Sunday, June 7, 2015

Travel Budget: Affording Canada

Who doesn't love to travel?
Days spent laying on white sandy beaches, climbing mountains, and seeing the world. But realistically, journeying to paradise comes with a price tag. I follow quite a few travel blogs that are filled with idealic photos of far away places, but I rarely see people talking about the expenses associated with their travels. I personally love reading and learning from other peoples travel budgets so as my recaps of our Canada trip are coming to a close, I am sharing our budget. Talking about money may be a bit uncomfortable, but I think that it's important to show that big travels don't always mean spending big bucks!

 Husband and I are both in school and on a budget, but we travel frequently. We have had to get creative about how to do so, but with careful and strategic planning, we have learned ways to make travel attainable for us. So below, I've categorized what we spent, including where we saved and where we decided to splurge during our 4 days and 3 nights in Canada! 

Just a note---all the costs listed below are converted to USD, but while we were in Canada the US dollar was strong so this played in our favor.

Transportation $196
By far, transportation is normally the largest cost associated with a big trip, but we made some sacrifices in order to keep costs down. I flew to Tom in Boston, but then Husband and I chose to drive the 7 hours to Canada. Driving definitely cost us a bit of time compared to flying, but even after paying for gas and parking--driving was much more cost-efficient. This saved us a few hundred dollars. Plus, the time spent driving wasn't completely lost. While one of us drove, the other studied.

Flights: $289 $11
My roundtrip flight from the South to the North only cost us $11 in taxes thanks to frequent flyer miles!
Gas: $107
Parking: $78
I wish this category was lower but unfortunately public parking seems to be unheard of in Canada, especially in Toronto. Even our hotels charged a parking fee. 

Accommodations: $80
Travel hacking came in handy big time here, making it possible for us to stay at 4-star hotels for a fraction of the original price.

2 nights at the Tower Hotel in Niagara Falls: $391 $80
Normally, we book modest rooms, but occasionally there is a reason to splurge. We decided that having a direct view of Niagara Falls was a good reason. Even still, I scoured the internet looking for the best rates until I found a great deal for a room on Expedia. I then applied credits from one of our travel credit cards to bump the total down to only $80. Our room at The Tower Hotel was 100% worth the full cost in every way, but I'm glad that we didn't have to pay it.

1 night at Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto: $139 $0
To be honest, we weren't super impressed with this hotel, but our room met our needs. We booked a room directly through one of our travel cards, which gave us a discounted rate. On top of the discount, we had enough rewards points on that card to completely cover the cost of the room!

Even after booking through discount websites, our rooms totaled to just over $500 for three nights. I'm so grateful that we were able to use rewards points to cover most of this because the last thing I want to do is blow our whole budget on a hotel room. At the end of the day, we only ended up paying around $25 a night and that's a price tag that we are happy with. 

Having spent so little to get there and to have a place to stay, we were free to focus the majority of our spending on having fun! 

Food and Drinks: $382
The cost of food adds up fast, especially if you are anything like us. We find that eating good food and drinking local brews are one of our favorite ways experience a new place. And we are normally so active on our trips that we tend to eat four meals a day instead of three, with plenty of snacking in between. I do my research ahead of time to find reasonably-priced restaurants for us and we also limit ourselves to one really nice dinner out (aka expensive) during a trip. Because we had the luxury of having our car with us in Canada, we planned ahead by filling an ice-chest with sandwiches, bottled water, and fresh fruit. We also packed yummy homemade granola bars that we had for breakfast almost everyday.

Breakfasts: $30
Lunches: $91
Dinners: $185
Snacks & Treats: $37
Drinks: $39

And in case you were wondering, tipping during meals is included in these totals. Also, we definitely drank more than $39 worth of booze, but I didn't separate drinks at meals out of those categories. We probably ate about 5 meals of packed food, but that comes from our regular grocery budget.

Experiences: $295
I find that we can experience a new place easily without spending very much, but if there is a unique adventure that we are interested in, we really don't hesitate to spend money on it. Walking around a city and interacting with the locals can't be beat, but there is so much to be learned from a city's museums, and possibly some wonderful adventures to be had! 

Niagara Falls Adventures
    Skyline Observation Deck: $18
  Journey Behind the Falls: $31
Aero Car: $26
  Helicopter Ride : $180

We loved our time in Niagara Falls! Husband and I both agree that the observation deck was one of our favorites and more than worth its cost. Of course there is no beating the uniqueness of riding the Aero Car above the gorge or journeying behind (and underneath) the Falls. Our helicopter ride for two was a last minute find. Thank you Groupon! Nothing beats the spectacular views that we had of Niagara Falls from our helicopter ride... it was a good splurge. 

Toronto Adventures
 Bata Shoe Museum (student tickets): $12
 Steam Whistle Brewery Tour: $16
 Toronto Island Ferry Ride: $12
 CN Tower Edgewalk: $386 $0

Taking a ferry to the Toronto Islands was well worth the few bucks.
And we never turn down an chance for good beer so a tour of Steam Whistle Brewery was right up our alley. The Bata Shoe Museum was an extra special treat for me! But the CN Tower Edgewalk was completely out of our comfort zone and definitely outside of our budget. Thankfully, we were able to pay for the entire experience with my change jar! Husband teases me a little for having a change jar, but it's not to be underestimated. Actually there isn't much loose change going into the jar at all. Instead I fill it up by always adding a portion of any gifted money we receive. When my doting Aunt sends me $10 to go to Starbucks or my dear sweet in-laws gift us a date night, a portion of it goes into the jar. Money from birthdays or Christmas---into the jar it goes! No matter how small, a percentage ALWAYS goes into the jar. Then I empty that money into a separate account to be used for something really special. Walking on the edge of one of the tallest structures in the world was a once in a lifetime adventure that we will remember for the rest of our lives---it was more than worthy of depleting our change jar fund.

Other: $75
Miscellaneous Tipping: $15
Souvenirs: $60
Souvenirs purchased included postcards, socks (I have a thing for socks), a Christmas ornament, doggy treats to bring home to the PuP, and the cutest hat that I ever did see.

TOTAL: $ 1,028

The only items excluded from this total would be gifts for family or friends. Also, we did pay tolls driving through New York, but like most Northerners we have an EZ-Pass for the Turnpike. Thus, any tolls were inclusive in a separate budget for that account. 

So our total was just over $1k, which is by no means cheap. Please trust me when I say that there were plenty of sacrifices made on our part in order to make this trip manageable for us. But it also wasn't impossible. We got creative and found plenty of deals that helped us shave off about $1500 from our total cost. And what we did spend on this trip was worth every penny! We took helicopter rides, played on trains, and conquered a fear of heights in a way I couldn't have dreamed. We ate way too much good food, found some new favorite beers, and got drenched by the waters of Niagara Falls. In my mind nothing has built-up our relationship more than journeying on the adventures that life has to offer. So dear friends, whether your budget is a thousand dollars or a hundred dollars....adventure calls! I encourage you to be creative, get flexible, and make your travel dreams a reality.  


  1. Can I just say how impressed I am with how much money you guys were able to save? Frequent flyer miles, reward points, finding deals're the master of it all!

  2. I don't know if I'd consider myself a master but I definitely try my best. Without the rewards points and internet deals this trip would have been twice the cost. As we are both full time students, that would have been well outside of our budget so we had to make our budget work for us