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!

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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.

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Deciding Where to Travel for Your Vacation

It has been more than seven months since I visited Canada for the first time, and I have not been able to stop thinking about it these past few days. I never realized how liberating it was, I guess– going on a vacation without my parents, planning to do what I wanted to do and not what the family was compromising on. So, I decided that this summer, I want to go somewhere again.

However, this time around, I want to have an island vacation. This is a little bit of a challenge for at least… hmm, who knows how many reasons. The fact that I’m a college kid perhaps. Or maybe because I’m setting a $500 budget (and really trying to stay below $300). Or because I am trying to avoid flying.

“Wait, so you don’t want to fly, but you’re planning an island vacation? And hold up, you live in– Ohio? Where are you trying to go?”

Well, I’m exploring the islands of Lake Erie (one of which is in Ontario). This trip will involve ferry rides, swimming, walks on the beach, fine dining, exploring wineries (still underage in Put-in-Bay, but legal in Pelee)… and much, much more. As I get closer to the trip, I’ll talk more about it.

But until then, here are some tips for how to make the first step in planning the affordable vacation of YOUR dreams– deciding where you’re going to spend it!

Where Should You Go On Vacation_

So, what should you consider when you’re deciding where to go?

1.) Allow yourself to dream.

You can do this by closing your eyes and imagining yourself in your “happy place,” wherever that may be. For me, it’s the beach. You can also write an entry in your journal or make a list of things you would want to do on your ideal vacation. Don’t think about budgets at this point. Just allow yourself to dream.

2.) Decide on a travel method.

Driving will be the cheapest option for most affordable vacations, but it may not always be. Depending on parking and lodging expenses, you may even want to take a Greyhound or Amtrak.

3.) Look for places nearby that offer what you want.

If your happy place is the beach, look for the nearest coast to you. If it’s somewhere in the mountains, look for the nearest mountain range. While you may not end up in the biggest, fanciest locations, I guarantee that you will find something charming, and perhaps a lot more than you would expect for a low price.

4.) Research the location’s weather patterns and the best time to go.

One mistake I made on my Ontario trip was attempting to swim in the middle of a Canadian May. If I could go back, I definitely would have visited in June, or maybe even July. This time around, since I know for a fact that swimming is a priority, I am choosing to go in July. Weather anywhere can be rather unpredictable, but usually it becomes fairly consistent during the summer months.

5.) Boldly go where others have been before.

If you’re really stuck on multiple could-be-fun places, ask around! That one really well-traveled friend of yours who seems to spend more time on a plane than at work? They probably have some really good suggestions (and maybe even some perks) that they can share with you.

6.) Make a rough draft of your budget.

Once you have a better idea of the kind of vacation you want, you can start making a rough estimation of how much you want to spend. You don’t have to go into extreme detail at this point in the planning process (we’ll save that for the next post in this series!), but just have a little idea. “I want to spend no more than $250,” for example. This should really help you narrow down your options as you find places where you will be able to get the most out of your buck.

7.) Are you going to go solo or invite someone along for the ride?

Sometimes I forget that not everyone is single and some people can go on trips with their significant other. How wild. Anyway, your decision may be impacted by whether or not you will be going with someone (or if you/they have kids). What is their happy place? What are their favorite vacation activities?

8.) What will you actually do on your trip?

You don’t need to go to the Caribbean if you’re just looking to observe the blue waters. You don’t have to head to NYC if you can find everything you want in Toronto. I bet that you can find 99% of what you’re looking for in cheaper locations than you’re expecting.

9.) What are the locals saying?

Once you’ve really narrowed it down and are zeroing in on one or two places, find out what locals and frequent travelers think of it. Which businesses should you visit or avoid? What are the best restaurants? Are there places that tourists frequently overlook, but locals love? Believe me; listen to the locals and you will get the absolute most out of your experience.

10.) What do you need?

Why do you need this vacation? Do you just want a weekend getaway for a little bit of fun and some photos for your Instagram page? Do you need a long break from your home life? Are you looking for spiritual refreshment? Inspiration? Just to find some cute tourists to, um, chill with? (Sorry, I’m a woman of God; that last point was too much.)

Find out what you need this trip to provide you, and find out which place(s) are the most likely to do it. This should help you to make your final decision if you haven’t already.

 

I hope that this post helped you! Feel free to leave your own advice in the comments if you’d like. 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).

How I Vacationed in Ontario for $500

I hadn’t left Ohio in nearly three years, and I was catching a serious case of wanderlust. However, when you’re nineteen and don’t have money to fly, sometimes your dream vacation seems out of reach. Luckily, mine wasn’t.

On this trip we explored the Lake Simcoe region, Sandbanks Provincial Park, Toronto, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and various other places. Our activities included hiking, kayaking, swimming, shopping, fine dining, camping and more, and the best part is…

We did it all for less than $500.

how i vacationed in Ontario for $500

1) I went with a friend.

This may seem like a “duh” thing, but going with my best friend really did help a lot of things. First of all, it obviously made the trip more enjoyable because I didn’t have to drive the entire time. Second, we were able to divvy up the costs; I covered lodging and most of the food, she covered gas and transportation (I definitely got the short end of that stick, but I’m not bitter… it was my idea). Third, we were able to use both of our strengths to get the most out of the trip; my strengths being in planning and budgeting, and hers being in survival and practical skills.

2) We established our goals near the beginning of the planning process.

We originally were just dreaming about visiting Canada, and before I knew it I had a passport. Once summer break hit, we had various planning sessions at my house where we stated the things that we were not willing to budge on. She wanted to hike, camp, and kayak, and I wanted to explore Toronto, drink wine, see the lakes, and eat poutine. Because we knew what we wanted early on, we were able to budget for it.

3) We drove.

Driving to Ontario is not possible for everyone, but luckily it was possible for us. It was a very long trip in the car compared to what could have been a three-hour flight, but we survived. Also, thanks to gas cards, we spent less than $150 on gas (which is why I definitely got the short end of that stick).

4) We reserved lodging with Booking and Expedia.

Our first night was spent at Lakehead University Residence and Conference Centre, which is actually a college dormitory that is not in use during the summer months. We reserved a suite for two adults, with each of us getting our own rooms with full-sized beds connected by the bathroom. There was a common room on our floor where we had access to a microwave, and also were able to converse with fellow travelers! Our beds were really hard, but otherwise it was a pretty comfortable experience. My friend joked that we drove all the way to Canada just to sleep in a college dorm again, but it was great for the price, which evened out to $63. This was reserved with Booking.

After we camped in Prince Edward County, we spent a night at Newton Villa in Brampton, a suburb of Toronto. It was a bed-and-breakfast setup and very clean. The woman assigned to us was very friendly, and our room featured a queen-sized bed. It costed the equivalent of $76 and was reserved with Expedia.

Basically, we weren’t afraid to sleep somewhere other than a traditional hotel.

5) We camped for two nights.

We took one of the cheapest camping spots in Sandbanks Provincial Park, but you wouldn’t know it just from looking. Our tent was just steps away from the beaches of Lake Ontario, and you could hear the waves crashing against the shore throughout the night. It was so relaxing. We even went out and read books by the lake at one point.

Now, let me get this straight. I do not generally enjoy camping. I’m terrified of spiders, I always get eaten up by mosquitos, porta potties make me gag… I just generally cannot do it. But even though the porta potties were definitely… like that, everything else was fine. Hardly any spiders.

And we paid $78.42 for our entire stay (two nights) on Outlet A.

6) We brought some of our own food.

We were able to cut down on time on the road and expenses on dining by packing our own food in a cooler. We didn’t waste any money on McDonald’s– well, I did get a sausage burrito on the Canadian side, AND IT TASTED THE SAME AS IT DOES IN THE STATES! YOU CANADIANS ARE LIARS!

7) And when we did dine out, we shared our food.

Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake are not cheap places at all. However, we managed through sharing.

We ate an early dinner at Dumpling House in the Chinatown district of Toronto where we ordered the meal of three different types of dumpling. The lamb ones were the best, in my opinion. The whole order of fifteen dumplings was a little over $9.10 USD, including the tip. It was definitely worth it. I almost wish we didn’t share.

Later on in the evening we stopped at Poutini’s and got some traditional poutine. I will admit, I wasn’t impressed and needed to add hot sauce and vinegar. But I refuse to give up on poutine. It costed $7.33 converted.

Niagara-on-the-Lake was where we truly allowed ourselves to splurge and spent over $30, thanks to myself ordering a glass of red wine. Before you gasp, I am legal in Ontario. We shared escargot and spanakopita as well.

8) One generous friend.

Shout-out to my girl Bethany! She gave me about $55 Canadian dollars (which DID NOT smell like maple… at all) and enough subway tokens to last my entire day in Toronto.

She’s also the one who suggested Dumpling House to me. She is a very good friend.

9) If we didn’t want it at home, we didn’t buy it.

I didn’t suddenly purchase a huge beach towel just because it said “Sandbanks” on it. If I didn’t need or want one while I was at home, I knew it would go to waste. I did buy an expensive pair of sandals, however. But I had been needing a new pair for years now; I deserved to treat myself.

10) We generally spent time in non-tourist locations.

Aside from Niagara, locals were often surprised that we were American. “Why did you come here?” a lot of the Orillia and Prince Edward residents would ask us. These were cute towns, but so few non-Canadian tourists knew about them. However, it did save us money, because tourist-popular cities tend to make things ten times more expensive than they need to be. Also, gas prices were tolerable.

Well, that’s all for now! I will be posting pictures and more tips on travel in Ontario sometime soon! To see our full budget, you can use this link.