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driving between Vancouver and the US
Vancouver is very easy to access from the US. If in Seattle or the surrounding area, just head north on I-5 until you hit the border. The trip usually takes 2.5 hours, this can vary due to border traffic. On weekends and holidays, expect at least a 30-60 minute delay. Once crossed over the border, follow 99 until it hits the city. Similarly, follow these directions in reverse if traveling into the US
If you are at the border and you're waiting a while, take the chance to explore the grassy park areas. The peace arch symbolizes the sisterhood of the two countries. There's other memorials around as well.
Enjoy the scenery all around you; it's such a beautiful drive when it's not raining of course.
- Road Trip
It is well worth it to hire a car in Vancouver especially of you want to explore surrounding areas. We hired a car form the airport but be warned there is a surcharge for this (about CAD100).
The city is very easy to navigate even though we were driving on the other side of the road. The locals complain that traffic is bad but then they have never driven in London. It took us about 40 minutes to get from the airport to north Vancouver during peak hour.
It is quite reasonably priced to rent SUV's so my husband got to try out his dream car.
The Sea To Sky Highway
If you're trying to get to the North Shore, West Vancouver, or to Whistler, then simply follow the 99 highway from downtown. This road will take you over the Lion's Gate Bridge (one of the top 100 suspension bridges in the world), and will eventually turn into the Sea To Sky Highway which leads up to Whistler.
US-Canada Border Issues
We drove from Seattle to Vancouver via Interstate 5, crossing the border at the Douglas (Peace Arch) Crossing. This is the main thoroughfare on the West Coast between the two nations and is marked, by the large Peace Arch (built in 1921) and a surrounding state park in the US and provincial park in Canada. While entering Canada from this point, the lines were fairly short, and we waited perhaps 10-15 minutes until we got to the Canadian border inspector who just asked us a few questions and throw the amusing phrase "Eh!" at us a few times. Just a quick stop and we were on our way.
Returning to the US on a holiday weekend, we heard on the radio that the Peace Arch Crossing had a two-hour wait, but the Pacific Highway Crossing, just a little further inland had shorter lines. So as we headed south on Canadian Hwy 99, we took one of the last exits before the border and headed east a few miles on 8th Street until we hit Hwy 15 to the border. Unfortunately, the lines here were just as long and it took us about 2 hours of waiting to get to the customs and immigration official. We thought the lines were caused by the extra thorough security and questioning, but the guard barely said a word to us before waving us into the US.
While listening to the radio, the commentator kept saying the lines into Canada were 10 minutes and the lines to the US 2 hours, "as usual." Check the websites with current border wait times listed, and take a restroom break before you get stuck in traffic!
Renting a car
A lot of you that will visit Vancouver are probably visiting as a part of a trip through BC/Alberta/USA. I would think that some of you will choose to rent a car and explore the area that way. There are many car rentals in Vancouver, you can find them at the airport as well as other places in the city.
We rented an SUV a few times ourselves in the summer time so the whole family (including in-laws) would fit in the car. We have rented from Avis and Thrifty before and we've had great experience with both car rental companies!
A few helpful tips when renting a car:
*Always make sure you check out if there is any damage on the car and take photos if necessary!
*Check if the inside is cleaned, sometimes it's not cleaned properly and they may charge you extra for cleaning fees when you return the car.
*Make sure you only pay what you asked for, some of the extra insurance may come in handy but most of it is not necessary! We never take the extra protection and the damage waiver and so far we haven't had any problems with it. This is a personal choice and if it makes you feel better/safer to drive then I would just add it on.
*When you live in North America and have your own car insurance you may be covered through that as well. Ask you own car insurance company what you might be covered for and what not.
*If they do not have the car you have reserved (or something similar in the same class) when you get there they should give you a bigger vehicle at no extra cost! We had that once, we reserved (and paid ahead for it already) a 7 passenger minivan, but when we went to pick it up they didn't have one available. We got a huge 7 passenger SUV instead at no extra cost!
Here are some of the most popular car rental places:
Avis Car Rentals
Alamo Car Rentals
National Car Rentals
Hertz Car Rentals
Thrifty Car Rentals
Rent A Wreck
Budget Car Rentals --> Be aware that there have been many complaints about Budget charging their customers too much,they have been in the media a lot the last year and there have been law suits. So, if you have another choice of car rental don't go with Budget!
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we rented our cars from enterprise. the cars they provided were surprisingly new and good. we rented from them twice and both times we requested for a mid-sized car. the first time we got a hyundai elantra. the second time we rented we got a mazda 6. both cars were in great condition and were very spacious.
- Road Trip
Watch for pedestrians.
In the U.S., we run over pedestrians all the time, so sometimes it's hard to drive in places like Vancouver, because there are strict laws against it.
The people are healthy here, probably from running and jumping out of the road, when those crazy american drivers come by during tourist season.
Driving in Vancouver is a good way to see some of the more out-of-the-way sites and a car is almost essential for travel around BC. That said, you should be forewarned: Vancouver is not an easy city in which to drive! Taffic is heavy, there are no freeways within the city core, the few freeways that do exist have few on-ramps and are very congested. Streets often lack such things as turn lanes, signage can be vague or even wrong. Couple this with the fact that Greater Vancouver is actually a collection of about 20 cities. Streets have a habit of changing names suddenly and without warning (Hastings Street is suddenly the Barnet Highway, which then turns into St. John's St. which then turns into the Barnet Highway again and then...) And then there are the bridges...Lions Gate, Port Mann, Oak Street, Pitt River... The names all mean one thing - congestion. One accident on a bridge and you have instant gridlock.
Spend the money on an up-to-date mapbook that covers all of Greater Vancouver (including the Fraser Valley).
Taking a car into and around Vancouver
For many Americans living across the border in Washington, the way to get to Vancouver is by going up I-5 until you reach the U.S.-Canadian border. After crossing customs(which may take anywhere up to two hours of thirty minutes depending on if it's a busy day or not) and into Canada, I-5 will change into Highway 99. Take Highway 99 north into the city. Even though the signs might say you're on Granville St, you're still nevertheless on Highway 99.
It should also be noted that if you keep going up 99, you'll end up in Whistler in two and a half hours.
For many Canadian drivers arriving in Vancouver, many do it by the westbound routes of Highway 1 (the TransCanada Highway), Highway 5 (the Coquihalla Highway) and small Highway 7. If you're going to travel on Highway 5, bear in mind that it's a toll highway--Canada's only western tollway--and it will cost you money to drive on.
In Vancouver itself, driving can be kind of hectic. Since the city is fairly crowded and within a few narrow inlets, road congestion is legendary. There are also no major superhighways that lead towards downtown, which is connected to the rest of the city by tributary streets and other roadways. In fact, there's only one major highway that goes through Vancouver (Highway 1). Any other highways in the city turn into city streets.
Keep in mind that if you want to drive over to neighboring Victoria and Vancouver Island, you can't. The water's too deep and the distance too great for a bridge. You'll have to take a pedestrian and car ferry instead.
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If you want to get a car while you are visiting Vancouver email me and I can get you a deal. You do have to have a valid credit card with sufficient space to have a $500 hold placed on it. And a current drivers license.
rental car insurance
Here's a way to save money on car insurance:
Since ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia) is provincially run, everybody who drive MUST purchase auto insurance from them, including your rental car company. When you purchase insurance from the rental company for $20-30, they will take $3-5 of that money and pay ICBC.
you can take the car to ANY insurance company, it's usually about $3-6 per day. The price is fixed not matter which places you go because the government sets the price.
or the old fashion way....
-call your credit card to see if they will cover the insurance
-check with your existing car insurance to see if they will cover your insurance or not. Personally, I uses Century 21th here in SoCal, and they cover my rental insurance.
for those planning to travel around vancouver, especially greater vancouver area, plan ur trip such that u will pass by Burnaby. the gas sold there is always abt 20 to 30 cents cheaper than anywhere else in BC. the gas stations are located mainly along Kingsway street. most of the time all the different companies sell at the same price so u can just go to any one.
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Best way into Vancouver coming...
Best way into Vancouver coming from the States is Highway 99, once you get over the Oak Street Bridge, exit Marine Drive West and this will run you into Granville, straight over the Granville Island Bridge, into downtown! Otherwise take a left on 41st, where I think there is a turn signal (left) (rare in vancouver) and then make a right on Granville.
Advice for American Drivers in Canada: You'll notice three lanes while travelling around the main roads in either directions. Be wary of the right lane, many people park here, you'll be driving along and all of a sudden there's a parked car. Be careful. Also, be careful of the left lane, there are few left turn signals and many cars blocking the left lane waiting till its safe to turn left. Be careful. Also, you'll find some intersections you come to with only a traffic light for one direction. This is a pedestrian light area. Stretch your neck and try to view the opposite angled light, when red, it means you can go. Flashing green means pedestrians are crossing, be careful. Took awhile for me to learn these. Oh, Pedestrians have right of way, everywhere. and No U-turns permitted. Even if there is no sign.
The public transportation...
The public transportation system is the worst nightmare in Vancouver. Most people travel by car since the buses take ages to come and the coverage of the skytrain network is very limited. If you are visting Vancouver, a rental car is an essential and it helps you save a lot of time.
Free parking close to Downtown
These are two spots where I parked for free on weekdays, overnight and received no parking ticket. Both are in Downtown Vancouver, within 2km of the harbor, and within a block or two of a SkyTrain station.
- Expo and Pacific Boulevards between Cambie and Nelson. You'd think it wouldn't be open being so close to Rogers Arena and Yaletown. There are no signs and people seem to camp out here for days. The two cars I parked between in the mid-afternoon were still there the following afternoon.
- Western and Station Streets south of Terminal Avenue. This is a gritty industrial area and I would not necessarily put it highly. Watch for signs because there are restrictions on these streets, including a tow away zone in front of a gate. There was broken glass and some sketchy-looking people around, so be sure to pull the valuables out here. On the plus side, there are lots of spaces later in the day and it's a block walk to the Main SkyTrain station. Additionally, this is next to the train and bus stations, so you could, theoretically, leave your car here for a few days. Just read the city rules on how long you can leave a car on the street consecutively (not sure myself) before you do, as most major cities have a restriction on it.
Another where I didn't park, but found in looking online:
4th & 5th Avenues east of Yukon. There is some restricted parking here, so you have to read the signs. It's only a block or so from the Olympic Village SkyTrain station and a nice walk over Cambie Bridge to Yaletown.
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