May to October is a great time to visit Canada. The leaves and flowers are out, the temperature is comfortable (and from June to August it can get quite hot), festivals are in full swing, and locals look happy!

Since I live in Canada (Toronto to be exact), I decided to explore my own country this summer, with short jaunts to different cities: Ottawa, Kingston, Montreal, Victoria. I’ll will talk about each of these visits in a future post. For now, I want to give you a heads up on a few ways to save money when travelling in this rather expensive country.

Transportation

Distances in Canada are huge, as a simple look at a map will reveal. Granted, very few people bother travelling north of the 55th parallel, but that still leaves large horizontal distances to cover. If you only have a week or two, I would suggest limiting yourself to one part of the country: Ontario and Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia, the Maritimes (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island) or Newfoundland. Not only will you save money on flights, you’ll also avoid spending half your vacation in airports. If you want to travel the country by train, from Vancouver to Halifax, I would plan on at least a month (which probably explains why the only people I’ve met who are doing this are Europeans).

Air Canada is the main international airline, although rarely the cheapest. WestJet serves many cities in Western Canada (as well as the US, Mexico, and the Caribbeans). Porter flies around Eastern Canada and the US Northeast. It uses exclusively the small Billy Bishop airport in Toronto which is a short shuttle ride away from downtown (and offers complimentary cappuccinos, water, cookies and nuts). Porter often has some very good sales.

If you are travelling any segment of the Niagara Falls to Quebec City corridor (one of the most popular itineraries), you can save a lot of money by taking the bus or even the train between cities.

Megabus operates clean, often express, double-decker buses several times a day in southern Ontario (and all the way to Montreal). They even link Buffalo airport to Toronto, if you are coming from the US and would like to save money on your international flight by making it… a domestic flight. The company operates on a fare scale similar to an airline. There are a limited number of seats in various price brackets, starting at $1 (no, this is not a typo). The earlier you buy your ticket, the lower price you’re likely to get. It is also easier to get cheap tickets in the middle of the week. If you book two weeks ahead, even in high summer, you should be able to get a one-way ticket between Toronto and Montreal for $15 for example.

More comfortable for long journeys is the train. Via Rail also has different fare categories, with the cheapest available only through online purchases, and non-refundable. Train travel in Canada is not cheap, but if you can catch a Via Rail sale (which seem to happen more and more frequently) you could travel from Toronto to Montreal or Ottawa for $25 (instead of $83). Sign up for Via Preference, their loyalty program, to be notified when the sales are on.

Accommodation

Canada offers all of the big hotel chains (Fairmont, Westin, Sheraton, Marriott, etc) as well as more economical ones like Quality Inn and Super 8. However, these are not exactly cheap. There are also backpacker hostels, but these probably won’t be your cup of tea unless you are quite young.

For budget prices and a more genuine experience, I choose to book my rooms with AirBnB and stay in a local’s home. You can rent a room in someone’s house, or an entire apartment. Payment is handled through the site, and you can read references from other guests. Of course you need to build a profile so owners can get an idea of who you are before letting you into their homes. Once you’ve signed up though, the booking process is really easy. I’ve booked a room for $25/night in Montreal, a room for $35/night in Ottawa, and even a one-bedroom apartment in Kingston for $50/night. AirBnB also adds a 12% commission on top. (See also my article AirBnB – between a couch and a hotel.)

Food

If you are renting an apartment (or even sometimes a room in someone’s house) you can self-cater. Otherwise, the cheapest options for breakfast and lunch are markets, which aside from fresh produce, also offer cheap little eateries where meals can often be had for less than $10 (and you don’t need to tip). Good markets are St-Lawrence Market in Toronto, Jean-Talon Market in Montreal, and ByWard Market in Ottawa. Asian restaurants (think Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, Indian) are usually cheaper than European ones. In Montreal many restaurants let you bring your own wine and do not charge a corkage fee.

These are my tips for Canadian travel. Happy trails!

Do you know of economical bus service and markets in western or eastern Canada? Please share in the comments.

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