This summer our family took an epic road trip through 13 states. If you’re a regular follower of this site, you might remember me mentioning it once or twice (or like 100 times!) You can read a little more about the planning of our trip, here. One of the last minute changes we made to our trip included a stop in Canada.
Canada was not at all in my original itinerary. I didn’t even realize it was do-able. However, after mapping out our stops my husband mentioned the close proximity of the Canadian border. For a hot second I considered just driving across the border to say we did it. However, that felt like cheating. How could I say we’ve been to Canada if we didn’t really see or do anything there?
So then we began to look at the closest destinations where we could experience the culture and do a few activities in the country and Montreal became the logical choice.
Admittedly, when I looked into our time in Montreal I wasn’t totally impressed with our options. An overwhelming number of articles pointed to an overlook and a church being the top two tourist destinations in Montreal. Although I knew we’d enjoy both of those places, I was really hoping for something with more “wow factor” to warrant the extra long drive. In specifically searching for kid-friendly activities, I came up with mostly things we could do in our own city (like roller skating, playgrounds, etc.)
But, determined to get another stamp in our passport I forged ahead with our plans to spend a day in Montreal, Canada.
I spent a TON of time researching the actual crossing of the border. Although passports are not typically stamped, I read several commentaries stating that officials would be HAPPY to stamp the books if asked.
On the morning of our trip across the border we woke up in the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York. The area was gorgeous and we couldn’t wait to make the short trip north into Canada. As we approached the border with passports in hand I was absolutely giddy.
Approaching the border looked similar to approaching a toll booth. Cars lined up in lanes and waited their turn to speak to the customs border agents. It was interesting to watch this process. Some cars seemed to stop for less than a minute while documents were passed back and forth quickly. Other cars sat for 3-5 minutes and appeared to answer a variety of questions.
When it was finally our turn we handed over our passports and began to answer a series of questions. At first the questions seemed pretty standard and more like small talk (for example: Where are you from?) But after asking about the duration of our stay in Canada, the customs agent appeared slightly skeptical. She grilled us about my crazy itinerary that left us driving several hours out of our way to spend a day in Montreal. After about 5 minutes of questioning I was totally sweating! I didn’t read about this part in any of my research!
Finally we seemed to have appeased the agent enough with our answers and she granted us admission. At that point I turned on the southern charm and asked if she wouldn’t mind taking a second to stamp our passports.
AND SHE SAID NO!
I could not believe it. Everything I’d read prior to our trip made it sound like a very basic request. I had no idea what to say at that point so I started spouting off the information I’d read online about how I knew passports didn’t have to be stamped, but we really wanted to have the stamp for our collection…blah, blah, blah.
She ended up cutting me off and telling me that she didn’t have her stamp with her that day. Let me just tell you- the whole “oopsie I forgot my stamp” excuse was NOT okay for me. I subjected my kids to hours of driving out of the way on an already intense schedule for the stamp. I was NOT leaving without my stamp!
At that point my mind was reeling. I asked if we could throw the car in reverse and go through another agents line. NO. Perhaps she could exit her booth and borrow a stamp from her fellow agent. NO. Okay, so could we drive to the first exit, turn around, cross back into the US and then pick a line that wasn’t hers to re-enter Canada?
At this point she asked us to pull forward into the security lot.
My husband thought for sure we were going to be detained at the border. In fact, I’m pretty sure I remember him saying he hoped it would just be me since I was the crazy one.
We pulled our car over into the gated security area and waited. The agent never came to our car, nor were there any armed guards to escort me away. After about 5 minutes of sitting there I decided to go into the building. The agents on duty inside seemed completely caught off guard by my entry (whoops!) I tried to explain that I really just wanted our passports stamped. After speaking with several I FINALLY got one to stamp our 4 passports.
I’ll write more in a future post about our day in Montreal. Admittedly, it was probably my least favorite part of the whole summer road trip. Perhaps we just got off on the wrong foot in Canada with our border experience. Or it could just be that Montreal isn’t a top destination for family travelers because it lacks exciting and unique kids activities. Either way…it wasn’t our favorite day.
I ended up having a little anxiety the next day as we approached the US border to cross back. Would I flag up in some sort of crazy person system? Thankfully, the experiences went a lot smoother (I’m sure Canada was ready to have me out of their country- ha!)
We’re already looking forward to future trips to Canada- specifically Niagara Falls, Toronto, Banff and Vancouver. Hopefully this last experience was an isolated event and we just happened to catch the border agent on a bad day! At the end of the day- we got our passport stamps and enjoyed our time in Montreal…and they let us back into the US. So, I’ll call it a winning trip!
*Just for the record- I have nothing against customs agents or the idea of border patrol. Our experience wasn’t exactly as simple and ideal as ones I read about prior to our trip…but that’s okay. I only write about it to share our experience, not to paint the practice of border patrol in any type of negative light!*
If you enjoyed this story of misadventure in crossing the Canadian border, you might also enjoy some of the other misadventures from our trip: HERE.