When I decided to travel across Canada in 2013, I knew was going to have to dig somewhat deeply into my pockets to finance the trip. Initially, I planned on capping my budget at $3,000, but I secretly kept in mind that it could hit up to $5,000.
In the end, it cost roughly $3,500.
At the time of the trip, I had just graduated from college, did not have a stable job, and wanted to go on an international adventure without shaking every last cent out of my savings account. Canada was perfect: it is an international destination and is quite literally in the United States’ backyard (meaning flights wouldn’t cost more than a few hundred dollars at most!) 😀 With that, about two months before take off, I went online and purchased a one-way ticket to Vancouver.
Originally, I planned to stop in 10 cities throughout an eight-week period:
- Cobble Hill, BC
- Victoria, BC
- Vancouver, BC
- Calgary, AB
- Edmonton, AB
- Winnipeg, MB
- Toronto, ON
- Ottawa, ON
- Montreal, QC
- Quebec, QC
And that’s pretty much how it played out, except I:
- Squeezed in a visit to Tofino in BC before going to Victoria
- Swapped out Edmonton for a few days in Banff, AB instead
- Ended up staying in Canmore for an evening
On average, I spent about $438 per week throughout the trip. Through the help of various cost-cutting measures in accommodations, transportation and food whenever possible, expenditures were kept to a minimal with:
Workaway.info. This work exchange website cost $30 for two years of access to hosts all across the globe. Through it, I connected with a host in Cobble Hill and one in Winnipeg, where I stayed for a total of three weeks. That saved up to $945 in accommodations. Plus, I was fed. Yes, the trade off is that you have to work to get a free roof over your head (for the hosts I stayed with, I had to harvest lavender and help a large community with food prep and other activities; my sleeping arrangements also were not glamorous), but the hosts usually allow volunteers to explore the area and go off after work and give the weekends off.
- Hostels and cooking meals. The most I spent on staying in hostels never exceeded $48 per night. (Of course, since they are shared accommodations they require a sacrifice of comfort and personal space.) And as tempting as it is to eat out, grocery shopping and using hostel kitchens saved a lot of money. That’s not to say I didn’t eat out at all, but it definitely didn’t happen on a daily basis.
- Airline miles. I used miles I acquired throughout the years on United to help pay for some of my flights, which allowed me to spend between $25 to $60 on the ones I booked through the program, instead of $100 to $200.
- Greyhound bus/train. Ground transportation usually takes more time, but it’s also cheaper than flying to every destination. And yes, Greyhound can be a pain sometimes since buses often depart late and the seats aren’t always comfortable, but it’s really one of the cheapest options available. If you can tolerate a not-so-luxurious mode of transportation and are willing to spend several hours to get to where you need to go, the bus and train (I took VIA Rail) can save a few hundred dollars overall.
While I find $3,500 for eight weeks a good deal, it would have actually been very possible to complete this trip in less than $3,000.
But due to some additional expenses, an extra $700+ got tacked on to the total amount spent:
A tablet. I thought this was something I would need since I did not take my laptop with me. I was wrong. My phone would have sufficed. That was $200 USD down the drain.
- A one-night stay in a hotel in Sidney. My flight to Vancouver included a stopover in Seattle. The flight scheduled from Seattle to Vancouver apparently did not exist and I was not informed. My first stop was Damali Lavender Farm, but to get there I had to catch a ferry. My flight arrived in Victoria after the last ferry left, so I had to stay in a hotel and picked one that was relatively close to the terminal. That came out to about $130 CAD.
- A car rental. On a whim, I decided to rent a car while in Banff because a girl at the hostel I was staying at gave a convincing spiel about how renting a car and driving around was a worthwhile investment. And hey, it was. But that was another $300+ USD.
- Temporary camera. I left my camera in Ottawa so when I got to Montreal, I purchased a simple point-and-shoot Nikon for $113 CAD.
Had these four items been eliminated, the cross-country trip would have had a price tag of about $2,800 to $2,900.
A general breakdown of my expenses is as follows:
Transportation (airfare, bus, train, gas, car rental): $1,500 CAD
Accommodations: $1,000 CAD
Food (including groceries, beer and eating out): $500 CAD
Miscellaneous (tablet, replacement camera, tours, admission fees, gifts, etc.): $500 CAD
ATM fees: $10 CAD (I used a credit union, which only charged 50 cents per ATM withdrawal and did not charge any foreign transaction fees on debit card purchases. That helped in wiping out unnecessarily high fees.)
Ultimately, traveling across Canada turned out to be one of the best $3,500 I’ve ever spent in my life thus far.