Even with extra masks and hand sanitizer stuffed in the glove box, the glorious randomness of road-trip discovery hasn’t changed, and sweater weather is a great time to take advantage of unexpected discoveries and, of course, the fall colours.
How many Ontarians know about the province’s canyon country? An hour east of Thunder Bay, visitors can walk to the rim of 100-metre-deep Ouimet Canyon in the provincial park of the same name, then head over to the adventure centre at Eagle Canyon to brave the country’s longest suspension bridge (182 metres) and wander the trails.
What about the Prairie Giants near Inglis, Man.? Five wooden grain elevators stand in a row at this outdoor museum and national historic site that’s a four-hour drive from Winnipeg, or three hours from Regina.
Or, from Calgary, head 90 minutes west and you can snuggle up to Bow Valley views and fine dining at the Fairmont Banff Springs. Hike up nearby Tunnel Mountain for a better vantage point of this grand historic hotel and the surrounding area.
A fall drive into the Laurentians is always a good idea. Two hours from Montreal, stop for a slice of sugar pie (and buy one to bring home) at the famous St. Donat Bakery. And East Coasters in the Atlantic bubble have even fewer travellers to bump into, whether it’s along the trails and sights of New Brunswick’s Acadian Coastal trail or the fishing villages of Newfoundland.
While health authorities do not encourage travelling out of your home province, those who do need to understand each province’s self-quarantine rules. If there’s a nervous traveller in your group, travel specialist Cari Gray suggests heading to a place that’s familiar. “The ability to travel is precious, so why risk going someplace that you may not love?” says the founder and director of Gray & Co., a company that specializes in private luxury travel.
A road trip in a pandemic is doable and, more importantly, fun. It’s just a little different. Here, a few tips to get you started.
- Remember that your car is your bubble/safe space. Keep it that way. Leave a pump-bottle of hand sanitizer in the cup holder and use it every time you get back into your car. And don’t use valet parking if offered.
- When refuelling, try to find gas stations with full service, so you don’t need to fiddle with gas pumps. If that’s not an option, be ready to swipe your credit card at the pump – most stations have switched to “pay at the pump”-only service during the pandemic. (Pro tip: Pack all your loyalty cards – you never know what gas station is aligned with what plan when you leave town.)
- Wear a mask at every pit stop and smile with your eyes.
- Make sure to have paper maps on hand. Cell service isn’t always a given (looking at you, Northern Ontario!). And be ready to switch up your travel plans on a whim. If a road closure throws you off-schedule, pull out that map and look for a detour; it will be an adventure. Take time to do the hikes, to wander the shorelines, to get out of the car and soak in the views. When you spot those tiny binocular signs that appear randomly along the highway, pull off – more often than not, it’s worth it.
- Pack a cooler full of food and snacks, a picnic basket with cutlery and plates, and stash a water jug in the trunk to make lunches at those scenic roadside stops. If you’ve got room, a small propane stove and kettle or pot to boil water means you can enjoy an impromptu hot cuppa when the mood strikes. Stocking up at grocery stores along the way also gives you a chance to pick up local delicacies (and maybe bring home half a dozen jars of Saskatoon berry jam).
- Just because you’re not leaving the country doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get health insurance. Out-of-province Canadians are covered for medically necessary basics, and an interprovincial billing agreement means you don’t need to pay up front (except in Quebec). Quebec didn’t sign the agreement, so out-of-province travellers may have to hand over their credit card, keep their receipts and seek reimbursement once home. But public insurance does not usually cover services such as an ambulance and hospital transfer or transportation back home. You’ll need private travel insurance for that.
- Think twice about where you want to stop for the night. Old-school motels, with outdoor corridors and a parking spot right outside the door, might fit your new COVID-19 protocol. There are revamped motels, from Ontario’s chic and newly opened June Motel in Sauble Beach or the classic Cadillac Motel in Niagara Falls to the authentic 2400 Motel in East Vancouver and the colourful Hotel Zed in Victoria. If you’re in the Atlantic bubble, try the cute Lighthouse “drive-up rooms and suites” outside Bridgewater, N.S. Alternately, find a hotel chain with contactless check-in, meaning a digital key is sent to your phone so you can slip into your room without dealing with front-desk staff.
- High-end hotel chains have spared no expense on COVID-19 cleaning protocols to help ease guests' concerns. Expect to even find PPE amenities on your night stand. Luxury properties owned by Accor hotels, for example, have not only increased cleaning and insist on mask-wearing indoors but, amongst other measures, give pillows and duvets a 48-hour rest between guests stays. At the Fairmont Banff Springs, expect wrist-temperature checks at the front door and a central text-the-front-desk system for guest requests for everything from more towels to concierge advice.
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