The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.
Back in 2019, my partner and I decided to trade tea and crumpets for poutine and maple syrup as we said goodbye to our home in the U.K. and moved to Canada.
Drawn in by the promise of jaw-dropping natural wonders, abundant wildlife, quirky Canadian culture and the famously polite and friendly locals, we decided to pack our bags and try out life in the Great White North.
Luckily, we were able to get a visa and work in Canada, so our initial trip turned weeks into months, and then months into years.
While living and travelling around Canada was the greatest of adventures, there are a number of things I wish somebody had told me before we took the plunge and travelled around the country.
From failing to recognize the sheer size of Canada, to remembering there's such a thing as sales tax, here are the ten things I wish someone had warned me about before I'd even left the airport.
Don't underestimate the size
Helena in B.C.
One of the most humbling lessons I learned during our Canadian adventure was to never underestimate the sheer colossal size of the country.
When I first landed in Toronto, I had this ridiculously naive belief that I could casually pop over from Vancouver to Montreal for a weekend jaunt. Yes, really!
Of course, coming from the U.K. – where you can drive from one end of the country to another within a day (albeit a long one) – I just didn't expect Canada to be so vast.
After learning the hard way, I now know that Canada is a place where "down the road" might mean traversing several time zones, and a cross-country journey could take days on end.
And, although I spent a whole lot more time in cars, planes and trains than I expected, I wouldn't trade those journeys for the world.
Be prepared for the weather
Helena in Ottawa.
Before arriving, I knew Canada was going to be cold. But what I didn't expect was just how intense and beautiful each season would be.
Of course, I expected chilly winters, but I had no clue just how hot the summers could get – I guess I had this misconception that Canada was just kinda cold all year around!
And then there's the snow – OMG, the snow! I quickly found out that Canada doesn't mess around with winter, and you genuinely need a full arsenal of gear to survive.
I once tried to skate on Ottawa's Rideau Canal during the dead of winter and was surprised to look around and see all the locals wearing ski pants … when I'd showed up wearing jeans. Suffice to say I was home within the hour – and it took me a very long time to warm up!
Don't overlook less-touristy spots
Helena at Niagara Falls.
While it's true that iconic destinations like Niagara Falls and Lake Louise are breathtaking, one lesson I definitely took away from my trip was the importance of not overlooking the lesser-known gems.
Canada is full of charming small towns, dreamy, secret hiking trails and hidden gems that feel almost undiscovered – at least from a tourist perspective.
It's so easy to get carried away trying to tick off all of the most iconic Canadian destinations and then forget to take a moment to enjoy the journeys and the inbetween spots too.
From picturesque coastal villages to the vibrant arts scenes in tucked-away mountain towns, these off-the-beaten-path experiences actually ended up being some of my favourite memories from my time in Canada.
So, while the tourist hotspots should definitely make it onto your itinerary, don't forget to leave space for those lesser-known gems hidden along the way.
Don't assume you have to catch flights
A WestJet flight.
After finally realizing just how huge Canada is, I went on to assume that the best way to travel between destinations would be via plane – wrong again!
Some of the most memorable highlights of my trip came from the incredible road trips I ended up going on across the country.
I learned that Canada has a pretty extensive network of buses, trains, and affordable car rental options that make the scenic route not only feasible, but often actually preferable.
The freedom to take it at your own pace, soak in the landscapes and find hidden gems along the way make it an experience that's hard to replicate from 30,000 feet in the air.
I wish somebody had told me earlier that flying is not the only option and to embrace the long way around – because often the journey becomes as unforgettable as the destination!
Don't forget to tip
However, what I didn't anticipate was just how vastly different the tipping culture would feel compared to my experiences at home in the U.K.
Navigating the finer nuances of tipping became an adventure of its own. Uncertainty crept in when it came to scenarios like hairdressers, fast-food joints, coffee shops, and even with Airbnb hosts and at hotel receptions.
In a mild panic, I found myself adhering to the 20-ish% tip rule for just about everything I paid for, fearing I might accidentally offend someone. It wasn't until my Canadian friends intervened that I realized I had been a little too generous in many instances where it wasn't necessary — and I definitely spent more than I needed to on those early tips.
Don't assume bears and moose are cuddly
Helena in B.C.
As a wildlife lover, one of my biggest goals for my Canadian adventure was to spot moose and bears on Canada's West Coast. I desperately wanted to witness these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat, and the thought of seeing a mama bear with her cubs was the stuff of my wildest dreams.
But when we laced up our hiking boots and ventured out into the great outdoors, reality hit me like a ton of bricks. The idea of unexpectedly bumping into a bear, especially a protective mama with her cubs, quickly lost its appeal. In fact, I found myself silently hoping that wildlife would stay well out of our hiking path.Fortunately, I still got lucky when it came to wildlife experiences. The West Coast of Canada delivered, but I ended up very grateful that the encounters were from the safety of a passing vehicle.
Don't forget the sales tax
Helena at a Blue Jays game.
Before landing in Canada, I'd got so caught up with the nuances of tipping that I ended up overlooking another crucial financial detail: sales tax.
So you can imagine my surprise when I landed in the country and pretty much everything I paid for cost more than the ticket price (in the U.K., sales tax is included on all shelf prices).
Suddenly, I found myself not only generously tipping for everything but also shelling out more than I had budgeted for everyday products –and it's safe to say those first few days felt pretty pricey!
Fortunately, it didn't take too long to work this one out. But I do wish I'd known beforehand!
Don't attempt to see everything
Helena and Amos in Vancouver.
Canada is a huge country, and every province, territory, city and even small town has so much for you to see, eat and experience – it's impossible to do everything!
In the early days of my trip, I found myself getting stressed that there was no way we'd be able to see and do everything. The ever-expanding list of "must-visit" places actually made me feel a little overwhelmed.
However, in the end, I learned to accept that you just have to enjoy the journey. Thankfully, Canada isn't going anywhere, so all of the things I didn't get around to I'll add to my list for next time.
Don't underestimate Canadian cuisine
I'll admit that I severely underestimated Canada's food scene before I arrived in the country. I'm not sure that I'd ever even heard of poutine before landing in Toronto!
From the comforting deliciousness of poutine, to the iconic Montreal bagels, sugary BeaverTails, proper maple syrup, yummy butter tarts and even classic TimBits – there's a whole bunch of treats that I can't believe I'd lived without.
And that's without mentioning all of the other authentic and fusion cuisines that Canada does so well.
I just wish I'd eaten more BeaverTails while I was in Ottawa because I haven't stopped thinking about them -- or Montreal bagels -- since!
Hang out with the locals
Helena at Lake Louise.
Undoubtedly, Canada's best treasure isn't the dreamy vistas or tasty cuisine, but the people.
It didn't take me long at all to realize that the heart and soul of Canada is simply its warm and welcoming people – who are just as lovely, friendly and helpful as everybody says. And I'm so happy I got to experience that first hand!
The only thing I wish I knew before arriving is just how hard it would be to leave, and how much my heart would miss it once I'd said goodbye.
Love ya, Canada!