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This is a final wrap-up post about my Canada trip. First I’ll share some details about the last leg of the trip (Toronto), and then I’ll share some overall travel lessons to broaden the perspective.
After 3 weeks in Canada, I flew back to Las Vegas from Toronto on July 6th. Overall this was an amazing trip, filled with many memorable experiences. When it was time to go back to Vegas, I was both happy and sad — happy for such wonderful growth experiences but sad to see it end. I can’t say it’s really the end though. This trip made me realize just how much I love to travel, and I’ll surely be doing more traveling in the coming months.
Toronto felt very American to me — like a blend of New York City and San Francisco. I spent a week there, and aside from all the maple leaf flags and the different currency, it was hard to know I was outside the USA.
It was hot and humid in Toronto, getting up to about 90 F with 50-80% humidity. I didn’t like feeling sticky all day, but I didn’t let the weather stop me from going out a lot. I just sweated my way through it. It was like an all-day hot yoga class, minus the yoga. Even though it’s hotter in Vegas, I prefer our 105 degrees with 7% humidity.
As I was walking around downtown Toronto with a friend one afternoon, he told me that if you accidentally bump into a Toronto resident while walking past them, they’ll say “sorry” even if it wasn’t their fault. The funny thing is that 20 minutes later, that’s exactly what happened. While fumbling with my phone, I accidentally bumped into a woman walking past me, and before I could say anything, she quickly turned and said “sorry” even though it was clearly my fault.
On the final days of our trip, Rachelle and I got City Passes. These are packets of half-price tickets that get you into the CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum, Ontario Science Center, Casa Loma, and Toronto Zoo. They also include an all day public transit pass. The passes are good for 9 days, so it’s a good deal if you want to squeeze in some tourist stuff. Las Vegas has something similar called the Power Pass.
We first used our City Pass to hit the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Overall the museum was very interesting, one of the best I’ve seen. I wish we could have spent more time there. We went on Friday night and stayed until closing. It was an extra $7 to see the Chinese Terracotta Army exhibit, which I felt was well worth it. I thought the mixed design of the two parts of the museum clashed (classic vs. modern), but on the other hand, the modern design at the front of the building is an attention-getter that made me curious to see the inside.
We went to the top of the CN Tower around 10pm one night, so it was just after sunset (the sun sets later up north). The view was okay, but I felt the experience was overrated. You can just as easily get a nice view from an airplane as it’s coming in for a landing.
The problem with the CN Tower is that it’s a tourist trap — I mean you literally get trapped up there. When we were ready to leave, there was a long line of people waiting for the elevator to go back down, perhaps a 30-60 minute wait. And it was very humid, so waiting in line up there is a sweaty experience. I said to Rachelle that we have to find another way down. We went to a lower floor of the observation deck and caught an elevator on its way up, just before it reached the top floor. The elevator operator wasn’t going to let us in at first because we were supposed to catch that elevator from the top floor, but I’ve never much cared for other people’s rules, and fortunately I scored a critical on my charm roll, so she kindly let us in. Then we went to the top floor, scooped up more people from the regular line, and sped back down to the street level.
On another day we spent a few hours exploring Casa Loma. This is a castle-like home built by industrialist Sir Henry Pellatt before he went broke and lost it. It was only a few blocks from where we were staying, so we walked over and did the self-guided tour. A Renaissance Faire was in progress when we got there, so there were people in costumes walking around, mock sword-fighting, and various vendors selling trinkets. I quite enjoyed the tour, and the view of the city from the Scottish Tower was great — if you don’t mind climbing some very narrow staircases.
We did the Toronto Zoo on a really hot and humid day. Even the tram driver talked about what a bad day it was to visit the zoo. Many of the animals were hiding in the shade or sleeping.
Like many vegans I have mixed feelings about zoos. On the one hand, they hold animals captive, and there are reports of animals being mistreated at times. On the other hand, they also “rescue” orphaned animals and invest in helping certain species survive. So going to a zoo can be a mixed experience. Overall I’d have to say that even after compensating for the weather, the Toronto Zoo was a bit weak — it doesn’t compare with the L.A. Zoo or the San Diego Zoo.
I think what I most enjoyed about Toronto was just walking around a lot. I especially liked exploring at night (when it was cooler). There were a lot of drunk people out at night though (near Bloor and Spadina), and we occasionally had to step around vomit puddles, but overall it was a lot of fun. We even found an ice cream place that served vegan ice cream and sorbet.
Our Toronto meet-up in Queen’s Park went well, although we had to move the location slightly due to some Pride Week festivities happening nearby. About 15 people showed up, although not everyone stayed till the end. I was pleased that we got that many. It’s always nice to connect with people face to face.
Since we met in a public park, we had a few solicitors walk by to spam our group, including a couple women telling us about their play and a shirtless guy talking about a G20 protest meditation circle. As Rachelle and I left the meet-up, we saw that same guy sitting on the curb at the edge of the park, handcuffed, with three cops standing around talking to him. I don’t know what Toronto’s laws are like, but I wasn’t aware that anything he did would have been illegal.
I continued helping Rachelle with her Fringe play in Toronto, which went really well overall. Some people from the meet-up also came to her show and had a good time. I only wish she’d had a better audio tech for this Fringe. One of the guys who was assigned to her was unpleasant to work with, sporting an “I am God here even though I don’t know even how to use iTunes” attitude. He induced some eye rolls by making pointless demands that had nothing to do with putting on a good show. I’m not sure why this guy was involved in the Fringe at all since he didn’t seem to have any joy for the theatre. By contrast, the tech we had in London was so much easier to work with and seemed to enjoy participating.
During our travels I saw Rachelle’s play a total of 10 times, and I still wasn’t bored with it by the end. That’s because it includes so much improv and audience interaction that it comes out differently each time. She just did her first show for the Winnipeg Fringe today.
Taken as a whole, this trip was an amazing growth experience. Let me share some of the things I learned.
First, being on the road for 3 weeks and visiting 3 cities in another country was a lot of fun. I really enjoy going to places I’ve never been to. Even though London (Ontario) wasn’t particularly exciting, I still enjoyed it because it was a new experience. In many ways this trip reminded me of playing computer RPGs and exploring new areas of the game world. Each city is a new adventure.
I did this whole trip without staying in any hotels. In fact, I never slept in a regular bed. Rachelle and I slept on a mattress on the floor in Montreal, an air mattress in London, and a futon in Toronto. That was a mixed bag. On one hand, there was no hotel expense, and we always had an accessible kitchen and free WiFi. On the other hand, these kinds of arrangements can be unpredictable. I felt that things worked out great in Montreal and London, but in Toronto we stayed in the top floor of a 3-story house with no air conditioning, so as the temperature and humidity went up during that week, it became less comfortable to sleep there. Occasionally the house would rumble as trains passed nearby as well. And later on, the shower broke. On the other hand, it was a great location, and we were able to stay there more than a week for free.
Would I have rather paid extra money for hotels? I was tempted to do so in Toronto, but overall no. I’m a resilient traveler, and I feel just as comfortable sleeping on a couch as I do staying in a 5-star resort. I can’t say one is always better than the other. They’re just different types of experiences. For this particular trip, I very much enjoyed the experience of going hotel-free.
One lesson I did learn from this, however, is that it would be wise to feel out each place in advance before accepting an offer for free lodging. Sometimes free is great; sometimes it isn’t so great. For example, if the weather is hot, do they have air conditioning? What hours do the other household members normally sleep? It may take a bit of tact to pre-qualify an offer for a free place to stay without insulting the other party, but it would be worth it in certain situations. I’ll bet experienced couch surfers could share some tips in that regard.
Another lesson I learned is that you can get some really cheap flights if you’re flexible about when and how you fly. Ticket costs vary tremendously. For my initial flight from Las Vegas to Montreal, there were direct flights for around $600 one way. But I got a flight for only $135 total, including all fees and taxes. The catch was that I had to transfer twice and fly at night. I don’t need to pinch pennies like that, but I thought it would be fun to try it as an extra challenge. As it turned out, I actually liked it. Especially after my polyphasic sleep experiment (2005-2006), I find that I can sleep easily on planes and feel refreshed, so flying at night is no big deal. There are no long lines or crowds at night, and the airports are quieter too. I actually preferred a series of shorter flights as opposed to one really long flight. It gave me a chance to get up and walk around the airport for a while instead of having to sit for so long. And I can always pull out my laptop if I want to do some work along the way.
Traveling to a time zone that was 3 hours ahead threw off my daily rhythm, but instead of trying to adapt to local time, I just became a night owl instead. I normally go to bed around 10:30pm in Vegas, but during my Canada trip, I typically went to bed around 2am. This was another area where I had no trouble being flexible. I didn’t feel a need to be an early riser while traveling. It was more fun to be out at night, especially in Montreal and Toronto.
If I had to do this trip over again, I’d have done more advance planning, including coordinating my schedule with Rachelle. It was okay to do this along the way, and it allowed us to be more spontaneous, but we definitely could have done more on the planning side in advance instead of having to spend time doing that during the trip. If we’d prioritized some of the things we wanted to see together and then set aside blocks of time for doing those things, it would have helped us budget our time better. Instead we ended up doing this along the way in an ad hoc fashion. To the degree we did do advance planning, however, like planning a day trip to Niagara Falls, it worked out great.
Time budgeting was a frequent consideration. We really packed in a lot, but sometimes we didn’t allow enough time for certain activities. For instance, we did the whole Royal Ontario Museum in 2.5 hours. We had to rush a lot and didn’t get to see the 4th floor before they closed for the night. It would have been better if we could have set aside 4 hours to see the whole thing, breaking it up with lunch in the middle. But by the time we committed to going, we could only devote 2.5 hours to it.
I also wished I took the time to see more Fringe shows. Not counting Rachelle’s, I saw seven other shows. I could easily have seen double or triple that if I’d planned things out a little better.
I wouldn’t want to overplan. That would be too rigid since I enjoy being spontaneous. So in the future, I might allocate about half my travel time to planned activities and the other half to being spontaneous and going with the flow. It may take some experimentation to find the right balance though.
While traveling I spent very little time handling online communication. When given the choice between spending more time answering emails vs. going out to explore something new, there was no contest. When I’m at home, this distinction isn’t as clear. But while traveling, it becomes a lot easier to separate essential tasks from non-essential ones. On this trip I did what needed to be done and let the rest go.
Sometimes I had issues with the GPS in my phone. Most of the time it worked wonderfully, but occasionally it would take a while to pinpoint my current location. One time it determined that my exact location was in the water between New York and New Jersey, some 450+ miles from my actual location in Toronto. It reported that I’d need about 9 hours of travel time to reach my destination, which in reality was just a few miles away. I had to make sure I didn’t become overdependent on the GPS for navigation since it isn’t 100% reliable.
I learned that locals can be a great source of info, but not always. When I told people that I was visiting from Las Vegas and asked them what would be fun to do while I was in town, sometimes I got good suggestions, but other times I drew blanks. Locals often get caught up in daily living and don’t necessarily go out and do all the fun stuff in their own cities. That was a lesson for me as well. I realized that even in Las Vegas, there are some interesting things to do that I’ve never done yet. I found it curious that I went to the top of the CN Tower in Toronto, but I haven’t even been to the top of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, which is the tallest man-made structure west of the Mississippi. What interesting things are tourists doing in your city that you haven’t even done yourself? Maybe it’s time you did some of those things, just once for the experience.
In many ways this trip was an unbalancing experience. Away from home I don’t have the same scaffolding around my daily routine, nor the same social support. So while I was on the road, each day was fresh and spontaneous. I felt like Elizabeth Gilbert exploring Italy in her book Eat, Pray, Love. I indulged more than usual. I ate rich foods that I don’t normally eat at home, including vegan cookies and vegan chocolate cake. I drank soy lattes, stayed up later at night, and slept in later. I even enjoyed a silly night of red wine and classic video games. But I sought to balance it with some degree of discipline, so I wouldn’t regret the consequences later. I walked a lot each day, and on average, I only ate about two full meals per day. Unlike Elizabeth Gilbert, I didn’t gain any weight on this trip, but I surely would have if I averaged three meals a day or if I didn’t do as much walking.
When I got home, I needed a short period of adjustment, but now I’m back to my usual routine. I’m getting up early, eating simpler foods (lots of salads and smoothies), and hitting the gym. It feels good to be back to my usual routine now, but it also feels good to know that I can enjoy more indulgent experiences — as long as I don’t overdo it. It would have been no fun if I’d gotten sick on the road.
I think the pacing of about one week per city was just about right, maybe 3-5 days for smaller cities and 7-10 days for bigger cities.
I especially enjoyed traveling with Rachelle. We make very compatible travel companions since we’re both low maintenance. Initially I resisted the idea of a long-distance relationship, but it certainly pushes me to travel more, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, so in terms of my personal growth, it was exactly what I needed. Such a relationship can be an emotional roller coaster though. We’ve had to hug each other goodbye many times at airports in the past six months.
I didn’t like trying to do travel blogging during my trip, in the sense of documenting things as I was going along. It was too time consuming and tedious, and I question the value it provides to others anyway. I wanted to try it as an experiment, but I won’t likely do it for future trips. Instead, I’d be more inclined to write personal growth articles, perhaps using travel stories to illustrate key points if it makes sense to do so. I’d rather spend more time enjoying my travels as opposed to documenting what I’m dong in detail. I think that traveling can yield a lot of personal growth lessons, and I’m interested in sharing those lessons if I think they’ll benefit others. Writing about what I learn also helps solidify my own lessons.
This trip has given me a sense of expansion. Even after 3 weeks and 3 cities, I easily could have kept going, continuing to visit other cities for a longer tour.
Upon returning home, I found that my motivation was sky high. I’ve been getting lots of work done, and I’m ahead of schedule in prepping for CGW this weekend.
For my next trip, I’m going to Santa Fe for a week, leaving on Tuesday. That’s for a Transformational Leadership Council retreat. This will be a different kind of trip since I’ll be staying in a 5-star resort and hanging out with friends from the personal development field.
I feel grateful that I’ve invested so much in my personal growth to reach the point where I can enjoy such a fun lifestyle. For many years I’ve had a career path that bestows plenty of freedom, but I hadn’t fully exercised that freedom. Now that I’m exercising it more, it feels great to do so.