How to Educate Your International Guests

hwy 401 When we came to Canada on vacation and rented our first lakefront cottage there was huge excitement in the family. All focus was on the location and what we were going to do when we got there – swim; fish; sip G & Ts as we watched the sun go down, and enjoy a lot of family fun. The information we got from the cottage owner was great and told us where to find the nearest supermarket, marina and bait shop, along with some useful stuff about local restrictions on lighting campfires, use of watercraft and how to dump our garbage. We weren’t thinking about much more than our final destination. So, arriving at the airport in Toronto at 5pm on a Friday evening had a certain shock quality after we picked up the rental car and were spat out onto 12 lanes of clogged traffic clutching the directions which simply said, ‘From the airport take the 400 to Barrie’.

This was the start of a learning experience that lasted through our two-week vacation and had us in trouble on a couple of occasions and scratching our heads on others. There were a lot of frustrating experiences that could have been prevented by a little forethought on both our part and the cottage owner who knew this was our first time in Canada.

At that time, the internet was not the massive source of information it is now, so our knowledge of travelling in Canada came from a few dog-eared guide books, none of which were focused on self-catered vacations. This is what we found out the hard way:

  • In Ontario, beer and wine is not sold in supermarkets; only in government regulated stores – The Beer Store and LCBO. These can be few and far between in cottage country.
  • A four-way, or All-Way junction is a beautiful thing in action but not if you don’t have a clue what it is.
  • If a school bus is coming towards you and it stops, then you must stop too. Not knowing this could have been costly if that nice traffic policeman hadn’t taken pity on our ignorance.
  • Wow – you can turn right on a red light (don’t forget we are driving on the right). Not being aware of this one really annoys the guy behind you!
  • Septic systems back-up if you treat the plumbing like you do at home and attempt to flush stuff that was clearly only intended for a super-high-efficiency city waste system.
  • There are not gas stations on every corner in cottage country so filling up before the last stage of the journey 40 minutes of f the highway is important, because you have to drive that same 40 minutes to get back to the highway.

There were more of these. All little nuggets it would have been nice to know before we started out and found ourselves in our little piece of paradise with not enough fuel to get back to the nearest Beer Store, which was closed anyway!

A few years have passed since then and most travel information like this is now readily available at the click of a mouse, but we remember the damper put on our vacation by our in adequate knowledge of the differences between daily living in the UK and Canada. Consequently, we developed a guide that we send to all our international guests that comprehensively covers everything they may encounter from the arrival at the airport to travelling and living in cottage country. Here are some examples from our guide:

Documents:

You must have a current driving licence for renting a car – the licence card is insufficient on its own; you will also need to present the paper portion of the licence.

On The Road

If a school bus is stopped with its lights flashing, traffic in both directions must stop to allow children to cross the road in front of the bus, unless the road is dual carriageway with a central reservation (median).

Out and About

It is an offence in Ontario to consume alcohol in a public place such as a park or public beach. No alcohol can be carried or consumed any boat that does not have permanent sleeping accommodation and toilet facilities. These regulations are strictly enforced particularly on the larger lakes

At the Cottage

Leaving a screen door open is an invitation to a mouse to join you on vacation. Never prop a screen open, even while you are getting stuff in from the car as you may be bringing in more than your shopping!

We also provide detailed directions on how to leave the airport safely; join traffic on the highway and which lanes are best to be in for accessing exit ramps.

Providing a guide for international travelers is not only a helpful resource for your guests; it’s a responsible action on your part as an owner. In educating your visitors they will have a happier and hopefully a trouble-free stay.

I’m more than happy to share my Guide to International Guests so if you would like a copy, just email me from the comments page.

Gordon Bell

Would love a copy of your guide for international guests.

Thanks!

Lauren

Hi Heather – I’ve been enjoying your blog for some time but had to respond to this. (As I, too, continue to grapple with Canadian alcohol sales.)

Definitely agree with the sense in having a guide for your overseas guests but I fear many local owners wouldn’t notice their location’s anomalies and their country’s peculiarities. Stopping for school buses, for instance, wouldn’t stand out when you learned to follow that rule at age 16. Perhaps such line of inquiry should be included in guest follow-up?

Lauren

Hi Heather – I’ve been enjoying your blog for some time but had to respond to this. (As I, too, continue to grapple with Canadian alcohol sales.)

Definitely agree with the sense in having a guide for your overseas guests but I fear many local owners wouldn’t notice their location’s anomalies and their country’s peculiarities. Stopping for school buses, for instance, wouldn’t stand out when you learned to follow that rule at age 16. Perhaps such line of inquiry should be included in guest follow-up?

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