The Great American Canadian Road Trip – Summer 2016 Edition

I dropped some hints about our big summer plans in my last post, and now it’s time to make it official!  We’re going on an almost month long road trip to Canada by way of Kentucky and Michigan.  For those following along with my early retirement journey for the past few years, you might be experiencing deja vu because doesn’t a month long road trip to Canada sound familiar?

You aren’t experiencing deja vu. In 2014 we did set out on what was supposed to be a month long road trip to Canada that turned into a two and a half week road trip when we came home early.  The exhaustion that comes from superintending a rambunctious two year old combined with a disappointingly dirty Airbnb apartment rental persuaded us that it was time to return back home to Raleigh for some true R and R.

The 2014 Canada trip included visits to Montreal and Quebec City.  After leaving Quebec City we intended to visit Ottawa and Toronto, then stop by Niagara Falls on the return trip south to Raleigh.  We never made it to Ottawa, Toronto, or Niagara Falls.  On this summer’s trip we are headed back to Canada to enjoy the mild summers and hit some of the stops we missed two years ago.


The Great Triangle

This road trip evolved from our desire to see Niagara Falls and Nashville.  Students of geography know those two cities aren’t near each other.  They aren’t even in the same direction if you start in Raleigh.  In fact, the straight lines from Raleigh to each of those two cities are approximately perpendicular.  For the record, Mrs. Root of Good chose Niagara Falls and Nashville as our summer destinations (she’s less a fan of maps than I am).

If we want to travel along two perpendicular lines, why not make a triangle spanning the eastern half of the United States (and extending into Canada)?  By combining my clever knowledge of geometry with Mrs. Root of Good’s shotgun approach to destination selection, the Summer 2016 road trip was born.

Instead of taking a 17 hour round trip to Nashville then a 22 hour round trip to Niagara Falls for a total drive of 39 hours, we decided to make a triangular shaped journey from Raleigh to Nashville to Niagara Falls then back to Raleigh that would take 30 hours.  By taking the hypotenuse of the triangle in a northeasterly direction, we shaved nine hours off of our total driving time.

Back in our working days with the constraints of a one or two week vacation upon us, we might be happy with seeing the booming city of Nashville and a natural wonder like Niagara Falls.  But we have all summer and wanted to add some value to this road trip.  If I’m driving 30 hours I’d like the trip to be more epic than “just” Nashville and Niagara Falls.

That’s when Toronto re-entered the picture.  Arguably the most metropolitan city in Canada, Toronto was on our wishlist during our 2014 Canada trip but it didn’t happen.  On Canada trip round #2, we’re going to make it happen.  It’s only two hours north of Niagara Falls.  A very logical addition to our road trip since we’ll already be “way up north”.  It’s also a destination with tons of stuff to see and do, unlike Niagara Falls which is mostly just a waterfall (though admittedly a very very big impressive waterfall with lots of water).  Nothing wrong with a two week layover in Toronto when you aren’t in a hurry, right?  Just another benefit of the slow travel mindset.

Along with Toronto, we decided to add two full days exploring Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.  We’re staying down the road in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  After leaving Kentucky, we will head north toward Toronto with a two night pit stop in Detroit.  On the return trip back to Raleigh from Toronto and Niagara Falls, we will stop for one night in the outskirts of Washington, D.C. to visit the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum near the Dulles Airport (the kids didn’t know what the Space Shuttle was, so we’re going to see one up close).

The trip will cover around 2,100 miles and 34 hours (assuming light traffic).

So far we don’t have anything specific planned in any cities other than visiting Mammoth Cave, Niagara Falls, and the Air and Space Museum in DC.  Eventually we’ll get down to business and find something cool to do in Detroit and Toronto (and feel free to suggest anything worth seeing in the comments!).

The whole trip will last 24 nights with stays in the following cities:

  • Between Charlotte and Asheville, NC – staying with family 3 nights
  • Nashville – 1 night
  • Bowling Green, KY (Mammoth Cave) – 3 nights
  • Detroit, MI – 2 nights
  • Toronto, Canada – 12 nights
  • Niagara Falls (Canadian side) – 2 nights
  • Washington D.C. – 1 night
  • Back home in Raleigh!


Trip Budget

We usually put together a rough budget for our big summer trips.  For the 24 days we’ll spend traveling through North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Canada, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington D.C., and Virginia, we expect to spend around $2,100 after our valiant travel hacking efforts.  Numbers for the curious:


Lodging $476 

  • 12 nights Toronto Airbnb rental – $363 (after $220 airbnb referral discounts and $500 Barclay Arrival Card travel rebate/bonus)
  • 3 nights Bowling Green, KY Airbnb rental – $47 (after $250 Airbnb gift card from credit card rewards)
  • 1 night hotel in Nashville from Hotwire – $66
  • 2 nights x 2 rooms Four Points by Sheraton Detroit Metro Airport – $0 (8,000 SPG points from Starwood Amex)
  • 2 nights x 2 rooms Four Points by Sheraton Niagara Falls Fallsview – $0 (12,000 SPG points from Starwood Amex)
  • 1 night x 1 room Aloft Dulles Airport North – $0 (4,000 SPG points from Starwood Amex)


Transportation (Gas, Tolls, Parking, Transit) $500

  • 2,400 miles at 22 mpg and $2.50/gal. gas = $275
  • Tolls = $25 (2 international bridges; PA/NY going south toward DC)
  • Parking or Transit – $200 (10 days at $20/day)


Food $720

  • Restaurants – Once per day at $30 per meal average = $720
  • Groceries – No more than what we usually spend at home ($125-150/wk) – $0 extra
A grocery run from our last Canada trip
A grocery run during our last Canada trip


Entertainment $400

  • 2 days of Mammoth Cave tours – $96 (already booked)
  • Touristy stuff at Niagara Falls – $100
  • Random museums/parks/etc in Toronto and elsewhere – $200


Souvenirs $0

  • lots of pictures and memories – $0


All of the lodging and $96 of the entertainment expense was paid in March.  The other $1,600 we’ll spend in July and August during the trip.


Travel hacking our way to glorious savings

We slashed the lodging expense significantly by careful use of our credit card points.  We redeemed the $500 sign up bonus from our Barclay Arrival card on the Toronto Airbnb rental.

I picked up a $250 Airbnb gift certificate by redeeming 25,000 of the 150,000 American Express Membership Rewards points we earned when we signed up for a pair of Amex Business Gold Rewards cards in December last year.  That slashed the total price for three nights in an Airbnb rental in Bowling Green, Kentucky from $297 to $47.

We booked nine nights at Starwood Hotels (including Four Points by Sheraton and Aloft hotels) using 24,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points from a single Starwood Amex sign up bonus offer.  The most amazing redemption of the bunch was a $400 per night (in Canadian dollars) room in Niagara Falls for 3,000 points per night.

Overall, we slashed what would have been $3,000 in lodging expenses to under $500 using credit card reward points and hotel points.  Not a bad deal at all.

Travel hacking is how we traveled through Mexico for seven and a half weeks for $4,500.  If you like free travel as much as we do and want to get some of these same cards, check out these credit card offers.

Another travel hack of ours is renting apartments for a week or more.  Airbnb is an incredible way to save money while on vacation, particularly if you’re traveling with a family.  We booked decent two bedroom apartments and houses for much less than the cost of a crappy hotel room suite.  The biggest benefit beyond having tons of space is that we get a full kitchen so we don’t have to dine out for a month straight.  If you haven’t tried Airbnb before, check them out for your next vacation and save $35 off your first stay.


Hitting the Road

We are leaving in mid-July and returning home in mid-August.  We have our new (to us) minivan which will make for a very comfortable and luxurious touring vehicle for this road trip.  One of the goals of the trip is to skip the typical rush rush rush that accompanies the normal one week American vacation and travel at a slower pace.

Other than the hotels and apartment rentals, our daily routine is very flexible so that we can take a vacation from sightseeing if we’re feeling lazy or exhausted. We’ll have a swimming pool at our hotel or apartment during most of the trip.  The kids promised to make the pool an often used luxury.

The trip budget includes dining out once per day.  We spent an average of $19 per day on restaurants during our last trip to Canada, so $30 per day should let us dine out more than we did last time.  The Canadian dollar is about 20% weaker this time around so our USDs will go farther.  We’ll probably dine out more when we are staying in hotels and less frequently when we’re settled in to our Toronto apartment for almost two weeks (if Toronto’s amazing food scene doesn’t prove overly tempting!).

Maybe we go absolutely crazy and spend way more on dining out than we budgeted.  That’s okay too because we increased our travel budget to $10,000 this year.  Beyond the $2,100 budgeted for this trip and a little under $2,000 budgeted for our December Caribbean cruise, we won’t be spending much on vacations during 2016.  With around $6,000 going unspent in our 2016 travel budget, I think we can afford to live it up a little while on vacation.  Though we’re already talking about a big 2017 trip (Mexico again? Europe?) so any unspent money could be used next year.



Any tips or hints for the cities we’re visiting?  Any hidden gems?  Free family fun? Any can’t be missed favorites?  



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  1. Sounds like an awesome trip you have planned there. Nice use of travel hacking; you’re saving a ton of money! We’re great at tracking expenses after the fact, but your pre-trip budgeting is inspiring us to do the same. I had to check google to be sure, but Toronto apparently has some pretty good poutine that you should definitely try. I’ve never been to Toronto, but I’ve had poutine in Montreal several times. Such delicious comfort food!

    1. We had poutine a few times in Montreal 2 years ago and I was underimpressed. 🙂 Don’t get me wrong, I like french fries, gravy, and cheese. But I think the 3 together aren’t better than the 3 consumed separately.

        1. I’m willing to give poutine another shot but yeah, I think it’s just something I can’t love. Smothered covered chili cheese fries are very close to poutine (chili instead of gravy) and that does it for me. Maybe it’s the tang and spiciness of the chili instead of the rich, smooth gravy flavor that seals the deal?

      1. Where in Montreal did you try it? If you’re willing to give it another shot, my favourite spot is “La Banquise”, crazy awesome poutine. Always a long line though, day or night!

        1. We tried it at some neighborhood hole in the wall place and at a different place that served pizza and sandwiches in the Plateau neighborhood (can’t recall names of either place). Maybe we’ll give it another shot.

    2. I’m from Toronto originally, never knew it was known for it’s poutine 😛 Dim Sum on the other hand, they do that realllllly well.

  2. Great job travel hacking the trip! Very inspiring. What a great way for the fam to see the amazing country side too. I’ve always enjoyed a good road trip, you miss way to much by just flying over. And you guys are doing it up right, taking a nice long time to enjoy the trip! Have fun!

    1. I feel the same way about flying somewhere. You just show up and lose the context of the area surrounding the place you’re flying into. In this case, it’s easier to pack the family and all our stuff in the van instead of flying from city to city, getting a rental car, loading our gear, etc multiple times.

      1. Young kids don’t often do well in airplanes anyway. 3+weeks still sounds challenging to me (I have two little guys). How do you keep your sanity driving all day? Frequent stops I would guess.

        Quick question though – I thought airbnb discontinued the referral program. Do I have this wrong?

        Still, you are a travel hacking pro!

        1. Our kids did pretty well on 4 hour bus/plane rides but seemed to hit a breaking point around hour 5-6 (Mexico City – Oaxaca = 6-6.5 hours by bus). Fortunately while in the car, we can pull over, stretch our legs, stop for lunch/dinner, and recharge ourselves before moving on.

          As for Airbnb referral program, I assume it’s still alive. They used to pay $25, then $20, and now it’s up to $35 after the referred person makes their first stay (all in the form of Airbnb credit).

  3. As a former Northwest Ohio resident, I can be of help! Dearborn (suburb of Detroit) has the Henry Ford Museum (With cool stuff like planes, trains, automobiles, the Wienermobile, Presidential state cars, and a bunch of other awesome stuff!) Next to the Henry Ford Museum is Greenfield Village, which has a lot of outdoor activities as well as Thomas Edison’s laboratory. Very kid friendly and fun for both kids and adults.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation. I keep seeing the Henry Ford museum recommended here and elsewhere. Will have to check out if the family is interested (but I fear I might be the only one interested in mechanical stuff).

      1. It’s way more than just mechanical stuff. There’s a bunch of things from the 1700s and forward about domestication, the chair that Lincoln was shot in, and a Dymaxion home. In the Village bit, there’s candle making and farms and all sorts of things.

  4. This sounds fabulous! Having the flexibility to take a summer traveling with the kids is high on our list for ER. Also very interested to hear about the hotel based travel hacking. We have really just started on this and are using most rewards for flights (slow travel is not an option – yet!). I’d be interested to hear if you can compare Air B&B with other rental options such as VRBO or Homeaway. we’ve used both of the latter, but never Air B&B. Is there a big advantage?

    1. I like the searching and booking interface with Airbnb better but in terms of the quality and price, I’m not sure there’s a clear winner. I think Airbnb charges an extra fee but I know I’ve seen places listed on both Airbnb and Homeaway/VRBO (the latter 2 are owned by the same parent company I think) where the price is the same per night after fees.

      We’ve stayed in a half dozen airbnbs and 2 VRBOs recently and in general all have been clean and in good repair with responsive landlords (other than 1 airbnb rental that was horrible!! but they refunded us fully and gave us $150 to make us happy).

      Definitely worth checking out Airbnb in your search for a house/apartment rental since the inventory is different than what’s offered with VRBO. There’s also an advantage with Airbnb if you don’t mind renting a room in someone’s occupied house since there’s a lot of that inventory available, prices are usually very good and you get a local host that can help orient you to your new city. We haven’t done that kind of home stay before (hard to do with 3 kids) but maybe some day.

    1. Our expectations were low back in 2014 with the 2 year old and we did about as well as can be expected. 🙂 As a 3 year old he did much better. We are also learning that our kids do not do well at all with sightseeing in high heat and humidity so we are focusing on areas with more moderate summertime climates (central highland Mexico, middle/northern Europe, far northern states and Canada).

  5. My parents moved to Bowling Green, KY a couple years ago. When we visited them shortly after the move they took us to Dinosaur World and Lost River Cave. Both are a bit pricy,but the kids had a blast. Dinosaur world has several acres of concrete dinosaur statues to walk around and learn about, as well as a small playground and fossil digging activity. Lost river cave takes you on a short tour, probably 30 minutes on a small boat inside a cave system. The water is only a foot or two deep. It was a fairly interesting place to go. Of the two, I would choose Dinosaur World as the best place to go to, my kids really enjoyed it and the amount of fun per dollar spent is higher 🙂

    1. I’ll have to check out that Dinosaur World park. Sounds cool! Though it’ll be steaming hot temperature wise when we are there in mid-July (which is why we’re doing underground stuff primarily 🙂 ).

      Was the Lost River Cave part of the Mammoth Cave? They have an underground river but no tours were available for this summer (and the customer service rep couldn’t tell my why not or when it would be available). I was really looking forward to exploring the subterranean river but no dice this time around.

  6. Hi there! I live between Niagara Falls and Toronto. I know you will have a great time! I have a few recommendations for you, if you want even though I already know you’ve done your research and have been to Canada before but maybe this will be helpful to others too!

    The Canadian side of Niagara Falls has a ton of stuff to do besides few the Falls which is awesome. There is a giant ferris wheel, arcades – all sorts of fun houses, haunted houses, etc – some are cheesy and expensive and some of them are a lot of fun, revolving tower (you can also eat there), Greg Frewin Magic Show, Maid of the Mist tour (you go in a boat near the Falls, I have never done it but you can google it); the area is also known for wine – there are a ton of wineries. Some will give your kids juice if you want to check any out. There’s also a lot of hiking and biking. There are bikes for rent. There is also a big waterpark that you can buy day passes for which is attached to one of the Sheraton hotels there but can’t remember which one. Great Wolf Lodge is 5 minutes away but you can only use their waterpark if you stay there.

    For Toronto, I would recommend a Toronto Blue Jays (MLB) game, take a ferry to Centre Island, lots of greenspace, you can also rent bikes, small wading pool (there is also a small amusement park called Centreville); CN Tower – the second highest tower in the world I think, you can also do the Edge Walk there where you walk around the perimeter of the tower harnessed (not for me!); Canada’s Wonderland (like a Six Flags type of amusement park) just outside of Toronto; Ripley’s Aquarium which is gigantic. Have fun!!

    1. Thanks for the tips on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. From a past trip there about 15 years ago I remember the Canadian side being much more developed (in a touristy way) than the American side. We ate at one of the themed restaurants while there and made a few loonies in the casino. Maybe we’ll check out some of the attractions you mentioned. We have part of one day (after driving down from Toronto) and a full day there. The hotel is pretty swanky, so we’ll spend some time with kids swim in the pool while we lounge poolside and watch the falls (doable if there website pics are accurate).

      We have tons of time in Toronto so we’ll probably check out the aquarium and do the ferry to Centre Island (among other things). Looks like tons to do in Toronto. Any recommendations for cool neighborhoods for walking tours (cool = old, historic tree-lined streets or funky hip cool)?

      1. Hey Justin! I live in Toronto so I can give you a few recommendations. Cool hip neighborhoods/streets would include Queen Street West (funky hip street with lots of cool small shops and restaurants), distillery district, Kensington Market and the surrounding area (Chinatown). Btw there is Sherbourne Street (which is downtown) that can be sketchy at night (drugs, etc) so watch out!

        You should also check out the UofT campus area (lots of open space for the kids to play in). For expensive shopping (!) Bloor Street West is your place. If you want cheap Indian/Chinese, etc food check out small restaurants in Scarborough (east of Toronto). For groceries, you want Food Basics or No Frills (Loblaws and Metro are expensive). We also have lots of food festivals over the summer so don’t forget to check them out. Any questions, let me know!

        1. Soooo, take the kids to Sherbourne Street late at night for kid friendly fun, right? 😉


          Thanks for the tips, Al. I knew about No Frills and I’ll add Food Basics to the list of grocery stores to visit. Google says we have one of each within 5-8 minutes of our apartment (near corner of Danforth and Broadview to northeast of downtown).

          UofT is on my list. I always enjoy visiting universities when we are in different places. Usually an interesting mix of people, attractions, and buildings.

  7. I might go to Niagara Falls later this year as well! Seems like a fun trip. Wondering how you’ll spend the 12 days in Toronto… I like to wing vacations as well. Also leads to more R&R.

    1. I’m wondering how we’ll spend those 12 days too. 🙂 So far lots of ideas and I can see 3-4 days of “doing nothing” hanging around the apartment, swimming, lounging, walking to playground or park nearby. 3-4 days of visiting museums and attractions. 3-4 days of walking tours of neighborhoods, universities and downtown/waterfront. 1-2 days of settling in, laundry/errands and packing up.

  8. good choice Canada – ~30% discount right now on the CAD – please come and spent freely 🙂

    check out for all sorts of local Toronto reccomendations – food, destinations,activities,events etc.

    personal favourites – Toronto Islands, CN tower and Edge Walk – a bit pricey but where else can you
    stand on the edge of a 1200′ tower ?; Toronto City hall, Harbourfront; AGO; ROM; the various neighbourhoods – Kensington Market, Chinatown, Yorkville, Greektown ; tons of green spaces and parks for walking

    and the food – your choice of ~8000 restaurants of every kind you can imagine (except for good BBQ 🙁 ) – Thai, sushi, korean and vietnamese are excellent value bets
    a personal favourite -Schnitzel Queen (213 Queen St. E ) – fabulous schnitzel dinner $13 CAD tax in – ambience is not its forte but the food is excellent

    btw have to disagree with Believe Fire above – sorry but personally I think poutine is horrible – soggy gravy laden french fries yuk ! no comfort there but each to his own

    depending on where your airbnb is, ditch the car and use transit – multi day passes are a good way to go – see for info

    catch some live theatre – many choices and venues or depending on timing – Dream in the Park – Shakespeare under the stars in High Park

    enjoy your trip!

    ps Corvette museum and assembly plant in Bowling Green KY – big thumbs up

    1. I’m very excited about the CAD exchange rate (though it’s dropped from 1.4 to 1.27 per USD since we started planning the trip 🙁 ). Much better than the 1.04 to 1.06 we were getting in 2014 when “everything seemed a little expensive”. Now I have to remind myself when shopping and dining that it’s not 1:1 and a $10 CAD dish at a restaurant with tax already included is equivalent to a $7 USD plate at home (= $8 after tax).

      Thanks for the tips on specific neighborhoods and destinations – they’re in the trip planning spreadsheet now!

      Glad you mentioned the poutine. Not a favorite, though I might have to give it a third chance. 🙂

      We’re staying about 10 minutes from downtown/waterfront near the Broadview metro station on Danforth Avenue. I checked out the transit prices – very affordable after the exchange rate and kids are free (12 and under or under 12 I recall – all our kids are <11). I figure it might be cheaper than paying for parking if we're headed downtown and I won't have to fight rush hour traffic if we're out and about at 8-9 or at 5-6 pm.

      1. Definitely plan on taking transit – there are family day and/or week passes available that are reasonable, and yes, children 12 years and under are now free on the TTC.

  9. It’s great that you don’t need to “rush rush” as you will find a lot of cool things along the way. My wife and I early retired on 4/1 and are looking forward to trips exactly like this! Here are a couple suggestions: 1) the National Corvette Museum/Factory is in Bowling Green; 2) it wouldn’t be difficult to swing by Indianapolis and see the Speedway on your way to Detroit; and, 3) as previously mentioned, the Henry Ford Museum/Greenfield Village is in Detroit (Dearborn) – it was one of the most impressive but least well-known museums in the USA. Can you tell I’m a ‘car guy’ by these suggestions?

    1. With three ladies in the family, how many car-related tourist destinations do you think I can squeeze in?! 😉 I’ll run it by them and see what I can get away with.

  10. The first thing I noticed about this is that you’re driving the same distance on this road trip as we did around a good portion of the country of New Zealand and you guys are barely touching much of North America.

    1. The US and Canada are HUGE! I read a funny story about some Europeans visiting NYC for business trip and they had a few extra free days after the work week was over. They wanted to “stop by” Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon while they were here in the States. LOL.

  11. Sounds like an awesome trip you have planned, great memories await. Would definitely recommend checking out the National Museum of the US Air Force near Dayton Oh, best of all it is totally free!

    1. Wow, that sounds like something I would love and so would our 3 year old! And the price is roughly what we like to pay for museum admissions. 🙂 It’s in the spreadsheet now.

      1. I also came to the comments to recommend the Air Force Museum! It’s HUGE – too big for one day when we go – and very very entertaining.

        1. That’s great news. I think it’s going to consume most of our free time since we will have 7.5 hours of driving that day, too. Or maybe we reshuffle our travel schedule and plan an extra day to visit the museum??

      2. Not sure how much your kids are into science (and more expensive than free), but a little further off course in Columbus is COSI ( Really cool exhibits with lots of interaction. It was one of my favorite places when I was growing up.

        The Columbus Zoo is also one of the best in the country, if that is more up their alley.

  12. Me and my girlfriend are also looking at Niagara Falls (We’re from Quebec City), and Marineland is another option for kids.

  13. Trip sounds good but as an Ontario native who lives just outside of Toronto I would never recommend so much time in Toronto. I would spend 4-5 night there maximum and then rent a nice cottage on one of the hundreds of lakes north of Toronto for a week. Muskoka or Haliburton area. These are the gems of our province and you would be here during the best weather of our summer. Your kids will LOVE the amazingly clean water in our lakes for swimming and all kinds of watersports. Cottage rentals often include canoes, kayaks, etc.

    1. We might sneak out of the city a time or two and visit something like these lakes. 🙂 I like the country but also love the city. I know Toronto is different, but when we were in Montreal there were seemingly unlimited options for tree-shaded streets perfect for a stroll and we bumped into so many parks along those walks. Our apartment rental in Toronto is right next to a big green space along the river, though I’m not sure if we can get down to it easily since there’s a RR track and freeway along the river.

      Oddly enough, the guy we’re renting from also rents out a big lake cottage just outside Toronto. Summer rental rates were crazy expensive compared to Toronto rental prices (guess all the TO residents flee to the countryside in July?? 🙂 ).

  14. You make my two week vacations look like a walk in the park.
    Wow, those are great savings with the travel hacking.
    We also rent apartments for a week or more and are able to negotiate better rates. We just make sure to read all the reviews to try to avoid getting stuck with a bad place. It doesn’t guarantee it but we’ve been lucky so far.

    1. I think we’re getting better and pickier when it comes to finding a good apartment rental. No reviews is a red flag, though we rented a place in Mexico with zero reviews and it was awesome and cheap but I conversed with the owner quite a bit before committing. The slightest mention of uncleanliness in the reviews is another red flag for us (not that we’re extremely picky, just not interested in repeating the Quebec City Disaster of 2014 any time soon). Likewise, if the place has pets or welcomes pets, I get scared. Too many options out there to settle for a place that might not make you happy.

      1. We took a chance with a condo in Punta Cana that didn’t have any reviews but the complex was just built two years ago and it seemed pretty clean on the photos. Just like you, we had a lot of going back and forth with the owner. We were pleased with the place and wifey wrote a very solid review after our stay and the owner was very pleased with us as well. Win/win!

        1. That’s great! We lucked out too and left a glowing review after our airbnb stay too. I wouldn’t mind staying at the same place again since it was decent and inexpensive, quiet (for being in the middle of Mexico City), and a block from the subway and a major grocery store.

  15. Great vacation plans. I still remember the fun of heading over to the AAA in early June (yes, prior to the inter webs, road trips usually started at the AAA place where you got your free maps etc) to pick up our Triptik’s and tourist guides to all the cool places we would be traveling that summer. There’s something special (not all of it good) about getting the family in a 11×4 metal box for 2 weeks and spending hours and hours together on strange roads far from home and/or civilization. I wouldn’t trade that time or those memories with my parents and siblings (7 total) for anything.

    Of all the places you plan to visit, the one I covet the most is Nashville (with a side of Memphis if you can spare it). The Grand Ole Opry has a free tour that was awesome (may not still be free) and there’s a really cool hotel right across from GOO that is a kind of gigantic biosphere of 5 hotes called Opryland which is free to get into the inner biosphere part. It’s got an indoor river and lots of restaurants etc. You got to see that to believe it. Across the street from that is a Dukes of Hazzard museum which is not as strange as it sounds – all this surrounded by wall to wall legit cowboy honky tonks serving decent food and great country music played by seriously professional country musicians. If you have time you still have the main Nashville drag downtown which is next to the river and has lots of cool cowboy shops, honky tonks and curio shops.

    Equal to Nashville is a quick side trip to Memphis – Elvis’ Graceland is well worth the trip but then head down to Beale street which is a living monument to the history of American blues, R and B and rock and roll. No college music course can teach you quite as well as Beale St if you wanna see the place where Elvis stole some of his fashion and moves.

    And the BBQ in Memphis is the best in the damn world!

    Have fun!

    1. Hey, I’m not as young as you think! I remember in mid to late 1990’s in high school getting the AAA guide to Mexico and dreaming about traveling around south of the border (took a few years to do that the first time around, and 15 more years to do it again last year!). The internet was around but this was back when you used Altavista to google things in your Netscape browser over 56k dialup (you younguns will have to ask Siri about most of that).

      We only have one full day in Nashville so what we can see and do is limited. The Opryland hotel will probably be on the list. Mrs. RoG spent 3 months commuting to Nashville many years ago and that was one of the destinations she mentioned seeing. It’s also indoors which works well if it’s 90+ and humid in July when we’ll be there.

      We won’t make it to Memphis this time around but maybe we can stop by if/when we do a big cross country US road trip to the western half of our country.

        1. Very cool, thanks. I saw this while researching Nashville and forgot to make a note of it. I just checked and they will charge about $25 for the family for admission but checking out the outside is free. Probably do the exterior visit only since we are a little short on time in Nashville and want to see other places too.

            1. I think that’s the part that will interest all of us too. We’ll have to work to avoid “museum fatigue” on this trip since we’ll probably hit more than a few in Toronto and we’re definitely going to the Air and Space museum in DC.

      1. lmao! Netscape and Altavista…browsers from a bygone era. In “internet years”, it’s been around 1000 since I “googled” on Netscape.

        I’m biased towards Memphis being a guitar player, but I stand by the BBQ proclamation…which in and of itself is enough for me to take a stand in favor of Memphis…if not now, then sometime in the future…you must eat Memphis BBQ. Oh and the town is ok too.

      2. Almost forgot – The Andrew Jackson House is located in Nashville and a spectacular walk thru American history if you like that kind of thing. Despite his current fall from grace, his house and museum are like a time machine and well worth a few hours.

          1. lol! Don’t get me started. Jackson’s story is notable in many ways. He was an orphan at the age of like 5 and somehow survived amazing hardship to become a military genius and eventually president. He should have been dead by the age of 10 but he persevered and succeeded in the milieu in which he existed.
            The pundits du jour like to use today’s moral standards to judge American forefathers, especially the ones they hate – which is intellectually dishonest and ridiculous. Yes, he did bad things to the Indians, but in the context of his time it was no different than already established US policy. What a lot of the current judging of Jackson leaves out is that the country supported his policies to expand the US to the West at all cost. I wonder if the Jackson naysayers who live west of the Mississippi would be willing to donate their houses and land back to their rightful owners? …doubtful

            If you can get to the Jackson house it will be well worth your time.

  16. Another summer trip – fun! And you’re visiting my home city (Toronto). LOTS of free and fun stuff to do there for the whole family. – there are a bunch of stuff there that I really like, especially the various parks around the city, St. Lawrence Market, and the Distillery District. Public transportation isn’t bad as well; I definitely recommend it over driving. Toronto has the WORST traffic and it has gotten worse over the past few years (I’ve experienced SF Bay Area and DC traffic…). If you have any questions about the city or getting around, let me know! Enjoy 🙂

    1. Thanks for the link for free stuff. Always a fan of free! 🙂

      I’ve seen the crazy traffic in google maps as I’m researching stuff in Toronto. I planned on driving and paying for parking mostly, but the relatively low cost transit is sounding more and more appealing. Maybe renting a place a block from the Metro station was a smart decision after all!

  17. As a couple of others have said, you should definitely check out Greenfield Village while in Detroit. It is great and your kids would LOVE it! It’s not a traditional museum at all, it’s outside, truly like an old village. Very interesting stuff and adults and kids will enjoy. It enjoyed the village much, much more than the actual Ford museum but both are definitely worth the time and money.

    While in Toronto, I would recommend you visit Ottawa. It’s not that far away, maybe spend a couple of days. It’s a nice city with a river running through it. Not that you can take advantage of this in the summer but I always thought it was so cool that the residents commute via ice skating on the river during the winter.

    It sounds like a great trip and your travel hacking skills are inspirational!

    1. I was tempted to go to Ottawa after Toronto but it would have added too much driving for this trip. We planned on going in 2014 but ended our trip early. It looks like a beautiful city and I hope we can make it there one day (maybe if we revisit Montreal in the future).

  18. Toronto in only 12 days? Ambitious indeed.

    Definitely plan a day (or days!) at the Toronto Islands. Lots of great biking, beaches, canoeing, and a ride or two at Centreville is fun. You’re coming in the summer, so expect that on pretty much any weekend there will be an outdoor festival somewhere in the city (the International Jazz Festival, Pride and Caribanna are just the largest) which can be enjoyed with minimal to no actual cash outlay.
    I’d also definitely recommend Shakespeare in High Park (outdoor theatre – bring a picnic blanket, pay what you can), potentially Riverdale Farm (more of interest to younger kids), and biking the many ravine trails (particularly to Edwards Gardens). If you’re in town when Doors Open Toronto is on, definitely plan to go if you like a one-of-a-kind peak at normally off-limits urban architecture. Take a wander through Kensignton Market and the Distillery District. Try to hook up with a free Jane (as in Jane Jacobs) walk of the city or a ROMwalk. Enjoy the chaos of a weekend Harbourfront cultural festival. Catch a TIFF in the Park free summer movie. Hike the Rouge. Realize you can’t see it all in only 12 days and resolve to stay longer 🙂

    1. 12 days for our first visit will give us an indication of how many weeks we’ll spend on our next visit. 🙂 We did a week in Montreal 2 years ago and I could see us spending more time there (if for nothing more than the very mild summer weather!).

      All those outdoor festivals/plays/movies in the park sound awesome. We’ll definitely try to hit a couple of those.

    1. Montreal I believe. You aren’t missing too much. Kind of like a sweet BBQ flavored chip with no spice. In a way it was like eating pre-ketchupped french fries. Much like my experience with poutine – not great but not bad either.

      They did have many amazing yogurt flavors in Montreal in the big 1L tubs. Coffee? Chocolate? Almond? Can’t remember which ones we tried but they were all delicious.

  19. Back for round two, huh? Niagara Falls is a pretty impressive waterfall. I am sure you guys will have fun. We are working our way to Disney World this year with points. It’s a long haul, but totally worth it in the end.

    1. Two images pop in my head when I hear the words: Niagara Falls

      1. The Abbott and Costello bit (or was it the 3 Stooges?)
      2. The scene in VACATION when they get to the Grand Canyon and Clark Griswald takes a 3 second glance at the Canyon, pumps his shoulders and leaves.

      I’m sure it’s well worth the drive though. ; )

      1. I’m afraid my kids will have a Clark Griswold moment when they see the falls. We visited a similarly impressive waterfall (Montmorency Falls) in Quebec City. They basically shrugged then asked “Ok it’s cool but can we go play on the playground now?”. We planned to see Niagara Falls later on that 2014 trip but I figured they didn’t really care that we cancelled that part of the trip.

  20. Sounds like a great trip. A lot of driving with little kids, though. 4 weeks is a pretty long trip. I’m sure the kids will be ready to get home by the end of the trip. I think we’ll try for 3 weeks in Thailand later this year.
    Great job with travel hacking. I’m terrible with that. Mrs. RB40 hates extra paperwork and she doesn’t like to sign up for anything new. I’ll try to work on it more this year.

    1. There’s no place like home. We have fun on the trip but falling into your own bed after weeks away is a great feeling.

      As for the credit cards, could you take care of the application process (on her behalf of course) and tracking them once issued?

      Have fun in Thailand if you make it this year. I’ll be excited to see your trip updates!

  21. Sounds great. I think you are a little light on the tolls. I have made the trip from upstate NY to Petersburg, VA. Better increase your toll budget. Good luck.

    1. That might be the case. I haven’t taken a close look but I’ll have to call up and add the right amount to my EZ Pass ahead of time. Where are the tolls on the upstate NY to Petersburg route? Along I-95 mainly? We’re mostly skipping 95 I think.

  22. Our family of four stays in Homeaway properties almost exclusively because the thought of all of us sharing a hotel room — all with different bedtimes and sleep needs — seems far from ideal. But I have to admit that I’ve been considering getting a Starwood CC. A free stay could make up for some discomfort.

    How well does your family do in hotel rooms? Any tips for making a family hotel stay pleasant?

    1. Hotels = okay for a night or two. Much longer and it’s not ideal. Mid-day naps are great if you (or kids) don’t get enough sleep at night. 🙂

      Our rule for this trip was one night stay = 1 room and we all cram in together. 2+ nights = 2 rooms so we can spread out. For our two stays of 3+ nights, we went with the apartment rentals for the extra space. The price ended up being cheaper than 2 hotel rooms anyway, and we have more space and comfort.

  23. Not sure if people have suggested this or not yet, but I used to spend a number of summers up in the Toronto area (I’m from western Canada with family out east). I ALWAYS loved going to the Toronto Space and Science Center. If nothing else their sports section is a great way to let the kids run around and learn about the science of sports. Want to “challenge” your sibling to a wheelchair race and find out how much energy you burned?! Find out if you can land like a cat?!?! All things you can do. They also usually have a special exhibit (I have done the science of marvel which was pretty cool). I would also suggest the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum), and if there is a cooler day the Toronto Zoo (as who doesn’t like animals?!).

  24. While in Nashville, you ought to take the kids to go inside the Opryland Hotel’s green house section. It’s a mini-wonder.

  25. Major kudos for taking on all the driving! We just drove 1200 miles in five days, and I pretty much never want to get into a car again. 🙂 But your trip sounds fantastic! I am especially glad that you’re making a special trip to see the Udvar Hazy Center at Dulles — it is super crazy nerdalicious awesome. The space shuttle, the SR-71 Blackbird, the joint strike fighter, the kamikaze “planes,” the ATC tower tracking actual flights into Dulles… it’s aviation nerd heaven, and super kid friendly to boot. Carve out as many hours as you can for the visit — so worth it!

    1. We’re driving twice as far but spreading it out over almost a month. I don’t enjoy driving but can’t say flying is much better! We are fortunate to be able to break up the driving into smaller chunks of 5, 6, or 8 hours each day and not do any marathon long drives back to back.

      I’m the most excited about the Udvar Hazy Air and Space museum. 🙂 Hopefully the rest of the family will enjoy it as much as I do. We should have the whole day there, since that’s the last day of our vacation. Just need to drive back to Raleigh after leaving the museum (and enjoy the wonderful traffic free roads that the greater DC area is known for 😉 ). We could also visit the museum later since it’s an easy weekend trip from Raleigh and on the way to just about anywhere north of home.

  26. Looks awesome! We did a summer trip to Niagara Falls/Toronto in 2012 when my kids were 8 and 5. One thing we added was a stop at Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY for the original Buffalo Wings. Yum! At Niagara Falls, definitely do Maid of the Mist tour. In Toronto, look into getting a City Pass to save money which includes CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum, Casa Loma (this was a really cool castle!), Toronto Zoo, and Ontario Science Center. These were all awesome for families. Some other kid friendly attractions that we didn’t have time for, but you certainly will would be Centre Island/Centreville Amusement Park, Riverdale Farm, and Black Creek Pioneer Village.

    We also did a Spring Mammoth Cave trip when my kids were 6 and 4 years old. For kids, you defintley want to stick to the “easy” level tours like the Mammoth Passage Tour and Frozen Niagara tour. The area is also great for hiking through the woods above the caves. I’ll give another recommendation for Dinosaur World. It seems cheesy, but the kids loved it. In addition to the dinosaurs, there is fossil digging, sluice mining, and other fun activities for little kids.

    1. I should have checked this before I posted, but it looks like the Toronto CityPass has been changed to include the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and you now have to choose either the Toronto Zoo OR Ontario Science Centre. Still worth it in my opinion. You save 41% over buying the tickets separately!

      1. I too would add Casa Loma (its where Professor X and the X-men live for a bit of movie trivia) but it might not be as exciting for smaller kids.

    2. We did Anchor Bar back in 2002 or so on our first visit to the area.

      I’ll have to look into the City Pass if we plan on doing multiple museums/attractions that qualify. We usually pay a la carte.

      We already booked the “moderate” difficulty cave tours so we’ll have to do some physical training before departing for Kentucky. 🙂 I might be carrying a 4 year old up the 500 stairs on the tours…

  27. Did you purposely choose to miss the waterfalls of the Finger Lakes in New York? You are driving just two hours or so west of the Finger Lakes to go to Niagra. The waterfalls and gorges in the Finger Lakes region are amazing.

    1. Not avoiding it on purpose, just trying to keep the overall trip on the shorter side and can’t see everything. I think we rode the Amtrak across upstate NY through the Finger Lakes district about 15 years ago and it is a very pretty area.

  28. Do you typically buy most of the snacks/dry goods/junk food/candy beforehand on a long trip or when you make the grocery runs? Great organization and planning. I find that I never have enough time before a trip to plan it out meticulously, and end up rushing through the brief ~1 week or less that I get each time. Would be nice once I hit FI to have more time on the planning aspects.

    Have fun!

    1. We’ll start with a stash of snacks to get us through a day or few days (including some snacks for late night hotel arrivals). Sometimes those are leftovers from the fridge/pantry that will expire before we get back (I think we packed bagel sandwiches and half a block of whole milk mozzarella when we set out for Mexico last year!). Then make a grocery run when we’re running low. Grocery stores are easy places to get healthy snacks (and total junk lol), a container of ice cream (instead of dropping $20-25 at an ice cream or froyo joint), and sometimes prepared food like rotisserie chickens or pizzas.

      1 week trips are tough because you have to rush rush rush to see everything. When you have 2 weeks in one city, you don’t feel bad taking what I call “do nothing” days where you don’t check anything off your itinerary – just relax, maybe hit the local markets or grocery store, visit a park or pool, walk around, snooze, read a book, etc.

  29. One thing to watch out for is that while Udvar-Hazy is a Smithsonian and free to “enter”, it’s $15/vehicle to park (free after 4pm – you’ll see lots of cars waiting on the side of the road right outside the gates about 3:55 for this reason). The kids may not like a full day there, but about 11-12, and again from 4-6 go up to the tower to watch the big international jets taking off (evening) or landing (morning) from Dulles. Museum food is a McDonald’s, so I recommend taking your own and eating in the car/outside).

    If you’re interested in Civil War history, the Bull Run/Manassas battlefields are very close.

    Fairfax County parks are also excellent (and mostly free) – we always loved Frying Pan park – it’s a working depression era farm, so the kiddos can see farming up close, although you can probably get something similar near Raleigh.

    We used to live right down the street from Udvar-Hazy (literally, 3 miles down 28), so if you need a recommendation for a place to eat/play/etc, please let me know.

    1. Ugh – also just noticed where your hotel is – whatever you do – DO NOT get on 267 unless you’re driving it the whole way from 28 to Leesburg (or reverse). You have to pay a flat toll for any distance if you go through the main plaza at 28. It was $5.50 for EZPass two years ago! Not sure if you can change, but if Udvar-Hazy is your goal, look for a Dulles “south” hotel – most of the roads around the airport are parking lots at rush hour (especially 28N in mornings, S in evenings and Loudon Cnty Parkway) – too much construction, not enough infrastructure.

      1. The Aloft is on Loudoun County Pkwy Rt 607 and the Udvar Hazy is on 28, so yeah looks like we’ll be paying another $4.40 toll if we travel after 9 am “rush hour” is over. We’ll be going south on 28 to get to the museum so maybe avoid the worst of the traffic. We’ll also have to grab some breakfast somewhere unless we do the fruit/yogurt/cereal pack your own thing.

        Traffic, tolls, and paid parking – fun times in the big city. 🙂

        edit: google maps says we can skip the toll and detour 5 minutes and 2 miles to a more northerly route on Rt 625. Of course 5 minutes at 9 am might be 30 minutes (can you tell I’ve driven in DC before? 😉 ).

    2. I knew about the $15 parking at Udvar Hazy. I guess we’ll just pay the price (which is way cheaper than any regular museum admission fee for a family of 5!). Also knew about the toll. I think we’ll stick with the hotel we have and pay the toll a second time when we head toward the museum the next morning. The hotel has a couch in the room so kid #3 will have his own little spot to sleep. But maybe we’ll revisit that decision. We went back and forth before booking, because there are two category 2 Starwood hotels in the area – one next to udvar hazy (no 2nd toll but no couch in room) or one an exit or two west of udvar hazy.

  30. That triangle driving map idea is genius, hope it all goes as planned. Looking forward to all the cool travel pics. I might do a road trip this summer and it will be only 2-3 days, but it will be fun as well. Cant wait to reach the monthly retired vacations like you.

    1. The Triangle is why I at least listen to my wife and think about what she’s suggesting before summarily ruling it out as crazy (though my first response was to question her knowledge of US geography 🙂 ).

      Have fun on your road trip!

    1. Yes, we’re going to the Parthenon (at least the outside).

      I’ve heard about the Kroger gift card trick, but never used it. Right now I’ve got potentially $1250 in airbnb gift cards from my Amex membership rewards points, so don’t need more airbnb gift cards right now (but great tip for others in the market for airbnb stays; may come in handy for next summer’s trip too).

  31. USAF museum near Dayton, Ohio MUST be added to your itinerary. It’s free, and is bigger and better than the Air & Space Museum near Dulles. Maybe I’m biased because I am a airplane nerd (it’s how I make my living!), but it’s right on your route between Kentucky and Detroit.

  32. I grew up in downtown Toronto, and one thing that really makes the city stand out is the incredible ethnic diversity. Wander around some of the “towns”, like China/Korea/Greek/India town.

  33. For Toronto check out the zoo. They have pandas currently and a baby polar bear. Great place for kids, including a splash park if you need it. The zoo is well designed and quite large. I always took visitors there when I leved in Toronto.

    1. The zoo is on one of the kid’s lists of things to see. I feel like we’re zoo’d out though, since we visit one in almost every city we go to (and many of them are free).

  34. Well I did not retire at 33 but I did retire at 56 and I am really enjoying it! I have been retired for 5 years. So I can offer some alternative retirement savings and investment strategies if anyone is interested. I have kind of gone my own path in retirement as well. I am a traveler and enjoy living like a local where I travel. I am not a foodie but I do enjoy fine food.

  35. Touristy stuff in Niagara Falls could run you well over $100 for a family of 5. Just a Maid of the Mist tour will be close to $70 for everyone. Add in the admissions for the kid-oriented stuff, the aquarium, the inevitable ice cream stop, etc., I’d guess you’ve underestimated how efficiently the Niagara Falls businesses separate people from their money.

    If you like zoos, the Detroit Zoo is pretty cool and worth seeing. If the Tigers are playing, Comerica Park is a great venue. If you’re going to spend a day in the area, there are places closer to Ann Arbor where you can rent inner tubes or canoes and float down a river for several hours, stopping for a picnic lunch in the U of M arboretum.

    The Finger Lakes in New York are worth seeing, but they’re out of your way. If you’re into plays or musical theater, you’ll be fairly close to the Stratford Festival in Canada – highly worth it in my opinion, plus a beautiful little town in the summer.

    Have a great trip!

    1. I might be grossly underestimating the amount we’ll spend on attractions, museums, tours, etc. and that’s okay if we find cool places to visit (and they cost money). In the past we tend to do a lot of free things before we move on to the spendy tourist traps. I’m still debating about the maid of the mist but figured it might be $100 if we do it. The other tourist stuff in Niagara Falls, we’ll probably skip.

  36. Sounds like a great trip. We just came back from the Buffalo/Toronto area though our trip was much more rushed. One big reason for our trip up there was because my wife’s brother is up in Buffalo and she went to school there. We were only in Toronto for 2 days but if not, I think the CityPass might be a good value depending on whether you wanted to check out those attractions. We did do the Ripley’s Aquarium and my Toddler didn’t want to leave…oh and it’s opened until 11p.m to my surprise (it worked out great because we needed a family friendly activity to fill that evening). Unfortunately, I decided to drive there during rush hour and right before a Blue Jays game (aquarium and stadium right next to each other). Good thing I didn’t wear my Yankees shirt. Also, check BestParking app for best price for parking. I paid $12 but saw signs for $30 which were maybe one block closer. We also had dim sum at Dragon Boat Fusion with my wife’s cousin who lives in the Toronto area and recommended it. It was crazy busy on a Thursday afternoon?! We also went to St. Lawrence Market. In Buffalo, Anchor Bar was pretty cool.

    1. Wow, you covered as much ground in a few days as we will our whole trip. 🙂

      We used the Bestparking mobile page in 2014 and it saved us a ton. $21 for midtown Manhattan parking all day!! $10-12 CAD most days in Montreal.

  37. There’s so much good Middle Eastern food in Detroit. I hope you like homemade hummus. That’s a lot of lovely family time. Such an amazing thing you can give yourself.

    1. I’ve enjoyed most Middle Eastern food I’ve tried. Definitely love hummus and the other common ME staple dishes. I know Dearborn is ground zero for ME food!

  38. I have been an avid reader and love your postings. I live in Windsor and the ME food is AWESOME in both Detroit and Windsor. One place we swear by within Windsor is Eddy’s.

    The great thing in Canada is that they seem to have more public pools than stateside in my experience. Here is a link to Toronto pools. In Windsor a family can go to an outdoor pool on a one off basis for 8CAD, I expect Toronto to have similar arrangements.

    Let me know if I can be of further help, we can also take you out to lunch if you like

    1. Thanks for the Toronto pools link. Sounds like a great cheap way to have fun. It looks like the indoor pools are free for leisure swimming. Can’t seem to find any info on outdoor pools.

        1. I saw that link but didn’t see pricing for the outdoor pools. I think I can call to Canada for free using google voice so I can do a little research tomorrow. 🙂 The outdoor pool directly across from our apartment rental in Montreal 2 years ago was completely free during the week (and a few bucks on weekends).

  39. “By taking the hypotenuse of the triangle in a northeasterly direction, we shaved nine hours off of our total driving time.”

    Math and science, BITCHES!!! YEAH! That is some BADASS math wizardry. I love it.

    Hopefully the T.O (that’s what the cool kids call Toronto) met your expectations. It’s no Thailand/Central/South America, but we are proud of our socialized healthcare and poutine (probably the reason why we need said socialized healthcare). Also our Prime Minister is hot. That’s the only thing that really matters.

    1. We’re good at math. What can I say?

      The T.O. did not disappoint. In fact it exceeded expectations. I thought it would be more New York-y since it is a big city and financial capital. But it was actually a very pleasant place to visit (and live, at least during the summer months).

      I’m sad to report we never managed to try poutine this time around. Past experiences left us disappointed. Though I’m pretty sure all the Mediterranean, Thai, and Korean we ate more than made up for the lack of poutine.

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