8 Tips for Traveling in Ontario, Canada

Oh, Canada. Once you visit, it truly feels like a second home. One thing that I absolutely loved about visiting Ontario last year was that it was foreign enough that I felt like I was on an adventure, but it is just similar enough to life in the States that I didn’t completely feel like a fish out of water.

There are many amazing things about Ontario, but there are also many little details that you should know before you plan a trip to the country’s most populous province!

a five-day (1)

1.) Do NOT, by any means, take the ON-407!!!

This is probably the most important tip, and honestly my experience with the 407 ETR was what really drove me to write this post.

Your GPS will most likely try to get you to take this highway if you end up in the Toronto region; it spans from Burlington to Oshawa, roughly. If you want to take this highway for a short trip (say, from Vaughan to Brampton), it will likely cost you $10 CD or more. However, if you ride the entire route? Good luck with that one, buddy.

Let’s just say that I was not made aware of how expensive this toll route is until after the fact, and it cost me approximately $70 CD. Even translated into USD it was a painful amount!

2.) When going through Customs…

I entered Canada through Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, Michigan. A friend who had visited a few weeks prior had instructed me to provide the Customs officer with my passport, driver’s license, vehicle registration, and even my military ID. None of this was necessary. The Canadian Customs officer actually thought it was funny that I had over-prepared! The U.S. officer (when I was in Buffalo, NY) was highly annoyed, though.

Although you should have those things handy, I would only suggest making a written agenda and keeping it nearby, just in case the officer wants to ask about your plans while in the country (the Canadian one did). Also, if you will be taking turns driving with another person, make sure that the owner of the vehicle is the one who is driving when going through customs. While it likely won’t matter, it is always nice to be on the cautious side.

ALSO! If you are underage in the United States for consuming alcohol, you CANNOT bring any beverages that you purchased in Canada back over the border. And no matter how old you are, you cannot drive with an opened container of alcohol. Furthermore, while marijuana is now legal in CA, you should know not to bring it back to the States.

3.) Ontarian highway speed limits are slower, but everyone goes the same speed as Americans.

Most highways will have a speed limit of 60 km/h, which is the equivalent of… I don’t know, but it’s not fast. You can technically get a ticket for going above 70 km/h, but pretty much everyone goes that fast anyway.

And don’t let the term “kilometer” scare you. Your car already has them written on your speedometer, right beneath the mile equivalent.

4.) To find cheap parking in Toronto, park at Vaughan Metropolitan Centre.

I parked there for nearly an entire day (even a little past midnight), and it was just $5 CD. No if’s, and’s, or but’s. Better yet, VMC is a subway center! So you are within walking distance of the subway, and therefore have access to all the rest of Toronto.

5.) You don’t need to know French!

Not even if you’re in Ottawa.

6.) Ontarian poutine is not all that.

If you want good poutine, you need to go to Quebec. However, Poutini’s on Queen Street is a good place to start if you really are craving some while you’re in Toronto.

7.) If you’re in Toronto, eat at Dumpling House.

You will not regret it! It is very cheap, and once you have eaten there, no other dumpling you eat will ever trump the delicious, savory taste of lamb dumplings. Ugh, I can just taste it in my mouth just thinking about it.

8.) Treasure the time that you’re there!

Ontario is such a beautiful province full of wetlands, waterfalls, beaches, thriving metropoles, access to four of the Great Lakes, and large provincial parks. There truly is something for everyone. It is truly an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.


So, do you think a vacation in Ontario is right for you? Read this post to find out where you should spend you next trip. Then, make sure to follow me to get all of the latest travel posts, and occasionally, a post about music! My social media info is in the sidebars and below.


My Playlist for the New Year

We are at the end of the first day of 2019, so I thought that now would be a great time to share some of my favorite music for entering a new year. For all of the songs in one pin-able graphic, scroll to the bottom of this post!

1.) “Only Time” by Enya

Even though this song was a meme for a brief period of time, it still is one of the most timeless pieces of 21st century music (pun completely intended). Everything from the vocalizations to the beautiful Alto II lines to the modulation at 2:24 makes this song as stunning as ever.

“Who knows? Only time.”

2.) “Salvation” by Gabrielle Aplin

Gabrielle Aplin’s breathy vocals and incorporation of bold string and horn sections with the song’s piano-driven harmony is just the amount of beauty to capture the spirit of winter.

“You are the snowstorm; I’m purified… and let the band play out as I’m making my way home again. Glorious, we transcend into a psychedelic silhouette.”

3.) “Healer” by Kari Jobe

Whenever I’m going through it, this song always puts me in a calm(er) mindset. The lyrics are great ones to keep in mind if you are anxious at all about the coming year.

“You hold my every moment. You calm my raging seas. You walk with me through fire and heal all my disease. I trust in You. Lord, I trust in You… nothing is impossible for You. You hold my world in Your hands.”

4.) “Wasted” by Carrie Underwood

From Carrie Underwood’s very first album, this is a beautiful song about how short and precious life is.

“I don’t want to keep on wishing; missing the still of the morning, the color of the night.”

5.) “Hope is What We Crave” by For KING & COUNTRY

This is a remake of the duo’s song from their first album of same name, Crave. This one is a little bit more uplifting and changes some of the lyrics, making it perfect for the hopeful spirit of the new year.

“To live, to die, to lose, to get, to rise above, to love again.”

6.) “Shake it Out” by Florence + The Machine

“I am done with my graceless heart, so tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart.”

7.) “Light it Up” by For KING & COUNTRY

“Yes, it can be a beautiful morning.”

8.) “Gravel to Tempo” by Hayley Kiyoko

This song is about a teenage Hayley prior to coming out as lesbian. Although I am fairly straight, this is still a song that I find encouraging for anyone trying to understand themselves better in the coming year.

“I don’t feel adequate thinking I’m a monster in disguise. We’ve gone down every list, stuck but I have got to begin to resist. Caught up with the fact that life will be dark… I’ll do this my way… I gotta be on my own.”

9.) “On and On” by Chasen

“I’ve tried my way; it always ends up being a mistake, but You’re right when You say that You set the time for the plans You’ve made… so I’m here, I’m waiting, because I believe… I know that Your love is strong. It goes on and on and on and on.”

10.) “I’ll Be Your Breeze” by Andrew Belle

If you listen to this song and then one from one of his more current albums, you will be shocked that it is the same songwriter. All of his albums are good, but this old EP always has a special place in my heart.

“I know we all play our part in this thing. We’ve all got a song we were put here to sing.”

11.) “Growing Pains” by Deas Vail

Deas Vail is one of my favorite bands from the time I was a preteen, and this is at least in my top five of favorite songs of theirs. It has everything– a beautiful mirroring of piano and violin solos, pumped-up percussion, and thought-provoking lyrics.

“Pages turn and then unfold to show us where we’ve been as the signs along the road to lead us home again.”

12.) “Go Do” by Jonsi

“We can always know that we can do everything. Go do.”

13.) “Let ’em Say” by Lizzo and Caroline Smith

“Let ’em say what they’re gonna say. They’re gonna feel what they gonna feel.”

14.) “Dance in the Graveyards” by Delta Rae

This is not supposed to be ominous or anything; I promise that it’s an uplifting song.

“I don’t want to rest in peace; I want to dance in joy… and while I’m alive, I don’t wanna be alone.”

15.) “Dare You to Move” by Switchfoot

I would also like to suggest Jayesslee’s cover, which is what I usually listen to. It can be found on Spotify.

“Move like today never happened before.”

16.) “Love Out Loud” by Jaci Velasquez

“Take His love to the streets, show compassion to a soul in need… the touch is loving more than words; it’s reaching out for all to see the Light that shines through me.”

17.) “Who You Say I Am” by Hillsong Worship

While I am honestly mostly attracted to this song’s bassline, it still has such a powerful message. Also, fun fact, my friend knows this in sign language.

“Who the Son sets free… is free indeed. I’m a child of God, yes I am!”

18.) “God is Able” by Hillsong Worship

“Greater than all we seek, greater than all we ask. He has done great things.”

19.) “Easy” by the Commodores

This is, quite literally, an easy-going song about just letting go of others’ expectations and kind of just doing your own thing. It also has a beautiful (yet brief) modulation at 2:40. That eight-second interlude is actually my favorite part, although the guitar solo is obviously a close second.

I believe that this song carries an energy that all of us should carry into 2019 and the rest of our lives.

“I wanna be free, just me.”


If you liked this post, then please hit “Like,” feel free to follow me on here, and you can also follow my Pinterest (@hopeezell5), Instagram (@hopeezell) and Twitter (@TheAfroAlto).

4 New Year’s Day Journal Activities (and tips for keeping your resolutions!)

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope that 2018 treated you all well and that 2019 will be even better. For me, 2018 was a pretty average year– it wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t extremely awesome, either. However, I did follow through on ten of last year’s non-musical resolutions (out of eighteen… but I’m still proud of myself– some people only have one and they still don’t reach it) and experienced a lot of new things, so I’m going to count it as a good one.

In 2019, I’m hoping to follow through on at least twelve of the non-musical half of my resolutions (I will have 38 total), and I think that I may be on track. If you are someone who struggles to keep it up after January, then these prompts might just help you!

LIfe in g major

Journal Prompt #1: Gratitude

It is easy to get caught up in the false dichotomy of a year either being good or bad. I mean, just scroll through Twitter for five minutes and the amount of “I want to die” tweets will outnumber the “I made so much progress” ones.

If you are someone who had a bad year at face value, give yourself a few minutes to think about everything you have to be thankful for. It can be as big or little as you want, and remember to have fun with it! Just as you may be thankful for your family and friends, you can also be thankful for tacos.

Journal Prompt #2: Collage

You can make a collage out of anything you want– theatre programs, magazine papers, sheet music– you name it. Just use something that is meaningful to you, and there is no way that you can go wrong.

A creative idea that I tried this year was keeping the majority of my 2018 retail receipts and then collaging the ones from special occasions (e.g. a receipt from going out to dinner on my friend’s birthday) while providing a small sentence explaining the relevance of the receipt.

Journal Prompt #3: Year-in-Review

Isn’t that the thing that Spotify does at the end of every year? The thing that always lies about your top genre? And says that The Cheetah Girls is one of your top artists but you only listened to them like, five times this year?

Well, it can also just be a list of things that happened in the year. I typically focus on the good things, but you don’t have to. Anything that was relevant to your growth as an individual is worth putting on the list.

Journal Prompt #4: New Year’s Resolution(s)

Everyone and their mother has a resolution, but are you making one that is achievable?

First, look back or try to remember last year’s resolutions. Which ones did you succeed with and which ones did you not? If you succeeded (e.g. resolved to read ten books in the year and followed through), then challenge yourself to do it again, but this time upping the requirements (e.g. twelve books instead of ten). If you did not succeed, check to see if you gave yourself a clear way to measure (for example, “I want to maintain a 3.5 GPA” in lieu of “I want to maintain a good GPA”). If you didn’t, then do it this time around! If you did and still didn’t succeed, then lower your expectations slightly. For example, if you have never been able to get a 4.0 and it’s been your resolution every year, you may become discouraged. So, maybe lower your expectation to 3.8 and see if you can achieve that. If you do, raise your standards the next year and build your way up to that 4.

Do not make resolutions that are dependent on another person. Obviously there are some exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, try to make it so that the only person holding you back from achieving your goals is you. Don’t give yourself the “they didn’t pull their weight, so it’s not my fault I failed” excuse. Likewise, do not resolve things that you cannot control. Don’t resolve that you will no longer be single this year when there’s an entire other person involved who has to fall in love with you. While it could happen (and I am PRAYING it happens to me), there is no possible way to work toward it on your own.

Keep looking at your resolutions throughout the year to assess your progress. You may reach some of your goals without even thinking about it!

Don’t be too strict. For example, I am trying to be more punctual for social events; however, I know that simply writing “I will be on time” is going to get me nowhere. So, instead I wrote “[I will] arrive on time [or] within five minutes of start time.” This will help me to ease into it and stay encouraged as I focus on my progress.

BONUS Journal Prompt: Life Update

This prompt is just like any entry that you would normally write; just remember to include the date, your current age, year in school if applicable, a brief idea of what a typical day is like for you, relationship update, realizations, career update, current obsessions, and maybe even a little bit of your five-year plan.


Well, that’s all I have to say! Real images from my journal are below. Are you someone who usually achieves all of their resolutions? If so, tell me how you do it in the comments! If you liked this post, then please hit “Like,” feel free to follow me on here, and you can also follow my Pinterest (@hopeezell5), Instagram (@hopeezell) and Twitter (@TheAfroAlto).