Vancouver, Canada is one of my favorite places in the world to visit. Every time I go, I find myself grabbing a real estate guide, with the dream of moving to a waterfront condo on Coal Harbour. Once a hidden gem, Vancouver gained worldwide attention in 1986, at the World’s Fair (Expo ’86). Since then, millions of tourists have flocked annually to the city. In 2010, the eyes of the world once again turned to Vancouver for the Winter Olympics. Successfully, Vancouver showcased its beautiful city and surrounding area during these two weeks. Now Vancouver is as popular as ever and hotels regularly fill up during peak seasons.
Recently, I planned a cruise out of Vancouver to Alaska. Many questions come up during the planning phase of a trip to Vancouver. However, the first question was, how do I get to Vancouver? Living in South Carolina, flying to the west coast was my best option. For travelers living in the U.S.A., flying into Canada can be very expensive. In addition to the expensive airfare, frequently you will have an additional connection.
My solution was to fly into Seattle. Seattle is a major airport and typically airfares are much cheaper than flying into Vancouver (for those living in the U.S.A.). Not only did I save money but I also avoided an additional airline connection. There are a couple options to get from Seattle to Vancouver, including trains and buses. The train is a very popular option because of the scenic, hassle free ride. (PT Tip - get a seat on the left side of the train for the best views). In my case, I decided renting a car would be my best option. The drive is 3 hours (the same amount of time it would have been for the additional airline connection).
A few factors lead me to my decision of rent a car. First, I was not confined by train or bus schedules. Renting a car provided me the ability to leave Seattle as soon possible. Second, I could stop along the way. There are many scenic towns between Seattle and Vancouver. I decided to stop at Anacortes, Washington, which is a charming little town near the San Juan Islands. Third, I could stop at a grocery store and pick up food and beverages for the rest of the trip. Fourth, I would have a car for day trips from Vancouver. In my case, the day after we arrived, we drove to Whistler. Whistler is a world class ski community and the drive along the Sea-to-Sky highway is one of the most scenic in the Pacific Northwest. (PT Tip - Be sure to stop along the way at Shannon Falls Provincial Park.)
However, driving does provide a disadvantage, which is the requirement to pass through Customs and Border Protection. Depending on the time of day, you could end up waiting in traffic at the border. If you suspect you will cross the border during a peak time, you might want to consider altering your trip to avoid the delays (or take the train). Also wait times going into the U.S.A. are usually longer than going into Canada. For border wait times, see the website cbp.gov.
When crossing the border, always be prepared. Have your passports ready and be prepared to answer a handful of questions. Border crossings are no place for fun and games. I’ve crossed the U.S.A./Canadian border hundreds of times and have been pulled over about ten times. Being asked to pull over for additional questioning and a car search is no fun, and will add additional time to your trip (or they could refuse you access to their country). Do not give the border patrol officer a hard time; they can make your life difficult. (PT Tip - don’t change lanes frequently when waiting at the border and never pull up right behind the car in front of you at the booth. Pictures of the car and license plate are taken once a car pulls into the booth. If you block this picture, you can expect the border patrol office to be very unkind to you.)