When Canada finally reopened its border on 9 Aug 2021 (after 17-months), we wasted no time rebooking our Canada trip that had been cancelled twice prior to this. We opted to drive to Canada from the US (instead of flying directly into Canada). We started our road trip in Spokane, spent a few days in Banff National Park, and ended our trip in Seattle. Thank you Canada for reopening the borders to fully vaccinated travelers!
This was our 2nd international trip this year, and we're absolutely aware of the risks we were taking to travel during a pandemic. As we were renting a car and visiting national parks where we could easily avoid crowds, Canada was a rather safe and ideal travel destination. To be clear, we have been and are still taking the pandemic seriously. We're both fully vaccinated (hubby had his booster shot), we wear our KN95/KF94 masks whenever we're out in public, and we're still avoiding people. =P
Canada Road Trip 2021:
After a wrapping up 3 successful days of sightseeing at Banff National Park, it was time to continue our journey to our next destination in Canada...Vancouver. We chose to cross the border back to the US from Vancouver as we wanted to tag on a visit to Seattle on this trip. We definitely fully utilized our rental car to cover a whole lot of miles in both US and Canada within 7 days.
16 Sept 2021 (Thurs): Canmore - Vancouver
We had a long day of driving ahead of us so we checked out of the hotel and departed at 6.15am. Fortunately, we didn't need to execute our last resort of visiting Lake Moraine right before leaving Banff (thanks to the beautiful weather the day before), else we would have had to depart even earlier.
The route we drove from Banff to Vancouver was an easy one along the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1), with a detour through Whistler before ended our day in Vancouver. The total journey was about 900km (560 miles) and took us about 14 hours without any sightseeing stops...certainly a long day of driving but we gained 1 hour going from Mountain to Pacific time zone. Thanks to hubby for driving the entire day! =) The following are some random photos I took along our long drive...
First 1.5 hours of our drive took us from Alberta province to British Columbia province (Banff National Park - Yoho National Park - Golden). There were quite a number of constructions along the way which slowed us down a lil'.
Foggy drive through Canada's Glacier National Park and Mount Revelstoke National Park for the next 1 hour. We made a stop at the town of Revelstoke to fill up our gas and got breakfast at Tim Horton's.
Cute lil' resort close to Revelstoke - Three Valley Lake Chateau.
5 hours into our drive and we were about half way through our drive at the town of Kamloops. We had a quick lunch break around 1.30pm at a small town called Cache Creek and filled up our gas again before taking the turn off Highway 1 into British Columbia Highway 97 and 99. The first part of BC-99 Highway along Fraser River, close to the town of Lillooet, had some interesting landscapes and canyons.
The rest of our drive in the afternoon was actually kinda boring. We passed by Whistler, a popular ski area around 4.30pm but didn't stop in the town coz there weren't much to see. The main reason we took the route through Whistler was to drive through the Sea-to-Sky Highway (Sky-to-Sea for us as we were going the other way). This 163km (101 miles) route between Vancouver and Whistler is known for its awe-inspiring scenery and we had a few stops pinned along the way. However, after 3 days of amazing drive in Banff, we weren't impressed by the Sea-to-Sky Highway at all, partly because it was cloudy and we've had a long day of driving. The cloudy weather also killed our mood for more sightseeing in the city of Vancouver so we ended up not making any stops and headed straight to our hotel.
It was around 6pm when we entered Vancouver and we were welcomed by rush hour traffic. =.= Welcome back to the city and thanks for the reminder that I don't miss traffic at all. After being stuck in slow traffic for about an hour, we finally made it to Holiday Inn Express Surrey at 7pm where we spent the night before driving back to the US. Phew...what a long day!! I went to a Korean supermarket near our hotel to grab some ready-made food for dinner. This hotel would have costs $137/night but we redeemed 12,500 IHG points for our stay so this was another free stay.
17 Sept 2021 (Fri): Vancouver - Seattle
After a restful night and filling ourselves with free breakfast at the hotel, we checked out of the hotel at 9.45am and started our drive back to the US. There are several border crossings between Vancouver and Washington, and the one closest to our hotel was the Blaine Port of Entry, about 30min from our hotel. At the time of our travel, the US border was still not opened to Canadians yet so the border entering the US wasn't busy at all. I thought about using our Global Entry but since there weren't any other cars, we just pulled up to the counter without any wait. We handed our passport and my green card to the officer, he scanned through it briefly and asked what we were doing in Canada. We said vacation, and he said we were good to go...fastest border crossing ever in less than 1 minute...lol!!
Even though the US requires a negative Covid test to enter the country, this rule only applies for people flying into the US, not for people entering via land. So driving across the border was definitely a good choice as it saved us from having to find and pay for a test. =P
Hubby wanted to check out a video game store at Lynnwood (2 hours from the border) and coincidentally, there was a H Mart right next to it so it worked out perfect. I stocked up some Asian food & snacks, and bought kimbap and makgeolli for lunch before continuing our drive to Seattle.
We arrived Seattle at about 1.30pm and made another stop at Pink Gorilla video game store before starting our sightseeing in Seattle. Our first photo stop was Gas Works Park, the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Company "gasification" plant, with a view of downtown Seattle.
2nd photo stop was Kerry Park, a very small public park in a neighborhood with great view of downtown Seattle and the Space Needle.
3rd photo stop was Pike Place Market, where the original Starbucks was located. We thought about trying some food here initially, but when we saw all the people there, we lost interest in being in crowded areas and left after taking some photos.
Quick drive-through Amazon Spheres and Seattle Chinatown before heading to our hotel.
Checked into Holiday Inn Express Seattle Sea-Tac Airport at 4pm. The suite we got was spacious. This hotel costs $161/night and same as all other hotels we stayed throughout this trip, we used our IHG credit card free night certificate for the stay. We chose to stay close to the airport because the we had to return the car that night and picked up another rental car for our last day in Seattle.
After dropping our luggage, we drove 10min to the Westfield Southcenter Mall to pick up Din Tai Fung for dinner. Hubby loves DTF's xiao long pao and since we don't have any DTF close to us, we made a point to enjoy it while we were in Seattle.
After dinner, we drove to the airport to return our 7-day rental car and picked up another new 1-day rental car for our last day in Seattle. National only allows free rental redemption of up to 7-days, which explains why we had to 'break' our rental into 2 separate reservations. I was able to choose any car from the Executive Elite aisle but we decided to go with a Toyota Camry for fuel efficiency. =)
18 & 19 Sept 2021 (Sat & Sun): Seattle - Nashville - Huntsville
We didn't have much planned for the last day of our trip so we just chilled and hang out in the hotel until 2pm (I requested for late checkout). We were trying to rest more before taking the red-eye flight back to Huntsville.
After a chillaxing morning, we drove to Redmond where Nintendo America's HQ and Microsoft's HQ were located. Hubby loves these two companies so this photo stop (of the buildings) was for him. =P It was Saturday and nobody was working so the place was quiet.
After making another stop at the Westfield Southcenter Mall to check out the Uniqlo and Daiso stores, we made it to the airport at 6.45pm to return our rental car and catch our flight home. Seattle airport was pretty empty and everything went smoothly and quickly. I used my United Travel Bank cash to book our flights from Seattle to Nashville for $116/person. My United Travel Bank was funded with the $250 airline credit from my Hilton Aspire credit card so our flights were technically free.
Went to The Club lounge using my Priority Pass to have some snacks while we waited to board our flight to Chicago at 11.30pm.
We were upgraded to 1st Class for our flight from Seattle to Chicago thanks to my United Silver status. I was surprised that they served a meal for this 4-hour flight. =) Our 2nd flight from Chicago to Nashville was quite full but luckily it was only a 1.5 hour flight.
We arrived Nashville at 9am and picked up another rental car and drove 2 hours to our home. This one-way rental from Nashville to Huntsville was yet another National free rental day redemption. =)
That's a wrap for our US/Canada Road Trip, another successful pandemic travel for 2021. We are glad that everything went smoothly and we were able to stay safe and healthy throughout the trip. I'm certainly not taking for granted the opportunity and ability to travel safely and freely during the pandemic. Let's hope 2022 will be a better year for travels.
Daily maps of our road trip.
9 rental days and 2,283 miles (3,674kms) for a total of $43 (RM181). =)