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Jewels of the North
Breezy Blackpool
Witches and Hot Pot
A Lightning Tour

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The Island of Crete

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Ancient Rome
Renaissance Rome

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Some tips on
Living Simply

Travel Tips For Americans Vacationing in Canada

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By Pat Mestern

Want a cheap(er) vacation? Try Canada. The psychological key to a cheap Canadian vacation is to always remember that the U.S dollar is worth approx. $1.45 Canadian (Americans get at least $1.45 on every U.S. dollar). One can have a great vacation in a safe, friendly country for approximately 45% off everything. Even with the various taxes, Canada is a bargain. Of course, gas is double the price but with rooms available at $50. U.S, who quibbles? Actually, (for the sake of comparison, although gas is sold by the litre in Canada), the Canadian gallon is an "Imperial" gallon - 1/5 more in your tank. Just "fill yer up" and don’t sweat the issue.

To save money on gas, choose a province that has a lot going on in a small geographic area. You don't want to spend all your vacation driving, do you? Ontario, Quebec, P.E.I., Nova Scotia are good destinations. Town and villages are close together and the next attraction is just around the corner. Canadian cities are super expensive! Who needs them? Not a family trying to have a reasonably priced vacation. Stay well outside large cities, unless you like cities and have oodles of money to spend. Choose to explore small towns and villages and pretty byways. Of course, some large attractions are near cities. By all means take them in (especially if you have a great discount coupon) but plan to stay and eat in smaller communities close by. I'm not panning the other great provinces, but trying to keep your vacation cheap with full days of activities. You need not speak French to enjoy Quebec.

Before crossing any border, do your homework. Plan your destination route. Do this at least six months before the holiday. Every province has a tourism bureau accessible with a #1-800 number (#1-800-ONTARIO). Ask for a package of free information including a road map, contacts for regional visitor bureaus, discount coupon books, Accommodations guide, Provincial attractions guides and any specific information you need - camping guide, fishing guide, Bed & Breakfast guide. Be specific about asking for discount coupon books. One can also access provincial information on the Internet. One popular site is - a Canadian search engine with extensive travel connections.

Plan your vacation for the shoulder seasons - less people, better rates. Shoulder seasons are May-early June, September, October. Kids still in school? Do not worry about taking them out for a week or two. They are visiting a "foreign" country and will learn far more in the field than in the classroom. When talking with regional/local information centres, ask for local discount books, area road maps, a list of festivals and special events and other pertinent information. Tell them you are planning a cheaper vacation. Ask their opinion on where to stay, what to do, what to see FOR FREE. If you are traveling with "out of school" children, ask if these centres would send an information package specifically for the children. They can keep a travel journal. Never pass a Chamber of Commerce office or visitor info centre without stopping, asking for local information, discount coupons and a list of area happenings. These centres have excellent restrooms - and some offer free coffee too.

Better to exchange your American dollars before you come across the border or at the nearest Canadian bank you find open, after you cross. Provincial Visitor Centres (in Ontario) have dollar exchanges right in the building. Banks and these centres give the fairest exchange. In a "foreign" country, one should always use the currency of the country. Most Canadian businesses do accept US dollars but many do not give FAIR exchange - and a few will not give exchange at all. If you have US dollars only, ask what the business is paying exchange BEFORE making any purchases. If you do not hear $.35 - .45 Cdn on the dollar (this means $1.35 - $1.45 in your favour) do not deal with the business.

Admission to local museums and historical sites is reasonable. Natural attractions are usually free - i.e. viewing Niagara Falls is free, the plant conservatory and School of Horticultural Gardens are free - it is the "garbage" surrounding the Falls area that costs money! Take in as many free special events and festivals as you can. Street festivals don't charge admission and can be great fun for the entire family. Check out small town theatre which is not only reasonably priced but great professional entertainment too. If you must take in one city, don't miss the Capital of Canada, Ottawa in Ontario. Many museums and galleries are free. There are walkways, guided tours, outdoor markets... The city is small, friendly and beautiful! If you are a business and have a business card, ask for business or commercial rates when making accommodations reservations. After you all are traveling on business - the business of vacationing. Explain that you are on business, but bringing your family this time. If you do not wish to go this route, ask for family rate or lowest rate they have to offer. Choose accommodation where the kids stay free. Always make as many reservations in advance as possible. "Mom & pop" run motels usually lower their rate during the shoulder seasons. Seniors should ask for the senior’s discounts, the equivalent of AARP - Canadians have CARP. Camping is a bargain in both private and provincial parks.

Bed & Breakfast accommodations fall into two categories. Those that are "magazine perfect" and charge a small fortune to stay in a "heritage home full of antiques with a gourmet breakfast"@ approx. $100. per night OR those that offer " a clean room in a family home with a full breakfast in the morning @ approx. $50. per night. You know which to choose!

Eat at "Mom & pop" run, small town restaurants where lunch specials are a bargain. Do what many Canadians do. Have breakfast or lunch at a donut shop (there seems to be one on each corner in Canada) - bagel & coffee @1.50 Cdn - soup & sandwich @3.99 Cdn. Choose buffets where the kids eat free - ask for a child's menu or order an adult meal and extra plates. Bring along a cooler. Buy daily specials. Pack lunches and snacks. Many small communities have great bakeries! Don't buy meals at the big attractions. Prices reflect that you are a captive audience. Eat a huge breakfast before you enter, pack a substantial lunch, and eat a good supper when you leave.

If you are traveling with children, ask a local Chamber of Commerce if they could put you in touch with a local school. Arrange for a "day in the classroom" for your children. This gives them the opportunity to meet with Canadians of their age - and Canadian children the opportunity to meet with their American counterparts. Seniors should also enquire about various local senior related activities, i.e. lunches, seminars which they can attend. This is a marvelous way to meet people your own age. Do you belong to a group or organization? Ascertain if there is a local association and attend their meeting. Have you wondered how people in a similar occupation cope in another country - i.e. a nurse. Write a local hospital. Explain that you will be in the area and would appreciate a tour of their facility. Are you into manufacturing? How about a tailor-made tour of a similar area industry? Again, make arrangements well ahead of your visit to Canada.

Enjoy a refreshing cheaper, safe vacation in the "foreign" country that shares your border. Come on up for awhile!



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