Travel Canada sustainably and affordably

As it´s getting more convenient and cheaper to fly for a wider range of people we seem to forget about the impact of our actions too easily. According to a 2014 statement by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the number of passengers will be expected to more than double within only twenty years. At the same time, the aviation industry strives to cut emissions only by 50 percent to 2050 compared to 2005. Questionable math skills considering the Paris Climate Agreement, huh? For those of you who have never heard of it, flight radar is a pretty convenient tool to check out in real time what´s going on in the sky above you.

 

We made the decision to lower our environmental impact while traveling a while ago. You can say we are not perfect but we are getting better with every trip and we feel good about our growing environmental responsibility. Yes, the best solution would be to cut down on traveling in general, but our Fernweh is still too harsh… So, we try other ways: Back when we were still based in Berlin, we hitch-hiked all the way to the Pyrenees, took a bus into the Italian Alps and shared a camper van with two other people to the South end of Spain. Not to mention that we try to take the train as often as we can afford it. It was neither the comfort we chose, nor the time. We wanted to experience more along the way than waiting in an overcrowded airport terminal, plus, we didn’t want to increase our CO2 footprint by flying. And with the sacrifice of time and comfort, we always ended up with a story to tell or people we got to know. Some of these stories are still our favourite bonfire classics. Like this one time, when we hitchhiked with a Polish couple in Norway and ended up witnessing his wedding proposal on top of Preikestolen! Over the course of all these trips, we only had one bad hitch-hiking experience, which some of you might have read about.

 

Concerning our big Canadian adventure, we actually did some research about getting here on a cargo ship – only to find out that emission-wise, it was not really better than taking a plane and it was also extremely expensive. The only true alternative would have been to row here but that adventure had to stay on our bucket list for now… However, we made the resolution to not book any inland flights until we go back to Germany. Therefore, we would like to share some easy tips on environmental-friendly travel in Canada with you (even though some guidelines are the same all over the world). If you stick to these simple rules you should already make a change:

  1. Avoid flying if not necessary
  2. compensate your flight if you can´t avoid it
  3. take the public transport as often as possible or
  4. use car sharing, rideshares and hitch-hiking opportunities

Of course, Canada is HUGE so we understand why many people prefer a plane over a Greyhound bus (quicker, cheaper, easier booking, …). In that case, you should make the effort to compensate your flight. Our own flight to Vancouver was compensated over atmosfair, a German carbon offsetting NGO Sebastian used to work for in Lesotho. But that´s a post in itself as CO2 compensation is a huge topic we´ll talk about another time. Feel free to send us an e-mail if you need some advise. So, let’s get to the nitty-gritty:

Getting around in Canadian cities:

Travelling responsibly is easy if you are within the big cities. The main question that you should ask yourself is: “Do I really need a car?”. In his book “The High Cost of Free Parking”, the author and professor Donald Shoups names some interesting facts about using a car in cities. For example, in under-priced parking areas, an average of 30% of congested traffic is only causes by people cruising around in search of parking! Furthermore, the average usage of a car during its total lifespan is only 5% compared to 95% standing around in your backyard. After living in Berlin for more than seven years, we can state that it’s easy enough to find alternatives. Same for the big Canadian cities. Buses, Subways, Skytrains, Metro – they often get you to your destination quicker than a car because they are able to avoid the city’s rush hour and you don’t have to worry about parking. Another alternative but not yet available in every city in Canada would be Car Sharing. There´s quite a variety out there (evo, CAR2GO, Modo, zipcar…) which are  worth checking out. And if you think public transport and car sharing both suck, go get yourself a bike, longboard or inline skates. We´ve found especially Vancouver to be an extremely bike-friendly city.

 

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Downhill Skating in the Sudetes Mountains, 2017.

Traveling loooong distances:

Cities: easy-peasy. But what about long distance, for example traveling from the East to the West coast? As you might have heard, the population density of Canada is pretty low in most of the interior provinces. Public transport might not even be available and then, it’s comparably expensive. We found that some shuttle buses on Vancouver Island charged more than it would have cost us to drive our own car… Indeed, it’s not as easy as in Europe over here. Nonetheless, it’s still the better choice if you want to lower your emissions.

  • Travelling by Bus

basti.busThe major touristic long distance buses companies we´ve used are Greyhound (USA/Canada), island link (Vancouver Island) and the Tofino bus (Vancouver Island). Unfortunately, we must say that we found their booking systems more complicated and not as organised as the ones we’re used to from Europe. But it’s manageable and we didn’t have any other serious complications. If you are looking for an overall listing of in Canada operating bus lines, the lonley planet offers a nice summary including the areas they are operating in.

  • Travelling by Train

If you want to see Canada by train you could book the grand tour from Toronto to Vancouver with a total of 4,466 km, taking up to 3 days and 4 nights in total. We would absolutely love to experience more of Canada’s wild landscape by train, as there is something very convenient about traveling by train. It gives you the opportunity to work, hang out and see the country all at the same time without having to worry about directions, gas stations, accommodation etc. Yet, we haven´t had the opportunity to experience that trip ourselves, so check out this helpful blog post where you’ll find pictures and quite a lot of information concerning the whole trip. But keep in mind that this post is also advertised on the VIA Rail Canada, a company with a travel-by-train focus, so it might not be neutral!

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The Canadian Railroad is mainly operated by CP (in this picture) and CN.

However, although you won’t see any dark fumes behind the train, you should keep in mind where the train’s electricity comes from. States like British Columbia already use up to 98,4 percent of renewable energy, which makes this choice a low emission alternative but that’s not always the case. Alberta for example produces 47,4 percent of its electricity from coal, 40.3 percent from natural gas and only 12,3 percent are generated renewable. And there’s another downside: most of the train fares are pretty expensive. Compared to the low petrol prices in Canada, trains just aren´t the regular alternative for most travellers. But if you can afford it, they sure are a great and more comfortable alternative to a Greyhound bus!

  • Travelling by ferries and cruise ships
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Travelling on a ferry to Vancouver Island.

Even though we highly recommend taking a longer trip in a kayak or a canoe, not everybody has the time, gear or physical condition to do something like the race to Alaska. Most likely, you will eventually take a ferry or cruise ship to visit some of Canada’s famous coastal islands.

We won’t give you a list of every ferry operator all over Canada as there are quite a lot of them out there. BC ferries are a large one and a good example since they offer an overview of their sustainable operation program online. They are also part of the Green Marine, a programme which issues certifications for environmental responsibilty.  Furthermore, their fleet is operated with diesel, which is not perfect, but at least they are not using heavy fuel oil. (FYI: heavy fuel oil/crude oil is a low quality and cheap by-product of the oil industry with an extremely high amount of sulphur. It’s commonly used in the heavy marine industry such as cruise ships and cargo vessels).

And what about cruise ships? Ahhh, that topic has us ranting on a regular basis. Just don’t. According to a 2012 study of the German NGO NABU, the daily SO2 emission of an average cruise ship is comparatively the same as the daily emission of 376,030,220 cars and the numbers about CO2, NOx and particulate matter are equally shocking. Yes, that figure is not a typo, check it out. It’s mainly so high because these beasts of the ocean run on the already mentioned heavy fuel – which is not allowed in traffic on land due to its toxic composition and wouldn’t work in normal car engines anyways. The pollution caused by cruise ships is just one of the reasons why we would never book a trip on one; there are more environmental, ethical and economic issues which led to that resolution.

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Check out the latest cruise ranking by the NABU in 2017.

  • Ridesharing and Hitch-Hiking

Have you ever heard of POPARIDE? The idea is to share rides and therefore fuel costs and emissions. It’s very common in Europe so we were surprised how few local people know about that Canadian version! Canadians really are as nice and helpfulas their stereotypes and even though everybody seems to have a car, not a lot people seem to share rides to work. We see it here on Quadra every day: Ferries are packed with big trucks and parking lots seem to take up more space than buildings. That “big-truck-mentality” felt strange to us when we first arrived and reminded us of similar experiences in America and Australia. Anyways, why not start offering rides to other people – especially when public transport is rare? Sharing is caring and with most Canadians being so friendly and social anyways, we can’t see why ride sharing shouldn´t get more popular around here. Ride sharing instantly helps your travel to become more eco-friendly, cheaper and way more social! If you have never tried it, do it with your next ride. Log in, offer or search a ride, and see who you get to know that way. Oh, and there´s also a pretty big variety of local ridesharing Facebook groups out there. If you do need help finding them, let us know and we might be able to help.

pop.logoYes, hitch-hiking is completely for free but ride sharing is still cheap and in our experience way more organized, more comfortable, safer and it lets you plan your travel schedule (e.g. departure & arrival) better. If you think about the big picture, ride sharing and hitch-hiking are no long-term solutions either, but at least it helps to reduce emissions quickly and easily until humankind figures out a better solution. We’d love to hear back about your personal experience with it!

 

Last but not least: Our own mobile situation

It would be hypocritical to withhold the information that we have – for the first time in our lives – bought a car over here. We made it to month 4 without one but then we came to Quadra Island. There’s ZERO public transport here, some roads are lone dirt tracks and the island is just too big and wild to always go by bike.  So, with a very heavy heart, we finally settled on a Subaru that allows us to get around here. We still take the bike on short distances, pick up every hitch-hiker we see and offer rides over Poparide (which we really hope will become more popular over here!!). Yet, that car remains a thorne in our side and we are looking forward to the day we won’t need it anymore. We still strongly believe that even small changes in everyone’s lifestyle can make a big difference and although it’s harder over here, we keep trying and so should you 😉

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Exchanging a front calliper with the help of our knowledgable friend Gerald (and Hattie, the goat).

A winterwonderland with nasty issues: Whistler

 – WHISTLER – A name that has a magic ring to it – at least when you’re either into snow sports or mountain biking. In fact, it’s North America’s biggest ski area and every year, it attracts more and more people from all over the world. And although we know about the negative impacts of the ski industry on the environment, we succumbed to the legend’s call to find out what this hype is all about. So about a week ago, we caught a greyhound bus and drove right into the heart of this hyped winter wonderland.

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Arriving to 30cm of fresh powder!

Almost immediately, we were confronted with a problem that is omnipresent in town: The shocking (!) housing crisis. Getting a job in Whistler is the easy part. Almost every shop displays a desperate “We’re hiring!” sign in its windows and it’s quite common to get a signing bonus, free ski pass and free meals. Sounds sweet? Yes…. BUT. These treats are a result of the fact that there is just not enough long-term housing space in Whistler. We soon learnt that this is an issue that is affecting everyone, not only seasonal/international workers.

 

Some employers offer staff housing but the waiting lists are loooong, especially at the beginning of the winter season. And the normal shared houses are being rented out for ridiculous prices (like $2,000 per room and month) and more often than not, you don’t even have a room for yourself. We met full-time working people who slept in campervans (in winter!) because they had not found anywhere to live. We heard of landlords who ask you to pay 6months of rent upfront – in addition to a huge deposit, of course – and who make you sign a contract that strictly forbids you to have friends crashing on your couch. We got told to check a diversity of Facebook groups, magazines and various online platforms h-o-u-r-l-y (don’t hesitate to email us if you need more detailed information about these!) and to accept any offer we might get, no matter how expensive. “There’s always a price to pay in order to fulfil your dreams”, they said.  It seemed that there was no other topic than the housing crisis in our hostel and it was hard to see people’s optimism get crushed and grinded down to pieces with every passing day.

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Baby, it’s cold outside! So let’s wrap our hands around a steaming mug of coffee and browse the internet for housing…

 

There are a few reasons that led to the current situation:

  1. Stupid city planning: We can’t name it any other way (however, we are not sure about how strict the building code is in the valley…). There are loads of luxurious hotels but only a few normal residences. And most hotels refuse to rent some of their rooms out to their own staff because naturally, you can get more money of the tourists. An attitude that already shows consequences though: We saw a fair number of restaurants or shops that are closed because there is just not enough staff to operate them.
  2. International fame: Whistler is North America’s Number 1 and naturally, that attracts many people. Too many people. When talking to locals, they claimed that housing has always been a problem is Whistler but that the issue has become even worse since the little town hosted the Olympics in 2010.
  3. Air BnB: We love the original idea of that platform and have used it a lot on our own travels. Yet, it has become severely commercialized by now and is stealing away living space from locals all over the world (Berlin is no exception there…). When you check out Whistler on AirBnB, they are loads of results in the area – compared to about 1-3 free rooms on Craigslist. Again, a result of the human greed for filthy lucre…

 

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Air BnB in Whistler? No problem if you have enough money…

Over a personal connection and some luck we actually got offered two rooms. Which is something other people can only DREAM OF after a mere week there. And to be honest, we were tempted to take one of them and “pay the price” for living in Whistler. We honestly were because as tough as the housing crisis is, the vibe and community in Whistler are truly great and the snowy mountains do seem like an endless playground. But luckily, we listened to that odd feeling in our stomachs and talked it through…  and then declined both offers. Instead, we decided to NOT let ourselves get exploited by greedy landlords and a totally f’%ked-up system just in order to live in an overly-hyped place. Instead, we made use of HelpX, reached out to some organic farmers on Vancouver Island and settled on a Plan B; a plan that seemed to be more ‘like us’ anyways.

Bye, Whistler and thanks for teaching us this lesson!

 

P.S.: For the podcast fans among yous…

 

 

An Active Arrival

So. We made it! Our journey to Vancouver went smooth as silk and we entered the country of brownbears without any hazzard. We are now proud owners of a beautifully crafted, printed 1year Visa which I am already afraid to lose somewhere on the road…

Vancouver greeted us with an icy drizzle but coming from Berlin, we didn’t even notice. What we immediately realized, however, was the extreme politeness of the Canadians. This loveable stereotype seems to be true! “Excuse me, Sir” here, “Sorry for the inconvenience” there and cheerful “Hi there – Bye Now“s everywhere! And we’re not making it up when we’re telling you that we already scored two free busrides! Jeez, Canada, we’re already in love with you. That first night, the jetlag hit us hard and we went to bed pretty much straight after we had checked into our AirBnB.

scyline vancity

 

Naturally, our time in Vancouver didn’t stay as sleepy. Yes, our jetlag drove us to bed early every night but we did walk around all day. In fact, we did a 33km sightseeing-run just yesterday because I guess that’s what happens when we feel like it’s been too long since a decent workout Click on the picture below to see how we animated our route with Strava & relive (two very recommendable apps).

 

Route Screenshot 01

 

“Vancity” itself is pretty cool: There are looooads of great coffee shops around and we also loved that it’s a perfect city for biking and walking (nice parks and broad bike paths which are separated from pedestrians as well as cars – Berlin, pleeaaase take a leaf out of that book! Please!). We especially loved the vast Stanley’s Park, the markets on Granville Island and the fact that you can see snowy mountains looming behind the scyline. Yet, we also noticed a great number of homeless people but can’t really say more about this issue without having done any further research…

 

 

Today, we’ll jump on a Greyhound bus straight to Whistler Village. Whistler-Blackcomb is THE biggest ski resort in Canada and internationally famous amongst snowlovers so we’re hoping to find a job there. The prospect of spending the winter skiiing/snowboarding is just too tempting and all staff members get a free season pass as well as discounts on gear rentals and accommodation. Wish us luck! And now lean back and enjoy the first result of the – also very recommendable – 1secondeveryday app. The short clip shows us travelling to Canada and running about Vancouver.

 

 

Roadtrippin‘: 5 cities in 5 days

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When I told some of my friends about this roadtrip, some mumbled: “Mhhhhh I dunno, that sounds like more work than fun…” When learning about our route

BERLIN – BAMBERG – (MUNICH) – VIENNA – BUDAPEST –  PRAGUE – BERLIN,

they exclaimed “What the heck… U guys hyperactive!?” And when I pointed out that we would drive these more than 2,000km by car in only five days – well, then the reaction strongly depended on my friend’s nationality. People from huge countries such as the USA, Canada or Australia were like “fair enough” – the Germans, however, … they kept silent but probably thought that my travel bug had had some offspring…

So, let me convince you that it was totally worth it.

Continue reading

Boardwalking the Dawg

mapOh how I love waking up on a sunny Sunday knowing that I have no plans except for a date with my two favorite lads Thor and Sebastian! And since those free afternoons are rare enough, we usually plan some fun, sporty activity. This time, we took along our longboards as well as the cheeky dog with the godly name (he belongs to Sebastian’s sister) and set out for a cycle path going from Berlin all the way to Usedom (“Panke-Radweg”). Indeed, it offered a lovely landscape and overall great skating conditions, so we followed it for about 20km until we took the train back from Bernau to Berlin.

 

What a GREAT day out 🙂 Watch this short clip to find out how an amiable, old geezer can ruin all your efforts to create a we’re-cruisin-cool-as-ice-video…

 

 

P.S.: Psssssst, have you seen the countdown on the right hand side of this page? Yes, it’s true: We only have a few more days to kill until we’re setting off for a next big trekking adventure! Whoop-whoop!!

Like we’re born to run: Cape Town

Hey folks,

Yes, it’s been a little while since our amazing adventures in Lesotho and South Africa but it’s never too late to share some great memories, don’t you agree? This video is about our time in Cape Town over New Year’s 2016/17 which was coined by sporty outdoor action on some days and extreme binge eating on others. Oh, and gusts of wind. Jeez, it was stormy back then…

Anyways, enjoy watching and feel free to comment, we would really appreciate some feedback since it’s our very first video ever 🙂

Hiking in Cape Town

“Now shall I walk or shall I ride?
‘Ride,’ Pleasure said;
‘Walk,’ Joy replied.”
― W.H. Davies

 

And so we started with a classic: The steep hike through Platteklip Gorge up to the city’s iconic Table Mountain. It’s the most direct and therefore the most popular route. The time to get up to the top ranges from 60min (“for the very fit people”) up to 3h. According to our hiking map, the reason for this variety is the fact that Platteklip has a very steep ascent. And jeez, it’s true. Brilliant timing that we had slept in that day and had to push ourselves up there in the blistering midday sun, with almost no shade to speak of. Nonetheless, we arrived 65min later – absolutely DRENCHED in sweat. What a fantastic workout! Up at the top is where you will meet the touristy crowd. Those people who (literally) wait 2-3h for a seat on the cable car and then have an ice-cream up on the summit thinking they earned it. It’s crazy how crowded it was around the cable car station and ridiculous how few people you would meet if you would only walk 50m away from it.

The plateau of Table Mountain encompasses 60km² and there are a great number of other hiking routes up there; the majority of them is considered to be dangerous. In fact, someone told me that each year, more people die on Table Mountain than on Mount Everest!

Interesting (slightly nerdy) fact: Table Mountain was selected as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2011. One reason for this is that there are more plant species growing on it than in the whole of England together! Personally, I was pretty impressed by that piece of information. Oh and ever heard of the “Table Cloth”? Due to the cold, wet air coming in from the ocean there is usually a oddly shaped cloud clinging to the top of the Mountain. The nickname of that phenomenon is perfectly fitting!

When we got back from this hike we showered and then – would you have guessed? – set off for our 2nd hike that day!

We were told that going up Lion’s Head at night to toast to the full moon is one of Cape Town’s traditions. Hence, we figured that it was an ideal summit from which to greet the new year. The walk up there is pretty steep and at some points you need to climb ladders, so it is URGENTLY advised that you take a headlamp or some sort of torch with you! The Cape-Townians know what they are doing though: The view from up there is truly breath-taking (although the fireworks were rather small compared to what we are used to from Germany). You get really amazing views over all the golden city lights. So if you ask me, a nocturnal hike up Lion’s Head (e.g. to watch the sunset) is a definite MUST! But please be more responsible than those smashed, flipfloppy and gin-bottle-but-no-torch-carrying tourists we had to bring back down the mountain… I was honestly relieved when we reached the foot of the mountain without seeing anyone tumble down some dark slope.

Two very awesome hikes! However, learn from my mistake and don’t do them on the same day… Even if you have as many ants in your panties as me – don’t listen to them! I woke up in 2017 as stiff and aching as a 99year-old granny…

But Cape Town offers many more impressive peaks: For instance, if you visit Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (also highly recommended!), you should know that there is no fence at the back of the terrain. You just keep walking and soon you will be passing signs for hiking trails instead of flower beds. I wish we had known this before I decided against a sporty outfit on New Year’s Day… (at least that was my excuse, but the actual truth is that I could barely walk without flinching my face in pain with every step. Seriously, my legs were on fire! Gee, was I whiny that day….).

The other hike I can recommend is the one up to Chapman’s Peak. There’s actually a very popular scenic ocean drive at its foot (http://www.chapmanspeakdrive.co.za/). But naturally, you get an even better view when you get your ass outa the car 😉 The walk with its many wildflowers is very enjoyable and the views you get of the coastline and the other mountains is – again – epic. If it hadn’t been so damn windy that day, I would have wanted to stay up there forever!

Oh yeah, and a little P.S.: Watch some video footage from these hikes in our V-Log about Cape Town.