16 Things to know before your first trip to Canada

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Thinking of visiting the Great White North? My first trip to Canada has been checked off my travel bucket list and my second is already booked. Traveling to Canada was a wonderful, positive, experience. Here are some things to know before your first trip to Canada. 

Canadian girl with sunglasses.
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16 Things to Know Before Your First Trip to Canada

Canadian city with Canadian flag.
Image credit: Shutterstock.

Here's what to know before you go.

1. Canada is too big to see in a single trip

Deer in the snow in Canada.
Image credit: Shutterstock.

Canada has 10 provinces and three territories and covers almost 4 Million square miles. Don't try to see everything in one trip unless you have six months or more to travel. My first trip to Canada was to Banff National Park and Calgary, both in the province of Alberta. I saw a small slice of Banff and a small slice of Calgary and didn't make a dent in exploring Alberta as a whole. 

I've also recently had the opportunity to explore British Columbia and it was a lot of fun to compare the differences and terrain between the two provinces. 

2. Canada is a Bilingual Country

Bilingual woman in Canada.
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Depending on what part of Canada you visit, you may encounter English or French-speaking Canadians. French is the official language of Quebec and the official language of all of the other provinces is English, however, you'll hear both languages spoken as well as other languages. Canada is a melting pot of culture, just like the United States. 

3. But Canadian Slang Might Throw You For A Loop

Canadian woman in a toque.
Image credit: Shutterstock.

Canadian slang probably deserves its own article but here are a few to be mindful of before your first trip:

  • Toque – Cap, hat, or beanie;
  • Serviette – Napkin. If you've traveled in Europe, you this one might be familiar;
  • Chesterfield – Sofa or couch;
  • Washroom – Bathroom or restroom, although I feel like most Americans could figure this one out.
  • Klick – Kilometer. As in “The pub is four klicks from the hotel.”

4. Kilometers, Celsius, and liters, oh my!

Km sign in Canada.
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Canada Uses the Metric System. You might find it helpful to have a ready converter on your phone or brush up on your metric system before your trip. 

5. The Reputation For Extreme Niceness Is Well-Deserved

Happy Canadians.
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We've all heard the jokes about Canadians being overly nice and saying “Sorry” a lot. While I didn't notice overt apologies during my trip to Canada, I can attest that absolutely everyone I met went out of their way to be kind and friendly to me. Big shoutout to Dive Shop Calgary, my crazy new friends that I met on frozen Lake Minnewanka in January. Only in Canada do you happen upon people using chainsaws to cut holes in the ice so they can dive into a frozen lake and get invited back to hang out and a polar plunge. 

I said yes to the hanging out and no to the polar plunge, but a Canadian guy complimented my gloves and toque, so I feel like I'm kind of in there. 

6. Canada is More Than Poutine and Tim Hortons 

Tim Horton's.
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Saying “I want to sample Canadian food” is like saying “I want to sample American food.” Just like the United States is more than Hamburgers and apple pie, Canada's culinary scene is way too varied to put into a box. One of the best things I ate in Canada? Elk and kale pizza tied with charred cauliflower with pimento cheese. 

One of the most important things to know before your first trip to Canada is what stereotypes are out there. Still, poutine is pretty awesome, though. Thanks, Canada. 

7. Make Some Effort to Learn The Lay of the Canadian Land

Toronto in winter.
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Although no one expects you to become a whiz at Canadian geography overnight, taking a quick look at the map before you travel is helpful. Waving your hand and saying “I don't know, Manitoba or Toronto, or whatever. Aren't they the same thing?” is like asking an American what the difference is between South Carolina and Montana

Likewise, don't expect your new Canadian friends to be intimately familiar with U.S. geography, although odds are, they know more about the U.S. than we do about Canada. 

8. Check the Weather and Be Prepared – Especially If You're Visiting During Winter

Woman skiing in Banff.
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British Columbia typically has milder weather during the winter but most places in Canada are C-O-L-D in the winter. I'm talking about the snot in your nose freezing cold. It sounds indelicate but I'm here to tell you that snot in your nose freezing in your nose in Canada is a thing and please get yourself a buff. 

If you're visiting during winter and want to spend time outdoors, invest in (or borrow) a good parka, snow pants, and a toque or two so you'll have a backup in case yours gets lost. Mittens with inserts and a sturdy pair of snow boots round out your look. Also, consider investing in a pair of ice cleats. 

9. They Do Say “Eh” And It's Fun and Cute

Image credit: Shutterstock.
Image credit: Shutterstock.

Canadians often end their declarative sentences with the word “Eh.” Where people from the U.S. say “Right?” or “Don't you know?” Canadians say “Eh.”

“We had a good day today, eh?” 

10. Leave Your Stereotypes at Home

Banff National Park in Winter.
Image credit: Shutterstock.

While the Canadians you meet during your travel might indeed be lumberjacks or fur traders or hockey players, 36 million people are living in Canada (fun fact: roughly the amount of people that live in California) and you're just as likely to meet a hairstylist or a dentist, probably more so.

And while some Canadians might take straight shots of maple syrup from the bottle, it's probably best not to assume that the average person you meet is in the habit of doing that. 

12. Technology in Canada

Technology in Canada.
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Canada uses the same type of electrical outlets as the United States so you won't need a power converter or transformer if you're using U.S. electronics. 

You might have difficulty streaming in Canada. There are some extra steps to take to watch Hulu in Canada and the same shows available to stream on Amazon or other streaming platforms might not be available while you're north of the border. And, while it's easy to call or text the U.S. from Canada, data or roaming charges will likely apply, so check your plan before you go. 

13. Tipping Culture

Server with tip tray.
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Tipping is definitely a “Go” in Canada. While some European and Asian cultures view tipping as weird or even offensive, tipping is just about expected in Canada. If you got okay service, tip 15 percent. If you got great or stellar service, tip 20 or 25 percent. 

15. Sales Tax Will Sneak Up On You

Woman holding Canadian Dollars.
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There's a nationwide tax in Canada of 5 percent and that doesn't count provincial tax. Certain items, such as liquor, may be subject to a higher tax. If you find that amazing souvenir for $19.50 and you have $20, don't assume that will be enough to cover you. 

This is one of the most important things to know before your first trip to Canada, so be prepared and have enough spending money. 

This article was produced and syndicated by Ripped Jeans and Bifocals. 





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