There has been more focus on Canada lately than ever before. Citizens of the United States have been joking about moving to their Great Northern Neighbor for years as their political relations continue to strain and Canada rises as a world superpower. If you’ve been curious, here is your opportunity to hear what you need to know before visiting Canada!
Canada is one of our favorite countries. It has a reputation for having cold weather and friendly people, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg! It’s an interesting, beautiful country with unique provinces from East to West. You can easily fall in love with the crisp air and good food, but you should be prepared to know a few things before your trip.
This list of things to know will help you enjoy travelling to Canada!
Planning a trip to Canada? Here is the best list of things you should know first!
1. Marijuana is legal.
You’ll smell it everywhere! You’ll even find stores selling medical marijuana which advertise by pumping the scent into the street. The stores can get pretty creatively named and marketed, but it’s equally annoying to see smoke everywhere. But hey, they are a peaceful people so who am I to judge!
2. Watch parking meters CLOSELY!
Parking is difficult in big cities. You’ll either spend a lot of time looking for street parking or be forced into a parking garage. Parking garages can be expensive, but street parking is rare. If you do happen to find street parking be prepared to pay for exactly how much time you need! We saw meter guards on a daily basis patrolling street parking spaces who didn’t hesitate for a second to write a ticket.
3. Weather changes on a dime.
It’s smart to pack a light jacket and umbrella close by (preferably in the bag you carry out) as weather could turn cold or rainy instantly.
4. Loonies and Twonies
A one-dollar coin is common and nicknamed a “Loonie”. This is based on the trademark image of a loon (bird) flying across the back. A 2-dollar coin is also common and called a “Twonie”, but without the bird. A Twonie has a gold circle in the middle, but earned it’s nickname to match the more common one-dollar.
5. There’s a LOT of national pride.
I’ve heard a lot of Canadians point out the obnoxious pride of people from The States. While they aren’t wrong, I think they should look in a mirror. Canadians are a proud people and red, white, and maple leaves are everywhere! Once you’re aware you’ll start to notice drops of Canadian pride on clothes, street lamps, fountains, walking paths, advertisements, and just about everywhere else.
For that reason you won’t have any trouble finding a souvenir store! Canadian gift stores are more common across the entire country than they are in New York or San Fransisco. Drop in to get the shot glass, scarf, postcards, fish jerky, long johns, and maple syrup candy bars your friends and family asked for.
Except for Quebec.
6. Garbage is taken very seriously.
One thing to note before traveling to Canada from the United States is that they take garbage and recycling really seriously.
Hotels and AirBnB’s will have two bins in each room: one for organic (food and such) and one for inorganic (plastics and recycling). Public trash cans are everywhere to keep the streets clean, as well. At the least you’ll see one metal can with a ring around the top. These are meant for trash to be put inside and plastic cups or other recyclable materials to be left inside the outer ring. At most you’ll find trash bins of 5 separate units for the different types of trash and recycling.
There’s usually a diagram to show you which trash goes where, but if you mess up many cities employ trash watchers who stand guard with a picker to put the trash in the correct bin. Seriously.
7. Beware the bathrooms
Very few public businesses will allow non-customers to use the washroom. Most (especially in large cities) have signs warning against using their washroom on the door. There are public washrooms in certain cities, though.
7. No soda fountains
This isn’t true of all places, but most restaurants do not use a soda fountain for drinks. If you order a soda you’ll be given a can or bottle. If you receive your drink in a glass be prepared to be charged for every refill, as they are in the back opening a new can for you each time. You’ll usually see cans in a fridge behind the cash register or a pile of bottles in the plastic holders next to the door to give you this hint, but if you ever aren’t sure if free refills are included just ask. No shame!
8. Bedrooms are Small
There are different arhitectural standards in Canada than in the United States. In Canada bedrooms are not required to have a closet or window, so many homes maximize the number of bedrooms by cutting down on that space. If you rent an AirBnB with two bedrooms be prepared that one (or both) could be just big enough for a bed and nothing else.
9. You pay for plastic grocery bags
You’ll see lots of people carrying fabric bags when shopping. This is because the country is very environmentally concious, and also because store will charge for plastic bags. You can either take the cost or keep your own bags around to save money, feel good, and look like a local.
10. Canadian Tire is more than Tires
At first I thought Canadian Tire was a mechanic’s shop. Not unreasonable, right? It took months of walking past one to walk in and realize it’s more of a K-Mart! Not all Canadian Tires even carry tires!
You’ll find Canadian Tire stores are pretty common, and will carry a small selection of things to fit your needs. Don’t be scared by the name!
11. Expect Different Snacks
One thing that’s hard for travelers from the United States to understand about Canada is that foods that look the same are actually quite different.
Snacks you’re used to in The States may look or taste different just across the border. This is due to different food safety standards and different licensing agreements. Kit Kat, for example, is owned by Nestle in Canada and by Hershey in The States. The name and concept is the same, but the wrapper and chocolate taste is different.
We think lots of these recognizable foods actually taste better in Canada. Try some and see for yourself!
12. Watch for Road Construction
Unpredictable constructions stops and heavily congested traffic make driving in big cities a nightmare. You’ll find random one-way streets with little warning, confusing street parking signs, traffic merged to one lane with hardly any notice, etc. Some cities, like Montreal, are actually famous for having terrible road construction zones that make a trip down the road take hours!
On the flipside, public transportation is usually amazing.
14. Don’t Say You’re American
If you’re traveling to Canada this is something you just need to accept.
Many (though some don’t care) Canadians get territorial about the term “American”. They believe they are also Americans, as Canada is in North America. The fact that “America” is in the direct name of the country to their south doesn’t seem to make much difference. You’ll hear most Canadians refer to people from across the border as from “The States”, so it’s polite to say that, too. They’ll understand what you mean when you say “I’m American”, but they’ll probably think you’re an ignorant snob for not recognizing their (and Mexico’s, I guess?) claim to the same term.
We hope you enjoy your trip to Canada! If you have any other things to know before going to Canada leave them in a comment to share with others!