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How to brave the harrowing drive to the cottage ... so you can relax

If you’re travelling to the cottage from Toronto, first you must face the highway - with everyone else fleeing the city.

Randall Moore/The Globe and Mail

This weekend, a million Canadians will take to the roads in an annual rite of passage, a joyous anticipation of summer's unfettered delights combined with all the pleasures of the Bataan Death March.

The event is the Victoria Day Weekend, a Canadian tradition similar to the running of the bulls or the mass suicide drives of the lemming.

Every May 24 or so – Queen Victoria wasn't quite clear on the exact date – Canadians pack up their vehicles and head to the nearest body of water that doesn't have a skull-and-crossbones signs on it.

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They will repeat it through the summer to avoid the stresses of the daily grind, to commune with nature and reacquaint themselves with their cottage's septic systems.

But in order to reach that nirvana, they must first endure the trip to the cottage – an ordeal that challenges not only driving skills and patience but the very will to live. If you are defying all logic and joining the migration, prepare yourself for the fact that you will spend a good portion of your time in the world's longest parking lot while fending off drivers who may be on weekend passes from the nearest psychiatric hospital.

Here are a few tips that could mean the difference between survival and having your family's photo appear on a milk carton.

Though the first trip to the cottage requires packing a lot of gear – from food to bedding to snake repellent – don't overload your vehicle. Make sure that your view is not blocked, keeping in mind that the use of driver periscopes is no longer allowed. Also remember that placing a passenger on your car's roof is prohibited by both provincial laws and the Geneva Conventions.

Bring plenty of cash to avail yourself of the vendors who take advantage of bottlenecks to set up impromptu food stands in the middle lane.

On the rare occasions when your car tops 30 kilometres an hour, resist the natural urge to tailgate. If you can see what radio station the people in front are listening to, you're on the edge. If you can change their station, you're definitely too close.

Do not take out your frustrations on other cottage-bound drivers, no matter how many times they violate the traffic code or the codes of decency. After all, they're no doubt equally frustrated – especially after the first six hours on the road. Get to know them by taking advantage of gridlock in one of the frequent pick-up volleyball games along the way.

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If things get too congested, try an alternative route that can take you through charming villages where you can shop leisurely for local crafts and psychiatric counselling. Be aware, though, that most alternative routes not jammed with like-minded cottagers include wedding chapels that advertise discounts for cousins.

Stay calm, even when the GPS tells you for the 150th time in 30 minutes that the next exit is only 100 yards away. Explaining to the GPS at 100 decibels that you're stuck in traffic may result in your passengers trying to pry off the child-proof door locks.

Under no circumstances should you feed those begging car-to-car because they didn't prepare for such a long drive. It may seem cruel, but feeding them will only encourage them to come back and possibly to breed.

Show respect as you pass markers for those who've fallen on the way, mostly of old age or heart attacks induced by the excitement caused by the prospect of hitting 50 kilometres an hour.

Do not make eye contact with drivers who attempt to beat the lineups by passing on the shoulder or driving on top of stopped cars, especially if they have parrots on their shoulders.

Once you arrive, avoid thinking about the return trip. But if the prospects of battling traffic on Sunday are too much to bear, consider leaving earlier – say Saturday morning.

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After all, the important thing to remember is that letting loose that big-city stress is what this is all about.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at

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