American Roadtrip | Time to Reset our Visa with a Trip to Canada & Niagara Falls

With our 90 day U.S.A clock getting close to being up, we decided to make our way from Memphis pretty much straight up to Detroit. Spend a few days in Canada and then re-enter the States at Niagara Falls, hopefully without any issues, and continue our American roadie….

So when we say our “90 day U.S.A clock” was nearly up – that means that even though the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) itself is valid for two years (as long as your passport is still valid from when you first applied) you can still only be in America for 90 days at one time. You then need to exit and re-enter to start a new 90-day clock. Unfortunately there isn’t a huge amount of concrete information on the government website about the rules surrounding ESTA, such as how long you need to be out of America for and whether or not you need to exit to a country other than Canada or Mexico. We were told by the US Customs Officers when we entered in Montana that it was all up to the officer on the day. This didn’t fill us with huge confidence but we had nothing to hide, and we definitely didn’t want to live or work in America!!

We had thought we might go into Mexico to reset as we would be closer to the southern border than the north around the 4th of December (our 90 day exit date) but the Customs Officers said it could be more difficult to re-enter from Mexico than from Canada and we didn’t want to take any chances, even though a few days in Mexico would have been fun. We have also since discovered that our car insurance wouldn’t have covered us for Mexico anyway.

From Memphis (A) we travelled north to make our way to Detroit and the Canadian border. In full it is a 1,240 kms (770 miles) journey so we took a couple of days to break it up. Along the way we stayed at Horseshoe Southern Indiana (B) (see our review here) and Super 8 by Wyndham Toledo, Ohio (C) (see our Wyndham Properties review here). These were uneventful days of pretty much just driving.Roadtrip Map 13From Toldeo (C) to Detroit, Michigan (D) it was only a one hour drive so we decided to have a little look around the city. Beyond Detroit’s dodgy reputation Logan had found a outdoor art installation, The Heidelberg Project, that we were interest to look around. Well, it was not like the reviews or photos online at all. There were a couple of interestingly painted houses but overall the area just looked like a junk yard.The Heidelberg Project_Detroit, MichiganPerhaps it was lost on us non-art experts, but anyway, we decided to get some petrol and get the hell out of dodge. The petrol station was another interesting experience, think we could have easily been mugged here if we had hung around too long, so we very quickly headed to the Ambassador Bridge border. Here we had to pay a $5 USD/$7.58 NZD fee for this exit, a little strange but nothing we were going to question.Ambassador Bridge_American_Canadian Border_Detroit_MichiganWe had a slight miscommunication with the Canadian Customs Officer in the booth. She thought we had been in North America since May 2017, rather than that being the date we left New Zealand. Anyway, she made some notes on a yellow slip of paper and asked us to pull up at the marked car parks. Three officers noticed us pull up and came out of their booth pulling on their gloves. They took the “yellow slip” and we had a chat, answering their questions and clarifying our situation and dates. They searched our car while we went inside with our passports, again explaining our travel history and getting our passports stamped. Not a huge inconvenience or time spent at the border and we were back in Canada.

Logan had scored us a few “comped” (complimentary) nights at Caesars Windsor (read our review here) through tier matching our Wyndham Rewards with their rewards program and it was just 5 kms from the border agency. We were here to have a few quite days and get some work done on the car. So our days in Windsor weren’t very exciting but they gave us some nice down time as the temperatures started to drop. It was after all, the beginning of December.

After three nights in Windsor we drove about 380 kms to Niagara Falls, staying at Howard Johnson by Wyndham Niagara Falls. After dinner we went for a drive to see the Winter Festival of Lights. A eight km route that travelled through the city to transform it into a winter wonderland. There were over 50 trees wrapped with lights and many different shapes and sizes of lighted sculptures with some even moving, which looked very cool, We parked up and we went for a short walk but it was bitterly cold and we weren’t ready for this type of weather. Winter Festival of Lights_Niagara Falls_Ontario_CanadaWe drove closer to that famous waterfall spilling over the American/Canadian border and parked again. Just amazing to see it at night, all lit up, so pretty.Niagara Falls At Night_Ontario_CanadaThe next morning we woke to find out why it was so cold…. it was now snowing!! Our first snowfall of Our Awesome World Adventure and probably the first snow we had all seen in over six years. After breakfast we rugged up the best we could to go and see Niagara Falls in the daytime.Niagara Falls During the Day_Ontario_CanadaIt was incredible and the sound of that huge amount of water coming over the edge was phenomenal, but we didn’t have the right footware for the snow and slush and we were freezing cold in no time. We looked to get a hot chocolate in Timmy’s (Tim Horton’s, the original Canadian coffee shop) to warm up, but it wasn’t open yet…. so we returned to the motel to pack up.Niagara Falls in December_Ontario_CanadaIt’s definitely true what they say, viewing Niagara Falls from the Canadian side is far more impressive than from the New York side. And “less chance of being mugged”, according to a Canadian border patrol officer. Although, if you are in America and want to get a better view without officially entering Canada, walk along the pedestrian ‘Rainbow Bridge’ as far as you can and you should get rewarded with a better angle of the falls.

We made out way to the Rainbow Bridge U.S. Customs and Border Protection, we were very prepared for many questions and had our bank account funds ready to prove we could support our visit for the next six weeks. We pulled up, handed over our passports, answered a few simple questions and were sent on our way. So simple!! 😅 After all our worry and preparation we didn’t even have to get out of the car. We got a quick snap of the New York state sign and headed for lunch in Buffalo. Keep an eye out for the next blog to see what famous dish we just had to have in the location it was named after….

– Paula


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