Canada with kids – Travelling with Children
Let me tell you, having children is no reason to stay home. I know well what I’m talking about. Just to make sure that you believe me, I will tell you about my experience on the subject.
As a single parent, I backpacked around Australia and New Zealand with my then five-year-old daughter. We did REAL backpacking, using the Greyhound for transportation and hitchhiking around most of New Zealand. Our accommodation consisted mostly of hostels and tents on the way. We even hiked the famous Milford Sound Track, me and my five-year-old daughter.
Travelling in Canada with kids came later after my son was born. This time we had a camper and travelled in comfort a few weeks every year. When my son was four and my daughter 15, we went back to Australia for another backpacking experience.
My kids have been introduced to backpacking and camping soon at an early age and it’s been a blast and an education like no other.
How you plan your trip depends partly on the age of your children. When they’re small you’re somehow limited and if things don’t go right it can get stressful. With older kids, this is less the case and you have more options.
My personal tips and some thoughts on Canada with kids to start you off
- Don’t leave Destination Canada on your bucket list until you retire because you have kids. Start planning the trip NOW.
- Canada is a safe country to travel with children.
- Decide on the route you would like to take and adapt it to make it fun for the children as well.
- Don’t plan your trip just around your children; you’re the one paying for the trip.
- Travelling with kids doesn’t have to be expensive. You need to feed your family at home too, hit the markets on the way and live healthy.
- Best regions for kids are not the cities; cities are similar all over the world. Plan to experience Canada’s big outdoor and give your children education for life, make this a priority.
- Make a choice what transportation you want to use. An RV or camper give you comfort but limits you in heading to off-road places.
- RV’s use lots of gasoline and staying at campgrounds costs money as well. Wild camping is free of course.
- When travelling with small children, RVs and campers are ideal. You can stop anywhere, change diapers in style and feed the little ones.
- Tenting in Canada is a cheaper option, but with small children, it means more effort and more work.
- Always think about Canada’s wild animals. I suggest you take this advice seriously.
Check your children’s passports
All children who travel require their own passport. Parents must never sign the passport of a child. Children 11 years and older must sign their passport. Children’s passports only last five years and they seem to run out before you know it. Allow at least four weeks to renew one. Save yourself the high cost of a last-minute passport and the hassle that comes with it.
When To Go
How old should your children be before taking them on a road trip in Canada? My advice is to start early. Just think how easy it is to stay at a campground when they are not walking. Once they are walking you have to watch them constantly.
Take advantage of the children under the age of two fly for free rule when you come from overseas and have to pay for flights. It might be tight and uncomfortable, cramped into your seat with a baby on your lap but if have a budget, it’s worth the discomfort. I’ve done it many times and survived.
Maybe you decide to wait with your Canada dream until your children are older. Think about it again! Preteens and teens might not appreciate family time and would prefer places with cell-service and internet, not common in the Canadian wilderness.
Renting a Car or RV
When you travel with children, advanced booking is recommended, especially if you want to travel during the summer month with everybody else. To book a fly-drive package or to book a car or RV separate with one of the major rental companies might be a good idea. For a special rental deal, you have to plan an off-season trip.
Kids Car Seats
In Canada, babies need a rear-facing infant safety seat, while children under 18 kg must be in a forward-facing car seat. Car rental places rent out children car seats for fairly high rates. Check on it before you sign any papers.
Children between 18 kg and 36 kg should have a booster seat. Seatbelts can be used as soon as a child is either 36 kg, 145 cm tall or eight years old.
Fast food places are around every corner in Canada’s larger centres, but less so in small backcountry towns. As appealing as these places are once in a while, a better choice is to cook your own meals if you’re travelling in a camper or staying in a cabin with cooking facilities. Some B & Bs and Airbnb’s will also let you cook.
Stock up at a Supermarket when you pass through a city or larger town, where you will find a huge selection of everything you can think of. Find some markets on the way for fresh local fruit and vegetable and home-baked treats. Markets are fun, even for kids.
Don’t miss out on the campfire cooking experience when you stay at a Government Campground which always comes with a fire pit where you can cook a steak and let the children roast marshmallows on a stick.
Most Canadian restaurants offer booster seats and have child-friendly servers. Look out for the Family type restaurants, where your children may feel more comfortable.
Whether you’re camping or staying in hotels, it pays to book ahead. You don’t want to arrive at a remote place and it has no vacancies and you have to hit the road again with your hungry little passengers.
If you’re not travelling with an RV or Motorhome, you have a selection of accommodations to choose from. Hotels and motels have rooms with two double beds and you get charged per room. If you need an extra bed, just ask and they will bring a portable bed or cots, maybe for a small extra charge.
The last couple of years, Airbnb has become popular in Canada. Most places are unique and reasonably priced. Check whether they place your like takes children. If you sign up for Airbnb through my Link, you will receive $40 towards your first stay at an Airbnb. (Thanks!)
Learn More about other backcountry accommodation.
Be Realistic Know Your Children’s Limits
Children get bored fairly quickly, so try to keep them occupied. If your children never hiked before, don’t attempt a day hike right away. If they’re scared of water, don’t plan a long canoe trip. Start slowly and build up on it; whatever you do has to be fun. It totally depends on the age of your children and their energy level, know their limitation, you are the expert in this. Explain everything to them, communicate and involve them in your travels.
Make them carry their own small pack with some toys and snacks, which helps to make them involved.
Concentrate on activities you don’t have at home and are special for Canada. Wildlife is one of Canada’s identity. And remember to be cautious; if you’re not in a city you are in bear country.
Moose, bears, elk, and buffalo in the north are a common sight on the side of the highway. Watch the eagles circling in the sky. Get your children interested in photography. Get the family used to the open space, living in fresh air and the sight of wild rivers, the abundance of lakes and mountains.
If you are camping or travelling in a motorhome you will most likely stay in some National Parks. All of them have a trail system for easy strolls and longer hikes.
Horseback riding can excite not only adults but kids as well. Most probably an age limit is applied, but a 20 minutes pony ride on a lead rope might be all it needs to satisfy a kids Cowboy spirit.
At most lakes, you can rent canoes, which is a great way to spend a day in the Canadian outdoors.
Nearly every town in Canada has a museum. Drop in and learn about the pioneers, the gold rush and First Nation. Make it a history lesson for the children.
Treasure Hunt For Kids at the Dollar Store
Take your kids to a Dollar Store for an exciting and affordable treasure hunt. Give them five or ten Dollars each and let them buy whatever they want – toys, games, souvenirs, crafts or whatever else they discover. They will be so very happy. You as an adult, see what $20 buys you there; you too will be excited about the awesome treasures you will find.
Dollar Stores, also called Dollar Dollar, Dollarama, Dollar Tree, are located all over Canada and you will find them in most small towns as well.
Popular Children’s Highlights
I find it hard to include special places to visit. Of course, we do have popular places in Canada you shouldn’t miss if you’re nearby. But remember, every place in Canada has something to offer, even if it is not in a tourist write-up. Your fellow travellers might have never heard of those attractions when they brag about all the placed they went to with their kids. Some famous highlights are:
- Dinosaurs Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Drumheller Alberta
- Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump world heritage site, Alberta
- Haida Gwaii, British Columbia
- Historic Barkerville, Cariboo, British Columbia
- O’Keefe Ranch, Vernon, British Columbia
- Galaxy Land – World’s largest indoor amusement park, Edmonton Alberta
- Look out for Winter Carnivals in various locations
- Ice-Skating on a Lake
- Ice fishing is a must; try to go along with locals
- Skiing, Snowboarding and sledding in one of the Ski Resorts
- Dogsledding, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut
- Ice sculpture carving
How To Deal With The Bugs
Be sure to take a mosquito repellent that doesn’t harm sensitive skin. A bug jacket might be a good idea if you’re planning on spending lots of time outdoors. Or better yet, plan your vacation late in the summer when bugs aren’t as much of an issue. Take an “after bite” pen along to help relieve the nasty itch of insect bites.
In spring and early summer, the nasty little ticks are out. Check your children every night.
Have games, songs and activities prepared in advance and make them fun. Bring an I-Pod loaded with family favourites, a charger and an international adapter.
Do lots of explaining when your kids ask questions. Children don’t care about the scenery, or how nice the weather is, or how high the mountains. They want to play on the beach, build sand castles, go swimming, roast marshmallows on a stick, feel comfortable like at home.
Laugh and Don’t Show Your Fear
Things will definitely go wrong sometimes on your trip. Count on that. Maybe it’s a downpour while you’re out hiking, or a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, or a nuisance bear is settling into your campsite. Don’t show fear or uncertainty. Try to laugh and keep the young ones in good spirit. If you freak out, the little ones will as well. You’re the role model, make it fun.
Main Things To Pack
Pack light! Canada is a family friendly, modern country and whatever you forget to pack and bring along, you can purchase in the country.
- Bring layered clothing for everyone, as the temperatures can drop even during the summer months.
- Lots of sunscreen
- Lots of bug spray
- Rain gear
- It’s a good idea to bring along activities for the long car rides. Everywhere you go in Canada can involve very long distances.
- Bring binoculars for the young travellers to zoom in on wildlife.
- Don’t forget a bear bell for hiking
- A camera
- Sandcastle or snowman-making tools (find a Dollar Store in one of the towns you travel through to buy them)
Children who are travelling to Canada without both parents need authorization from the non-accompanying parent. Sometimes this is enforced and other times not but to be safe it’s a good idea to have a notarized letter. Divorced parents should carry copies of legal custody documents.
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