The next stop on our Canadian journey was The Rocky Mountains baby! More specifically, Banff, Alberta. Banff was a place I had always heard about and could only have ever dreamed of going to and somehow, I had made this a reality. Don't let anyone talk you out of your choice, trust me you will make the right one in choosing Banff!
Personally, Michael and I got there via driving as we were heading back to Banff via the United States (road trip number two) so we drove back through the USA/Canada border in Washington and drove straight to the Rockies.
Alternatively, you can fly straight into Calgary which is about a 90-minute drive from Banff. For transport from Calgary to Banff you can catch a bus (there a few different companies that offer this service). My recommendation would be through Brewster, a well-known travel company in Canada.
Be sure to get a window seat and do NOT at any point start reading a book or looking at your phone... trust me, you want to see the Rockies in all of their beauty as you enter Banff. It is one of the most heart stopping moments you will have if you've never seen mountains like this before.
CHOOSING A DESTINATION
I personally chose Banff as I had heard great things about its mountains and its nightlife (what more could you want as a 23-year-old girl on the other side of the world!). I had done all the Googling you can imagine before coming to this decision and it was one I fought for and am glad I did.
The only other competitor at the time was Jasper which personally I was never interested in but due to having more jobs available was something we did have to consider at one point. I would just recommend doing your research and really thinking about what kind of lifestyle and experience you want.
From my perspective Jasper has a lot less going on than Banff (no hate Jasper! Just my personal opinion). When I visited, I couldn't help but feel like I'd seen everything Jasper had to offer in a couple of days. Which might be just what you want though so like I said just do your research. In comparison Banff has a lot more restaurants, cafes, bars, nightclubs and activities and being quite a social butterfly myself Banff spoke to me a lot more for this reason. Don't get me wrong Jasper was pretty to see and I'm glad I visited, but you just have to really consider what kind of experience you want to take out of your summer season and base your decision on that.
We experienced some difficulties finding work in Banff which I later realised was probably because of how beautiful Banff is. I had to compete for a job with hundreds of other people who also saw the beauty in this wonderful little spot on earth. I did not give up though! I did video interview after video interview while I was still in my winter season at Big White and yet I still didn't land anything before departing on our second road trip after the winter season ended. Michael could find more work available in Jasper but my heart was set on Banff so I said stuff it, let's just go on this road trip and we'll figure it out once we get there.
Upon arriving in Banff Michael had scored himself a job and staff accommodation working at the Banff Gondola for Brewster (yes, the place I mentioned earlier!). I however was still searching. Which might I add was so unlike me to be this unorganised. But hey what can I say, Canada really chilled me out.
Just when I thought I was committing to a summer season of living out of my van penniless, my persistence with my job search finally paid off when I got an interview for a housekeeping role that came with staff accommodation right on Banff Avenue. It was our very first day in Banff when I put on my best clothes and did my hair and makeup in the back of the van and rolled out of the car and walked right across the road into the Rundlestone Lodge and got the job on the spot!
I made some of my best friends in Canada here and could not have been happier with where I ended up. It paid about $14 an hour and I'd sometimes find a small tip in my rooms if I was lucky. I'd do it all again for free if it meant I could spend that much time with my Banff friends again (if you're reading this, I miss you and I love you!).
As I mentioned earlier, I was provided staff accommodation through my housekeeping job at The Rundlestone Lodge. I shared my house with 4 other girls and the floors above and below me were all Rundlestone staff as well. My bedroom was quite small and I slept on a single mattress on the floor with my roommate about a meter away from me on her single mattress (it was cosy).
Now I know what some of you might be thinking, does this mean Michael and I lived separately for the whole season? You're damn right we did! Personally, it had always been a dream of mine to experience what it's like living in a share house alone. I'd only ever lived in my family home and then straight into a share house with Michael at Big White which all of a sudden felt very grown up of our relationship being just 23 years old. So, the way it all turned out (him finding a job with its own staff accommodation and me doing the same) I was actually quite excited about.
It made it all the more exciting, I got to meet his housemates (one of which is now our close friend) and he got to meet mine. It was like we were living our own experience there while also sharing it with each other. Of course for the times we missed each other we had our trusty van, Barbie! We would drive her to a quiet street and watch Netflix together in the back and live like we were on the road trip again. Our van also came in handy if we'd drive to someone's house for drinks and wanted to stay the night!
But my advice for anyone moving to Banff is to just apply through local job boards like this and to look directly on Brewster's website here. Brewster runs most, if not all of the activities in Banff and Jasper so it has a lot of positions to fill.
SPENDING/COST OF LIVING
The cost of living in Banff was not much different to the cost of living in Big White. Obviously being in a tourist town comes with tourist prices! But being a resident of Banff, you slowly learn all of the cheaper ways to dine and shop here.
For all of your groceries head to Canmore. There is a Safeway and Save-On-Foods there and I promise you it is so much cheaper than the grocery store in Banff. It's also one of the most beautiful places you'll ever do your groceries so there's that.
However, if you don't have a car and it's going to cost you more to get to Canmore than it would to just buy your groceries at the more expensive store in Banff then just do your shopping in Banff.
As far as dining out being that you are in Canada you will need to tip your servers so just remember that when you think you're getting a bargain on a burger and fries at your local, always remember to add the tip!
As far as my rent goes, I think I was paying about $210 a fortnight. A LOT cheaper than rent at Big White.
PLACES TO EAT
Where to start with this one. My oh my. I'm just going to give you a list.
Beavertails: You HAVE to go here and try a beavertail. I'm not too sure how else to describe it other than a big flat pastry bottom with whatever topping you want on the top. Personally, my go-to combination was Nutella on the bottom topped with Reece's Pieces and caramel sauce.
Mary's Popcorn shop: The name says it all. This place sells THE best caramel popcorn I've ever eaten in my entire life. It will be one of the first places I stop at when I next visit Banff.
The Fudgery: This is a fudge shop which is responsible for the sweet maple-y scent that wafts through Banff Avenue daily. Between this fudge shop and the popcorn shop Banff Avenue smells like a Glasshouse candle.
Boston Pizza: This was one of my go-to's while in Banff for an easy pub style meal. My fav was their chicken tacos! They also do great pizza, pasta and desserts.
Aardvark Pizza & Subs: Being the pizza lover that I am this place was my bread and butter for a pizza night or go-to hangover meal. They do the best pizzas in Banff and oddly feels like a nightclub if you go there at night (they pump really loud music and there's heaps of people lined up trying to get a greasy meal before they head home for the night).
The Old Spaghetti Factory: This place was awesome for a great value Italian feed. They do meal deals that are such good value for money and you always leave with leftovers.
A&W: This was Michael and I's second favourite takeaway joint in North America (Whataburger being #1). The chips were fantastic and the burgers were the perfect combination of both fresh and salty. You have to try one of their famous root beers too.
Honestly, most places in Banff are really good. Just try anywhere that looks good or has a good menu and you most likely won't be disappointed.
These are the things you MUST do while you're in Banff:
- Go to Moraine Lake (pictured above). No seriously, this is a MUST. You cannot skip this no matter what. I have described this place as heaven on earth and I will do so until the day I die.
- Head up to Sunshine Village and roam around up there (pictured at the very top), I promise it won't disappoint.
- Go kayaking literally anywhere. I went kayaking on Moraine Lake (would recommend 1000 times), I also went kayaking down the Bow River which was also awesome. It's a great way to get up close and personal with nature and the mountains.
- Head up Mt Norquay on the ski lifts, these are some beautiful views of Mount Rundle.
- Horse riding with Banff Trail Riders. Now let me preface this with the fact that I did nothing but complain about this experience due to me being an absolute baby and being terrified of my horse. My horse was a little adventurous which meant it wandered from the beaten track a few times but any normal person would've listened to the helpful tour guide but I instead panicked the entire time and wished it would end already. I CAN say however that this was a beautiful way to see Banff. It takes you on trails along the Bow River and gives you spectacular views of the mountains and trees. So, if you aren't a scaredy cat like me, I would recommend.
- Hiking literally anywhere. Now I didn't do much of this personally... or truthfully any of it. But I heard GREAT things from literally everyone else in the town who actually went on hikes. I'm just not a big hiker, or exerciser at all. But I saw some beautiful photos from the top of Tunnel Mountain, Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountain so those three would be my recommendations for any hiking lovers.
- Some local favs were Cascade ponds, Two Jack Lake and Vermillion Lakes for a nice bike ride or picnic or drinks.
- Lake Minnewanka is pretty amazing. Michael and I hired a tinny and drove all around the lake which was awesome.
- Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary is a place you can go hang out with and pat actual wolf dogs. You can feed them from your hand and hear the wolves in them howl in the afternoon. This was honestly one of my most memorable experiences.
- Icefields Parkway A.K.A the drive between Banff and Jasper is ESSENTIAL. You don't have to go all the way to Jasper but you have to at least make it to Peyto Lake and The Columbian Icefield Glacier. You can also do the Glacier Sky Walk along this route too.
- Lake Louise is one of the tourist hot spots, definitely worth seeing but personally Moraine Lake and Peyto Lake are far more mind blowing.
- Head up the Banff Gondola for THE most spectacular views in Banff in my opinion. You can dine up there or just take a ride up to experience it but my word it'll be one of the best things you see.
- The Central Park Markets were on every Wednesday when I was there and they had live music, all sorts of food and home-made goods. My personal fav was the mini doughnut van, I'd get half a dozen doughnuts and caramel dipping sauce and go read a book in the park while one of the locals played his guitar to the audience. There was also an Aussie pie van there which you can imagine how popular that was!
- West Edmonton Mall is the largest shopping mall in North America and you best believe we went there! This is something definitely worth doing if you have the time/the means to get there. They have a waterpark inside the shopping centre... enough said. Edmonton also has some nice spots to eat if you wanted to stay the night locally as it's a bit of a drive from Banff.
Other notable mentions would just be going out and experiencing the nightlife at places like High Rollers (a place where you bowl and dine and then it turns into a dance floor at night), Dancing Sasquatch, Rose & Crown, Melissa's Misteak and pretty much anywhere on Banff Avenue.
The list is never ending though so for more information on what experiences Banff has to offer head here.
For more photos and recommendations from my time in Banff head to my Instagram @acuttairlines and there's plenty more photos there.
As far as getting anywhere locally you can walk pretty much anywhere or ride your bike if you have one. If you're staying at a hotel you will find most of them offer free bikes as a part of your booking.
If you have a car you can definitely take advantage of that and visit neighbouring towns like Canmore and do the Icefield Parkway drive yourself.
If you don't have a car though, Brewster runs buses pretty much everywhere as far as sight-seeing goes. Everywhere I just mentioned above can be accessed by bus. There is a visitor centre on Banff Avenue where you can book all of your activities and buses there and they will give you all the information you need on that.
Alternatively, if you work for Brewster like Michael did, you get a whooole bunch of free tours and buses with a plus one. Which we took advantage of and did most of our activities this way.
If you need to go anywhere long distance in Canada, I would always recommend just heading to the Greyhound bus website and seeing what trips they can offer you there.
THINGS I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY
In hindsight I would have gone on hikes. Or at least I think I would have liked to. I don't like any sort of strenuous exercise but after returning to Australia I've realised maybe the views would have made it worth it.
Other than that, however I really don't regret a lot from my Canada experience as a whole. I really squeezed the life out of my time there and dove into everything head first. I wanted it to be this way so that I didn't have any regrets and I'm glad I made the effort to be present every step of the way because now I can look back and smile and be so grateful for my time there.
If you're ever lucky enough to see Banff I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.