Michael Nguyen and Agatha Garces are avid travellers. The Toronto-based couple toured Alaska together in December, 2019, and in February, 2020, Mr. Nguyen visited Colombia on a week-long trip with friends. The couple was looking forward to a two-week vacation to Italy in August, 2020. Then COVID-19 hit.
Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Garces stayed safe and indoors from March to April. But by May, 2020, they were feeling cooped up and wanted to get out and explore. They embarked on a day trip two hours southeast to the Niagara region to see the falls and visit wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake. “I felt happy and excited to be out,” Mr. Nguyen recalls. “We’d been stuck inside our houses for so long.”
From there, Ms. Garces and Mr. Nguyen ventured out on day and weekend trips nearly every weekend they could. They visited the karst caves in Eramosa, near Hamilton, relaxed on the beaches of Sandbanks Provincial Park in Prince Edward County, and went treetop trekking in Brampton. Ms. Garces, an avid TikTok user, would send Mr. Nguyen links and videos to nearby destinations that she spotted in her social media feed. It’s how they discovered a glamping dome near King City on Airbnb, which they visited in April, 2021.
For Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Garces, day trips in Ontario satiated their desire for travel and exploration without leaving the country. At the time, international travel would have involved COVID tests and quarantine periods. “Day trips were something we could do that didn’t have rules or restrictions,” says Mr. Nguyen. “We love seeing new things and having experiences outside. It was the balance we found that met public health guidance, and also satisfied our needs.”
Recently, regional travel has increased across the country, including the province of Quebec where Marie-Hélène Hudon works as the director of international business development, trade and PR for the Alliance de l’industrie touristique du Québec. “Some people are still scared of taking a plane, or they want to stay close by because of all the uncertainty,” Ms. Hudon explains. “They say, ‘well, we still want to see our province’. They still want to travel.”
According to an annual survey conducted by CAA-Québec, more vacationers intend to stay in Quebec for their holiday — 83 per cent in 2021, compared to 77 per cent in 2020.
International and out-of-province visitors have decreased significantly, so provincial and regional tourism boards are now retargeting their efforts to entice local travellers instead. Incentive programs, offering rebates or discounts for local travel, are a popular way to do this. Last summer, Quebec launched the Attractions Passport program offering a 20-per-cent to 40-per- cent discount on activities like river cruises, whale watching and golf. Sépaq, Quebec’s parks and wildlife government agency, offered 50 per cent off their annual National Parks of Quebec card to get unlimited access to the province’s national parks for the summer of 2020 and 2021.
Both years, the promotion sold out in 24 hours.
Regional tourism board websites are a great place for aspiring day trippers to plan and research, says Ms. Hudon. “We’ve just launched a new website, BonjourQuebec.com, which has an activity planner where you can create itineraries,” she explains. “It’s really practical for day trips.” Ms. Hudon recommends keeping the driving distance to under two-and-a-half hours. Otherwise, turn it into a weekend trip and book yourself a hotel or an Airbnb.
Social media can also be a good tool for research, as Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Garces discovered. “We get all our [travel] ideas from TikTok,” Mr. Nguyen says. “My girlfriend follows accounts of [certain] people or her friends.”
Day trips don’t always have to be about getting into nature. Think outdoor entertainment or outdoor art installations. In Toronto, visitors can rent a canoe or kayak and paddle into an outdoor comedy show on the Humber River. In British Columbia, Fresh Air Cinema is touring its outdoor drive-in theatre across the province.
For families, Ms. Hudon says that farms and zoo visits are popular. She also recommends heading to a national park. “You can bike, you can kayak, you can paddleboard,” she explains. “It’s very safe, even for kids.”
For couples, she recommends vineyard visits. “A lot of Quebeckers don’t know that we have vineyards with really, really good wine only one hour away from Montreal,” she explains.
While local regions are opening up, it’s always a good idea to double-check the status of public health restrictions before you embark on a road trip. Earlier in the pandemic, Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Garces used to pack a picnic blanket and bring a cooler with food and snacks when the availability of meals and restaurants was less certain.
Mr. Nguyen also recommends packing a swimsuit, a pair of hiking shoes and a change of clothes, even if you don’t plan on hiking. “You never know when you might want to go swimming,” he says. “The lakes are very nice when you’re far from the city.” The same goes for bringing hiking shoes — just in case you stumble across a great trail or path that’s worth exploring.
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