Halloween may be over, but there’s no shortage of grim and ghastly stories this time of year, as an even scarier date looms for shoppers—

Black Friday.

If the day after (American) Thanksgiving doesn’t fill you with both the urge to shop and a twinge of shame in doing so, chances are you’ve never quite experienced “the sound and fury” which, while ultimately “signifying nothing,” can still lead to a degree of intensity and aggression in the name of achieving a goal which would make Macbeth blush.

That Xbox One, PS4, or new Blu-Ray player?

The second Best Buy opens and those things go on sale, you’re going to see a mad rush for the whole day and, yes, the whole week and month follow that makes scenes out of Saving Private Ryan look like a tea party.

But, that’s OK, because you have the perfect solution—cross border shopping!  After all, if the stores are packed in Toronto, surely shops located in smaller cities across the border in the States will make for a better shopping experience, right?  If it’s hectic in Montreal, you can count on New Hampshire being the picture of peaceful calm, correct?

Not so fast.  Falling for those generalizations is a quick way to find yourself going home with a doozy of a cross border shopping horror story, free of charge—except whatever toll is taken on your sanity from the experience.  Here instead are a few ways to avoid common traps and misconceptions which lead to those horror stories so your cross border shopping experience can be a positive one.

Get a NEXUS Card and Avoid This Mess


Black Friday and the Christmas Rush Will be Black, No Matter Where You Shop

Black Friday By Powhusku from Laramie, WY, USA (Black Friday) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Black Friday by Powhusku / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Whether it’s the day after Thanksgiving or the day after Christmas, either Black shopping day is going to be like journeying into a Heart of Darkness, pushing, shoving, trampling and all, from which you shall very likely emerge with the same words as Conrad’s original Kurtz, or Marlon Brando’s version of the character in Apocalypse Now:

“The horror, the horror!”

Keeping that in mind, it’s worth taking that inevitable shopping madness into consideration when looking to plan a cross border shopping trip.  Do not plan such a trip with the expectation that you will be able to beat the rush and avoid the Black Friday shopping crowds.

This is especially true if you’re looking for cross border shopping options in a state which is home to a major center of world trade.  Chances are, if you’re looking for cross border shopping in, say, Idaho or Montana, the crowds aren’t going to be enormous, because those centers themselves aren’t particularly huge, and so don’t attract much in the way of traffic or capital.  By contrast, if you’re thinking of skipping out on the crowds in Vancouver by making a day trip to the Seattle-area of Washington, or into New England or New York state, you may well find yourself unpleasantly surprised by the huge amount of traffic and massive crowds swarming each and every Best Buy and Walmart like ants to a dropped, sweet treat.

Again, unless you’re planning on traveling to one of the more remote areas of the United States, cross border shopping isn’t a viable strategy for avoiding the crowds come the holiday season.


Planes, Trains and Automobiles - Avoiding Transportation Trouble

Nov 2014 Blizzard By Fortunate4now (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

West Seneca during the 2014 blizzard by Fortunate4now / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The most busy travel days of the year come around Christmas and Thanksgiving (in November for Americans, in October for Canucks).  The week leading up to and after both holidays are leading causes of cross border horror stories, and they’re going to require special care:

  • First, if you can help it, try not to travel during these weeks or, if you’re going to do so, try not to travel the day directly before or after Thanksgiving or Christmas.
  • If booking a plane, do so many, many months in advance.  Trying to catch a last-second flight cross-country the day before Thanksgiving?  Good luck…and we admire your optimism, but don’t envy it.  If you do find yourself in the unenviable position of having to catch a flight at the last minute, check online ticket sites to see if you can’t get a deal…but, again, the odds are rather slim.  If your destination is close enough to drive or take a train, you may want to look into those alternatives instead.
  • If booking a train—plan for weather.  We may tend to associate inclement weather delays with planes, but the same thing happens with trains, and you don’t want to find yourself stranded at a train station in 15 degrees F temperatures.  The moment you suspect this to be a possibility, check into hotels, as spots will fill up, and fast.  Signing up for email or text alerts regarding alternate trains as well as delays and rescheduling issues can likewise help you spend less time in a cold, damp metro station and more on the train or in a nice, warm hotel room.
  • If driving, GPS is your friend.  Whether you use a specialized system or else use whatever navigator comes on your phone, you want to be able to check both the route as well as the traffic ahead.


A Botched Exchange

Currency Exchange © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar, via Wikimedia Commons

Currency Exchange © Jorge Royan / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

One more thing to keep in mind?  Be careful to keep the exchange rate in mind when traveling States-side.  After all, you don’t want to think you have “just enough” to afford some beauty on the other side of the border, only to be rudely reminded of the fact that the exchange rate may not be on your side.  This problem can grow all the worse if you’ve planned a trip out, think you can “just afford it,” and then find yourself stranded in Helena, Montana, and unable to get back to Lethbridge.  As of right now, an American Dollar is worth 1.13 Canadian Dollars, so keep that in mind when planning a day trip in order to avoid cross border horror stories.


Bathroom Blues

Dirty Toilet By Temple of Mara (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Dirty Toilet by Temple of Mara / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

It may seem odd, but it happens.

It may seem hilarious—until it happens to you.

You may think you’ve taken everything into consideration when it comes to cross border shopping—where to go, how to get there and back, where to stop, where to stay how to avoid Black Friday Crowds, and everything else, so you climb on the freeway, pile up the car, get ready to go, and fifteen minutes in—

Bathroom time…on a jam-packed freeway…with no exits—

And no way out.

To dig up that old Marlon Brando/Kurtz quote again—

“The horror…the horror!”

Use your phone, tablet, and other devices to note both the exits and, yes, available rest stops on the way to and from your destination.  That might seem a tad embarrassing, and it’s not as if you have to “announce” this is what you’re doing, but you should definitely be aware—it will be FAR more embarrassing to be forced to lament your “bathroom blues” while stuck in traffic with a full bladder…or a roadside bush (onlookers and all.)

That being said, not just any bathroom will do.  There are plenty of cross border horror stories out there which relate back to that most latent of lavatory-based fears—that the gas station, hotel, restaurant, or other rest stop bathroom is so broken down, disgusting, seedy, or otherwise unsafe that you either use it and regret doing so or else hold it and feel the pain that way.  Granted, it’s not as if you can expect a Four Seasons-caliber washroom everywhere, but you still need to maintain the most basic of standards.  Not only do you deserve better than having to endure sub-sanitary squalor, but failing to do so could indeed lead to medical concerns in severe cases.  What’s more, bathrooms which feel unnaturally isolated or out of the way can be dangerous, and you don’t want to put yourself in a vulnerable position, not just to avoid a cross border horror story, but a true horror in its own right.  Never forget the importance of safety on your cross border trips, and if possible, go to bathrooms in groups, and choose bathrooms which are in the employ of major businesses, where surveillance cameras and workers are on duty.  All of this is meant to help you stay safe.

Again, it seems like nothing…until it becomes something, so check ahead of time for good checkpoints to buy food and use the restroom, and on the later point, be as choosy as is prudent, and do not put yourself in a situation where you feel uncomfortable.

Black Friday By Clare Lovell (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Open at 1 am sign by Clare Lovell / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

All this and more can help you shop cross-border and live to tell the tale, free of cross border horror stories.


Black Friday Super Cut


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