Planning a Trip to Canada with my Mom

Taking My Mom to Canada: A Dream Winter Trip to Alberta

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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.

Planning a Trip to Canada with my Mom

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.

Planning a Trip to Canada with my Mom

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!

Planning a Trip to Canada with my Mom

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!

Winter trip to Alberta, Canada

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.

Winter Trip to Alberta via Train

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.

Planning a Trip to Canada with my Mom

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.

Icefield Parkway in Alberta

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.

Winter trip to Alberta, Canada

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.

Planning a Trip to Canada with my Mom

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!).

What to Pack for Winter in Canada

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:

 

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A Winter Trip to Alberta, Canada
A Winter Trip to Alberta, Canada
A Winter Trip to Alberta, Canada
COMMENTS
  • January 17, 2018

    Love the idea of traveling one-on-one with a parent. After MANY years of travel, I’ve never taken a trip alone with either my mom or dad. That would be precious time right there.

    And as for my mom, we are polar opposites when it comes to planning. I like to be flexible and everything is organized last minute, whereas she has to know every little detail and each aspect of a trip booked well in advance, so I know she’d appreciate a tailor-made itinerary that’s customized by a tour expert!

    And train travel through the mountains is definitely something she’d go for. Looks beautiful.

    • January 18, 2018

      That’s crazy! But maybe your girls will each take you on a father-daughter trip when they get old enough 😉

      The great thing about this itinerary is we had one thing planned a day, but other than that, plenty of free time!

      • January 19, 2018

        That sounds nice, a daddy-daughter trip. And I like the sound of that balance of booked/free time.

  • January 17, 2018
    Keryn

    Well, as you might have noticed, I stalked your trip just a little bit on social media because it was SO incredible. I love the idea of a one-on-one adventure with a parent. I want to do something like this with my dad. He’s much more my speed when it comes to travel AND he loves to stop and take photos every 10 feet just like me. We are headed to Ireland, albeit with my whole crew and my mom, but we will still make time to do some photo adventures and hit the pub a few times too.

    And thanks for the packing list! I’m headed to Alberta in March and definitely need to know what to wear!

    • January 18, 2018

      Admit it: You just really want to borrow my mom for her sweet dance moves 😉

      Ireland with the whole fam sounds like so much fun! The Luna gals did that trip a few years ago, but I’ve never actually done Ireland with Scott, other than a brief 24 hours in Dublin together.

  • January 17, 2018

    Have never taken a winter trip to Alberta but absolutely adored it in July! Such a beautiful part of the world, and I can imagine how incredible it would be with the snow, too! I would definitely love to do this sometime and with my mum would be great just like you did! Fun!

    • January 18, 2018

      Prior to this trip, I’d only ever visited in July, as well! I fully encourage you to try the opposite side of the coin, as it’s so dramatically different and I love visiting during different times for different reasons =)

  • January 17, 2018

    I live in British Columbia and both my mom and I are snow birds (when I can afford it). My preferred time to travel my own country is spring/summer. Road trips from BC to Alberta or BC to Saskatchewan are fond memories from my childhood.
    But a train would be a lot of fun to travel the country! I just wish they’d make it more affordable for Canadians to travel our own country!

    • January 18, 2018

      You’re so close to so many slopes, too! We didn’t have enough free time in Banff to schedule a day on the slopes, but I was tempted. Also, I’m dying to ski Whistler, which I’ve still never visited!

  • January 17, 2018

    I’m so jealous of everything about this trip from the color coordinated winter outfits to the fact that you got a week of alone time with your mom (My mother has a more active social life than I do). Having just been there in Aug, it’s crazy how different the winter pics look.

    • January 18, 2018

      Right? It’s a totally different place in the winter months; I almost didn’t even recognize Lake Louise!

  • January 17, 2018

    This trip looks so epic! I’m not sure I could handle it with my mom, but yours looks cool (is she on loan ;)). Maybe I’ll need to save it as a mother-daughter trip with my daughter some day 🙂

    So was it a group trip or you did stuff on your own and just the coach transfers were group?

    • January 17, 2018

      Oh, yeah, definitely an individual trip. Of course, you’re surrounded by people on the train, and they book you on coaches, so there were a few in transit with us (but not many—only 11 on a 52-seat bus to Calgary!).

      I’m sure my mom would LOVE to go with you on your next trip. Feel free to take her as your nanny 😉

  • January 17, 2018

    This is MY kind of trip, although maybe a little slower, with a few more days. I have always wanted to explore more of Canada and if I had kept our RV a second year of would have taken it across coast to coast. Since I don’t have the RV anymore, the train looks brilliant! And I LOVE winter trips – less crowds which is totally my thing!

    • January 17, 2018

      I would have definitely liked a couple more days in Jasper to see some of the areas a bit further out! There are several itineraries that are 11 to 16 nights, which sound like a whole lot of fun.

      And double yes to the no crowds—that’s the best part!

  • January 17, 2018

    We were in Alberta for the first time last winter I think for the Dark Sky Festival and I would love to return to see more as we mostly only saw Jasper National Park and Edmonton. It really sounds like you had a great trip, and so glad that you and your mom got to have that experience together!

    • January 19, 2018

      I am, too! Next time, I’d love to see Edmonton, as well as more of Jasper National Park. Since we didn’t have a car, we really just saw the area around the Fairmont and also Maligne Canyon, where we did the ice hike.

  • January 17, 2018

    My parents imbued a love of travel into me, and I still enjoy travelling with them when I can, although I’ve very rarely done a trip with just one of them. In their own travels they seem to be getting more adventurous as they get older too – they’re off to India this year, and it was Brazil last year! Lovely to see this story of your travel with your mom 🙂

    • January 19, 2018

      Holy wow! My parents are definitely not THAT adventurous. I can’t see them ever doing India—Canada and Europe are more their speed 😉

  • January 17, 2018

    I am feeling pretty jealous of all that snow as I sit here in Singapore, sweating even though the air conditioner is on. 🙂 What a lovely trip, and so special that you got to experience it with your mom. We’ve yet to visit Canada, but we’ll definitely be going in the winter. I don’t care how cold it is, I need to see snow!

    • January 18, 2018

      Ha! I was only in Singapore for 48 hours one December, but I have never felt humidity like that before, so I can only imagine!

  • January 17, 2018

    Omg I love this post for so many reasons. First, the obvious one, because I want to copy your exact itinerary and go on the same trip. But also because I go to Switzerland next week and honestly have no idea how to pack so I am definitely going to check out your recommendations there further! Also super impressed with how quickly post-trip you got this up.

    • January 18, 2018

      And being from Washington, you could just hop over the border while visiting your fam and start from there! My first summer trip by train, I actually flew into Seattle, roped in a friend, and we drove to Vancouver and left her car there as we trained across B.C. and Alberta.

  • January 17, 2018

    This trip looked like SO much fun. I grew up in Ohio, and while I know Canadian winters can be a tad bit colder, the bitter cold doesn’t bother me at all.

    As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started inviting my parents on trips more; I took my mom to the UK in 2015 and my dad to South Africa in 2016, and I’ll be traveling with each of them again this year on separate trips! I’ve enjoyed sharing a bit of “my life” with each of them!

    • January 18, 2018

      My mom and I went to South Africa for three weeks in 2010 to see my sister on Semester at Sea, and it was still my mom’s favorite trip of all time—well, until this one of course 😉

      I love that you take your parents with you, too! My dad has never cared to travel much—plus with the stroke, it would be too hard to take him alone—but my mom is ALWAYS up for an adventure!

  • January 18, 2018
    Kristin Gritt

    Love, love, LOVE!! I booked a trip to Vancouver -> Banff for September, so this post is perfect timing. I can’t wait!!

    • January 18, 2018

      Ooooooh! Are you taking the train? Fall in Alberta/BC sounds positively lovely!

  • January 18, 2018

    Loved following your trip on social. So jealous that your mom is a traveler. We literally have to bribe our mom to travel! This looks like a dream trip.

    • January 18, 2018

      Ha, and we have to bribe ours to stay home! Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, I suppose 😉

  • January 18, 2018

    I loved seeing my home through your eyes, Kristen. I reminds me to appreciate my own backyard a little more. Funny about the toboggans/toques. I thought a toboggan was a sled you rode down a snowy hillside. 😉

    • January 18, 2018

      SO funny you say that as I’d never heard a toboggan used in sled terms until I was a teenager, so it became a bit of an inside joke in my family when I got one (of the sled variety) for Christmas…then it didn’t snow again until I was an adult so I never actually got to use the “toboggan” (sled). But apparently, this is a regional thing!

      https://letterpile.com/humor/Whether-You-Ride-or-Wear-A-Toboggan-Depends-on-Where-Youre-From

      But toque was brand new to me. Canada by Design sent us red toques, and I thought she meant token in the email 😉

      And your backyard is certainly lovely—how lucky you are to live in such a real-life Narnia!

  • January 19, 2018

    Kristen as a Calgarian I’m hurt that only saw the Calgary airport and you not much else of our awesome city! We weren’t ranked in the as the 5th most liveable city to live in for no reason 🙂 come back soon!

    • January 19, 2018

      I’m so sorry, Lisa! It’s not that I don’t want to go; it’s just that both times, I happened to be on a week-long planned tour that flew out of Calgary but didn’t have a stopover there. How about I visit in summer instead? 😉 I’m sure I’d love it–after all, I’m from the Nashville area, and I hear there are a ton of similarities! (I’ll pack my cowboy boots.)

  • January 20, 2018

    I don’t know why, but everytime I ask my mum where she’d like to go she tells me a cold place. Not that I mind! Two years ago we visited Iceland and in a few weeks we’ll go to Norway together! I can’t wait 🙂

    • February 5, 2018

      Ha, must be a mom thing! I hear we’ll also experience hot flashes when we reach their age? 😉

      Norway sounds EPIC.

  • January 31, 2018

    I’ve never done a proper Canadian adventure, which is silly because I have actual friends up there. Also, love the list of what to pack for a cold weather adventure. I’m looking at doing a Europe trip next winter, in January, and I’m trying very hard to figure out what I will need to survive in the colder parts of the continent and this helps.

    • February 5, 2018

      Totally silly, ha! But then again, I haven’t been to Minneapolis in 15 years despite having good friends there, as well, so we’re finally changing that in May and going (and who knew it was only $103 each way from Nashville?!!). Maybe you should take a page out of our playbook and plan that trip to Canada this spring, too =)

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