Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Expediting Your American-Canadian Border Crossing—Dress As Though You’re About to Meet Your Mother-in-law for the First Time

BERT GILDART: Over the years Janie and I have made many crossings into Canada, generally successfully, but not always. Once, in fact, we were detained at the border for hours, and I suspect it was because they were profiling individuals and forming opinions based on an instant assessment. Apparently, we’ve raised eyebrows.

From these crossings, there are some dos-and-don’ts we have learned, and apparently have learned them successfully, for last week when we crossed, we did so without a glitch—despite a lot of suspicious looking stuff. That hasn’t always been the case.

As a couple, our border crossing began back in 1991, shortly after Janie and I were married. At the time, we were detained from crossing into Canada, and officials questioned us for almost an hour. That was just for openers. If crossing had not been vital to our financial interests, I believe we would have told them to shove it, and turned back around. Of course, the American officials might not have accepted our return, at least not gracefully.

At the time (June 1991), we had summer-school teaching contracts in Alaska and were heading to Fairbanks in an old Ford conversion van. Though the van’s engine was new, here and there you could see a few rust spots on the body. Even more suspicious was the Bob Dylan music (Rainy Day People) and the dream catchers hanging from our rear-view mirror. We cherished them, as they’d been given to us by Native American friends. Perhaps that could have been explained away if they had not been dangling from what we later learned were “Roach Clips.” Apparently that image alone triggered a red flag in the eyes of custom officials, and so we were detained.

“What are you looking for, officer?”

Before allowing us to proceed, authorities searched The Van–top to bottom–then detained us yet further while they checked the available balances on our credit cards. They also took our can of bear spray, saying it could be used by us in the commission of a crime. Finally, finding nothing in the wells of our wheels, the recesses in the cupboards of our conversion van, they allowed us to proceed—but with grim looks on their faces. This wasn’t to their liking, not one bit.

The following year we planned to return to the Arctic in Alaska, and in the same van. Prior to crossing, however, I called ahead and spoke with a Canadian custom’s official at Eureka, Montana, and told him I’d be making a border crossing in about a week and that I’d be driving an old van pulling a new Johnboat loaded to the hilt, and wanted to make the crossing with as little pain as possible. For kickers, I said I’d have a shotgun and would be carrying rifled slugs for protection against the bears we might encounter on the Yukon River.

“Will we be detained?”

“Sounds like you’re OK,” said the official over the phone. “But we’ll have to wait until you get here, and then see. Look for John (or whoever his name was).”

And, so, when we did arrive at the border, about a week later, we’d taken down the dream catchers, and I’d trimmed my beard so it looked more distinguished. Yes, we were asked about the shotgun, and, yes, we were required to fill out a form and pay a fee for transporting a shotgun through Canada. They also asked us about the location of our shotgun and shells, and when we said that they were together, “right here,” no eyebrows were raised.

“Is it loaded?” was the final question and when we said “No,” they told us to proceed. All tolled it took about 15 minutes. No locks were placed on the gun, and we departed amidst mutual smiles.

For us, little has changed since then, though we have been detained, but, now, only on the American side.

Over the past two months, we’ve made six border crossings, and despite the fact we had kayaks strapped on the roof of our pickup–and the rear within our topper loaded with a variety of gear–we had but little difficulty either coming or going. Of course, we’re pulling an Airstream now with a 2005 Dodge diesel truck.

Going into Canada, the only question that has troubled us has been one concerning bear spray, something Canadian authorities seem to view differently from person to person and crossing to crossing. Some say that if the container implies protection from marauding people (the only animal that really concerns us) then it is prohibited. Some officials don’t ask, while at other crossings we’ve been permitted to retain our Counter Assault—which is pressurized red pepper spray held in a large can graced on the label with a picture of a marauding bear.

Shotguns and rifles are allowed (following completion of an expensive registration form), even in this post 9/11 environment. But no pistols, under any circumstances!

Jail time for offenders!!!!

The only place we’ve been retained recently was on our return this summer into Maine where we were asked about foods, specifically beef and citrus fruits, which we had to turn over—“to prevent,” they said, “the spread of Mad Cow Disease and the importation of various fruit fungi.” All that took about 30 minutes as they glanced over the interior of our Airstream, sizing us up, I’m sure.

Possibly our border crossings have been simplified as we have passports and no suspicious accoutrement. We have no dream catchers—and, then, too, we’ve matured a bit. I am now clean shaven and have white hair—and guess I would have to say that I’m a WASP—minus the “P.” Despite what some say, I do believe there is profiling.

And now here’s a bit of final advice: Keep all receipts, as the Canadians will refund on many items the amount you were assessed by virtue of their rather hefty taxes. However, there’s a flip side to their taxation.

Because I have allergies I purchased several generic boxes of my prescribed medicine in Canada, which in the U.S. costs $75, but only $13.75 in Canada. No questions about medications were ever asked, at least not in our many crossings this summer.

And finally, if you don’t want to be detained during a border crossing, dress as though you’re going to meet someone for the first time; someone on whom you want to make an impression, perhaps a new mother-in-law.

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