So, Canada eh? Has been on your bucket list and you want to plan a trip to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday this year. Maybe the only thing holding you back is if you can really afford to see the country you have lived in your entire life, or maybe it's a trip that has always been a dream to travel too?
I want to share with you some amazing tips that I found helpful when I recently travelled with my friend from Ontario across to the West Coast, that could help your trip become more affordable. Now, consider that this type of budget guide-line is what worked for myself and a couple months of planning, but everyone has different needs, prices change and fluctuate all the time. So, here are my most important tips for the West Coast of Canada.
Should I fly or drive a car?
This was a big decision based on the airline prices. Check as many as you can on any Tuesday-Thursday early afternoon. You must book no later than 14 days prior to your trip, otherwise your getting ripped off in price. Sometimes buying your ticket one-way into a major city, and then one-way single ticket out of a different city is a cheaper option (I would compare round-trip and single). I was lucky enough and booked my tickets months in advance. I flew from Toronto to Edmonton, and then Vancouver to Toronto 2.5 weeks for $400 CND. What's important is watching the prices on various websites for a few weeks. If you find this task too time consuming (which it is), I am started an online travel consulting company and I can find you the best deals!
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Now if you decide to Drive from Ontario, Victoria or the United States, depending on where you are coming from, I would recommend using your own vehicle that is efficient on gas. What will get you is the gas prices that vary from province to province. We drove a rental car from Edmonton to Victoria, the Lancer 2016 model and spent approximately $250, that included city driving, stops in between destinations and errand runs. We were pleasantly surprised how well this vehicle was on gas.
Overall, consider the best option for you, wether it's flying or driving and compare these two options to see what will be the most affordable for your needs. Check out the "Gas Buddy" application.
Another totally different alternative is taking the VIA rail. I have only taken it from Toronto to Montreal and it costed around $150 round trip. You can go to www.viarail.ca for more ticket details. Also they have discounted prices on Tuesday's and also for youth.
Where should I stay?
Now a days, there are so many unique options for everyones needs. Some individuals prefer the hotel option, so I would recommend checking out www.booking.com, Trivago, Hotels.com and even through airline websites. That way you can compare prices and get the best deals.
If you want a local, homie feel? I would recommend Airbnb. What's great about this site is you can customize your budget in the "filter" option and also select the dates for availability. Some of the best deals need to be made at least 4-5 months in advance. The hosts can raise prices during higher demand peak seasons. Also the best places to stay usually get filled up quickly. You can rent private rooms, private homes, shared spaces and much more. I have even seen people lend their back yards for campers and tree houses in remote locations. Just make sure you read "references and reviews". I have been using Airbnb since 2013 and have never had any issues with hosts or shared spaces with other guests. It's more of a local, personal feel being in someone else's home. Most of the hosts are super open-minded and eager to meet new travellers. Just read all the details before booking!
So, Couchsurfing could literally mean you will be sleeping on a couch for the night or surfing on a couch (ha-ha) , but from my experiences it just means staying with someone in a personal way and meeting new people from place to place. For example, I enjoy meeting new and like-minded locals, who are open to showing me the area, cooking together, and giving me the best recommendations during my stay. How this website works, is you have to create a profile and provide a couple of references so other hosts can understand who you are as a person and determine whether or not to accept. This option can be a great way to meet locals and to develop friendships. Some of my good friends to this day I met through CouchSurfing. It's also a bonus because you can enjoy staying with someone in their home at no cost, but this website isn't just about "free", so don't go in thinking it will be a free accommodation with no interaction. They will direct you to booking.com. Another idea also is to join the "meet-up" category, so if you just want to find a buddy to hangout with who lives in the city or even another traveller, you can post an ad about your visit details and someone could message directly to meet up!
This was how we super budgeted for the week. If you want to pay $10-$15 per night then camping is another cheap option. You just need to provide your own tent, supplies and food. Even if your the type of person who isn't super into the tent style, there are ways to make it more comfortable. One example would be if your travelling with one other person, you could buy a light-weight tent that fits 3-5 people so you have extra space. We purchased a 3 person tent from Walmart for $20-$30 and it was cozy. I would invest in a decent blow-up mattress, because half way through our trip it got a hole, that to this day we couldn't figure out where it was. We then had to hunt down a Home Hardware that supplied blow-up mattresses and your looking at spending $30-$60 depending on the brand.
Another important thing when booking a campsite is some of them have "fire permits" you need to purchase. That can range from $7-$10 per night. We stayed at Whistler's Campground in Jasper National Park, Two Jack Lakeside in Banff, and Redstreak Campground in Radium. The Two Jack was the only one not required to purchase a fire permit. And if it rains you can't get a refund for it, so I would buy the permit night by night depending on the weather.
Overall, camping for a week can be anywhere from $200 split between two people, meaning you could be paying around $100 for your holiday. Not bad eh?
I'm writing another article that will focus on camping supplies on a budget. Stay tuned!
Usually hostels are for any traveller under the age of 30, so I can't recommend this option for everyone. But for those under the age it's a great way to meet young travellers, socialize, party and find a bed from $15-$40 per night. If you want a private room, those can be a bit more pricey, but all hostels are different and I can't guarantee on short notice to find the cheapest price. The rooms range from 4-6 dorms or more and most have excellent security, clean rooms and warm hospitality. If you decide to cancel your reservation online, you need todo it 24 hours prior to check-in. This was one mistake we made and we were charged for our stay. I would recommend booking through www.hostelworlds.com.
Trying before buying and committing?
I would recommend purchasing your camping goods, train tickets, boat tickets, and any important things you might need, without leaving it last minute. For example, if you plan on buying on Amazon, if you don't have Amazon prime, you might need 5-10 days for free shipping for your goods to arrive on time. Also Amazon has some great finds! I would just start collecting items such as a tent, cookware, sleeping bags, or basic necessities like a first aid kit and hiking boots (write it down! make a list of everything you need and don't buy it all at once before your trip). Thats the most expensive way todo it. It's like making monthly payments on insurance instead of paying it up all at once. Of course it depends on if you have saved a lot for months, or if your saving and working at the same time. Everyone's budgets are different. It just gave me less stress having to gather all the items we needed at once.
Also, understand the return policies on specific items, like Walmart, MEC, the Hudson's Bay, Sears and Amazon for example, because they all have a great refund policies and usually 30-90 day returns. Test out some items before, like setting up the tent, making sure the cooler keeps items cold, the sleeping bag is warm enough for 5 degree temperatures or less in the evening. An example would be we bought a battery pack at MEC, and tested it out and realized it didn't work for us. So we had enough time to return it, and got our money back even though we had used it. Just glad we weren't stuck with a $60 battery pack and put it towards something that worked better for us.
Stay tuned for my article about "Essential Items to Bring Camping Across Canada".
To buy or not to buy?
These are big decisions you need to consider for your budget. Should we cook and eat-in tonight? Forget buying souvenirs? These little things add up quickly, especially with the HST and GST tax in Canada. The good news is in Alberta has a 5% tax, so it's probably your best stop to stock up on food and supplies for the rest of your trip, before heading to British Columbia or Ontario.
Try not to eat out at restaurants as often, if you plan on camping it will definitely save you on your spending habits verse being in the city (exposed to Tim Hortons, McDonalds, snack stops and shopping malls). Enjoy the nature, go fishing, canoeing, hiking, swimming and take in the beautiful mountain sceneries.
Places to See on a Budget?
Seriously, there are so many free places to enjoy across Canada, especially since Parks Canada is celebrating Canada's 150th by allowing all visitors to enter the national parks for free this year. Here are some top places I enjoyed visiting for free below!
West Edmonton Mall ( it's free to look, but don't buy) there is so much floor space to walk across, you could spend hours walking around in there. Near the middle of the mall there is also an area with a sea lion show, and you can watch seal's recycle water bottles and do tricks. Otherwise window shopping can be ok? If you want todo something really cool and have some extra play cash, I would recommend the Waterpark. If you go there for the "twilight hour" it means after 4pm until 7pm it will be $35 entry, which is honestly enough time todo it all. Usually the day pass is $45.
Jasper National Park
Nature is always free, and there are many amazing spots to take photos, go elk watching, bear watching on the roads (or hide in the car) and many hiking trails.
Located in Jasper, you can explore these beautiful waterfalls on easy-going hiking trails. Many places to take photos, sit for a nice lunch and enjoy the wonderful sceneries. Highly recommend checking out!
Yoho National Park
Again, incredible hiking trails, views and more. You can check out Emerald Lake, and you can see the waterfalls between Kicking Horse and Yoho river "Meeting of the waters" point.
Located in Yoho National Park, this waterfalls is considered one of the best. It's free entry and in a fairly remote location, so I wouldn't trust everything your GPS says or google. Also there is no service out there, so have a plan when travelling.
Absolutely stunning. It is actually an emerald green colour, and is truly a wonder to experience. It is also located on a resort, so that would be cool to rent a place near by.
A really cold place to visit, but they have a cute chalet to go inside and warm up, also a great spot for photos with 3000 year old ice behind you. They even give tours on the ice, but I am sure it's expensive. What I would recommend would be taking a chunk of the ice, put it in a cup and drink a nice coca cola in with it. Just so you can say "I drank out of a glass with 3000 year old Canadian ice". Cool eh?
Take a nice stroll through the beautiful town of Banff. Free art galleries, exhibits, nature walks, souvenir shops, aboriginal shops, excellent local restaurants and breweries, live music on the streets and more. Totally a unique place out here, and you can get half off wings on Wednesdays at Boston Pizza.
Banff Hot Springs
$8 anyone for a hot swim in the mountains? Locating near the towering Rockies, Banff hot springs is probably the cheapest experience for the day. It's also so relaxing.
Bow Valley Parkway
You are definitely going to see wild life along this route, with the thickest forest on each sides of the road. Lots of bears, elk, mountain goats and coyotes. Just try not to go into the field and get super close (10 meters away) "like Marcos did" I don't recommend it. haha. There is also a Bow River that is amazing to see that leads to a waterfall.
Located on the Two Jack Lakeside campground near Banff. I highly recommend renting a spot here. Otherwise if you want to just visit the lake, there are many nature trails, panorama views and great spots to bring a canoe and enjoy a beautiful scenic cruise across the lake. Absolutely stunning at sunset.
The most stunning and picturesque lake I have ever seen. It is so incredible! Walking is always free to enjoy and you can stroll around and take nice photos. I would even recommend having a nice picnic on the rocks near the lake. I brought my polaroid camera and took some really neat photos. If you have a large budget, there are canoe rides for $95 and $105 per group of at least 1-3 people. If you have your own equipment, I would recommend bringing that.
Sadly when we went it was iced over, but I have seen videos and photos of the majestic lake. Highly recommend because one it's free, and two its considered one of the nicest lakes to visit in Alberta.
Radium Hot Springs
Another great one to check out, if it's in working condition. Unfortunately when I travelled to Radium, the hot springs was down for maintenance. Pretty boring town, especially if it's raining! Id recommend driving straight to Kelowna!
Free wine tasting anyone? One of the greatest spots with the best wineries in all of Canada. Highly recommend checking out "The Hatch", "Volcanic Hills winery", and "Mission Hill Winery" to name a few. But, you might have to put $5-$10 down for the tastings, and if you decide to buy some wine then it will be waved. Unless you get super friendly with the wine guides. If wine isn't your fancy, there are amazing parks and panoramic sceneries you can check out. Knox Mountain Park has an incredible hike and look out point (20 minute walk). The waterfront park is beautiful to check out, but this year the flooding has made it not as enjoyable for tourists. Okanagan lake again is super pretty to see, hopefully the water levels will settle down.
When it comes to budgeting before a trip and during your vacation, its very important to be diligent with your spending habits, put the money towards something of value that could help assist you on your journey. Enjoy the freedom of nature in Canada, go for a hike and take in the beautiful Rocky Mountains.
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