Should we fly or drive from Vancouver to Toronto this spring?
January 26, 2008 8:18 PM   Subscribe

Should we fly or drive from Vancouver to Toronto this spring?

My girlfriend and I live in Vancouver, and are moving to Toronto for grad school. We're debating whether (a) it would be smarter to rent a moving van and bring our possessions with us; or (b) whether we should sell most of our stuff (mostly furniture and books), take the plane, and ship the rest on greyhound.

(a) means we would have a lot less furniture and kitchen stuff to buy when we get to TO. Plus we'd get to drive across the country, which is a plus for me because I like road trips.

(b) means we'd have to buy stuff when we get to TO and that can add up, even if it's from thrift stores. But, we don't have a place lined up for when we get there. We also don't own a car.

Have any other mefites done either (a) or (b) before? What were your experiences, and what would you recommend to a couple like us with not a lot of cash to spare. In case of (a), would driving across Canada in April be advisable due to the weather?

Thanks for your hot tips.
posted by radiocontrolled to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think in April you will be ok as long as you take a few precautions - ie not packing all your clothing options in the middle of the van. It's really not that cold by then (comparatively). With your circumstances, and despite the intensely tedious drive across the middle bit, I cant imagine that anything other than driving is going to be much more cost effective, never mind the convenience of not needing to buy all your essentials again when you get here.

So weather will not really be a significant factor - assuming typical weather conditions and a sensible attitude. ie plenty of food, clothing, stopping for fuel at sensible locations and good time management in terms of sleep.

The company I work for used to do lots of driving across Canada, and my boss has majorly negative things to say about the drive in terms of interest, but once is an experience, and a small price to pay.

I can't think a Van is more expensive than two flights, and when you factor the losses of selling (And the massive shortage of furnished apartments in the GTA) makes driving much more sensible to me.
posted by Brockles at 8:38 PM on January 26, 2008

Unless you have much pricier than average furniture for students, it will be much cheaper to fly and ship things. Renting a moving van will be expensive and you will pay a lot for fuel. You'll also have to pay for a lot of meals and motels, unless you are willing to camp out and cook your own food. I'd guess you'd spend at least $2500, while you can fly two people to Toronto for a little over $1000 if you get a good deal and ship quite a lot of stuff for $500.

Driving a moving van is much less pleasant than driving a car, which would detract significantly from the road trip enjoyment factor. April is hard to predict as far as weather. It might be fine, but you might also run into closed passes smothering in wet snow in BC.
posted by ssg at 8:41 PM on January 26, 2008

I did something like this a few times. It can be a fun way to see the country. For me it was actually cheaper one time and the other was on someone else's tab. Anyway, it was enjoyable. YMMV.
posted by caddis at 9:11 PM on January 26, 2008

drive, and take a camera with you. gosh, why sell all your stuff here they rebuy most of it there again?

rent a moving truck (Budget has good deals), fill it up, freecycle or craigslist the rest - and off you go. Take the scenic route, because it will be a long time before you will make that trip again. Seize the day! Drive the road! And take your time.

As far as the boring bits - make them less boring! Take photos, film, sketch, read, talk with one another, or talk to yourself while the other one sleeps (and take turns driving). There are lots of campgrounds along the Trans Canada or Highway 3 in BC that have year-round campgrounds that accommodate a van or moving truck. And visit the little towns with character, see the sights along the way. Avail yourselves of the experience - you will likely fly into Vancouver (and out of, too) many times in your lifetime, but driving across the country only happens once or twice in your lifetimes.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:12 PM on January 26, 2008

I just looked into shipping by Greyhound from Toronto to United States - and it was crazy expensive. One 50lb bag cost more than MY TICKET TO THE SAME PLACE. They wanted $124, my ticket was only $98 one-way, and that was for a much shorter trip than to Vancouver (usually over $200 on Greyhound).
posted by jb at 9:15 PM on January 26, 2008

Drive! It's something every Canadian should do at least once in their lifetime. Five hours on a plane is five hours on a plane, but a cross-country trip is an experience worth remembering.
posted by wsp at 9:28 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't do it.

My friend just drove a U-Haul from Dryden, ON to Red Deer, AB. (less than half the distance of your trip - 1800ish kms vs 4200ish kms)

They spent over $1000 for fuel. That's right, one thousand.

Moving is stressful enough without watching all that money fly out of your wallet for days on end while you're just trying to get where you're going. Wait till you finish grad school, sell all your crap again and then drive back out west in a little fuel efficient car.

This trip could be a total drag, especially when you arrive in Toronto with a U-Haul full of stuff and nowhere to put it.

I would never underestimate Northern Ontario weather, either. Snowfall in April is not uncommon.
posted by davey_darling at 9:57 PM on January 26, 2008

In addition, contact the airlines and find out what your baggage restrictions are, and how much you have to pay for overage.

I have used things like this as my "suitcase" before. You could fit quite a few frying pans and spatulas into one of those things.
posted by davey_darling at 10:01 PM on January 26, 2008

Since you don't already own a car, renting something for that distance could be very expensive. Unless they have better rates for moving vans than they do for cars (which seem to be a couple thousand even for a week, at least for a large car). I can't seem to get truck prices online - they want you to call. It's worth getting a specific quote before you decide.

You might have to do what I've had to do a couple of times now (States to Britain, Britain to States, often via Canada): store things you don't need but want to keep (childhood memories, non-academic book collection) with relatives in your home town, get rid of all furniture and anything cheaply replaced, ship small things that you really must have and won't fit in the luggage, and then fly or take the bus.

But even shipping is not especially cheap: it cost as much to ship 13 not very large boxes (easily all fit in a cargo van) from Britain to the United States by the cheapest, slowest way as it did for two people to fly on Dec. 26 -- that is, about $1000, or $2000 in total (flights and shipping).

There is the option to be driven (or to have your stuff driven) by someone who a) has a large car (mini-van, station wagon, etc), and b) loves you so much they will drive you across the country. Vancouver to Toronto is asking a lot. I moved this way from Toronto to Connecticut, Connecticut to Toronto, and back again. The first time it was my stepmother, father and mother, the second time my fiance and his sister, the third time will be my parents-in-law coming to visit, and much love had been/will be expressed by these selfless acts. I still couldn't take any furniture in either direction. I did have a friend who moved himself, clothes, books, CDs and computer from Alaska to Connecticut and back again (twice) - that was by his own station wagon, and his magical packing powers. Another couple I know bought a van in Alberta, and drove to it Connecticut. It may be economical to buy a very cheap car or van, especially if you have the ability to fix it up (this is what the Alberta-CT couple did: the van was $100, and one of them did $400 worth of repairs. They, of course, still have a good van). But again, none of them moved much furniture.

You will be amazed by how little stuff you can live without. Replacing furniture is financially painful, which is one of the reasons I much prefer the British habit of renting furnished apartments for no more than unfurnished. But universities constantly have people coming and going, and there may be lists for people selling furniture cheap. Take only the books you need for your work immediately. You will have a university library for anything else. Whittle your clothing down - if you haven't worn it recently, then you probably don't like it very much (with the exception of some nice fancy clothes - keep them). If you really can't get rid of anything, relatives may be able to help store it.

Though I'm not saying that everyone should be like by New Zealander friend who moved in to gradschool in Britain with just two bags, and after five years could probably get it all into four bags. (If you give her a Christmas present, she will be very happy, but then she'll give it back to you in 4 months because she is whittling her stuff down again. This is an extreme, though impressive in its self-discipline.) But the nomadic lifestyle of a graduate student does mean that you have to become used to having very little.

Also, Craig's list is good, but it hasn't been half as good for me lately as the Salvation Army (or Goodwill, if you are in Toronto). The things are cheaper, and you can check them out more. I got a silverware set (4 forks, 4 knives, 4 spoons, and 4 dessert forks) for $2, a kettle for $2.50, an alarm clock for $2.50. This may have been from a very cheap Sally Ann, but I think thrift stores can often be cheaper than other forms of second hand, and the Sally Ann the cheapest kind of thrift/charity shop. Also, I feel so virtuous shopping there - saving things from landfill and donating to charity, and cheaper than Ikea.


NB - if you do fly - make sure you get a flight with maximum luggage, not a charter flight. It's worth the extra money. I've gotten as much as 140lbs/64kg (32 kg/bag) on a plane, but luggage allowances have been going down, and are very low for charter flights.

I am currently typing this at the table I just got today, which is still the only table in the house. I am proud to have 1 table, 3 chairs and 1 stool, and a mattress - this is all the furniture in my apartment.
posted by jb at 10:05 PM on January 26, 2008

Yes, excess luggage can be awesome - I took three bags of 32kg each when I moved to Britain, and didn't ship anything that time. I think the extra bag cost me about $100 CND (less than shipping one equivalent box - with shipping, small loads pay a lot more per volume than larger loads).

That said, I was asking Greyhound just this month about extra bags - and this might just be Greyhound USA (which is much worse than Greyhound Canada), but that was when I found out that a third bag would cost $124 on a $98 ticket. Also, Greyhound has cut it's baggage allowance from 70lbs to 50lbs (so from 32kg to about 22kg).

Another tip - collapsable luggage is amazing if you expect to be in a small place. I own two very large luggage bags which are basically hockey bags with wheels and a solid back. They go flat, which means they fit under beds or in the backs of cupboards more easily - and this has been so wonderful at times. They are sized for 32kg, with a historian's sense of the appropriate amount of books and paper to carry along with clothes, and also fit in airline and bus company regulations on size. Sadly, with many airlines reducing their luggage allowance to 23kg, I'm going to have to be more careful in packing in the future.
posted by jb at 10:12 PM on January 26, 2008

I have driven between Montreal and Calgary (in the summer), and Montreal and Vancouver (in September). The first time, I drove through Canada the entire way. The second time, I drove through the U.S. from Windsor to Blaine. IF you decide to drive (and ultimately, that's a decision based on more than just expenses - as others have noted), you may want to consider a drive through the States for most or some of your trip. While Montana is no longer a no-speed limit state, much of your drive will be at higher speeds than Canada - especially when compared with most of Ontario - nothing worse than being behind a slow truck on a single lane of the TransCanada, waiting for the next passing lane to arrive...

Gas is cheaper down there, especially with the strong(er) loonie, and cheap motels/hotels (if you are not camping) are easier to find, or were when I compared (15 and 11 years ago).

Also, you will be driving through the Rockies, so April could be potentially problematic, weather-wise.

Good luck, and if you drive, have a safe trip.
posted by birdsquared at 1:30 AM on January 27, 2008

My friend just drove a U-Haul from Dryden, ON to Red Deer, AB. ....1800ish kms.....)

They spent over $1000 for fuel. That's right, one thousand.

53 foot semi trailers, fully loaded, don't use that much fuel to go that distance, I assure you. At current prices that is around 6.8mpg, which is just not at all typical for anything other than a military tank! Either their car or van had a fuel leak (like a big one) or there was something else wrong with it. That is simply not a representative cost for fuel for that sort of distance.

I am going to be driving a 20 year old Jaguar from San Diego to Toronto at some point in the near future, and that isn't even going to be costing me more than $400 in fuel...
posted by Brockles at 7:12 AM on January 27, 2008

At current prices that is around 6.8mpg, which is just not at all typical for anything other than a military tank!

I stand by my statement.

A few Google searches confirm that your number is accurate for the gas-burning U-Haul trucks.

From their website I see that their mileage estimate for their smallest 14" cube van is 12 mpg, and it's not hard to imagine that they'd estimate very conservatively and then round the number up. They also do not state whether their mileage estimates are based on diesel or gasoline, which as you know would make a huge difference.

The bigger trucks drop quickly, the largest truck getting an estimate of 6-8 mpg. My friend had the 17' gas burning model, which is listed as getting 10 mpg. Couple this with a pair of guys who were probably trying to get there as fast as they could, and you can easily see how that kind of mileage is possible.

If they could fit everything into a "10' Mini-Mover" then my dire fuel cost warnings would be tempered slightly. I'd still bet that they'd pay much more for fuel than the plane tickets would cost.
posted by davey_darling at 7:41 AM on January 27, 2008

Don't so it. I had friends who drove from Vancouver to Halifax for almost the exact same reason, and they swore never again. It was just simply excruciatingly boring. The prairies are boring, and so is western Ontario. If do decide to it it, I'd seriously consider the route through the states, as I've heard their roads are way better than Hwy #1.

Find a cheap flight from WestJet, and browse Craigslist for cheap stuff once you get there.
posted by cgg at 8:19 AM on January 27, 2008

If you do decide to go the overland, keep in mind that (at least back in the day when I was wandering around Canada), if you looked, you could find rentals that were one-way, that the company needed to get back to the original office, and were much cheaper. I'd think that moving-van sized stuff would be the perfect niche to find cheaper rentals like this.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:37 PM on January 27, 2008

I just moved back to Toronto a couple weeks ago. It cost me around $375 including pickup and tax to ship 17 boxes, 50% kitchen stuff, to Toronto with greyhound. Pack well, they basically kick your stuff across the country. I managed to sell most of my furniture on craigslist and gave away the rest (by gave away I mean I left it in the alley and it was snapped up in 2 seconds).

If I had the choice I would have done the same except rode my motorcycle instead of flying and selling it at a loss in the middle of winter. Its really not worth it to rent and drive though it would be fun if you're not in a hurry. Driving only makes sense if you already own a vehicle since shipping a car is $800 to $1000
posted by captaincrouton at 6:52 PM on January 27, 2008

Wow, Greyhound US really wanted to gouge me on one bag, then. Maybe it's a border thing, maybe it's just the fact that Greyhound Canada is a lot better.
posted by jb at 10:03 PM on January 27, 2008

OK, new suggestion. Having done this trip 3 different ways. The drive is boring for 2/3rds of the way across. The plane is fast but time doesn't seem to be a factor. What you could do that would be cheap and you get to keep a lot of your stuff would be to take the train. Get a sleeping compartment, you get to see the country, the food is good and there is nothing else in the world quite like it. The train can hold all of your baggage and boxes for reasonable amount of cash, it's 3 days of really pleasant conditions.
posted by ptm at 11:54 PM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older Why would a computer squeal?   |   Hey PSP, stand up! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.