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Budget Travel In Canada

There are ways to stretch your dollar and travel on a budget in Canada without missing out. Make a budget, decide where in Canada you want to go, and how you want to travel. Plan to be flexible to adapt if necessary.

Budget Travel Canada - travelling by bus
The friendly bus

You worked hard for a few years and now you’re ready for your big trip to Canada. Your flights are booked but you are wondering, whether you have saved enough money to enjoy the adventure.

Don’t worry, travelling on a budget doesn’t need to stop you from touring around Canada and having fun. Learn how to travel on a budget and how your adventure will take you to all the places you have ever dreamt of.

What you need to know about Budget Travel in Canada

Canada is not the cheapest country to travel in and therefore it is important to have a budget. Plan on spending at least C$100 per day. This includes a one-night stay at a campground, hostel (not a city hostel), humble Airbnb or budget hotel, food from supermarkets or fast-food restaurants, public transport and some attractions. But this is only a number. It all depends on your way of travel and your expectations.

I am a budget traveller myself. I have my own car, and lots of time and wild camping and camp cooking are my passions. Budget travel in Canada has become my lifestyle and my biggest expense is gasoline when I’m on the go.

Prices in Canada are higher than in the United States and most of Europe and there is another difference. Canadian taxes will be added to most of your bills, including clothes, accommodation, and Restaurants. Those taxes can increase your bill by up to 15 %.

What’s bad for us Canadians living in Canada is our declining Canadian Dollar. Americans and Europeans coming to Canada will get a good exchange rate.

Top 13 Tips for Budget Travel in Canada

1. High prices in Canada’s North

For Northern Destinations like Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, prices will be much higher and you will have to adjust your budget accordingly. In all the Territories, gasoline is more expensive than in the southern Provinces and food prices are outrageous. Fill up your car and bags before you head North.

You will notice higher prices as soon as you head north.

Northwest Territories has limited road access, and Nunavut has no connecting roads at all. In Northern Canada, flying is extremely expensive and so are food prices and everything else.

2. Choose your trip based on your budget

Because of Canada’s enormous size and is the second largest country in the world, decide on a travel route and what part of the country you want to visit, depending on your available time and budget. Places are far apart which makes travel costs expensive.

3. Keep track of your money

Keeping track of your money is especially important for long-time travel. Keep a pocket diary and write down all the money you spend. Whenever you exceed your budget make up for it the next day. This way, you don’t have to worry about running out of cash before the end of your trip.

5. Plan and book your flights early

Airfare to Canada depends of course on where you are coming from. The fact is that Canada is among the world’s most expensive countries for flying. Especially domestic flights are expensive.

Therefore, be flexible with your travel dates and take advantage of off-peak pricing and lower airfares. Use travel search engines to look for deals.

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5. Find cheap accommodation

Accommodation is probably your largest day-to-day expense. Fortunately, it is also where you can save the most. Camping is your cheapest option. If you’re travelling by car, find Free Campsites or stay at the beautiful provincial parks we have in Canada.

Stay in small, locally-run guesthouses, hostels, Airbnb’s, or cheap hotels at the edge of town. Try homestays or CouchSurfing to keep your costs down.

Use booking.com and Hostelworld to find the best accommodation deals.

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6. Limit your stay in big cities

I don’t suggest avoiding Canada’s biggest cities altogether. Make them part of your trip and explore Vancouver and Calgary for a couple of days. Stop in Toronto and take a side trip to the famous Niagara Falls if you’re travelling east. Visit Montreal and beautiful Quebec City if you’re heading that way.

Most cities in Canada offer historic guided or self-guided walking tours. Check the local tourism website for times and locations of tours or drop in at the visitor center to pick up a brochure. When joining one of the Free Walking Tours, make sure to tip the guide.

Just remember that a big city can drain your cash fast with all the activities and opportunities offered for spending your money.

Most of the major Canadian cities offer a Discovery Pass that will save you money if you visit several attractions within a certain period. Inquire at the Tourist Information Centre.

Once you leave the cities behind, try to visit small towns and remote communities and parks to learn what Canada is all about.

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7. Travel offseason

Mid-May to late June is a great time to visit Canada! During that time, there are fewer tourists so prices are more reasonable. Unfortunately, most tourist attractions as well as campgrounds and Visitor Centres, are closed until Victoria Day, the third weekend in May.

September and October are known for the Indian summer when the Canadian forests show red and gold colours. The weather is usually still pleasant for most parts of September. Autumn is an ideal time for a Canadian vacation, although, snow can be on the ground in many areas. You will be rewarded by fewer tourists and lower prices.

I have been camping in early October quite often, but be prepared for cold temperatures, rain and snow, depending on where in Canada you’re at. When I’m in the Yukon, I try to leave at the beginning of September as winter there hits much earlier than in the southern parts.

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8. Cook your own food

Restaurant meals can take a huge lump out of your daily budget. Eating out in Canada is not cheap, in part due to the 10% to 15% tax added to your restaurant bill. The prices listed on the menu are always before tax.

Many open-air fresh food markets and supermarkets offer the chance to buy local food and save on restaurant dining costs. Basic cooking facilities at your accommodation can save you a fair bit of money and support a healthier life.

If you do eat out once in a while, eat where the locals eat. The locals always know where the best and cheapest food is available.

Wine and spirits are also taxed in restaurants at various rates across the country by province.

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9. Get into hiking

Canada boasts some of North America’s finest hiking. Whatever your ability you’ll find a suitable hike almost anywhere you go. All the national and many provincial parks have well-marked trails.

The Great Trail is the longest recreational trail in the world and connects communities and beautiful landscapes across Canada. 

Park staff and tourist centres can advise on good walks, and detailed trail guides are widely available for the most popular regions. 

Sign up for FREE to ALLTrail to find the best hikes and never get lost on the trail. If you’re planning to spend much time in the backcountry, consider getting the appropriate Backroad Map Book.

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10. Get interested in Canada’s wildlife

Learn about Canada’s amazing wild animals and look out for wildlife viewing areas. Canada is known for its huge forests, thousands of lakes, and endless trails. National and Provincial Parks offer many free trails for hiking and biking, as well as countless lakes and rivers for kayaking and canoeing. These are the places where you will encounter wild animals.

Most of Canada is bear country and you need to know what to do in case of an encounter.

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11. Visit local museums

Take a step back in time and at a heritage site like Barkerville in British Columbia’s Cariboo region. Visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta to see the largest and most acclaimed collections of dinosaur bones on the planet.

You find smaller community museums in most towns all over Canada. Every museum offers a wealth of local artifacts, photos, and stories from the Gold Rush past and rail travel history to its living Indigenous culture. 

Most of the small museums operate on a donation basis, but it’s appropriate to give a few dollars to make sure the museum is compensated for its services. 

12. Join in at local events

Local festivities and events are happening in Canada all year round. You find everything from snow festivals and winter carnivals to events featuring arts, culture, food, musicals, rodeos, and much more. Local newspapers are goldmines for information. Pick them up at cafes or restaurants or Google the online version.

Join an event and you will have the opportunity to mingle with local people. There is no better way to get to know the Canadian way of life and get insider tips from people who know best.

Many of the events are free or cost just a couple of dollars to attend.  

13. Save on transportation costs

Transportation costs are expensive in Canada. Because of the country’s enormous size making your way across the country could mean expensive airfares, train tickets, or gasoline. 

One way to save on transportation is to limit the extent of your trip and cover only a specific region in Canada, such as the West Coast, the Toronto/Niagara region, Montreal Quebec, or the Maritime provinces.

Renting a car gives you the most flexibility but buying a car might be a cheaper option and is widely used by budget travellers in Canada. Unfortunately, Greyhound buses stopped servicing Western Canada in 2018. New bus companies have started up since then and therefore long-distance bus travel is still a good alternative for travelling on a budget in Canada. 

Canada is not famous for discount airfares and train travel is not cheap either. What about hitchhiking?

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