During a meeting, before jetting off on my year abroad, I remember hearing Seonaid Dodds advising all exchange students going to Canada to make friends with someone with a car. I thought ok, well yes, that helps in a lot of situations, but why Canada in particular? Now I get it. Canada is the second largest country (geographically) in the world. And with a population of just over 35 million, getting around can prove pretty difficult as there is not a huge need for public transport in the more rural areas. BUT FEAR NOT. IT IS POSSIBLE. This year, most of my friends are also international students on exchange, and so, none of us have a car. We managed to see everything we wanted, and here is how.
- HIRE A CAR – Of course the obvious solution is to hire a car. I have done this quite a few times this year with groups of friends and it has worked out well. But there are a few things to bear in mind. Firstly, check out what age you have to be in order to hire a car. Here in Québec, most car hire companies only allow you to hire a car if you are 25 years old and over, however, there are exceptions. Some companies allow drivers aged 21 and over to hire a car, for an extra fee. It is a case of shopping around and doing your research. Also, be aware that in Québec they prefer you to have a drivers licence in either French or English, but again, some companies aren’t so particular. I have been 20 years old for most of my time here and so I have had a pretty good excuse not to drive, but that means finding someone who is willing and comfortable to drive, even in snow storms etc. A good idea is to add a second driver to your policy and that way two people can share the responsibility of being the driver, especially good if you’re going a long way.
- GREYHOUND BUSES (and other companies, but I haven’t used any others) – Greyhound offer services across Canada. I have a friend who took a bus from Montréal to Calgary, which took only 3 days… Yea, not for me. But, it is possible. Greyhound is perfect for shorter journeys from city to city. You can find very reasonably priced tickets if you search early enough, and they have student discounts as well. Journeys to Boston, New York, Chicago, Toronto, etc. take around 6-15 hours by bus. For this reason, many people choose to take a bus late one night and arrive at their destination the next morning. This allows you to save money on accommodation for one night and gives you a full day to explore your destination. Of course you aren’t guaranteed a good night’s sleep, but you’re a student, you should be used to that.
- STUDENT ORGANISATIONS – Québec offers a lot of very unique activities which need to be experienced, however, they often require you to somehow get out into the heart of the countryside. I have been able to enjoy various trips and activities thanks to various student organisations who organise trips specifically for international students. In Montréal, I have been on trips with an organisation called Interstude and also with my halls of residence. The prices of the trips are great value and often take you to local, off-the-beaten-track locations that you may not have thought of. These are also great opportunities to meet some new people who want to explore like you!
- PURE LUCK – Within the first few days of being in Canada, I was informed I had to make a journey to the US/Canada border in order to get a document (don’t worry not everyone has to do this, they just forgot to give me a study permit when I arrived… :))))) ). At the time, I was jetlagged and could barely speak French and had no idea how I was going to get to the border with not being able to hire a car and with no friends in a completely new country. But there is always a solution. A lady from the university phoned me that night and told me another girl who lived in my residence had the same problem. She explained that the other girl’s parents had friends in Montréal who would be willing to take me to the border with them. All I had learnt about stranger danger went straight out the window and I accepted the very kind offer to leave with them at 8am the next morning. If you need to get somewhere, you’ll get there somehow. The rumours are true, Canadians really are the loveliest most helpful people.
I have seen so many amazing places this year and you can do the same. Car or no car.
Travel safe and explore always.
Get in contact with any questions!
P.S. I TURNED 21!!! Having a birthday abroad is such a unique experience. I have never had such an international guest list.