Our Canada road trip began with Vancouver, as we entered the country through Washington. We spent only two full days in Vancouver because we had our RV with us and had issues maneuvering/parking it in the city, but if you’re in a regular-sized car and are sleeping in it or at an Airbnb/hotel, you should have no issues. During our short stay, we experienced a bit of what Vancouver had to offer, though we tailored our activities to the types of things we enjoy.
I’m an introvert and a small town girl who loves to occasionally visit cities (you should have seen 21-year old me and my obsession with New York). But while I enjoy visiting, I could never live in one or stay in one for an extended period of time. Luckily for me, my boyfriend is from the Philly area and has realized since he left the city that he’s not the city boy he used to be. He and I are on this road trip to potentially find a small town we’d like to move to, while our trips to the city are just for a change of pace (not for seeing whether we’d like to make it our new home). Therefore, we have allotted less time to the places we’re just looking at, but not seriously considering.
For anyone else not that into the hustle and bustle of city life and just taking a quick peek at Vancouver, I thought I’d leave some suggestions based on what I ended up doing in the city while there. I know I missed a lot of what the city is known for, forgive me; but consider this a short list of the few activities specifically targeted toward introverts like me (and feel free to leave other suggestions in the comments too!).
Take a ferry into downtown
It cost us a whopping $1 (Canadian) to take our bikes with us onto the ferry. One of my favorite things in the world is water, especially being on the water rather than in (I’m not that great a swimmer). I love boats, kayaks, paddleboards, and any kind of gently meandering down a slow-moving body of water more than anything. There, of course, are exceptions to my preference of the leisurely pace, such as racing to Catalina Island to get 1st place in the Catalina Island Series 2015 (story on that later). But what’s more relaxing than letting the current take me where it wants to while I float on a board or tube? Or sitting back with a book on a ferry with an incredible sunset to look up from my book and gaze at? I love ferry rides, if you haven’t figured that out yet, and I loved beginning and ending my day exploring Vancouver with a ferry across the Vancouver Harbor.
Bike or walk around
We left Fiona the RV in North Vancouver and recommend you do the same. Leave your car elsewhere, grab a bike or go on foot, and enjoy a stress-free day in a city without having to deal with traffic or parking issues. We biked around easily, passing all the crowds on the sidewalks and the cars stuck in traffic, until we found a place we wanted to stop and get something in (I can’t remember exactly but it was probably a slushie as it was extremely hot outside). We locked our bikes to a bike rack, and decided to explore the rest of downtown on foot. No concerns over parking meters, time limits, parallel parking–bikes are so handy in cities.
Shop at the outdoor produce markets
Although many of the markets don’t look very appetizing on a hot, sticky day with flies flying around the fruit and veggies, a peek at some of the interesting options will make the visit worth it anyway. If you’re traveling in an RV like us, or staying at a hotel or Airbnb with a decent kitchen, be sure to pick up something for meal prep or to snack on later when you settle in for the night. I found some Chinese okra and gobo/burdock root (something I could never find in Oregon) for a stir-fry, as well as some Asian pears and ripe, burgundy cherries. I love cooking in our RV and having fresh fruit for dessert afterwards. Even if you don’t have access to a kitchen, grab a passion fruit or something unusual to snack on while you walk around.
Sometimes, a particular market appears more crowded than the others. Usually, I find that it’s because a large family or two has stopped there to get a few things, and not because there is anything better or more interesting at that specific market. I usually either choose a less crowded one, or circle the block/go somewhere else first, and then return when the large group is gone. No waiting for a group of eight to move before you can reach the Chinese green onions, no shoving past each other and whacking one another with baby carriages, backpacks, elbows, or hips. I come back when there are just a few lone shoppers squeezing peaches and sniffing cantaloupes who will not bother me while I look around.
Visit the library
When visiting cities, I always like to sneak off somewhere quiet to get away from the crowds for a bit. I had just grabbed a snack (some interesting Chinese-style roti bread–it seems Chinese is the theme for my Vancouver trip) and wanted to duck out of the heat and noise of the city for an hour or so. Right across the street from the Chinese place turned out to be the library, and we went inside to find something to read while we gave our legs and introverted selves a break. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that the library had a large collection of zines.
If you’re not familiar with what zines are, Wikipedia defines them as: “a small-circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images, usually reproduced via photocopier.” I browsed through these and found some interesting ones about musicians who didn’t really make it, lawyers who look more like inmates due to their facial tattoos, being a tomboyish lesbian and fighting for the right to not be forced to hold the required flowers in the class photo like the girly-girls, and other random subjects that I didn’t relate to at all but was greatly amused by. I read, recharged my batteries (introverts’ batteries drain very quickly when surrounded by hoards of people), left behind the six or so zines I’d managed to finish, and continued my exploration of Vancouver.
Go out to eat someplace interesting
In a city, when your stomach starts rumbling and you begin looking around you to stuff yourself somewhere, your choices are unlimited. There are so many options when it comes to choosing a place to eat, as all large cities tend to offer. Find something that has good reviews or catches your eye, and go fill your belly. On my first day there, I picked some Korean food that tempted me from afar and was not disappointed. On my second day, the boyfriend chose a Cambodian place for dinner. Once a day, I also cooked in the RV (that stir fry with the Chinese okra, etc. from the outdoor market), either before we left or after we returned. Traveling on a budget means trying your hardest not to eat out multiple times a day, even when in the city.
Grab a drink at a cozy bar
Finish the night off with a drink, if you’d like. Like picking a place to eat, there are tons of places to choose from when you want to grab a nightcap. We just walked around until we saw a sign advertising cheap drinks, and traveling on a budget means I can’t have my favorite Perfect Manhattan, up, with Knob Creek, or Michter’s Rye, neat, every time, if at all (I’ve resisted thus far! We’ll see how that goes…). So we had $4 public sodas at a public house, which—wait, screeching detour–I’m about to start rambling about something only I find interesting:
Apparently, a public house is not only a common name for a bar in Canada, but elsewhere too–though, abbreviated. You know how the British, Irish, etc. go to the “pub?” Well, maybe everyone knew this but me, but I thought a pub was a pub and that’s all there was to it–I had no idea that it was an abbreviation for “public house.” What helped me figured it out is going to the public house in Vancouver during the same day that I read a part of the classic I just finished reading (which I want to give away to one of my blog readers, more details below!*): Silas Marner by George Eliot. After visiting the public house, we headed home to Fiona and stayed up reading while nestled in bed. I happened to come across a scene where Silas ran to the house where the public gathered, which was their local bar, and it suddenly clicked in my brain. Call me dumb, go ahead–this may be common knowledge. But my boyfriend didn’t know either, which makes me feel better. 🙂
Find a venue with live music
This is something we initially planned to do, as my adventure partner/boyfriend and I love to catch a good show in any town we visit. Usually, we opt to see the amateurs try out their new compositions at the local open mic, as my boyfriend plays/writes music and enjoys getting a practice sessions here and there (that’s actually how we met–at an open mic!). Plus, we often end up discovering amazing musicians who simply happen to be shy/not serious enough about their musical talents to perform at a venue. Unfortunately, parking the RV in Vancouver would have been an absolute disaster, so we ended up taking our bikes instead. Biking, exploring the town, going out to eat, and all of the aforementioned would have been incredibly difficult if my guy had grabbed his guitar with him and I carried my art supplies (I love to paint at live music shows), so we skipped the music/art scene and decided to get some food, drinks, and exercise to work off the food and drinks.
Plus, the drive from Bellingham required a few hours of sitting still and driving and we hadn’t gotten used to doing that yet as we had just spent more than two weeks biking, hiking, and swimming in the state of Washington. We had not acquainted ourselves with the sedentary lifestyle at this point. A month and a half into our trip, we now rarely take our bikes around town, and the arch pain in my foot cuts short any extensive hiking (I ordered arch support insoles to my family’s address, which they are waiting to ship to me when I’m staying in one place long enough to receive a package).
Next time I visit Vancouver, I’ll try to put more effort into seeing a show. Maybe I will even stay a little longer, though as I mentioned earlier, I get overwhelmed in big cities if I stay more than a few days. I’ve lived in Los Angeles and San Diego, I’ve spent lots of time in San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York City, and a few months ago, in Philadelphia too. I’ve even been to London, Paris, and Dublin.
Cities, in my opinion, are wonderful to visit–albeit briefly–and not linger in. I know many of you disagree; there are those of you who thrive in cities, not wilt, like I do. You might seek out the biggest, busiest city in every place you travel to. And more power to you, if you enjoy your time exploring the city for weeks, months, or even years at a time. Do whatever makes you happy. Small towns make me happy. Give me places like Truckee or Big Sur, California (population: 16,391 and 839 ) or Golden, Canada (population: 3,708). That’s where I come alive. And I’m sure that if you chose to read this blog post, you’re most likely an introvert too, and you understand.
*FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY: I want to part with a book I greatly enjoyed while on this road trip. While it doesn’t have much to do with travel, I love to get lost in stories from another time and place (which is sort of mental traveling!). It never made sense to me to read books about hiking the PCT when I was hiking the PCT, for instance. I read The Sea-Wolf by Jack London while hiking the PCT (and was mentally aboard a ship while physically on a trail), which I plan to give away soon too, so stay posted. But if you want to me to mail you Silas Marner by George Eliot, tell me something interesting that you know or just discovered–yes, Google is allowed–about the author in a comment below, and I might pick you!