Why Canadian Road Trips are Different

How far do you have to drive for a trip to be considered an official ‘road trip’?

Do you need to stop overnight somewhere? Or can a drive to a nearby town for some wine or cheese be considered a road trip?

I think any time you get into a car and take off on the road without a solid plan, just an idea of something you want to see / somewhere you want to go, it can be called a road trip. But there is something compelling about the long-distance Canadian road trip that separates it from your average experience.

Canadian road trip

The long, lonely road – classic Canadian roadtrip scenery


I’ve done numerous day trip road trips to the US or Quebec to pick up some beer. They may have only taken me 6-12 hours total, but I still consider them to be roadtrips. Right now I’m working on a weekend camping trip and deciding if I should drive a mere 4 hours north or 11 hours (each way). Either is fine by me.

It brings up the question though – how far are you willing to go? When was the last time you drove on a full tank of gas and had to fill up not once, but twice in a day? Driving 10-15 hours a day isn’t a big deal for me and many other Canadians, but to others it seems insane.

Road trip ferry ride

A real road trip in Canada often requires a car ferry ride, like this one to PEI


My longest weekend road trip was from Toronto to New York City to catch a baseball game. I was only actually in the city for 4 hours, the rest was spent driving and camping.

My longest 3-4 day day ‘long’ weekend roadtrip, thanks to summer holidays, is a toss up between driving to the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick or to Wakami Lake in northern Ontario, each taking more than 12 hours to drive to. Then of course there was my 4,000 mile 10-day US roadtrip. It was kind of like being in Canada, except there seemed to be cities and towns every 30 minutes, instead of long, wide-open roads. Oklahoma, Kansas and other central states in the US came much closer to the Canadian experience I’m used to, but still felt different. Their expansive land was mostly farms and agriculture, instead of forests and lakes. The influence of people was around, even if you didn’t see them.

It’s just a different mindset and experience here in Canada, compared to Europe or even the US. Most of it has to do with infrastructure I think. You can take high speed trains or super-cheap low cost flights between countries in Europe, where fuel costs and rental prices are high. So, why would you drive? Plus, everything is packed together, you’ll more often than not just be driving from town to town in traffic, instead of enjoying what we like to call the ‘wide open road’. There isn’t a need to take a road trip, it’s almost a forgotten travel experience in some countries.

Arctic Watershed Sign

A uniquely Canadian road trip sign


In the US, roadtrips are common but the US has denser population centres and plenty of cheaper flying options throughout most of the country, creating more options and less of a need to drive long distances. In Canada though, the roadtrip is more of a necessity. It often costs more to fly across our own country than it does to fly to South America or Europe. Our trains are great, but considered overpriced by almost anyone who visits. Would you pay $1,000 for a one-way economy train ride across your country? Sure, it takes more than 3 days but that doesn’t include meals or a bed! For those extras you have to pay $2,500.

We simply have so much land, so spaced out, that cheaper transportation options often don’t exist. A gruelling bus ride is possible across the country, but only has so many stops, there is no freedom to get out and explore where and when you can. If you want to explore Canada properly, you need to hit the road on your own.

Road trip wildlife

Checking out the wildlife on a Canadian road trip

I’ve enjoyed road trips in many countries and am happy to say Sweden, Korea and New Zealand had some nice escapes, where you could drive out into the wilderness and have an almost Canadian experience, but it still usually seemed like the next city or town was right around the corner. The road trips were all great fun, but still somewhat “short” compared to what I was used to here at home.

Here, I know many people who think sitting in a car for 10 hours isn’t considered a waste of time, it is considered part of the adventure and part of the fun in Canada. Sure, you may spend 24 hours driving a car for a weekend road trip, but that’s just the way it is. On a real Canadian road trip you either take a break at some quirky roadside attraction, or just drive until you need fuel. It seems that from my travels the only people who really understand the Canadian road trip are Australians. Perhaps that should be my next road trip destination?

I guess the journey is often just as big an adventure as the final destination here in Canada.

About Red Hunt

A former journalist and business analyst that now works in the world of travel marketing. Based in Toronto, Red Hunt has travelled to more than 40 countries over the past 10 years. You can follow Red on Twitter @redhunttravel.