travel tips: navigating accidental canada

As I encounter surprising and difficult situations in my road trip around the U.S., I have high hopes that I might pave the way for others. While experiencing the pitfalls and perils of life on the road, my honorable lot in life is the blazing of this trail for the many who will follow on year-long collegiate-oriented road trips of their own.

As part of this trailblazing, it is important that I provide cautionary tales from outposts along the way, highlighting what one can expect – and the actions one can take – when placed in disorienting situations within their trip.

That being said, today’s lesson is entitled

What to do if you find yourself in a tunnel to Canada (by accident)

As you make your way throughout the United States, you should not be surprised if you accidentally find yourself in a tunnel, crossing a bridge, or riding a galloping horse across the Canadian border. As you may be aware, there are many entry points between our fair nation and our neighbors to the north.

One hypothetical scenario might involve exploring Downtown Detroit, driving to see the waterfront (which you might mistakenly assume is one of the Great Lakes), and suddenly winding up in a tunnel under the Detroit River on the way to Canada. Perhaps.

If this happens, here are circumstances you can expect / steps to take:

  1. DO NOT PANIC. Panic only increases your chances of wrecking in the tunnel under the river, breaching the wall, and causing the deaths of hundreds. You will also want a steady heart rate for the questioning at Customs (point 3 below).
  2. When you notice you are only two cars away from the Customs Booth, begin searching frantically through your road trip luggage for your passport. The passport is the best form of identification and proof of citizenship.
  3. Expect many questions from the Canadian Customs girl in the heavy police gear. She is simply trying to make sure you are a normal year-long road-tripper and not a terrorist. It might help to offer a business card.
  4. At this point, it can be helpful to know foreign phrases. For instance, if she asks you, “What is your trip aboot?,” this translates to, “What is your trip about?” in American.
  5. Lastly, be prepared for the police girl to suggest that next time you cross the border, you should not have your entire vehicle filled with boxes, bedding, etc., because it makes it seem as though you are trying to move to Canada.

At this point, you are presumably hoping to make the most of your first-ever visit to Canada, so you probably want to visit a college campus. The University of Windsor, conveniently located less than 2 miles from the entrance to Canada, is your best bet. It also shares “federated status” (?) with its parent institution Assumption University, so you will actually be able to visit two campuses with one stop.

Fortunately, your Garmin GPS will be more than capable of locating the university, even in Canada. She’s the best.

Once you arrive at U of W, it may help to remind yourself that you are not in the United States anymore. You should expect cultural differences, such as the following:

  1. The University of Windsor Student Centre (“Student Center” in American) may be hosting a Family FUN Day for the JazzPurr Society for Animal Protection. This indoor event could involve a moon bounce and clowns. While this unexpected activity may be quite disorienting, remember that you are a guest in this country.
  2. Even on a nearly uninhabited campus (it being both Saturday and summer break), you should still not be surprised to come across some sort of acting troupe that has drawn a crowd. Their work will likely involve something about Amazon women, include moving the entire operation around campus, and scare the pants off you. It is best to take pictures and then move on speedily.
  3. If you approach a sign denoting a campus landmark and find it to be written in French, do not fret. Simply circle the sign; it is likely that the same information can be found in English on the reverse. (This trick is also applicable at Louisiana State University.)
  4. It is also possible you will see a clock apparently 12 hours ahead of your own timepiece (i.e., “15:32” vs. “3:32”). However, contrary to popular opinion, Ontario is not 12 time zones ahead of Michigan. Instead, some of its clocks appear to run on “military time,” also known as the “24-hour clock.”
  5. If you need a University of Windsor sticker to affix to your Big Red X that you carry to each campus, just ask! The nice bookstore people are happy to donate to the cause.

I hope you enjoy your time on campus(es). But before you know it, it will be time to leave this noble land of the Maple Leaf! Once in your vehicle, simply follow Garmin’s instructions, and you will depart via the Ambassador Bridge. Cars on the left; trucks on the right; AM 1610 for bridge info.

Here is what to expect and do as you repatriate:

  1. The lines to the U.S. are much longer than those from the U.S. I have several theories about this. It is likely that Detroit, Michigan, is more fascinating than Windsor, Ontario. However, another theory is that a steady flood of Canadian citizens is simply immigrating to the United States relatively unhindered. Or, it could be that Canadians have designed the border crossing to be something like Caesar’s Palace, where the moving walkways only travel into the casino.
  2. Expect the U.S. Customs agent to ask similar questions as the Canadian agent, until he discovers you attended Texas A&M University, located near his former job site. Then expect trivia surrounding the school’s many traditions and landmarks, ostensibly to confirm that you actually attended but most likely simply to entertain the Customs agent. This could last several minutes; answer as best you can and enjoy the nostalgia. (Include this situation as another possible reason for the situation in #1 above.)
  3. You will have to pay a toll as you arrive. Though the toll when leaving the country was payable by credit card, this toll will require cash. Since at this point you have no cash, explain this to the toll booth worker. Fortunately, the toll is apparently completely optional. The worker will simply require you to search your car and give what you can – 5 quarters and a bunch of pennies is acceptable – and then sign a sheet. (Include this situation as another possible reason for the situation in #1 above.)

Thus completes your first visit to Canada! Close attention to these tips will ensure it is a safe, pleasant, and productive visit.

Written from Kalamazoo, Michigan


  1. Pingback: one hundred fifty « Exploring College Ministry

  2. Hilarious – and mostly accurate! (although I don’t understand how you can accidentally end up at the border…) Every time I come home from the States, I’m amazed at how short the lines are.

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