I grew up traveling thanks to my mom; that nomadic gene came from her and not my dad, who had barely left his home state of Alabama until they met in the 70’s. My earliest family vacation memories were long car rides down to Orlando and cross-country treks to Colorado and, as I got older, hops across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. She’s been everywhere it sometimes seems, but there are still bucket list-worthy vacations she’s been dying to take, such as a winter trip to Alberta and the Canadian Rockies.
Both Mom and I had been to Alberta separately; she in 1976, and me in 2008. Neither of us had visited when it was dusted with snow, and neither of us had been to western Canada together. It’s a trip we’d fantasized over often, and one that became a reality when Jade called me last year and proposed one heck of a trip: a January jaunt from Vancouver to Banff with Canada by Design—and both our moms.
Luckily, Jade’s mom Micki and my mom were already pals as we all went to Grenada together this time last year, so a fab foursome trip without the dudes was a no-brainer!
And after Jade’s own summer adventure with Canada by Design last year, I couldn’t wait to have a similar experience. Canada by Design is more than just a tour company; it’s a personalized travel experience. We worked with one of their staff to ensure our moms were able to live out their dream trip, from hiking the ice canyon outside of Jasper to taking a majestic train journey through the mountains. As someone who typically does all the travel bookings, it was so nice to hand over the reins to someone else for a change. All I really had to do was say, “these are the things we want to do,” and Canada by Design delivered a tailor-made itinerary customized for our travel style. Plus, they were on call if we ran into any difficulties, such as needing to rebook a shuttle.
And pro tip: The best time to book with Canada by Design is before Jan. 31 to capitalize on early booking offers, which translates to $850 in added value.
If you’re looking to plan a similar mother-daughter adventure, we have copious notes, tips and tricks just for you.
WHEN TO GO TO ALBERTA
January was a great time for wintry fun, but it’s also a wee bit cold—meaning you’re not guaranteed a lot of snow (I know, I know, it sounds counterintuitive, but it’s often too cold for all the white fluff to fall). March, however, is the perfect month to ensure you have plenty of powder. It’s the ideal time to go to the Rockies really: The snow conditions are at their best, and temps are finally starting to warm up!
And the best part is that you don’t even have to wait until next March either—there’s still plenty of time for Canada by Design to plan a trip for you this year. Spring Break 2018, anyone?
WHICH ROUTE TO TAKE
Having explored B.C. and Alberta twice now, I love starting in Vancouver and finishing in Calgary (versus the reverse), though either way you do it, I ensure you it will be magical. My thinking is this: When you arrive on a vacation, it’s fun to have a day in a city to explore and Vancouver is definitely worthy of a night stopover. But on the other end of the trip, I’m usually just ready to go home, so both times I’ve traveled to Alberta, I’ve taken a coach from Banff to the Calgary airport on the final day and left directly from there.
In terms of which tour to choose, Canada by Design has plenty. We took the Snow Train to the Rockies tour, but that’s by no means the only option offered. If you have a bit more time to spare, I might recommend the City Streets VIA Mountain Peaks itinerary, which adds on a couple extra activities such as dogsledding and snowshoeing that we didn’t have time to do. Looking for an even more epic trip? Take the train across the continent from Toronto to Vancouver on the 10-night Trans Canada Winter Adventure route.
BY PLANE, TRAIN & AUTOMOBILE
From Nashville, we flew to Vancouver via Toronto, stayed a night in British Columbia, then hopped the VIA Rail from there to Jasper, sleeping in a train cabin overnight for our first official evening of the itinerary. However, due to the unpredictability of Toronto in winter, I would heavily advise you to look into connecting in Minneapolis, Seattle or elsewhere if you’re also flying from the East Coast.
Our train car on VIA Rail!
On the ground, Canada by Design took care of everything: We traveled by coach from town to town, checking into a new hotel each night or two that had already been booked for us, and I can’t recommend Brewster’s fleet of buses (and its drivers!) more highly. If we were to do this trip again, we’d probably rent a car for portions of it, which we were initially too scared to do (none of us has much experience driving in snow), but for those who come from more wintry climates and are used to road conditions, you’ll be able to cover a lot more ground.
You can see why it’s called Icefield Parkway!
In both Banff and Jasper, we were able to take taxis to get around, but there were a few canyons and vistas we would have loved to have seen that really required a rental car to reach. The good news is that Canada by Design does offer the option for you to drive yourself—so if you want to get out and about, you can rent a car, or if you are too timid like we were, you can opt to be carted from place to place by coach transfer. Here’s what the Majestic Rail & Drive tour with a rental car thrown in looks like.
a Canadian rest stop
HOW TO STAY CONNECTED
We had cell service in most of the areas we were on, other than the 22 hours we traveled by train; however, Wifi was a bit harder to come by. If being connected at all times is important to you, it’s worth investigating renting a Mifi for the week (in the past, I’ve used both Glocal and Roaming Man), though depending on where you are, you might not have reception even then. Alternately, Jade and I were able to use our phones as hotspots at times, and luckily, since we both had U.S. cell plans, the same rates for calls, texts and data applied in Canada.
WHAT TO PACK FOR WINTER IN CANADA
This is one of the few times I have checked a bag in recent years, and not only did I wheel my Tumi all over Canada, but I nearly hit my weight limit at 42 pounds. And you know what? I wore every last thing (many pieces twice!).
Here’s what I recommend packing for a week in Alberta in the winter:
- 4 pairs of thick/fleece-lined tights
- 2 snow coats (one which is at least knee-length)
- 2 pairs of snow pants
- 2 pairs of long johns
- 2 down vests
- 2 toboggans (or toques, as the Canadians say)
- 1 warm blanket scarf
- 1 pair of ski mittens (which are warmer than gloves)
- 2 pairs of winter, water-resistant boots
- 1 pair of shoes to wear around your hotel
- 1 bag of Hot Hands
- 1 pair of Smart Wool socks for every day you’re there
- all necessary undergarments
- warm lounge clothes for the hotel
- house slippers or fuzzy socks
- back-up batteries for your electronics, as they drain quickly in the cold
- a waterproof backpack to use as a day bag
- a swimsuit for the hot tub
Looking for more tips to planning your winter trip to Canada? Check out my past posts:
- On the VIA Rail: A Train Ride Across Canada’s Rocky Mountains
- Real-Life Narnia: A Guide to Jasper, Lake Louise & Banff in Winter