What's the absolute easiest way from Vancouver to Vancouver?
June 12, 2018 6:09 PM   Subscribe

How can we optimize my parents' + their dog's trips from Vancouver, BC to Vancouver, WA so that we can see them more?

My husband and I live in Vancouver, WA and love my Vancouver-BC-residing parents very much and would like to see them more often. For many reasons, it makes more sense for them to come here. We have space for them to stay for free, their dog can come, weed is legal here, my sister also lives nearby and can come over/sleep over if she needs to, and it's overall much more relaxing than us all going to their 2-bedroom condo. However, the trip is just enough of a pain in the ass that they have only been doing it twice a year. Are there any hacks that would make this easier for them?

I think a big issue is optimizing the time they leave, because the border crossing always gets backed up on the way out of Canada. Do you know the best time to try to hit the border? Is there some super secret backroad for frequent travelers? Should we pay for a chauffeur? (Joking...unless you know a cheap one?)

If the answer is "it just sucks, one of those things!", then what else can we do to entice them? When they're here, we do everything we can to make it easy for them--the fridge is stocked, we don't let them pay for anything unless they insist, we plan activities if they want but are totally fine just taking it easy at home, they have their own bedroom and full bathroom when they come, and the yard is fenced-in for the dog. If there's anything else that might make the trip more appealing or seem less annoying, I'm happy to try.

Thanks MeFites!
posted by masquesoporfavor to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
First off do they qualify for the NEXUS program? It's a pre-clearance program that provides for a fast lane at select border crossings including the Peace Arch. My in-laws live near the border and their experience using Nexus is 100 times better than when we visit and they can't use the Nexus lane.

Second of all, I don't know, even without the border crossing, it looks like a 5 hour drive including going through Seattle (unless I have the wrong Vancouver, VA). That's a pretty big hassle in the first place. Honestly Two times a year sounds about right for a driving trip of that length.
posted by muddgirl at 6:27 PM on June 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Would they like to take the train? It's always delayed, but at least you can walk around. When Mr Corpse had to commute monthly to Vancouver BC (just from Seattle) he greatly preferred the train to driving.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:39 PM on June 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

Are they staying long enough to unwind from the drive? That drive always sounds like a chill 3 day weekend trip, but it ends up being an exhausting trip. A longer stay could leave them more refreshed when they get home.

Once you’re on the Amtrak train, it’s relaxing. But you leave Vancouver early in the morning and get in late at night. That’s doable if they live in Vancouver proper and can take a cab to the train station, less so if they’re in the suburbs.
posted by Banknote of the year at 6:40 PM on June 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Get Nexus - it makes a difference.

There are two choke points coming out of Vancouver BC heading southbound. First is the Massey tunnel - you must time around rush hour so you are not tied up at the Massey tunnel. Once this peril is cleared then Nexus fixes your problems until you get to Everett. Your next peril is then traffic southbound from Everett to Tacoma.

Leaving 9 or 9:30 AM on a weekday morning comfortably gets you into Seattle by lunchtime and towards Vancouver WA by early afternoon. Nexus avoids any traffic line at the border. This is a relatively pleasant drive. Any weekday morning departure time between 9 AM and noon should do the trick. Earlier, you hit traffic either in Massey Tunnel or Seattle. Later, you hit similar traffic issues. Your next choice on a weekday would be to depart after 6 PM, which is a late arrival in Vancouver, WA.

On a weekend, any southbound departure time before 9 AM should be fine with Nexus.

In general I cross at the Truck Crossing and never cross at the Peace Arch. This usually improves the traffic situation. If anybody in the family has troubles passing inspections into the US, including the dog, cross at Aldergrove. This adds time to an optimally timed trip but will improve the experience in secondary inspection.

In general I find the border wait time signs useless southbound but beneficial northbound. If you are heading northbound and see 45 minute + wait times at Peace Arch and Truck Crossing, divert to Aldergrove. This is achieved northbound by exiting at Bellis Fair.

I agree that the trip just kind of sucks, especially if the parents are employed. Realistically traveling during a portion of the working day is the only thing that makes this trip acceptable. Vancouver BC is a nice place to live (if they can afford it) so it is hard for you to come up with creature comforts that will make the trip more enticing. Once the Canadian dollar recovers a bit you will be able to use your place as a shipping depot, and can entice your parents with the promise of cheap consumer goods.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:42 PM on June 12, 2018 [9 favorites]

Oh, and the train ride is very pretty (in summer, when there is more daylight). It’s worth trying once for the experience, if the dog is amenable to being crated for the trip.
posted by Banknote of the year at 7:16 PM on June 12, 2018

As someone who faces pressure from various relatives to travel, your question seems to be coming from a place of not having a lot of sympathy for the difficulties involved in traveling.

The thing is, no matter how nice things are where one is visiting, there's usually a lot that needs to be done to get ready to travel -- everything from physically preparing things around the house, arranging for watering of plants and whatever else is needed, emotional labor of thinking ahead for all the little things that would be trivial to deal with if one was in town, rearranging of any regularly scheduled plans, rescheduling doctor's appointments that might be important for their health. And that's before even doing any packing.

From my own perspective, it's a kind thing that I appreciate if someone offers to cover expenses for a fun trip, but no matter how "easy" they make it, it's always more difficult than not going on a trip.

It seems like you don't want to visit them in their condo because it's not as relaxing for you -- but it might be more relaxing for them. If you want to see them more often, you need to be willing to travel too. Traveling with dogs across an international border is not relaxing, not at all -- they deserve to relax too.

As far as how to entice them... well, loosing the attitude that it's more relaxing FOR YOU if they come visit you so why can't they just do that -- that might help. Of course it's more relaxing for you to not have to plan ahead so you can travel. I'm sure your parents are well aware that it's more difficult to be the person traveling.
posted by yohko at 7:31 PM on June 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

Literally the question is about making it easier for them, it's the entire point of the question. My husband and I have two dogs and both of us work, whereas only my dad has a job so it's factually easier for them to come here.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 8:11 PM on June 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Remember that the bottlenecks through Everett, and on south, are SIGNIFICANTLY easier if they use the carpool lanes. It's amazing how much difference they can make.

I'm assuming your parents want to make this trip more frequently. I've found it makes it a great deal easier for us to make up a checklist. Sounds horribly old fashioned, but talking and then making an actual checklist, and looking at it before you go, makes a deal of difference.

Tips from a regular driver on that I-5 route: Take at least 2 water bottles. Take easy to eat, moist snacks (grapes or apple slices vs nuts or chips). Take a beach towel (large & light weight) to drape over the person who is sitting on the side the sun is glaring through. Music, podcasts, read to each other -- this is not a very interesting drive most of the way, and after you've done it frequently it's a bit of a slog. If they can switch off driving and napping helps. Try looking for cafes at on-and-off exits until you find a favorite, and then stop every time for a stretch and a treat.

I'm starting from Bellingham. Thinking about the border crossing would make me want to stay home, but my neighbors cross back and forth (with a NEXUS pass) all the time. crazycanuck seems to have it under control.

Give your parents a copy of "Astoria" by Peter Stark. It's one of the best books I've every read, seconded by the at least 10 people I've given copies to. I would love to be visiting near enough to drive around and look at the places in the book.

I encourage you to try to figure out ways to help them come down. Family visiting time does get rarer as the years past. Have fun!
posted by kestralwing at 8:45 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Do they keep stuff at your house? If you can buy extras of their toothbrush, toiletries, clothes, medication, etc., so all they have to do is literally get in the car and drive, it makes it easier for them to go on the spur of the moment.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:07 PM on June 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Finding a freeway-convenient dog park to stop at around half-way is always helpful when I travel with my pup.
posted by muddgirl at 9:36 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

My husband and I live about 3 hours from his brother and sister-in-law, and their baby and dog. For baby reasons, it is easier for us to make the drive to them and we try to go about every 6 weeks. We’re in a different place (Los Angeles to Central California), but here are the things they do that make it easy for us to visit:

1) they ask us to visit and suggest dates/plans. This is huge! They do the legwork of pushing us to get something on the calendar. Once we’re committed, we’re happy, but somehow it really makes it easy that they lead with planning dates.
2) They make it really clear that we can get in and take off whenever works for us. We have a key if we get in late and don’t want to wake them.
3) they are suuuuper super chill about plans, and ok to just make or change plans as we feel like.
4) they have coffee for us in the AMs and wine for when we arrive, in case we want it. ❤️
5) they set up our bed for us with sheets/etc.
6) they invite us to local events they think we’d like, so we can plan trip timing around a local event (or not).
7) they make us feel really happy and loved while we are there, so we always want to go back. ❤️

Things we do on our side: mainly just have a routine so that there’s not a lot of thinking involved with planning.
1) My husband and I decide as a team when we will leave, and who will drive, and we settle this normally a few days before we leave. We both work full time, so for us, we’re normally doing Friday night- Sunday trips. We’ve gotten into a routine now. It typically means that one of us gets home around 5 and starts dinner/packing, while the other can get home as late as 7 to eat a meal that Spouse made. The driver sets the departure time and the passenger has to stick with it - typically around 8. Having an agreement between us as to who does what really minimizes the friction of getting out the door and making a pleasant trip. (For what it’s worth, he’s the one that gets home early and makes me dinner and snacks for the road, while I’m the one that gets home late, eats, tosses stuff in a bag and then drives my sleepy husband. I also normally pack up our dog while he normally deals with the car, luggage, etc.)
3) we each have a little weekend toiletries kit that we keep in our weekend bag, so packing is normally as simple as “ok, two shirts, two pants, two socks, two undies, sweatshirt, sleepclothes, sandals, phone charger.” We both then wear workout clothes for the drive, which we can re-wear if the need arises over the weekend, or not.
4) we know which gas stations we like to stop at. (And we always buy fresh fruit at the one on our way home, which makes me super happy!)
posted by samthemander at 10:17 PM on June 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Do you know the best time to try to hit the border?

3am. Seriously, if it's at all a possibility, crossing that border and doing that drive in the middle of the night is the smoothest possible option.

Is there some super secret backroad for frequent travelers?

The Sumas-Abbotsford crossing is a bit of a hidden gem. I've seen wait times at 2.5hrs at the main crossings and gone through there in 5 minutes, although with the detour you still don't save much time. But it's much more enjoyable to be driving through farm country than sitting in a line of cars waiting to be interrogated.
posted by mannequito at 11:54 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

No one mentions flying here, but I would recommend forgoing the drive (I would personally rather claw my face off than drive or sit in a car for 5+ hours) and flying from Vancouver to Portland via Alaska Airlines with the aforementioned Nexus pass. Alaska usually offers fairly inexpensive flights, has good sales and a good loyalty plan that pays off fairly quickly compared to others and with their credit card you get once a year companion fares for $99USD. It's way faster - takes only about an hour to fly, with a little time on either end and you can take transit to/from the airport in Vancouver BC, at least (I'm not familiar with transit on the other side). At least building in one or two flights a year will relieve some of the horrible driving.
posted by urbanlenny at 8:42 AM on June 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Does their dog enjoy doggy daycare/boarding and could you offer to pay for it? I imagine crossing the border with the dog requires an extra level of paperwork etc.

If your dad still works but your mom doesn't, is it possible for mom to come down by herself sometimes?

I understand your question but practically speaking, there's only so much you can do to make an international trip easier. Have you asked your parents what you can do to make it easier? If the answer is nothing, they just don't want to do the hassle of travel more than twice a year, then yeah.... you'll have to go to them.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:11 AM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the help everyone!

To be clear; my parents have expressed an interest in coming down more, especially since as I mentioned my sister also lives here and it's easier for the two of them to come here, than for the three of us to come up. Additionally, our accommodations are just better for entertaining (we have more space including an outdoor area, whereas my parents live in a high-rise)--this isn't about it being easy for me, it's about things the family has discussed and agreed upon. On the last visit my dad said, "this really wasn't so bad, we should do it more!" so I would like to find ways to make it as easy as possible on them because the trip goes fairly smoothly aside from the border crossing. They do have NEXUS, and the dog crosses the border very easily. The main issue is the traffic, and lots of these suggestions were super helpful. I will get a list of their toiletries to keep in "their" bathroom, and look at paying for plane or train tickets. My mom could come alone, but my dad would really like to join us as well so if we can ease that burden at all then we definitely want to.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 11:40 AM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older Was there a power outage in Rio today?   |   Where can I stow my car in Astoria? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.