My daughter recently took advantage of a special $99 Amtrak fare from NYC to Montreal, eleven vista-dome hours north. I had been expecting to hear about her flashbacks to the Hogwarts Express and how dearly she missed Professor Snape, when she surprised me with this text:
"Dad, didn't you say it would be super expensive in Canada?"
"Sure I did. Canada is always far more expensive than the States."
"Well, get this," she continued. "I just bought that $35 bottle of Napa Valley Cab that you like so much for $25."
"What? The Silver Horse Cab? Are you sure? It must have been a knock-off. "
"No Dad. I'm sure! The prices here are insane!"
"Yeah, insanely high. Right?"
"Not at all. Yesterday I got this incredible deal on a smart TV. "
"A TV? But you don't even watch TV!"
"I know. But it was such a bargain. I couldn't resist. "
Naturally I was compelled to do some of my own research at this point. Lo and behold, I soon discovered that the exchange rate in Canada was favorable to US buyers for the first time in the last 10 years: $1.00 = $1.38 as of this writing.
Usually, Americans eschew Canadian vacations for the very reason they are too expensive. Recently, with the Canadian dollar - also known as the Loonie (perhaps because you had to be a lunatic to vacation in Canada) - having dropped as much as 16 percent against the dollar, Americans have been flocking over the border.
As CNBC put it, "If flying over Niagara Falls in a helicopter or coming face to face with a polar bear are experiences on a traveler's bucket list -- but not necessarily in their budget -- now may be the perfect time to visit Canada."
Winter sports enthusiasts - skiers and riders in particular - have reason to celebrate. According to CNBC, hotel rooms at legendary resorts like Whistler/Blackcomb, Revelstoke and Banff can be had for less than $50 a night, and lift tickets are less than most popular mountains in Tahoe and the Rockies.
Savvy travelers have been taking advantage of the latest Canadian gold rush since last summer when, according to the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, Americans pumped $2 billion into the Canadian economy in travel spending alone.
Now, even retirees are considering a "Canada in the summer, Mexico in the winter" because of the strength of the American dollar both north and south of the border.
Then there's the shopping.
For many Americans, the price of a trip across the border is far outweighed by the potential savings to be had on many big ticket items. Everything from cars, to flat screen TVs, to smartphones, not to mention staples like wine, beer and Canadian whiskey, can be had for as much as 30% lower.
Hence my daughter's enthusiasm.
"How are you going to get all this stuff back to your apartment?" I texted in reply to the news that she had bought a new TV, "On the train?"
"Oh, that's the other thing, " she texted back. Then, big as life on my little smart phone screen, a photograph of a brand new Honda Sport. I practically fell out of my chair.
"What do you think? Isn't it beautiful? $5,000 cheaper than in the states. And I can fit the TV in the trunk."
I was speechless. Even textless. She may have been able to fit the TV in the car, but where would she put the car once she got back to Brooklyn?
Now I was getting suspicious. In our house, shopping is a tag team, mother/daughter sport. So I suspected that her mother might somehow be complicit.
"Honey!" I bellowed. "Do you know what your daughter has been doing up in Canada?" My voice echoed through the house. No response.
"Honey!" I shouted again. There was no sign of her. So I asked my daughter if she knew of her mother's whereabouts.
"Oh, she's due to arrive at the Montreal airport any minute now. She didn't tell you she was coming?"
Flabbergasted, I staggered back to my recliner. I had always considered my wife and daughter to be eminently reasonable, responsible consumers, only buying what they needed and patiently waiting for things to go on sale.
Now it appeared that the entire Great White North was on sale. Hmm, I thought to myself. I wonder what a case of Crown Royal is going for in Vancouver?