Lesson Learned – The art of the Random Road Trip

Might I make a recommendation, dear reader?

Don’t decide on a whim to go to another country at 9pm at night.

Darci and I were out at one of her coworkers’ birthday parties yesterday, and in the middle of it, we decided to just say screw it and go to Vancouver BC for the night. That’s Canada, folks.

(For the record, it’s about a 2 hour drive to the border from Seattle).

Now, apparently, this is not the kind of decision that one makes lightly. After all, it’s not like Canada is just at the North end of I-5 or anything, it’s an entirely different fucking country, and they demand to be respected as such. In fact, cross the border after midnight, to go for a one night trip to a hotel with a themed room and a BIG hot tub, just because – well – you got the nomadic itch… well, that’s just not right. I mean, no-one does that right?

Apparently not. We ended up being detained at the border for an hour, while they grilled us on things like drug habits, whether we’d been drinking, etc.

The conversation went something like this:

“What states have you lived in?”

Me: “Er… Washington and Virginia.” … “and Ohio and Illinois. I mean Indiana, not Illinois.” (In my head I’m thinking… I was alive when I was driving through Pennsylvania too.. and Georgia, and the Carolinas… oh crap… I’ve stayed in Cleveland. Is that a state? Shit, no it’s Ohio, although I keep thinking that Toledo is in Ohio, and Cleveland is a world unto itself… and I’m pretty sure I’ve been to Iowa and Wisconsin. And I kind of stayed in a hotel in Illinois once. And I’ve been to Hawaii a couple of times… and Nevada. And Arizona. Spent two weeks in New Mexico. Oh God What Do They Mean By Lived!?!?!").

Darci, however, had a smidge more difficulty remembering. Because she has live in at least 16 different states, and keeping track of them all gets difficult.

Next question was even more bizarre:

“So… do you ever smoke any drugs?”

Me: (because even if I had ever smoked anything, I’m not stupid). “No.”

Do you smoke nicotine? You have lighters in the car”.

Quick mental check time. Is Nicotine a drug? Yes. Of course it is. But I thought she meant illegal drugs. What the fuck? Did cigarettes get banned in Canada recently and I didn’t hear about it? And of course there are lighters in the car. They kind of go along with the cigarettes in the packet. In the car.

Me: “Er… yes. I smoke cigarettes. And yes there are lighters in the car.”

A disapproving look. Oh my god, I’m going to be refused entry to Canada, even with my Get Across Borders Free card(tm)* with me. Because I smoke Camel Lights. Well, I knew I should have quit… but what the hell?

So here’s my quick guide to going to other countries (aka Canada) for road trips:

  • Cross the border no later than 9pm. Anything later than that, and they’re wondering why the hell you’d waste so much money on a hotel room for such a short trip.
  • Speaking of short trips – don’t bother with one night trips unless you’re crossing the border around 1pm. They will think you are crazy, because you’re not taking advantage of everything that Canada has to offer, and most places up here close around 10:30pm anyway.
  • Print out your hotel reservation. They want proof that you actually thought your trip through, and aren’t just planning on getting a hotel room when you get up here. After all, no-one ever goes to another country and just wings it. (Nor does Canada want to admit entry to anyone that spontaneous).
  • Pack light. Clean out your car before you go. Anything that you don’t need for the trip? Don’t take it. Your gym bag? It’s a clear sign that you’re not really going on a trip – you’re actually planning on emigrating and using the free, Government sponsored gym memberships that all Canadians get as part of their health care package. Just don’t do it. (Or bring your Gym Insurance card to prove that you won’t be a burden on the state).
  • Both passengers should be fully conscious when crossing the border. You don’t get to let your tired sweetie sleep in the passenger seat. They want to make sure you haven’t drugged her, and aren’t transporting her out of the country to sell her into the white slave trade.
  • That picture of the Queen on the wall in the border station? It’s bullshit. They use it as a dartboard. Either that, or they thought I was a traitor because I had a British passport and a green card.
  • Do not tell them that you’ve been to Canada several times before without incident. They know that this is a lie, because no-one would ever want to visit Canada more than once.
  • But most importantly, more than anything else, don’t try the seasoned traveler tactic late at night. The guards want to see fear in your eyes. They don’t want to see someone who’s been through this a million times before being helpful and cheery and taking it all as routine. (Although I tell ya what, fuck’em. I’ve been through immigration at JFK SEVERAL times. Anything else is a freakin’ cake walk).

*That would be my green-card by the way. It takes a lot of work and effort to get one, but once you have it, it usually means that border crossings are a smile a wave and a handshake and you’re on your way. Mainly because they have my home address, sexual history, complete set of fingerprints, innoculations, criminal records, blood types, the addresses of everyone I’ve ever slept with, and my favorite cocktail all embedded on the back of the damn thing in a strip of data that looks like an old laser-disk. It usually bypasses all the crap that border people give you because, well, when it comes down to it, you’ve already had a much more thorough background check than they had to go through for their job.

About the author

Simon Cooke is an occasional video game developer, ex-freelance journalist, screenwriter, film-maker, musician, and software engineer in Seattle, WA.

The views posted on this blog are his and his alone, and have no relation to anything he's working on, his employer, or anything else and are not an official statement of any kind by them (and barely even one by him most of the time).

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Trant wrote on Monday, April 20, 2009:

I’ve never had any problems going to or from Canada from Seattle and I’m British too.

You must just appear suspicious :p


Anonymous wrote on Monday, April 20, 2009:

Ditto. Ditto, and ditto.

- Steve E.

Simon Cooke wrote on Monday, April 20, 2009:

You know, I’ve crossed the border about 8 or 9 times, and I’ve never had any problems before. Just tonight. So I figure it’s just the time of day that was suspicious.

Or it could be that I now have a beard.

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