Surviving a Canadian Road Trip with My Parents

Surviving a Canadian Road Trip with My Parents

When I first received an invite to a Canadian road trip with my mom and dad, my reaction was a resounding “no.” At 24 years old, spending countless hours in a car with my parents sounded like a terrible idea. I protested strongly during the months my mother spent begging me to come, arguing that it would “most likely be our last trip together” (she constantly thinks I’m on the verge of being swept up into marriage and thus needs to capitalize on my remaining freedom before my hips are heavy with the weight of toddlers and responsibility).

I reminded myself of my number one rule of travel I had so painfully forgotten: abandon all expectations because you can never know what is going to truly change you.

Stating that my decision to come on the trip was “last minute” is almost literal. With one final plea from my father, reminding me that I was currently unemployed, my apartment lease in Ann Arbor was days away from ending, and if I didn’t go I would most likely spend the time filled with regret (whether about not coming on the trip or getting two liberal arts degrees was unclear), I caved. In 12 hours, my apartment was empty, my bags were packed, and I had arrived at the family cottage in Amhurstberg, Ontario, jobless, homeless, and ready to start our journey that beautiful August morning.

Port Hood, NS
The beach at Port Hood, Nova Scotia

I had nothing to do with the planning of this trip, so I woke up each morning with only a vague idea of what was happening. I knew we were driving through Quebec to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, but between the bickering, backseat driving, and sleeping on motel room couches, I found myself asking “what am I doing here?”

As an unemployed post-grad, my guilt for taking a vacation instead of staying home to apply for jobs or study for the GRE weighed heavily on my shoulders. Life after college is much like my experiences visiting new countries: most things feel out of my control. I decided to go on the trip to clear my head and maybe gain some insight on where my life was going, but with my parents’ tight schedule and conflicting personalities, I didn’t see much room for spontaneity or catharsis.

Thankfully, the trip had plans even my mother’s itinerary couldn’t keep us from, starting with our impromptu tour of the Musée Notre-Dame de Québec. The museum is comprised of two second-floor galleries, connected by the rear choir pit and massive organ, with arched openings looking out onto churchgoers below. Both galleries were empty, so in beautiful silence we took our time marveling at the grandeur of the cathedral’s interior and beautifully painted ceilings.

Just when I thought the moment couldn’t be more perfect, the organ pipes at the end of the gallery suddenly came to life, filling my ears with the echoing sounds of classical music. We happened to enter the museum minutes before it closed to the public for an organ concert, and without the crowd, we had the entire upper aisle to ourselves. The richness of the sound vibrated through my body and brought tears to my eyes as organist Aubert Lavoie played his way through Buxtehude, Bach, and Escaich.

The organ and openings to the second floor museum gallery.

Hearing the robust melodies echo throughout the large space, my anxiety quieted as I was reminded of my past travels, and how “prepared” can be a relative term. Just hours before, I was riding in the back seat, feeling worried about my next career move. Then, by a twist of fate, I ended up in Notre-Dame de Québec, being shaken to the core by the beauty of music coming out of 5,432 organ pipes. With this newfound mindfulness, I reminded myself of my number one rule of travel I had so painfully forgotten: abandon all expectations because you can never know what is going to truly change you.

The stunning coastal view from PEI National Park
The stunning coastal view from PEI National Park

With that in mind, I reveled in my time spent driving on the beautiful coasts of Nova Scotia and PEI. I found solace on the quiet, red sand beaches in PEI National Park, the unbelievable beauty of Cape Breton National Park‘s lush rolling hills, and in the magnificent views seen while climbing the rocks at Peggy’s Cove. I was pleasantly surprised by the unprecedented kindness I found among the Acadians in villages like Pomquet and Eastern Passage. I also had a few history lessons while exploring the abandoned military forts on post-apocalyptic McNabs Island, and the Victorian architecture throughout the independent and bustling city of Lunenburg.

Boats quietly bouncing in the harbor at Lunenburg
Boats quietly bouncing in the harbor at Lunenburg

After two weeks of exploring bucolic towns and wading through somewhat uncharted emotional territory with my parents, we made our final stop, an unplanned visit to watch the sun rise at Niagara Falls. I was practically running from the car in order to make it to the falls in time, and when I arrived, I felt a familiar sense of relief wash over me.

My high expectations weren’t helping me, just as high expectations during travel will only dampen your experience.

Watching the Falls and pondering what I was about to come home to, I had a new perspective. I finally made the connection between my rules for travel and my rules for life. My high expectations weren’t helping me, just as high expectations during travel will only dampen your experience. Life can change for the better in the most unexpected of ways if you are open to it, and while I am grateful for my experiences so far, I’m excited for whatever is coming next.

Morning at Niagara Falls
Morning at Niagara Falls

Top Photo By Gord_McKenna

About Elena Herfi

Elena HerfiElena Herfi is an MSU Spartan alumni, cilantro enthusiast, and future anthropologist. Her love of travel began with a class trip to Paris in the 9th grade and has brought her to places like Morocco, Turkey, the Netherlands, Germany, and eventually led to her moving to Jordan for a year to study Arabic and Arab culture on a research fellowship. She is currently stationed in southeast Michigan planning her next adventure.

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