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My husband and I took a trip this year to Canada, we drove across the border (a first for me) and drove into another country. I have to say upon returning, my expectations and my experience were different. I keep working on trying to have no expectations, and am surprised when I realized they are a part of my experience.

As an American, I assumed Canada would be similar to America and no adjustments would be needed, but that was not the case. Michael Pollan once wrote how when we travel to a new country everything is just different enough that it makes us pay attention and all the tasks we once thought of as rote and routine become new and require our immediate attention. In other words, travel is a great way to force yourself into being present. I did not assume this would be the case in Canada and I have to say I was wrong.

One tip if you are an American and you have those passport cards (specifically for driving over the border) is that you can hold them up to a scanner before you even get to the booth. We had crossed the border a few times before we realized how this simple trick would help, then we did not feel the need to take out our passports and in one case we did not need to give the border agent anything at all, because all our information instantly appeared on his screen like magic.

After crossing the border I realized the first difference, the metric system. I have to say I am not opposed to the metric system and my husband has wanted America to adopt the metric system for quite a while. The one problem with that was that my car did not want to adopt the metric system and all of our monitoring for speed was in miles per hour not kilometers per hour. We in fact could find no way to switch the system in our car, a digital readout to be in kilometers so we were estimating our speed the whole way.

Then the next sign we weren’t “in Kansas anymore” so to speak is that the money the Canadians used was different. My husband was more prepared for this than I, he had checked at our bank to find a Canadian bank where we could take out money without horrendous fees, aside from the typical conversion fee. I was shocked when the ATM spit out what looked like plastic money. I honestly became obsessed. I loved how colorful it was and the beautiful pictures on it, I think we get so used to the way our money looks and that it is simply a tool to pay for things, we stop seeing what is on it and noticing the details. This did not get old and every time we got to pay cash (I was going to type had to but it felt instead like a privilege to pay cash) it was a fun experience.

Driving in a foreign country is interesting and after my husband and I drove in Italy nothing ever feels so serious. When driving in Ontario the rest stops are called ONroute and usually have rest rooms, meals and internet, which is handy when you do not have cellular service.

When traveling abroad cellular service can be complicated. When we first went to Italy we had none, and solely used the WiFi. We had downloaded some maps on Google and our GPS system still tracked us, but that was it. When we went to Germany last year, we discovered we can pay per day to use the cellular service abroad with our provider (Verizon), and we chose to do that with one phone so we could connect with our friend there, but it was not simple, we basically ended up still connecting via internet channels rather than regular phone calls. In Canada we did the same by only having one of our phones connected (to cut down on cost), so I was glad to have WiFi at those stops because as a chronic Googler it is hard for me to not be able to research the answers to questions I have.

In the Quebec region, they are not as clearly marked or labeled and there do not seem to be many rest stops.  Most places will have gas stations with a WC where you can use the restroom, but some do not.

When we entered Quebec, the feeling that we had actually left the country magnified even more. Most people in Quebec speak both languages, but it became clear to us that really French is the main language and English is secondary. I felt okay knowing some French and was able to get by. It was harder for my husband who does not have any background speaking French, he felt out of place and had not realized how much he would feel like an outsider. Figuring out how to work parking in cities in Quebec was slightly challenging, but doable.

Overall I have to say, Canada was an experience, but I enjoyed our trip. We were able to see a large portion of Canada. We drove through Niagara Falls, Niagara on the Lake, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, and Ottawa. I enjoyed Niagara on the Lake, Toronto, Quebec City and Ottawa the most. Niagara on the Lake and Quebec City had a small European town vibe, with small side streets and shops. Toronto was the most sprawling city I have ever seen, I could not really determine the center. Surprisingly in Toronto we ran into another group from Iowa and were able to bond, it is surprising how being in a new situations leads people to want to connect and to be willing to speak to you when they might not ordinarily. Ottawa was beautiful, the architecture there was amazing and I was impressed by the beauty of it. I would definitely return to Canada. My few takeaways are to expect it to be different from daily life, to stay in one place longer (we basically drove to a new city or area every day for 9-10 days), to slow down and not feel like we had to do it all, and to do a bit more research into the attractions so as to feel connected and excited about what Canada has.

What are your experiences traveling abroad? Was there anything I missed that I should go back and check out? My husband and I do plan on visiting Vancouver. I would love to visit Nova Scotia and British Columbia.



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