Saturday, October 27, 2012

Snowbird-ing with Hittheroad - my free road trip from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale.

The road trip: 

The car: A 2003 Jaguar sedan

Max km's: 2,900
Time limit: 3.5 days

Day 1 - 15/10/12 Toronto to Washington

For the last two nights I had been couch surfing with Adam in Toronto, and being a Sunday night he had to leave for work early in the morning... meaning day one of road trip number two began at a very bright and busy tailed 5:45am. Lucky I'm a morning person! Adam printed out the 3 copies of the contract and the info regarding crossing the border into the US. I was still waiting on paperwork from HitTheRoad - there was a hold up on the documents I required to cross the border from Canada to the USA, but being a flexible traveller I wasn't too concerned, and planned to stop at the HI Niagara Falls Hostel (as a last resort) to get some wifi and print what I needed.

I had rang Naomi (the owner of the car) the previous afternoon to organize a pick up the and find out her location. She wasn't as close to downtown Toronto as I expected, and the journey involved a 40 minute subway ride to the end of the line, followed by a 15 minute bus trip. We agreed on a meeting time of 8am, so I could try and make Washington before dark. However, growing up in a country-bumpkin world (where nothing exists underground), my lack of metro map reading skills resulted in the pick-up time being pushed back to 9am. In my defense I did take it in the right direction.. 'North'.. but it was kind of the wrong line! Oh well haha, lesson learnt and no harm done, I contacted Naomi to let her know and she was totally OK with my late arrival. We went over the car, which was an immaculate 2003 Jaguar X Type sedan, and filled out the 3 copies of the contract. I was on the road towards the HI Niagara Falls Hostel at about 10:30am after having a good look over my map.

The road trip from Toronto to Niagara Falls was a little hectic, but easy to follow with the numbered highways. I arrived at the hostel around lunch time, had a bite to eat and they very kindly let me use their internet and printer for free. The US border documents finally came through, and I was back on the road at about 2:30pm. My first sightseeing stop was (of course) Niagara Falls. There was limited parking close by, so I just pulled into the first available spot. The falls are spectacular, and I could only imagine how much better they would have been if the sun was out. I wish I had of had about half an hour to explore, instead of five minutes, but I was able to get a few photos before someone official ticketed my car for not paying to park there!


I jumped back in the car and made my way to the Buffalo border. op My instructions were to enter the US through the truck lane, which was quite amusing in a Jaguar! I triple check that I had all the paperwork in order while I waited in line. 

I was stopped by the first official I saw, who questioned whether I was in the wrong lane... luckily David had given me a magnet to put on the outside of the car which made explaining things a whole lot easier! Going through the gates at customs was also quite funny... being designed for trucks, the guy that had to look at my documents was so high in his little cubicle that I could barely pass the paperwork to him from the ground! He asked more questions then I expected and was a little suspicious of the delivery - but after explaining to him the situation as best I could he sent me off to immigration. I waited again, and was served by a bubbly male American official that couldn't stop talking about Summer Heights High haha - Go Chris Lilley!

My advice on crossing the border?

- Have all the documents organized and placed on top of each other in this order:
1. Coversheet (ACE Minifest)
2. Form 3299 (Don't forget to sign it at V&VI
3. Photocopy of the owners passport (and visa if required)
- Make sure you have cash on you - I was charged $6, the border crossing fee.
- Any passengers you are taking with you MUST be declared to HitTheRoad.
- Complete an online USA VISA waiver at least a day prior to crossing the border. It will cost you $14.
- Have your passport ready
- Know the FULL name of the owner of the car - and be prepared to answer questions like 'How do you know the owner of this car?'
- Have all the accommodation stops for your trip organized and printed on a sheet of paper that includes the addresses and phone numbers of the particular hostels/hotels. If you have no idea where you are staying, make one anyway. It makes you look organized, professional and less suspicious to the US Officials. 
- If you are passing through the US, it is also handy to have your departing documentation (e.g. flight itinerary to the next country)

By the time I had successfully passed through immigration it was 5pm, and the darkness was creeping up on me. I still had a lot of ground to make up, so I soldiered on to Washington, making a few stops for gas, munchies and coffee along the way. The US definitely has an abundance of gas stations (unlike some parts of Canada), so you won't have to worry about running out of gas before you hit the next town! I arrived at the HI Washington Hostel at 3am, and was really happy to finally be in a bed. 

The only problem was that I never drink coffee - EVER - and had decided to give it a try on the road to see if it would help keep me awake. It was a good and bad idea... Sarcastically speaking I could have made it to Charleston that night the way my mind was racing! Then again I was a little stressed as I had no idea where I was going the next day - and I had to make sure I woke up and moved the car before 8am to avoid being ticketed. 

Day 2 - 16/10/12 Washington to Charleston

Another early-ish start to day two, as I had to be up to move the car into a parking lot before 8am. I was hit with an $18 parking fee to park underground for a few hours, but it didn't worry me too much as it took the pressure off to do some more research on my next destination. 

I had originally had my sights set on visiting the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It was the only thing that I really wanted to see on this trip, plus I had been missing the beach soooo much, and had found out about the National Park through a site that suggested must-see places along the east coast. The only problem was that I had to negotiate two ferries to get back on the mainland. The first ferry wasn't going to be a problem - it left every hour. The second one however, had a duration of two and a half hours and the last departure was at 8pm - plus you had to make a reservation. I would be cutting it pretty fine to get there by 8pm... and figured that there is no point going there if I've got to rush through. I couldn't find any hostels either, so I decided with much disappointment (at the time) to make my next stop at Charleston. There really aren't many hostels around south east USA, and this particular hostel in Charleston was within perfect driving distance from Washington. I organized my map so I knew where I was going and phoned them to make a reservation. 

Before I left Washington I wanted to see the White House. I got directions and a basic map from reception at the hostel and left to find a car park. I have never witnessed such unskillful driving in all my life! No offense, but majority of people that drive in downtown Washington... are terrible to say the least - or perhaps its the country background coming out of me again! Anyway, after having to detour from an accident (surprise, surprise haha) I finally found a park, fed the meter and headed for the White House.


It wasn't as big as I thought it would be, as the buildings around it were huge. It was very surreal to stand in front and imagine what the area would have looked like if those terrorists were successful all those years ago. Anyway, I got some nice photos and headed back to the car to get the hell out of there. It was too city-ish for my liking. 

It felt like I was on the road FOREVER on this leg of the trip! I really don't know why - maybe because I was a little tired from the road trip the day before, or maybe because this stretch of the 95 was pretty boring. There wasn't much to see or do - like Canada with its many Provincial Parks and stunning scenery. I stopped at a few of the Welcome Centers along the way to stretch my legs and refuel. 

I arrived at the Notso Hostel in Charleston about 9:50pm. It was such a relief to be able to park in a nice private driveway for FREE! Bryant, who was working that night, showed me to my dorm room in a separate building. It was a lovely double story cottage, and I was lucky enough to get a dorm room to myself. I had an amazing sleep, and was up early for breakfast the next day. 


Day 3 - 17/10/12 Charleston to St Augustine

I met a French traveller at breakfast, and Bryant joined us as well. It was a lovely setting to meet other backpackers - we all sat at the kitchen table as if we were family. Bryant talked about the hostel he started in Costa Rica (called The Lazy Loft), and I told him all about HitTheRoad and the amazing country I had crossed delivering cars. I mapped out my next destination after finding about her hostel in St Augustine that morning. It was called the Pirate Haus Inn. After breakfast I quizzed Bryant on whats good to do and see in Charleston, and he offered to give me a tour, as long as we got coffee on the way.

We jumped in the car and drove around Charleston for a good half hour or so, and he took me on a short but awesome little tour. 




Charleston really is a gorgeous city. I would love to go back one day and spend a decent amount of time there, as there was just too much history to take in and see in one or two days. Bryant had to be back at the hostel to work at 12:30pm, so I dropped him back and he showed me how to get back on the 95. 

I didn't have a long drive ahead of me, it was about 5 hours or so to St Augustine - so not too far as compared with the previous few days! I stopped off at a few of the Welcome Centers again, buying mixed nuts to keep me occupied while I drove. 

I arrived in St Augustine around 5:30-6pm, and the Pirate Haus Inn was very easy to find. I managed to find a car park a few blocks from the hostel, which is a difficult thing to do in St Augustine. It is a very touristy little town, and I was told it's the oldest in the USA. The town is gorgeous though. I had unfortunately picked a bad time to check-in, as the guy who was working reception had gone out for an hour. I rang him to let him know I had arrived, and I was able to chill out in the cozy little lounge area until he returned.


I would definitely recommend this particular hostel, especially if you are after something with a little family feeling to it. While I was there it definitely had no party atmosphere, and the staff were very friendly. I met a really cool man called Dennis in the lounge area, and we talked for ages about the most random of things, including ghosts! He told me some amazing stories, how wherever he went the playful spirits would seek him out. He is a blacksmith, and in his old workshop he used to have one particular ghost that would remove all his tools during the night and scatter them everywhere, without making one sound. We shared some really crazy stories, but both decided to head to bed before it got too late. 

Day 4 - 18/10/12 St Augustine to Hallandale Beach

I was up early for the amazing pancake breakfast put on by the hostel. Conrad made the most artistic pancakes. He made me a very personalized one - it was definitely the coolest pancake I had every eaten! They told me the all-you-can-eat record was held by an Aussie guy. Of course it was... He made it to 22 pancakes! I thought about challenging his record, but decided to stop at three as I didn't want to feel like crap for the rest of the day!

I looked at my maps again for the last leg of the trip, and phoned the owners to confirm the drop of location, and work out a rough arrival time. We decided on 4pm. So I was back on the road again. Before the traffic became too hectic, I pulled off the highway and into one of the smaller cities to find a car wash. I gave the gorgeous Jag a good was and a vacuum, to make sure it was returned in mint condition. The traffic became very busy the closer I got to Fort Lauderdale, and all I had on my mind was 'exit 18, exit 18, exit 18!' I rang the owner again to say I would probably be another half hour, as the traffic had slowed me down a bit. I finally came to exit 18 and made my way to the drop off destination. It was a little difficult to see the numbers on the massive high rise apartments, and it took me two laps to find the right one. After arriving I met the receiving owners at reception. 


They were three lovely women, and they invited me up to their room. I was given fruit, pizza and a bottle of water, as well as the agreed cash for the safe delivery. Tiki, who insisted on driving me to my hostel, had a shower and then we all headed down to inspect the car and sign the contracts.

Tiki appeared with her car, so I jumped in and we went off to find the Hollywood Beach Hostel. It was on the same road (but an hours walk North), so it didn't take too long in the car. They offered me to hang out with them the next day, and I said I would ring them to find out where to meet. 

The hostel was in a great location, but I really wouldn't recommend anyone to go there. I had a dorm room all to myself, but the room hadn't been cleaned from the last guests. I guess its just luck I'm not a fussy person! The shower couldn't decide whether it wanted to be hot or cold, they had no tourist map to show you what to do nearby... they required a $50 deposit - I have no idea what for - and their after hours service was appalling. A fellow guest's key would not work for his room and he was locked out all night. He said he had called the hostel and the after hours number with no response. So a word of advice - don't stay there! I called Tiki's number the next day but there way no answer unfortunately. So I spent my time exploring the boardwalk, chilling on the beach, eating amazing food and organizing my bag for my flight to Peru.


Mission #2 completed! Thanks again HitTheRoad - If I had of flown from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale like I planned, I never would have met the amazing people I got to meet on this road trip, or find the amazing places I found! Looking forward to the next adventure... maybe I will be back to do it all again in Spring!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Hitting the 'right' side of the road on a free road trip with Canada Drive Away

Delivering a car across the country was something that never crossed my mind as a potential mode of transport while backpacking - until my amazing Canadian friend, Corbin, (writer of I Backpack Canada) suggested it. AND... after completing my first mission, I could not think of a better way to see the country (especially Canada!) and meet some pretty cool people along the way..

I figured I would share with you guys how to acquire your own pretty-much-free road trip as well!

Be a very flexible traveller - the more flexible you are, the more likely you will be able to drive.

Get in contact with Hittheroad - search available cars, and apply for a suitable option. To apply you must have the following documents available in digital copies - and make sure you send them in your initial application email (both sides of your drivers license, driving record, at least one reference, your passport and an emergency contact). If you found out about Hittheroad through this blog - please mention me =)

Wait for a reply. When you have received confirmation, have your deposit of $500CA ready. You will receive instructions on how to complete the delivery. Print off the required paperwork.

Get a map if you haven't already got one, and decide the route you will take. Also be prepared to travel to the owners location. I made a 7 hour bus trip in the opposite direction to pick up my first car, and it was totally 100% worth it. Have all the paperwork ready, and you're set to go!

Don't speed, drive carefully and keep the owner of the car and Hittheroad updated on your journey through email or phone. Contact the owner of the car and let them know the expected drop off time, and confirm the drop off location. 

Collect the agreed gas reimbursement and part of your $500 deposit from the client, go over the car with the client and have the contract signed. Send the paperwork to Hittheroad, and mission completed!

So this is how my 6 day tour of central and eastern Canada went...

The car: 
A 2007 Pontiac G5

The road trip: 
Edmonton to Toronto (roughly 3,600 kms)
The reimbursement: $350 for fuel
The timeframe: 6 days

Day #1 Heading to Edmonton, AB
I caught a bus from Craik at 9:20am, headed to Edmonton with a transfer at Saskatoon. The Greyhound bus was its usual interesting self, with a variety of public transport travelers - one a very loud 'DJ' who carried with him an electric guitar for whatever reason, a long board and a bag that seemed to hold the contents of his life. I was lucky enough to get my own seat, which can be pretty rare, and contacted the owner of the car who was kind enough to pick me up from the bus station when I arrived. He was a very energetic man, and told me he brought the car for his daughter who lives in Toronto. I had planned to pick the car up and head to the HI hostel in Edmonton, but he offered for me to stay, (as his daughter was arriving at the airport at 10:30pm and he wanted her to see the car and meet me) - so I accepted the offer. He also wanted to make sure I could actually drive, which I thought was definitely fair, even though it naturally made me a little nervous to be put under pressure! Once I got behind the wheel I was fine, and after he skillfully talked a young man into giving us an oil change after closing time, we headed back to the house. I had a few hours to kill before his daughter arrived, so I headed to the West Edmonton Mall... and wow is that place amazing!

So many shops, a pirate ship, ice hockey rink, swimming pool - and thats only what I found in my short time there. I received a phone call to come back to the house as it was time to collect his daughter from the airport.

Day #2 Edmonton, AB to Aylesbury, SK
My first day on the road was lots of fun and lots of prairies. I left the house early, and headed back to the West Edmonton Mall to buy some new clothes, as most of the stores were closing when I went the previous day. The first stop off I made was spontaneous - it was the Elk Island Provincial Park.

I went into the visitors centre and asked what is good to see in a short time frame. She suggested a particular lake, so I drove there to check it out. It was very beautiful, but being on a tight schedule on that specific day I took a few photos and jumped back in the car. If I had of planned better I would of loved to explore more there. Even though I cut my visit short, I had the most amazing experience on the way out of the park... Near the entrance the resident herd of buffalo were crossing the road, so I got to finally see a buffalo up close! Definitely worth the $7.80 admission fee! After the park I headed to Saskatoon, then took the number 11 to Aylesbury to stay at Trails End Guest Ranch.


They have an amazing setup in a beautiful little valley, which includes a complimentary breakfast and the option to go on a trail ride. I slept in one of the cabins for the night, and would highly recommend the ranch to anyone passing through.

Day #3 and 4 Aylesbury, SK to Riding Mountain MB
I was up early again the next day, had breakfast and said my goodbyes to the owners of the ranch, Chris and Lyle.

My first stop was Twisted Sisters - A MUST if you are passing through Chamberlain. They have the most amazing ice creams!

Then it was onto Regina, where I had lunch at the Queen Elizabeth Gardens. It's a really nice place to stop for a break and have a wander - and easy to find.


I jumped back in the car and took the Trans-Canada number 1 highway to Riding Mountain in Manitoba, to meet up with my hosts for the night.

I arrived just as it was getting dark, and had lots of catch up conversations with everyone at the house until 11pm. They were people I had met during the summer while I was working, who come from a very different background to me!

Technically speaking, they are called Mennonites, and although I am in no way religious, I accepted their invitation to go with them to church the following day.... you've got to try everything once, right? Having no 'good' clothes - while everyone else wore their best dresses and heels - made me stand out terribly amongst the group who seemed to have developed a type of uniform. All the women wore handmade dresses, with stockings, black heels or dress shoes with their hair secured under a black cap. The men wore dress shirts and pants and their best shoes, and men and women were separated to opposite sides of the church. So there I was with my oversized cardigan, work boots with skinny jeans - totally blending into the crowd! I copped lots of stares, but their curiosity eventually got the better of them and they gradually started introducing themselves and finding out what my deal was. They were the most unbelievably accommodating people, very very old fashioned but so generous and kind, and it was great to see them again. Angela organized a lunch of taco mince, fried bread and salads after church, and everyone I met while I was working came for a catch up. It was soooo delicious!

I did plan to head to Winnipeg after lunch, but I couldn't find any available hostels for the night - so I stayed in Riding Mountain with the family one more night.

Day #5 Riding Mountain MB to Thunder Bay ON
I was up really early to catch the morning sun for my next day of driving. I had an awesome breakfast with Angela and Wes, packed my things into the car, checked the oil and said my goodbyes. I hadn't had a chance to find accommodation in Thunder Bay, so my plan of attack was to find a McDonald's car-park and steal some wifi. I stopped at Dryden McDonalds and managed to find a little hostel on the internet called Thunder Bay International Hostel. I grabbed my phone to call them to make a reservation and had no service - it was only 3pm or so, and I figured I would surely come across some phone service before 6pm... but surprise-suprise... I didn't! I had to stop at Ignace and borrow a lady's phone to call them, and I'm glad she was happy to help. I made it to Thunder Bay by nightfall, and found the hostel quite easily.


It was one of the homeliest little places I had stayed at - it reminded me of my Poppy's house. Lloyd, the owner showed me to my room, which was private with a double bed and my own personal washroom. I had a great nights sleep! And they only charged me $20 for the night. If you are EVER in Thunder Bay, please stay there!

Day #6 Thunder Bay ON to Sault Ste Marie ON
Lloyd was up early-ish, and I had no idea what was in store for me. I had organized some things on the internet, and had sat down for a bit of breakfast. He had clearly been waiting for me - which I didn't realize - and asked if I wanted to go to breakfast with him at the local diner.


We headed down there, and he explained how his wife Willa is ill with inoperable cancer, and I observed how helpless the poor man felt. We ordered bacon and eggs, and he pulled out a large folder and told me he wanted to show me what he had been working on. He is writing an essay titled 'The Year of the Dragon', which instantly caught my attention - for the fact I am born in the year of the Dragon (TYOTD). He went on to explain all the strange coincidences that had occurred throughout his life, and how they each traced back to TYOTD. It was really interesting. He started documenting it all when Willa was diagnosed in February 2012, and given 3 months to live. He included everything from the year of their marriage, to her diagnosis, to the rapture and other strange events that interested him, and told me he intended to just keep writing. We finished breakfast and he said he was going to take me and show me the river on the way back to the hostel. We pulled in to the car park and got out, and the first thing he did was walk to the gutter. I was a little confused, but I followed, and he said 'come and look at this'. He picked up a rock from the gutter and it was a beautiful Amethyst. I looked down and realized they were everywhere - it was amazing! He gave me a few small ones to take a souvenirs. We then went on a little hike through the forest alongside the river.

The leaves were beautiful. I really wanted to stay another night - he told me he would of taken me to the dumpsters to show me the bears that evening! Oh well... I left Thunder Bay later then I had planned, and continued on the road.

I hadn't been driving long when I saw a hitchhiker on the side of the road near Nipigon - he didn't look like your usual hitcher.. dressed well and around my age. It had been a secret goal of mine to give someone a lift along the way, so I pulled over - which he was relieved about! His name was Dave, and he had been waiting for 4 hours after missing the Greyhound headed to White River. I was passing straight through that town so everything worked out great. We had awesome conversations, and he was great company. He told me he works on railway lines across Canada and lives on Manitoulin Island. We made it to White River - which is where Winnie the Pooh originated - and I dropped him off there.

After White River I passed through some of the most beautiful countryside. I would of loved more time to go hiking around the Provincial Parks, they reminded me a lot of Wilson's Promontary - one of my favorite places in Australia. There was one area I stopped for a look - it was called Old Woman Bay. I got there just on sunset and the scenery was amazing! I would suggest to anyone passing through to stop there and have a look around.

Continuing onto Sault Ste Marie I couldn't find my accommodation at all... especially with it being dark. I thought I had passed it - so I pulled into a Caravan park and tried to sleep in my car the night. What a complete fail that was! I froze without a blanket.. and ended up sneaking into the showers in the early hours of the morning to defrost.

Day #7 Sault Ste Marie ON to Toronto ON 
I ended up meeting the owner of the park, and he charged me $5 for the shower which I was totally cool with. I left as soon as I was done with my shower and headed onto Toronto. With the lack of sleep I really struggled with the last leg of the drive! I had a bag of mixed nuts that were a lifesaver - eating them one by one was the only successful thing that kept me awake. Once I got into the crazier traffic everything was fine - concentrating on keeping out of the way of the idiot drivers was keeping me nice and alert! After 6 days of driving on the opposite side to everything back at home, I felt totally comfortable driving in the city, and Toronto was fairly easy to drive in. I contacted the owner of the car and we reorganized the drop of location - I met her near where she was working as opposed to her home address. She was so nice and thankful, and dropped me off near my hostel - the Canadiana Backpackers Inn.

The hostel was really cool - but having stayed in both the Canadiana and the HI-Toronto hostel, I would recommend the HI-Toronto. It has better rooms, facilities, an amazing breakfast menu and great tours/events which makes meeting people really easy.

I want to thank Hittheroad for the most amazing experience! 
If you ever want a unique adventure in  Canada or the US, you would be insane not to look up the the Hittheroad! On the 15th of October I'm off on another road trip, delivering a car from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale. I have had more time in advance to plan the next trip - plus I have organized some road trip buddies this time.. Cannot wait for the next adventure!

Want to find out more? I ended up going on a second road trip with Hittheroad, driving a Jaguar from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale on a snowbird run. Click here to find out more!