Thinking of taking your vacation in Canada this year? With all the special events planned for Canada 150 and Montreal 375, and the fact that your travel dollar may go a lot farther at home than outside Canada, you’re in good company. But travel in our home and native land can be pricey. Here are 5 budget tips to make your Canadian vacation worth celebrating:
1. Make it a road trip
If you live in southern Ontario and dream of seeing the northern lights in Whitehorse, or your home is in Vancouver and you’re looking for a little joie de vivre in Montreal, you pretty much have to fly unless you have 4-plus weeks of vacation. If you can set your sights a bit closer to home, a road trip is a good budget choice for a family of 2 or more. Gas prices aren’t too bad this year, you can bring along as much stuff as your car can hold, and you don’t have to deal with airports or car rentals. How far can you go? My family lives near Toronto, and we drove to Charlottetown and back in 2 weeks, and to Victoria and back (including a 5-day layover with family in Camrose, Alberta) in 3 weeks. It’s a lot of driving, to be sure. But my kids have seen the rocky wilds of Superior country, the big, cobalt-blue sky and flax fields of the Prairies, the jaw-dropping splendor of Mount Robson and the funky vibe of the Saltspring Island market. They’ve tasted bread baked in a roadside oven outside Quebec City. And they’ve tapped their toes to down-home music at a kitchen party in PEI. Seeing, tasting and hearing Canada first-hand? Priceless.
2. Break out the s’mores
Whether you sleep out in the open or in an RV, camping is a quintessentially Canadian vacation. You can go the full-wilderness route, canoeing and portaging into the bush, or glamp in a fully equipped yurt with gourmet meals included. But the most family- and budget-friendly option is somewhere in the middle. Consider borrowing or renting camping equipment if you want to try out the adventure before committing. When you’re ready to take the plunge, you can find a reasonably priced pre-loved tent or an RV that an SUV or van can tow. We’ve taken our pop-up tent trailer everywhere from provincial parks to family camping resorts with pools, arcades and playgrounds. We’ve even camped in suburban campgrounds near Quebec City, Fredericton and Ottawa, as a cheaper alternative to hotels. With care, a good-quality tent or RV can provide many years of enjoyable memories.
3. Do the hostel
If you don’t mind sharing a dormitory room and a bathroom with a few other travellers, you can save a lot by staying in a hostel – and although they were once called youth hostels, you don’t have to be a millennial to check in. In recent years, I’ve stayed in hostels in St. John’s, New York City and London, England. Because they assume you’re not driving, most hostels are very conveniently located for sightseeing. If you book early enough, you can even get a private room. Hostels are a good option if you’re travelling alone or with one other person, although some can accommodate families. Typically, you need to pay a small membership fee to join the hostelling association. Check out Hostelling International Canada and Hostels in Canada.
4. Rent a home away from home
Renting a cottage for a week is a time-honoured Canadian tradition – but you don’t have to limit yourself to pricey cottage country. Vacation rentals are available everywhere from the largest cities to the smallest villages. Having a kitchen means you can save money by picking up groceries and cooking and eating at least some meals on-site. Save even more by packing picnic lunches for day trips (you can do this when you’re camping, too). And save more still by renting a large enough place to share with another family or two.
5. Find free stuff
You may have heard that admission to Canada’s 46 national parks, 171 national historic sites and 4 national marine conservation areas is free in 2017, with a special 2017 Discovery Pass. There are also all kinds of annual free festivals and concerts and even outdoor pay-what-you-can drama (like Toronto’s Shakespeare in the Park), as well as special events marking Canada 150. Spend a little time on provincial and local travel and tourism sites and you’ll be amazed at the wealth of choices available. You might even find something free and fun by accident, as we did last summer, when we stopped in Merrickville, Ontario on the way to Ottawa, and found ourselves in the middle of the Canal Days festival, featuring an excellent live band.
One last thing: Sometimes you have to spend a little now to avoid having to spend a lot later. If you’re travelling to another province or territory, look into getting travel insurance, since all provincial health insurance coverage is not alike.