Yes, Toronto is in another country, but it's really no farther a drive than Chicago is.

Yes, Toronto is in another country, but it's really no farther a drive than Chicago is. So, for the same tank of gas, you can tell the neighbors you're "going abroad" for the next family vacation.

GETTING THERE

Flying is crazy expensive because Toronto-Columbus is considered a "business traveler route" and priced higher than if it were a "leisure traveler route" (a direct round-trip ticket is rarely under $500). So most visitors end up driving the roughly 400 miles to Toronto. Or, for something fun and different, drive up to Windsor (across the border from Detroit), park the car at the VIA Rail station and take the train to/from Toronto.

Everyone in the family (even the kids) will need a passport to travel into and out of Canada. As for those customs booths when you drive, don't fret (as long as you haven't brought fresh produce, guns or alcohol with you). The Canadian border agents tend to be a little more pleasant and polite than the American agents (just sayin').

LANGUAGE

No worries, as they say up north: Everyone speaks English, but most signage is in both English and French (because both are the official languages of Canada). You also will hear many different languages spoken here because Toronto is one of the most ethnically diverse cities on the planet.

C$ (CANADIAN MONEY)

For the last several years, the U.S. and Canadian currencies have been "at parity": That means one of our dollars is worth the same as one of theirs. You'll have no problem using your American debit/credit card, but check with your bank to see what kind of "international fee" it charges. Most banks will add a 3 percent surcharge for purchases, but not for ATM cash withdrawals, so pay with cash as much as possible. You'll also need to have your bank to "put a note" on your account (at least three business days before traveling) that you're going to Canada, otherwise they might decline your attempts to use it there.

And what is Canadian currency like? Pretty much the same as ours except for the "loonie" and the "toonie." The loonie is a $1 silver coin (they don't have a $1 bill) and it has a picture of a loon bird on it. The toonie is a slightly larger silver coin with a gold center and it's worth $2. Canada is in the process of phasing out their penny, so purchase prices and change returned will be rounded up or down.

GETTING AROUND

Taking the TTC (Toronto's public transit system) is pretty easy to figure out and well worth using in the downtown area. To visit the Ontario Science Centre and Toronto Zoo, you'd be better off driving (though the hefty parking fees at each are intended to discourage driving; you'd have to take a combination of the subway and buses to get to each).

In general, Toronto area drivers are not bad. Their only idiosyncrasies seem to be rapid lane changes and using the middle lane as the slow lane on the highways.

THINGS TO DO

CN Tower 301 Front St. West, 416-868-6937, pricey (C$24+) but an amazing view of the city and Lake Ontario (you can even see Lake Erie to the south on a clear day). Open daily, generally 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., except Christmas.

Hockey Hall of Fame Brookfield Place, 30 Yonge St., 416-360-7765. Open seven days a week, generally from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Not necessary to be a hockey fan to visit here (though it helps). Lots of interactive exhibits. Admission rates start at C$11.

St. Lawrence Market 92-95 Front St. East, 416-392-7120. Open Tuesdays-Sundays, generally from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Like our North Market on steroids. A great option for food if you can't get everyone to agree about what they want.

Toronto Islands 15-minute ferry ride leaves from 9 Queen's Quay West, 416-392-8193. Includes the Centreville Amusement Park, Franklin Children's Garden, Gibraltar Point Lighthouse. Quaint, beautiful and a wonderful way to escape the bustling city. Roundtrip ferry fares start at C$3.50. Centreville ride passes start at C$23.95.

Royal Ontario Museum 100 Queens Park, 416-586-8000. Open every day except Christmas, generally from 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. History, natural history and art-oriented. Folks here call it "The ROM" (pronounced "rahm"). Admission starts at C$13.

Ontario Science Centre 770 Don Mills Road, 416-696-1000. Very much like our COSI, but without the safety constraints (centripetal force exhibit, I'm looking at you). Parking is C$10, cash only. Admission starts at C$13.

Toronto Zoo 2000 Meadowvale Rd., 416-392-5929. Open every day except Christmas, generally from 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. The zoo's property is 237 hectares big (which is Canadian for "huge"). Bring your walking shoes and strollers. No reciprocity on admission for Columbus Zoo members. Admission starts at C$11.

SAVING MONEY

A CityPASS (available online at citypass.com/toronto) gets you into the CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto Zoo, Ontario Science Centre and Casa Loma (a cool "castle" near downtown) for one price (which fluctuates a lot, so check the website).

And use an online discount site like kayak.com or priceline.com to get the best deals on hotels.