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Danielle Williams

Even if no one’s coming, do not cross the street on a red light. 

When you’re finished eating dinner at a restaurant, feel free to sit and chat as long as you’d like.

Walk slowly through the streets and take in the sights.

These are just a few of the things that I learned from spending a weekend in Toronto.

weekend in canada

I was born and raised right across the river from New York City in a New Jersey “suburb.” (I add that in quotation marks because when I attended college in South Jersey, my friends said, “I thought you lived in a suburb, not a city” upon entering my town.)

Being so close to New York, I spent many weekends wandering into the concrete jungle for a new adventure. To be honest, a third of that time was spent chasing the Jonas Brothers around. Another third was spent commuting in and out of the city for my internship with Henri Bendel. The final third was spent running around the city picking up samples for said internship.

The city was captivating. The people were quick, the buildings swallowed the streets, and there never seemed to be any rules.

There’s something magical about a place like that. You feel a rush of excitement as you race across the street. You feel so empowered and strong as you hold your head high and march down the streets of the Big Apple.

Growing up with this “rush, rush, rush” mentality has blinded me. It’s made me cold. I have no patience for slow walkers, slow service, or standing on an empty corner waiting for the light to turn green.

When I went on a weekend trip to Toronto with my college roommates, we learned very quickly that the New York state of mind isn’t necessarily the best state of mind. Here are some things I learned after one weekend in Toronto:

Take a breath. Don’t rush through life.

Food service was slow and people took their time walking through the streets. Pedestrians even waited for the lights to turn green! To some, that might seem ridiculous. To me, it’s huge. In New York, you do not wait until the light turns green. Hell, you don’t even wait until the street is clear to cross the street. You keep walking and just hope the cars don’t hit you.

I’m not kidding, when I interned on 5th Avenue, I witnessed people narrowly escape death because they just didn’t give a damn.

When walking the streets of Toronto, I didn’t feel the need to rush around. When we ate dinner and breakfast, I didn’t feel like I needed to get through my meal as quickly as possible. The first morning we went to breakfast at Old School, just down the street from our Airbnb. The server was extremely attentive, but we noticed the overall vibe was much calmer. The moment we accepted that, we realized fast service doesn’t always mean good service. (That was enough to convince us to eat both of our breakfasts there that weekend.)

weekend in toronto

We took our time choosing what we wanted to eat; we took time between bites to share some laughs; we chatted for a bit after our meal was finished. No one rushed us out just to get the next table in. We didn’t feel like all they cared about was making more money. We felt like we could genuinely enjoy each other’s company.

It was in that moment that I realized life is not a race.

Why do we get so pissed about someone who is moving slower than we are?

LET IT GO.

It is possible to be “city” and “country” at the same time.

Growing up so close to the city, I’ve been raised a “city girl.” I love the sounds, the lights, the possibilities. I love the craziness of it all. I feel a rush when I zip through the streets and remember all the times I chased my favorite band through the maze we call New York City.

As I grew older, though, I learned to appreciate the mountains, the ocean, and the farms New Jersey and the rest of the world had to offer. I found solace on my hikes up the Appalachian Trail and felt smaller than ever when I reached the top.

How is that possible? How could I love something so manufactured while loving something so natural at the same time? It seemed like I was being a hypocrite by caring for our planet while also appreciating something man-built and industrial.

Going to Toronto showed me that I can love both. Toronto had a great balance of city and country right at your fingertips. There were lakeside gardens at the edge of the city with an island just a short boat ride away. Toronto Island offered a zoo, a park, and a beach. It was a quaint, quiet, natural space for people to escape the harshness a city can sometimes exude.

Toronto residents live a life of balance. They work and live in a city while appreciating all that nature has to offer. If they can do it, I can, too.

You don’t need something planned to have a good time.

Normally, when I go on a trip, I plan every detail. I want to know exactly what I’m doing and when I’m doing it. I need to know exactly how much money I’ll be spending and have to map out how to get to each destination.

This trip? We planned some and winged some. That was all new to me.

What I learned? It doesn’t matter. If you’re with the right people and in the right place, you don’t need every second planned. You get up that day and do whatever feels right for you at that time.

We didn’t plan anything other than the CN Tower for our Saturday in Toronto. We ended up spending the day at the aquarium, at the top of the CN Tower and on Toronto Island. After we got back to our Airbnb, we napped, showered, and got ready for a night out. We walked a couple blocks to a busy street and picked a place that looked good to us.

We ended up having an amazing trip in Toronto despite our lack of planning.

weekend in toronto

That’s the thing: life isn’t about plans. Life is about embracing whatever’s thrown at you and rolling with the punches. If you can set off to a new country without any plans and still have a positive outcome, I’d say you had a successful trip.

Traveling to new places can teach you a lot about yourself and even more about life.

The next time you find yourself worrying about fallen plans, rushing around, or getting angry with someone for moving too slow, remember to take a breath.

Make the most out of whatever life throws at you.

Slow down.

Your life is not a race.

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