If you’re planning a trip to Canada there’s a good chance you’ve been researching all the awesome things you should do! But, as we all know, the things you don’t do matter too. As an all-around great human and awesome traveller, it’s important to be respectful when visiting another country. Part of this is understanding a few of the things you shouldn’t do so you can avoid stepping on any toes, getting into trouble or feeling really awkward! To help you have an amazing time in Canada, here are my tips on 13 things you really need to avoid doing in Canada as a traveller!
If you’ve had the pleasure of visiting Canada before or are Canadian, please share anything I may have missed! I’d love to hear them and I know other travellers would too. Pop into the comments below and share your thoughts and experiences.
1. Get out of your car when you see a bear
Put the iPad down and get back in your car. I was genuinely shocked by the number of tourists who jumped out of their cars and ran over towards bears on the side of the road. Matt even saw a group of tourists get out of their car, run over to the bear then run back to the car to get the bear spray so they could spray the poor love if it came near them. It’s not just for your safety that you stay in your car but also for the safety of the bears. So, stay in your car and observe from a safe distance. According to Parks Canada, when a bear encounters people, it can alter its path of travel and be displaced from important habitat, react aggressively or become habituated and more likely to enter a campground. If you want to know more about bear safety, this is a great resource.
It’s also important you don’t approach wildlife, no matter how beautiful as they may be dangerous. Elk, for example, are particularly aggressive when calving, despite how chilled out they can look from a distance. If you aren’t a wildlife expert, you may not be able to spot when Elk are calving and could potentially get yourself and your family into a dangerous situation.
2. Drive unsafely around wildlife
If you are lucky enough to spot a bear or other wildlife, be sure to pull over safely. We saw lots of people lock up their brakes and just stop in the middle of the highway without warning or fail to pull over properly, leaving half their car hanging out in the road. Then, of course, they flung their doors open without checking for oncoming traffic and piled out to get their bear selfie. Sometimes, 2018 is too lit for its own good. Be sure to pull over safely, use your hazard lights to notify other drivers, take a photo then move on. It’s not worth risking your own, the bear’s or other people’s lives.
3. Feed the wildlife
Feeding animals or wildlife in Canada may do more harm than good (that includes you necking down TimBits in your car). As you move around Canada, you’ll often see signs telling you not to feed the wildlife. It’s not just a friendly suggestion, it’s serious! And, some municipalities have by-laws that allow you to be charged and fined for animal cruelty. Feeding the wildlife can make animals dependant on artificial food sources, unhealthy, increase the risk of road death, aid the spread of disease and reduce their natural fear of humans. Don’t mess with the eco-system, bro! You can read more about the do’s and don’ts of feeding the wildlife here.
4. Underestimate mountain weather
If you find yourself travelling through mountainous areas like the Canadian Rockies, don’t underestimate mountain weather! One minute it can be blue skies, sunshine and all around good times, the next it can be overcast and rainy. You should always have a waterproof jacket with you, one that’s easy to put on, take off and roll back up to stash in your backpack when the skies clear. This also applies to packing because I thought summer everywhere around the world meant blue skies and hot weather. In places like Banff, Jasper and the Icefields Parkway, I was freezing and had to wear thermal underwear, ski coats and a beanie.
5. Be bear unaware
If you’ve never travelled somewhere where bears are active, it can be scary. My mum was so nervous when Matt and I said we were going to Canada! Turns out, bear safety isn’t just important for travellers, it’s really important for the bears too and being bear aware is very easy if you follow a few simple guidelines. If you’re camping, like we were, focus on avoiding encounters by managing your food, smells and garbage. Camp only in designated areas, keep yourself and your entire campsite from odours, store any scented items including food, toiletries, garbage, cooking and cleaning supplies in a bear bin or securely locked inside your car. Never store them in or around your tent. Be sure to wash your dishes and cooking equipment right away and remove any food scraps.
As I understand it, there’s a three-strike system for bears who enter a campsite and cause an issue. In the first instance, Parks Canada will take note of the incident. In the second, the bear may be relocated from the area but, if it finds its way back and there is a third incident, the bear can be destroyed! Bears are creatures of habit so if they get food from a campsite once because one person wasn’t diligent, they will keep coming back time and time again. It’s our responsibility as visitors to their habitat to ensure our human activities don’t interrupt theirs. So, it’s imperative travellers are vigilant and adhere to the bear aware requirements, not just for yourself but for the bears.
6. Hike unprepared
If you’re going hiking in Canada it’s important to be properly prepared, especially if going solo. You should invest in bear spray and learn how to use it safely and properly. You should also do some research on how to travel safely in bear country. This guide by Parks Canada is fantastic and a must-read. Of course, you also need to take all the other proper hiking safety precautions like packing the proper supplies, following a well-marked trail, let someone know where you’re going and trust your instincts.
7. Forget to tip
Tipping is part of Canadian culture but, if like me, you aren’t used to doing it, you may not be aware what happens when you don’t tip. Briefly, a server in a restaurant, for example, needs to make a certain number of tips per shift. The tips aren’t just for them, they’re divided up among other staff in the kitchen, for example. If a server doesn’t make enough tips in a shift, they have to tip the other staff with their own money! Crazy, right?! So, be sure to tip!
8. Underestimate border security
Canadian border security is no joke and having a previous criminal record may make you ineligible for entry into Canada. Pretty sure Chris Brown and G-Eazy have learned the hard way. If you have any doubts, be sure to research the entry requirements before you book anything or set off and, when you do arrive, be polite and answer all questions honestly.
9. Disrespect First Nations people
Using terms like, ‘Eskimo,’ ‘Indian,’ or even, ‘Native American,’ when referencing Canada’s First Nations or Indigenous people as it isn’t appropriate. If you’d like to read more about it, there’s quite a detailed blog post here.
10. Be a litter bug
Look, I don’t even know why you’d want to litter, especially in a place as spectacularly beautiful as Canada, but it does happen. We stopped in the middle of nowhere to eat our lunch and take some photos of the mountains and as we got out of the car and walked a few feet into the wildflowers we came across a discarded, dirty diaper. What the heck! Not only is bad for the environment, it’s a potential hazard for wildlife too (as discussed in #3 and #5). Be sure to place all your trash in garbage bins, take it with you and pick up any rubbish you see in places you visit.
11. Go out on a glacier without sunscreen
This item could also be titled ‘RIP Nose.’ I, stupidly, went hiking on the Athabasca Glacier for three hours without putting on sunscreen. Yes, you’re right, it does seem like a pretty simple thing but my big, dumb, Aussie butt forgot that cold weather can still equal sunburn. Luckily for me, it was very windy that day and I wrapped most of my face up in a scarf to avoid windburn, popped on a beanie and wore my sunglasses. But, you guys, my poor nose… it was out there taking the full brunt of the burn. Twas red for days.
12. Treat others with disrespect
Canada has a fantastic approach to acceptance, inclusion and equality. It’s not appropriate in Canada or anywhere else, for that matter, to treat anyone from the LGBTQ+ community with disrespect. Same-sex marriage is legal in Canada and gender reassignment surgery is covered by health care, which should give you some insight into Canada’s stance on acceptance and love. Be sure to respect those whose religious beliefs you may not agree with, minorities, people of colour and, well, everybody, really!
13. Arrive without an ETA
You gotta get yourself an Electronic Travel Authorisation before you leave for Canada and you need one whether you’re flying to or transiting through Canada! You can get it sorted really easily online and it’s $7CA at the time of publishing. Check out the official website and apply online here.
BONUS TIP! Don’t underestimate just how big Canada is!
Yeah, it’s big! We underestimated a couple of driving days and got our butts kicked by Canada’s girth! If you’re doing a road trip, like we did, be sure to use a reliable app like Google Maps to calculate your driving times, distance and be sure to factor in toilet breaks, rest and food breaks.
Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.