Canada. Why Canada? This was a frequently asked question when I began to tell people where our (Cody and me) next big trip was. It was relevant. It is not a secret that I am not a fan of the cold. So, why Canada? Even more so, why Canada in January?
It was mid November, about a week before Thanksgiving and I had Christmas gift ideas racing through my head. I sat in the car trying to figure out what to get Cody. His only requests were new underwear, socks, and sweatpants. I thought, “Have we really sunk that low? 2 and a half years of marriage and the best I can do for him is socks and underwear? No way!” It had been a while since our last big trip, and I was longing for more. Then, the thought crossed my mind, “What about a trip for Christmas?!” Cody is always the one planning our trips. I usually deal with organizing how much we spend and making sure we actually get out and see the places we go, but I had never actually taken the reins and given him a trip he would like. So, I passed the idea by him and he loved it. “…But I don’t want to know anything about it.”, he said. So, the google searches began. I searched for days and narrowed it down to 2 places. New York or Alberta, Canada. Canada was just slightly more expensive. I gave it a week. I prayed, googled, searched for all the best deals and determined that this was a dream trip and it would be a reality. Now, I just had to figure out how to pay.
So, how did I manage to pay for 2 round trip plane tickets and a condo at a resort in Alberta, Canada in just one month? A lot of it was Jesus, but I also really set my focus and saved. One of the most expensive aspects of booking the trip was the flights. So, I set google to track the flights for me. I planned on paying for the flights within the next week or two, so I knew the prices wouldn’t fluctuate a ton. The tracker alerted me anytime the ticket prices would drop or rise, so I was able to use that knowledge to determine how low these prices would really go. The lowest price that I saw was around $600, so I knew that I wanted to book when I saw those numbers around that price again. I did. I paid less that $610 for two round trip tickets thanks to google flight tracking. It allowed me to book my flight directly through United to get the best price options. The next step was to find where we were going to stay. Although I was focused on booking our flights first, I never took my eye off of places to stay. My line of thought was “If I don’t continuously check Airbnb to confirm availability, we may book a flight and have nowhere to stay.” I had my eye on one place in particular. It had a hot tub, full kitchen, and mountain view for under $100 a night. The day I booked our condo, the place I had been watching disappeared. Though there were many other options at low prices, I was upset. After a few minutes of weighing out my options, I found a condo in the same resort as the one I had been set on and it was only $2 more! I paid in an instant. I paid less than $1,500 total for flights and a condo for a week. Those prices were low, but to save for it in a month was a lot of work. So, how exactly did I manage to save that amount of money? I picked up shifts at my work and small odds and end job wherever I could find them. I was working 40-50 hours a week and saving every bit of it that I could.
As with every trip, we ran into some unexpected problems. A trip is never going to run as smoothly as you think, so Cody and I have learned to roll with the punches. Our first dilemma was that we had no snow gear and that stuff is expensive. Luckily, with the help of some loving friends and family members, we managed to get everything we needed for our trip. Once our bags were packed and our budget was made, we were ready to go. The next punch didn’t come until we were sitting in an airport restaurant. Cody left $250 of our spending money at home. I pretty much facepalmed right then and there. We were going to have to rethink our budget, but if you know Cody and me, we are very low maintenance, so this wasn’t going to be a huge fall back. Another issue we ran into (because of my lack of preparedness) is that we did not have a mode of transportation and our condo was an hour from the airport. We took a cab and dropped nearly $200 Canadian dollars within our first couple of hours in Canada. Our condo was also not near the city, which was great when we were there, trying to relax, but was not as appealing when we wanted to go out. The cab experience was our biggest financial set back, but it was a great experience that lead to us meeting new people and finding local places to see. On Friday evening we caught the last bus to the top of Mount Norquay to go snow tubing (which I had already paid for), but upon getting there found out that it was closed for a cardboard sled derby. (I will elaborate more on this later in this post). This set back was our favorite and probably the most minor. The final set back that we had wasn’t until the day we were leaving. Our flight from Calgary to Chicago was delayed by an hour due to technical difficulties. We arrived at our connecting flight as they were calling the final boarding call. Overall, none of our setbacks on this trip were too major to overcome, but my word of advice to any new traveler is to expect some kind of setback. Some trips it may be minor, and others can be major. If you have backup plans and a good attitude, you will survive. Find ways to enjoy the little things, even if they are not what you planned. This is advice that I have to give myself during any trip or crisis. Things could always be worse.
Although, you know how I saved money to book our trip, I have also mentioned budgeting our trip spending. We did not have a lot of time to save for our trip after I booked it, so our money was limited. So, how did we manage to enjoy our time in Canada without breaking the bank? We planned. First, we determined our priorities when traveling. Our three major priorities when traveling are: Explore the local area, try local foods that we may not get at home, and relax. When we are home, I am constantly planning our days, weeks, future trips, home decorating, ect. Cody and I have no off mode when we are home, so no matter where we are off traveling to, we never try to over stretch ourselves. We limit how many activities to do each day and usually our first and last day at our destination are strictly reserved for relaxing. Since food is a huge priority to us, I wanted to eat, but also not spend all of our money on food (because if left to it, we will).I set a limit of 4 places to eat and we bought supplies for 2 homecooked meals. (I will give information to what we cooked, how we stretched it, and where we ate later). We were in Canada for 5 days (not including the days we spent in an airport). Our first and last days were set aside for relaxing, exploring the resort and snow, and grocery shopping. We spent one day strictly walking around and exploring Baff and two days doing activities. Cody and I usually only do 1-2 activities per day when traveling to ensure that we are not overstretching and exhausting ourselves on our vacation. Another thing that seems like a big deal to most, but is not to us, is souvenirs. We love to look at souvenirs (and occasionally something may catch our eye that is a must.) We tend to take as many photos as possible, because honestly we will relive the moment through a photo or video better than we will through a trinket or a shirt. So, my biggest advice to someone who wants to travel on a budget is to find what brings you joy and what you want to be a priority and form your trip around that thing.
Cody and I had a handful of excursions planned for this trip. Since we were on a budget, we did not plan a ton of activities. We booked our activities through Banff adventures. They had lots of deals on their website, but the one we chose was for a sleigh ride, tickets to the hot springs, and snow tubing for less than $100 each. We decided we wanted to go snow tubing at night, but it was only offered on Fridays and Saturdays, so we saved it for Friday night. On Thursday we woke up and caught a taxi and a bus from Canmore to Banff . We were told to walk to the horse stables to save money and enjoy the scenery. It took us about 30 minutes in the -10 degree (Farenheit) weather. It began to snow while we were walking, too, but the walk was enjoyable and worth it when we arrived. There was a heated barn with hot chocolate waiting for us and no one else signed up for the sleigh ride with us, so we ended up getting a private horse drawn sleigh ride (which is $200 value for two people). They took us around their land and through a park where we got a view of the mountains and got to see animal tracks. Our guide was really friendly and had even been to Louisiana once. When the ride came to and end, our tour guide allowed us back inside to get more hot chocolate while she put together a fire and a marshmallow toasting station. It was the best feeling, a toasty fire in the middle of the snow. After we had our fill of marshmallows and had defrosted our toes, we started back toward the city. Once we got to town, we picked up our tickets for the hot springs and tubing and made our way to the bus stop. The hot springs were just out of town and may have been my favorite part of the trip. We arrived at a cabin where they took our tickets and sent us to our locker rooms. I felt ridiculous changing out of snow gear and into a bikini. “This is crazy”, I kept repeating to myself. I threw my hair into a bun and sheepishly made my way outside to Cody. We met in a freezing hallway and as we walked toward the outside door, we were greeted by what felt like burning hot water. It started at our ankles and got deeper as we walked. We never had to feel the freezing air on our bare skin. We were submerged and as the air got colder, the water felt better. It was like sitting in a hot bath with the air conditioner blowing on you. All around us everything was covered in mounds of ice. The lifeguard wasn’t even able to sit in his chair due to the amount of ice buildup. On Friday evening we made our way to Banff for the last time. We had a bus to catch at 5:30 pm. It was the last bus up to mount Norquay for the day. It took about 15 minutes to get up the mountain. Once we got up to the snow tubing area, we were told that snow tubing was closed for a cardboard sled derby event. This wouldn’t have been as big of a deal if we hadn’t waited until our last day and taken the last bus. The next bus wouldn’t be for three more hours, so we called Banff adventures to get a refund and we decided to enjoy the event. Banff Adventures was understanding and had great customer service. They had us refunded immediately. The event began at 6:30 PM with children and then adults later. They would make their way to the top of a giant snow mound with their creation in tow and race down the snow in a decorated cardboard box. Most would wipe out, while others would bolt past the finish line. While the participants were competing, the locals, parents, and bystanders sat around a fire talking and hanging out. This was probably the most at home we felt during the entire trip. So, overall this night probably ended up being a lot more fun than it would have been if it had gone as planned. Most of our time in Canada was spent sightseeing, window shopping, and eating.
Like I said previously, we had a limit of four times that we could eat out at some sort of restaurant. On our first day there, we began to google food options. We had just arrived, had absolutely no food inside the condo, and we were hungry. Cody’s mom had told us to try poutine, so we decided that would be our first Canadian food venture. We found one place that looked locally owned and had great reviews, so we layered ourselves in snow gear and called a cab. (We tried out three cab companies while we were there, and our best experience was with Canmore cabs) The restaurant that we chose was called 514 Poutine. We later found out that it was owned by a local from Quebec, which is where Poutine originated. So, we knew this was going to be a great place for us to try this dish for the first time. If you do not know what Poutine is, it is twice fried French fries and cheese curds smothered in gravy. We got our first taste of poutine with smothered onions and ground beef added in and IT WAS AMAZING!!( If you could see me typing this now you would see me drooling and rolling my eyes just from thinking about it.) It is a MUST when visiting Canada. Our next food venture was to The Old Spaghetti factory. We were missing home and needed some red sauce in our lives at this point and this restaurant had been calling our names all week. When we arrived, it had a feel like Olive Garden or another chain Italian restaurant feel, which is not usually the environment Cody and I go for. We ventured on and found that the quality of the food was not similar to a chain such as Olive Garden. This restaurant had a deal that originally drew us here. If you pay the price of the entrée, you also get bread, salad, dessert, and coffee. We paid less than $35 for chicken parmesan, a Caesar salad, bread, ice-cream, and a cup of hot coffee. The best part was that the price did not diminish the quality of the food. It was just as good as a local Italian restaurant. The only other place we graced with our presence for food was (of course) another poutine restaurant. It was our last day in the city and we needed a taste of poutine one last time, so we took a tiny break at Banff Poutine. The space was small, offering only high-top wall seating and one restroom. It had a modern, city feel to it. While it was not as good as 514 Poutine, we still enjoyed it. We got fried onion added in this time and it did not disappoint. The price was a little cheaper than 514 Poutine and it is in another city, so if you go to Banff or Canmore, make sure to check out one of these amazing places. Although we had to make a limit to how many places we could eat out, we still cooked and ate at the condo. This was a key component to save money. We bought ingredients for two meals. We also chose meals that were sure to have leftovers to carry us through the week and the ‘midnight snack’ feeling. Our two home cooked meals were potato soup and spaghetti with green beans. These are both extremely easy and cheap recipes which makes them perfect to cook when traveling with limited resources.
I have been wanting to share this information for so long and am so glad and relieved to have it out there. I wanted to share that traveling is possible while keeping a tight budget. You can still experience some great new things in the great big somewhere. Do not limit yourself at home watching Netflix all day and having a pity party when you see someone else’s post about traveling. You don’t know what they sacrificed to get to experience that. If you want it bad enough, you just need to sacrifice, pray, and save. Adventure is waiting and I can’t wait to see where the next one takes us. Thank you so much for reading and I cannot wait to share more another time.