Travel & Culture

I Took A Turo From Calgary To Banff: Here’s What It Was Like

March 18, 2024

At some point in the last year, around the time that I saw my 10th-ever province (Saskatchewan), I began fancying myself as a seasoned traveller of Canada. In my 28 years, I had stumbled in and out of bars in St. John’s, Newfoundland; plodded through farmland in Abbotsford, B.C.; seen the underwhelming longitudinal centre of the country in Winnipeg; and thoroughly explored the red shores of PEI. But the most Canadian destination of all still eluded me: Banff, the National Park in Alberta scaling a particularly Instagrammable stretch of the Rockies. My partner Alexis and I had previously toyed with the idea of ditching our Toronto condo for two weeks and driving across Canada in our 2010 Honda Civic to witness the place for ourselves; but had balked at the idea of slogging in the cold for days with an old car; leaving Banff to the imagination and the back of postcards everywhere.

So, when Turo, a digital rent-a-car service, invited us to test-drive a vehicle from Calgary to Banff in late-February, we threw caution into the wind and flew to the Prairies in short order; impending snow falls be damned. The idea was to borrow a vehicle from one of the platform’s 160,000 hosts, drive it for three days, and then return it to them with a full tank of gas. Think: AirBnB for cars.

Alexis and I spent an hour on the app, scrolling and sifting through our options, until we settled on a black, 2023 BMW X1, owned by a Five-Star host named Monique. The cost, $208 for two days, was comparable to that of other car rental platforms. But the pickup was hassle free: no signing a million papers, being upsold a monstrous insurance policy, or having to settle for “something similar” to the car we’d ordered. Best of all, there was no waiting in line at a crowded airport booth; all we did upon landing was send Monique a message through the app: “We’re here!” She answered immediately with directions to the vehicle, parked in the Calgary Airport’s Long Term Parking Lot B. “It should be open now,” she wrote, “enjoy your trip!” 

We tossed our suitcases in the back of the Beemer, and soon were trekking from Calgary to Banff: one of the only routes in Canada that maintains its traffic and touristic appeal even in the depths of winter. With two dozen press trippers, we flanked the Rockies in a luxury convoy: sandwiched between a Porsche Macan and a handful of Jeeps – all four-wheel drive, all rented. 

Our first stop was Cochrane Coffee Traders: a locally owned, two-storey cabin 30 minutes north-west of Calgary, famous for its house brews and morning glory muffins. From there, we hit the road again towards Canmore and its hiking trails. Rolling over a film of fresh snow, we pulled into the Three Sisters Creek Trail: a three-mile, undulating path in the mountains, punctuated with pine trees and fat-tire bike trails. We parked the car on the street, strapped on snow crampons, and trudged towards the trail end in thinning air; risking it for the photos. We came back down after two hours and re-fuelled at Bridgette Bar — an oaky, après-ski restaurant on the foot of the Three Sisters — for a high-calorie feast of chicken, sausage, pasta, and banana cream pie only permissible post-hike. The time of day, 2 p.m., split the group into coffee-guzzling drivers and beer-sipping passengers. 

Caffeinated and full, I returned to the X1 and steered it towards our trip’s final destination: the Fairmont Banff Springs, Western Canada’s Buckingham Palace or Château Frontenac, once frequented by Marilyn Monroe, Queen Elizabeth, and thousands of tourists every day. From the time Alexis and I drove through the courtyard and towards the valet in our boastful BMW, conspicuous everywhere but here, we felt as though we were playing wealthy in a movie. We parked the car, put on our best clothes, and walked through the hotel’s marble pillars, under arched ceilings, up twirling stairs, through a secret door disguised as a bookshelf, and into a private bar with house prosecco and poke bowls – a momentary escape from our everyday lives. 

Luxuries are best enjoyed sparingly: even a sparkling X1, after a few days, loses its new car smell. The beauty of Turo is that you can endlessly recreate the novelty with a different vehicle. The app has car options in eight Canadian provinces, the US and parts of Europe. There are caravans for family road trips, Teslas for curious testers, and luxury SUVs to fit in with a bunch of influencers. “We think selection is our superpower,” said Cedric Mathieu, Senior VP and Head of Turo Canada. 

Alexis and I, for one, had picked the right car. Leaving it where we had found it – the L2B parking lot at the Calgary Airport – after the clock struck midnight felt like a harsh breakup. We sent Monique her five stars, collected our luggage, and returned to our Honda Civic and our regular lives. I crossed Banff off my list, sad that it marked the end of my journey through Canada. My exploration of new cars, conversely, has just begun. —Alex Cyr


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