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Canada or USA

This is a photo showing a smiling young woman holding both the American and Canadian flags.

USA and Canada are similar, but have key differences.

If you want to drive in both Canada and the USA, here are some expert tips.

So should you stick to the USA for your road trip, explore Canada, or do a combo of both? Either way, there’s plenty to see and discover. There are some key differences though, that you need to be aware of.

Both countries use the dollar as their monetary unit, but they are completely different currencies. The Canadians will generally accept American money, but not the other way round, unless it’s a town close to the border.

There’s the exchange rate to consider, which a lot of businesses make up as they go. So to get the best exchange rate, hit a bank ATM machine, or get the local currency before you go, to make your life easier.

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Both countries use 120 volt power. That means some electronic gear from 240 volt countries like the UK and China won’t work here, unless they are dual voltage.

Most computers, electric razors and wall chargers, will work just fine with the proper AC plug adapters. Just check the fine print on the gadget and its wall plug. Look for something indicating 120-240 volt operating range, or don’t even try to plug it in.

Canada uses the metric system which is the same standard that most of the world uses. The distances are measured in kilometers (spelled kilometres in Canada) and you pay for gas by the liter (spelled litre in Canada) at the pump. However, you’ll also hear people talk in terms of miles, pounds and gallons.

The USA measures distance in miles. They are 5,280 feet, or 1,760 yards in length. It works out to roughly 1.6 kilometers per mile. Not to worry though, as most cars in North America show both miles and kilometers per hour, so you can know your speed.

Something a little odd is the USA gallon. It’s not that old British imperial standard of 160 ounces. It’s a mere 128 ounces, or roughly 3.8 liters. It’s what used to be referred to as the “wine” gallon.

Back when wooden sailing ships crossed the oceans, the 160 oz gallons of wine would evaporate to about 128 oz by the time they got to the USA. The British wanted to tax based on what was shipped, but the Americans refused. They decided to pay tax on what was actually received, which was 128 oz. Hence the name wine gallon.

The weather in the Northern States is very similar to Canada. There will generally be snow in the winter and plenty of it. Road trips are not recommended during the late fall to early spring, unless you plan on driving the Western coastline, or the Southern half of the states, which remain drivable all year round.

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In the summer, it’s the opposite. Canada and the Northern States will be moderate and pleasant, except for some hot spots along the prairies. This is the time of year to avoid the Southern USA, because it gets hot, really hot, especially anywhere near the desert.

The biggest difference between Canada and USA is the right to carry guns. Many Americans carry them.

It’s especially common in the Southeastern USA. You’ll often see the attendants at gas stations and liquor store employees carrying sidearms on their hips.

I’m talking pistols and revolvers, worn out in the open for all to see, like the old west movies. They make some people nervous while bringing comfort to others.

At one small country gas station in Arkansas, I stopped in to buy a couple of soda (what we call pop, or soft drinks). I witnessed something that you’d love to see, if you visit the American south.

I walked in to an old barn of a building, swinging open the saloon doors, as the floorboards creaked with each step. Behind the counter sat an old weathered cowboy, puffing a corn cob pipe, in a wooden rocking chair. As I gazed downwards I saw old yellow bloodhound snoozing beside him on a circular area rug. It was then that I noticed the shotgun draped across his lap. It was quite the picture!

Unfortunately, he had no sense of humor and refused to let me take a photo, even though I bought a couple of soda. I didn’t argue. He had a shotgun after all!

Keep in mind these fundamental differences and you can have a great trip in either country. And if you have a passport, why not explore both? It could be a lot of fun. Just be sure to read the “Going Through Customs” section, so you won’t get any surprises when you try to cross the border.

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