast-to-coast trail at least once. “There’s no better way to see your country and meet other Canadians than to experience it first-hand,” he says.

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But before driving off into the sunset – or at least Saskatchewan – planning is vital. First-up: the route. “The Trans-Canada Highway follows a fairly direct course across the country and it’s a good road to stay close to. But you’ll need to take other roads to see the country properly,” Richardson says.

“Duck down to Halifax in Nova Scotia and also hit the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. Whether travelling through Edmonton or Calgary, drive the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper. And in Quebec, leave the wide highway between Quebec City and Rivière-du-Loup and follow Highway 132 instead, hugging the south shore of the St. Lawrence River.”

How long will it take? “If you’re stopping at roadside attractions and enjoying meals and breaks along the way, plan for 300 kilometres to 400 km a day. Aim to arrive before 6 p.m., leaving comfortable time for dinner and relaxation. At that pace, you can cross Canada (one way) in two weeks.” (See roadsideattractions.ca for things to see.)

Richardson recommends joining drivers’ clubs such as CAA, to reduce the stress of possible breakdowns; informing your bank of your trip so that it doesn’t decline your purchase of a Portage la Prairie fridge magnet; and ensuring you car is up to the job with a service and oil change a week before departure.

After double-checking you’ve packed essentials – including license, ownership and registration and passports (in case you’re taking side trips to the States) – Richardson suggests hiding a second credit card and secreting a spare key in your car. “Keep a record of your wallet contents – I use a smartphone app to keep numbers and photos of my cards secure and confidential in the virtual cloud.”

Accommodation-wise, combine planning with flexibility. “Book ahead in the morning so you don’t have to find a place at the end of the day. And aim for hotels with generous cancellation policies so you can switch if you find more intriguing places.”

But if you’re road-tripping with kids, you’ll need to add an extra layer of planning to ensure everything runs as smoothly as a newly asphalted highway, according to family travel blogger Claudia Laroye (thetravellingmom.ca). First, though, you might need to persuade them to take part.

“Think about a unique selling feature for each child. Is it visiting a dinosaur museum, a giant nickel or the ocean?” Laroye says. “Engage family members in planning by having each choose a special destination or attraction. Consider sitting around a map to chart your route, then having the kids research interesting spots along the way.”

Be sure to pack audiobooks, car games, surprise toys, a cooler of snacks and drinks and even a soundtrack that’s like an old-school mix tape. Once you’re on the road, “use books, maps and apps to keep kids engaged about the places they’re travelling through,” she says.

While sharing driving duties is also essential for parents – plus stops where everyone disembarks for space away from each other – a daily treat can give weary passengers something extra to look forward to. “Plan to stop for ice cream each day.”

Follow John @johnleewriter.

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