Several months ago, as I began to think about leaving Canada and heading towards the next adventure in my hazy, crazy life, I pondered how best to use the last few weeks of my North American dream. The answer did not come to me fully formed, rather it fell in place piece-by-fragmented-piece, with thanks mainly to cheap flights and good friends.
A casual scroll through Skyscanner one day in August unearthed a flight from Toronto to London on December 14th for just $240cad. Which when converted to euro, thanks to Canada’s broken currency, is about a fiver (give or take). Knowing my sister would put me up for a few nights in London and that Michael O’Leary would fly me home from there for a song, I booked the flight almost immediately. That just left getting from Vancouver to Toronto.
While an obvious route would be to just take a plane from the city I lived in to the city I was leaving from, I felt that lacked imagination, so I consulted with some friends at that side of the world and made a plan of my own. It went as follows: a plane to New York, staying four nights in Brooklyn; another plane to Quebec City where I would spend two nights; a train to Montreal for a further three nights; finally arriving by train to Toronto and staying four nights before taking aforementioned plane to London.
In all, it took me three weeks to get from Vancouver to Ireland, spending time in five cities on the way. I do, rather optimistically, intend (eventually) writing in detail about each place I visited, but for now I’m just going to simply list some things that I learned from those three weeks.
Cash cash, dolla dolla
Travelling is really not as expensive as people think it is. Or at least, it doesn’t need to be if you’re careful, and I was. I’m fairly easy and my plans were flexible so I was able to book trains and planes in accordance with what were the cheapest travel times. I also saved a fortune by booking my rail tickets well in advance (and then had to fork out that fortune when I needed to change a train after missing my flight to Quebec – more on this fun story later).
Lucky for me, I was able to crash with friends in both New York and Toronto and with my sister in London. I have Hostelling International membership, which gives me a 10% discount on all their hostels, and they have great hostels in Quebec City and Montreal. This left my accommodation costs minimal.
While I understand the urge to treat yo’ self if you only go on one or two holidays/breaks a year, when you travel as much as I do, you learn pretty quickly that you need to keep costs as low as you can. Thus, I limited drinking and going out to one night per city, because gin eats your money and hangovers and sight-seeing go hideously together. Although I did eat out a lot, I also stayed in and cooked a couple of nights. (Ok fine, I made instant noodles, whatever.) And if the hostel I was staying in had a complimentary breakfast, you bet your ass I was stuffing my handbag with extra bagels for later.
During my trip, I spent a week in Quebec completely on my tod. Travelling alone is still, weirdly, kind of taboo and even though I technically moved to Canada by myself, I still knew some people who lived in the city, so going to this place where I didn’t know a soul was going to be a new experience for me. I thought I was going to get sick of my own company very quickly and be forced to prowl French-Canadian Tinder in the name of human interaction and staying sane, but I truly loved being there by myself. I could set my own schedule and see only the things that I wanted to see. If I wanted to spend two hours climbing up a mountain in -5 degrees, then it was up to me to do it. If half-way up I decided I was happy to keep all ten of my toes and turn around then and there, I could do that too. (I didn’t turn around by the way, but I gave it some serious, teeth-clattering thought.)
Plus, if you stay in a dorm room in a hostel, you will inevitably meet any number of solo-travelling Aussies who are only too happy to engage in chat/go for drinks/accompany you sight-seeing.
What could go wrong?
Plenty, actually. Even if you’re a seasoned traveller and voted Most-Likely-To-Organise-All-The-Things three years running, some things will inevitably go wrong. Or in my case, many things. I had booked to fly from New York to Quebec City with a tiny airline called Porter. Few airlines actually fly directly to YQB, so I had a stop in Toronto. When I booked my ticket, the stop over was to be one hour and 15 minutes, leaving me adequate time to get from plane to plane. However as I made my way to Newark Airport that morning, I was notified that my flight had been cancelled and I’d been re-booked on the next flight, which gave me just 10 minutes to get from plane to plane. Now I don’t know what your experience of connecting flights is, but that little time seemed absolutely ludicrous to me. The attendant at the check-in desk agreed, but suggested there ‘might be a chance I’d make it, if I’m quick’. Oh great, ‘a chance’ is it? Thanks lad. That chance went from slim to none when my flight out of Newark was then delayed by over an hour. (Can you guess who I am never flying with ever again?)
The flight that I inevitably missed was the only one to Quebec City that day, leaving me stranded in Toronto. When you’re left high and dry by an airline, it’s their responsibility to put you in accommodation for the night and Porter did do this, but not before their customer service manager in Toronto accidentally gave away my passport. I shit you not, dear reader. In one of the greatest clusterfucks I have seen, this man, who minutes earlier had been handed my passport and at-that-point useless boarding pass by another attendant, managed to hand it over with several other documents to the customers he had just been serving. It was thirty panicked minutes of him searching frantically through his desk and bin while I slowly turned purple before said customers went to board their plane and discovered they now had in their possession the passport of a young Irish woman whose name closely resembled ‘raisin’.
I can offer very little advice as to what to do when things go wrong while travelling except to say, stay calm. Although this is often easier said than done, I assure you panicking is not going to help the situation in the slightest. Take a few deep breaths, sit down, and figure out how to fix the situation. Unless some dude gives away your passport, in which case a thousand blessings to you if you wish to go bat-shit crazy on his ass.