Canadian Rockies Travel Tips
Compared to other parts of the world, Canada is a relatively safe place to visit. That said, wherever you are traveling, carry a medical kit that includes bandages, insect repellent, sunscreen, antiseptic, antibiotics, and water-purification tablets. Good first-aid kits are available through most outdoor shops.
Travel through the Canadian Rockies during winter months should not be undertaken lightly. Before setting out in a vehicle, check antifreeze levels, and always carry a spare tire and blankets or sleeping bags. Frostbite is a potential hazard, especially when cold temperatures are combined with high winds (a combination known as windchill). Most often it leaves a numbing, bruised sensation, and the skin turns white. Exposed areas of skin, especially the nose and ears, are most susceptible.
Hypothermia occurs when the body fails to produce heat as fast as it loses it. It can strike at any time of year but is more common during cooler months. Cold weather, combined with hunger, fatigue, and dampness, creates a recipe for disaster. Symptoms are not always apparent to the victim. The early signs are numbness, shivering, slurring of words, dizziness, and, in extreme cases, violent behavior, unconsciousness, and even death. The best way to dress for the cold is in layers, including a waterproof outer layer. Most important, wear headgear. The best treatment for hypothermia is to get the patient out of the cold, replace wet clothing with dry, slowly give hot liquids and sugary foods, and place the victim in a sleeping bag. Warming too quickly can lead to heart attacks.
If you’re on medication, take adequate supplies with you, and get a prescription from your doctor to cover the time you will be away. You may not be able to get a prescription filled at Canadian pharmacies without visiting a Canadian doctor, so don’t wait till you’ve almost run out. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, ask your optometrist for a spare prescription in case you break or lose your lenses, and stock up on your usual cleaning supplies.
Believe it or not, AIDS and other venereal and needle-communicated diseases are as much of a concern in the Canadian Rockies as anywhere in the world today. Take exactly the same precautions you would at home–use condoms, and don’t share needles.
Giardiasis, also known as beaver fever, is a real concern for those who drink water from backcountry water sources. It’s caused by an intestinal parasite, Giardia lamblia, that lives in lakes, rivers, and streams. Once ingested, its effects, although not instantaneous, can be dramatic; severe diarrhea, cramps, and nausea are the most common. Preventive measures should always be taken. Pristine (www.advancechemicals.ca) is a Canadian company that has developed water bottles with built-in filters; the alternative is boiling water for at least 10 minutes or treating with iodine.
It’s a good idea to get health insurance or some form of coverage before heading to Canada if you’re going to be there for a while, but check that your plan covers foreign services. Hospital charges vary from place to place but can start at around $1,000 a day, and some facilities impose a surcharge for nonresidents. Some Canadian companies offer coverage specifically aimed at visitors.
Employment and Study
Banff is especially popular with young workers from across Canada and beyond. Aside from Help Wanted ads in local papers, a good place to start looking for work is the Job Resource Centre (314 Marten St., Banff, 403/760-3311, www.jobresourcecentre.com).
International visitors wishing to work or study in Canada must obtain authorization before entering the country. Authorization to work will only be granted if no qualified Canadians are available for the work in question. Applications for work and study are available from all Canadian embassies and must be submitted with a nonrefundable processing fee. The Canadian government has a reciprocal agreement with Australia for a limited number of holiday work visas to be issued each year. Australian citizens aged 30 and under are eligible; contact your nearest Canadian embassy or consulate. For general information on immigrating to Canada, contact Citizenship and Immigration Canada (604/666-2171, www.cic.gc.ca).
Visitors with Disabilities
A lack of mobility should not deter you from traveling to the Canadian Rockies, but you should definitely do some research before leaving home.
If you haven’t traveled extensively, start by doing some research at the website of the Access-Able Travel Source (www.access-able.com), where you will find databases of specialist travel agencies and lodgings in western Canada that cater to travelers with disabilities. Flying Wheels Travel (507/451-5005, www.flyingwheelstravel.com) caters solely to the needs of travelers with disabilities. The Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (212/447-7284, www.sath.org) supplies information on tour operators, vehicle rentals, specific destinations, and companion services. For frequent travelers, the annual membership fee (adult US$49, senior US$29) is well worthwhile. Emerging Horizons (www.emerginghorizons.com) is a U.S. online quarterly magazine dedicated to travelers with special needs.
Access to Travel (800/465-7735, www.accesstotravel.gc.ca) is an initiative of the Canadian government that includes information on travel within and between Canadian cities. The website also has a lot of general travel information for those with disabilities. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (800/563-2642, www.cnib.ca) offers a wide range of services from offices in Edmonton (780/488-4871) and Vancouver (604/431-2020). Finally, the Canadian Paraplegic Association (613/723-1033, www.canparaplegic.org), with chapter offices in Calgary (403/228-3001) and Vancouver (604/324-3611), is another good source of information.
Traveling with Children
The natural wonders of the Canadian Rockies are a marvelous place to bring children on a vacation, and luckily for you, many of the best things to do–walking, watching wildlife, and more–don’t cost a cent.
Admission and tour prices for children are included throughout the Explore chapters of this book. As a general rule, these reduced prices are for children aged 6 to 16 years. For two adults and two or more children, always ask about family tickets. Children under six nearly always get in free. Most hotels and motels will happily accommodate children, but always try to reserve your room in advance and let the reservations desk know the ages of your kids. Often, children stay free in major hotels, and in the case of some major chains–such as Holiday Inn–eat free also. Generally, bed-and-breakfasts aren’t suitable for children and in some cases don’t accept kids at all. Ask ahead.
As a general rule when it comes to traveling with children, let them help you plan the trip, looking at websites and reading up on the Canadian Rockies together. To make your vacation more enjoyable if you’ll be spending a lot of time on the road, rent a minivan (all major rental agencies have a supply). Don’t forget to bring along favorite toys and games from home–whatever you think will keep your kids entertained when the joys of sightseeing wear off.
The websites of Travel Alberta (www.travelalberta.com) and Tourism British Columbia (www.hellobc.com) have sections devoted to children’s activities within the two provinces. Another useful online tool is the website Traveling with Your Kids (www.travelwithyourkids.com).