The devalued Canadian dollar makes travel overseas and south of the border an exercise in frustration and creative budgeting.
What to do? Why, see Canada first, of course. At least here a dollar is still a dollar — and the destinations unparalleled. With a little research, you can find both a fun and memorable domestic holiday destination that won’t cost the earth.
Start off tips:
- Look in the weekend travel section of your newspaper.
- Check out the ads for last-minute resort bookings or airline seat sales.
- Check the ads for toll-free booking numbers.
- Go to your computer and search for destination or hotel websites and book online.
- Consider travelling out of season.
- Be flexible.
- In fall and winter, you can often pick up a flight to another part of the country for far less than you would spend at the height of the summer holiday season.
- Check out one of the discount air travel agencies, such as Flighinders or The Flight Centre.
- Via Rail and a variety of tour bus companies offer other options to get you where you want to go.
- Or you can simply hop in the family vehicle and head out on the open road.
Few countries offer as much choice for those seeking a driving holiday. Canada boasts more than 200,000 miles of paved roads, as well as 330,000 miles of unpaved roads.
For my money, a driving holiday offers the least expensive opportunity to soak in new experiences. Sure, the price of gasoline has seen better days, but you have the advantage of going at your own pace–a few miles a day or a few hundred miles a day.
Motoring also allows the freedom to stay in one of Canada’s many charming bed and breakfast establishments, a great way to save on the cost of a big-chain hotel room. B&Bs often charge a third to half of what a normal–and very average–hotel room would cost.
You can’t beat Gerda Pantel’s The Canadian Bed & Breakfast Guide for a comprehensive list of smaller accommodations right across the country. Pantel includes more than 1,200 entries ranging from “in-the-city” or downtown accommodation to quiet little hideaways overlooking the Atlantic or the Pacific oceans.
Average cost of a smaller B&B is in the $45 to $65 per night range, but you can splurge and pay up to $200 a night at a place such as Anne’s Oceanfront Hideaway on scenic Saltspring Island, B.C. It’s rated a luxury B&B and offers a beach, balconies and a four-course breakfast.
The nice thing about staying at a B&B is that you can usually find one to suit your budget. Plus, you have the added advantage of a wonderful home-cooked breakfast thrown in and the company of often charming and well-informed local hosts.
Take the train
If a train is more to your liking than the idea of driving, you can pick up a Canrail Pass on VIA Rail. Passes are valid for 12 days within a 30-day period and are good for basic economy class seating on VIA’s routes.
An adult pass* runs $423 until May 31st and $678 from June until mid-October, when the price will drop again. For for those 60 and over, it’s $381 until the end of May and $610 during the high season, June to mid-October.
You can also purchase up to three extra travel days, at $37 a day. (*Prices are for 2002.)
The pass allows you as many stops as you want. You can also redeem Air Miles for train tickets in southern Ontario and Quebec. Via Rail offers a great way for all of us to see more of Canada.
Vancouver’s free sights
Once you’ve decided how to get there and where to stay, the biggest slice of your travel budget is spent. Our country is imbued with so much natural beauty that sightseeing can be done for practically free–even in the big cities.
For example, Vancouver’s natural backdrop of mountains and breathtaking view over the water make it a perfect place to simply walk about and sightsee.
You can check out Gastown, a district of boutiques and restaurants located in restored turn-of-the-century warehouses. Or you can take a stroll through North America’s third largest Chinatown (after San Francisco and New York).
Here you can definitely save money on a meal – with reasonable food available at the many tiny, neighbourhood restaurants.
If you want even more ethnic diversity, you could wander through Little India on Main Street and marvel at the rich fabric and jewellery stores that make up the Punjabi Market. Alternatively, simply grab your camera and head for the natural beauty of Stanley Park.
Montreal’s for walking
Another great walking city is Montreal. Here you can enjoy a little bit of French culture without worrying about Parisian prices. And a visit to Old Montreal is always an adventure, with sidewalk entertainers, outdoor bistros and boutique-lined cobblestone streets.
Montreal has never been a slouch when it comes to culture and a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts or the McCord Museum of Canadian History is a must-do item on your agenda.
Visit any Infotouriste Centre, and purchase a pass that cuts the admission costs to museums by almost 50 per cent.
And don’t be too quick to write off winter in Montreal, either. It’s renowned for its clean, easily accessed “underground” city–more than 20 miles of climate-controlled paths connecting hundreds of shops, services, theatres, and transportation outlets, including 10 subway stations. A great way to stay warm while doing some holiday shopping.
Halifax features history
If a trip to the Atlantic coast is on your wish list, another great walkabout city is Halifax–if you can handle the hills. Here again, a sense of history pervades. A visit to the Museum of the Atlantic reveals items recovered from the sinking of the Titanic. The largest group of its victims buried in one graveyard rests in the city’s Fairview Cemetery.
A place to savour Nova Scotia’s natural beauty is Point Pleasant Park, a 186-acre retreat with walking paths along the coast and winding their way through the forest (although the trees are seriously threatened by the brown spruce longhorn beetle). The park is home to several old fortifications that once protected Halifax and its harbour. The site is open year-round, with admission free.
Of course, no visit to Nova Scotia would be complete without seeing Peggy’s Cove, about 25 miles south of Halifax. Whether you’re on a driving holiday or just rent a car in the city, it’s worth a trip to this quaint fishing village (its lone lighthouse is surely the most photographed in Canada).
Located in the village is a large memorial carved in local stone, a tribute to the fishermen who must go to sea. There’s also a memorial in the area honouring the 229 passengers and crew of Swissair Flight 111 that crashed in the area in September, 1998. The efforts made by area residents to first rescue any survivors and then give comfort to their friends and family won the respect of a watching world.
More than a bargain
These three big city stops are just a sample of the possibilities. With a country that goes from sea to sea to sea, you can create your own homegrown vacation itinerary.
And wherever you travel within Canada, by whatever means, you’re likely to get a lot more than you bargained for — at a bargain price.
Copyright 2014 ZoomerMedia Limited