I hadn’t left Ohio in nearly three years, and I was catching a serious case of wanderlust. However, when you’re nineteen and don’t have money to fly, sometimes your dream vacation seems out of reach. Luckily, mine wasn’t.
On this trip we explored the Lake Simcoe region, Sandbanks Provincial Park, Toronto, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and various other places. Our activities included hiking, kayaking, swimming, shopping, fine dining, camping and more, and the best part is…
We did it all for less than $500.
1) I went with a friend.
This may seem like a “duh” thing, but going with my best friend really did help a lot of things. First of all, it obviously made the trip more enjoyable because I didn’t have to drive the entire time. Second, we were able to divvy up the costs; I covered lodging and most of the food, she covered gas and transportation (I definitely got the short end of that stick, but I’m not bitter… it was my idea). Third, we were able to use both of our strengths to get the most out of the trip; my strengths being in planning and budgeting, and hers being in survival and practical skills.
2) We established our goals near the beginning of the planning process.
We originally were just dreaming about visiting Canada, and before I knew it I had a passport. Once summer break hit, we had various planning sessions at my house where we stated the things that we were not willing to budge on. She wanted to hike, camp, and kayak, and I wanted to explore Toronto, drink wine, see the lakes, and eat poutine. Because we knew what we wanted early on, we were able to budget for it.
3) We drove.
Driving to Ontario is not possible for everyone, but luckily it was possible for us. It was a very long trip in the car compared to what could have been a three-hour flight, but we survived. Also, thanks to gas cards, we spent less than $150 on gas (which is why I definitely got the short end of that stick).
4) We reserved lodging with Booking and Expedia.
Our first night was spent at Lakehead University Residence and Conference Centre, which is actually a college dormitory that is not in use during the summer months. We reserved a suite for two adults, with each of us getting our own rooms with full-sized beds connected by the bathroom. There was a common room on our floor where we had access to a microwave, and also were able to converse with fellow travelers! Our beds were really hard, but otherwise it was a pretty comfortable experience. My friend joked that we drove all the way to Canada just to sleep in a college dorm again, but it was great for the price, which evened out to $63. This was reserved with Booking.
After we camped in Prince Edward County, we spent a night at Newton Villa in Brampton, a suburb of Toronto. It was a bed-and-breakfast setup and very clean. The woman assigned to us was very friendly, and our room featured a queen-sized bed. It costed the equivalent of $76 and was reserved with Expedia.
Basically, we weren’t afraid to sleep somewhere other than a traditional hotel.
5) We camped for two nights.
We took one of the cheapest camping spots in Sandbanks Provincial Park, but you wouldn’t know it just from looking. Our tent was just steps away from the beaches of Lake Ontario, and you could hear the waves crashing against the shore throughout the night. It was so relaxing. We even went out and read books by the lake at one point.
Now, let me get this straight. I do not generally enjoy camping. I’m terrified of spiders, I always get eaten up by mosquitos, porta potties make me gag… I just generally cannot do it. But even though the porta potties were definitely… like that, everything else was fine. Hardly any spiders.
And we paid $78.42 for our entire stay (two nights) on Outlet A.
6) We brought some of our own food.
We were able to cut down on time on the road and expenses on dining by packing our own food in a cooler. We didn’t waste any money on McDonald’s– well, I did get a sausage burrito on the Canadian side, AND IT TASTED THE SAME AS IT DOES IN THE STATES! YOU CANADIANS ARE LIARS!
7) And when we did dine out, we shared our food.
Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake are not cheap places at all. However, we managed through sharing.
We ate an early dinner at Dumpling House in the Chinatown district of Toronto where we ordered the meal of three different types of dumpling. The lamb ones were the best, in my opinion. The whole order of fifteen dumplings was a little over $9.10 USD, including the tip. It was definitely worth it. I almost wish we didn’t share.
Later on in the evening we stopped at Poutini’s and got some traditional poutine. I will admit, I wasn’t impressed and needed to add hot sauce and vinegar. But I refuse to give up on poutine. It costed $7.33 converted.
Niagara-on-the-Lake was where we truly allowed ourselves to splurge and spent over $30, thanks to myself ordering a glass of red wine. Before you gasp, I am legal in Ontario. We shared escargot and spanakopita as well.
8) One generous friend.
Shout-out to my girl Bethany! She gave me about $55 Canadian dollars (which DID NOT smell like maple… at all) and enough subway tokens to last my entire day in Toronto.
She’s also the one who suggested Dumpling House to me. She is a very good friend.
9) If we didn’t want it at home, we didn’t buy it.
I didn’t suddenly purchase a huge beach towel just because it said “Sandbanks” on it. If I didn’t need or want one while I was at home, I knew it would go to waste. I did buy an expensive pair of sandals, however. But I had been needing a new pair for years now; I deserved to treat myself.
10) We generally spent time in non-tourist locations.
Aside from Niagara, locals were often surprised that we were American. “Why did you come here?” a lot of the Orillia and Prince Edward residents would ask us. These were cute towns, but so few non-Canadian tourists knew about them. However, it did save us money, because tourist-popular cities tend to make things ten times more expensive than they need to be. Also, gas prices were tolerable.
Well, that’s all for now! I will be posting pictures and more tips on travel in Ontario sometime soon! To see our full budget, you can use this link.