How to travel on a budget

After 2 years on Instagram, I have realised that most people much like me have a list of countries they would like to visit before they die. These lists range from well known destinations such as London, Paris, New York, L.A, Phuket, Istanbul, Dubai etc. to remote areas.  However just by searching holiday packages, we quickly realise that not only do flights, accommodation and not to mention the currency exchange rate cost an arm and a leg, but how does one fit in food, entertainment and the obligatory shopping session? I have heard crazy stories from my friends and colleagues who would travel overseas and subject themselves to canned foods so long as they get to take in the sights. I am sorry, but I am not willing to leave the comfort of my home to go and spend the equivalent of R50 for some terrible canned food while I am starving all in the name of ‘at least I was there’. If I cannot afford it, then I am not going or at least make a plan.

My husband works for a Canadian based company and part of the perks from his company is that each year, they host their end of year function in Montreal, Canada. Whilst our flights, hotel accommodation and a daily food stipend is provided for, we often find the daily $50 not enough for 3 meals for the both of us. Given that we also got married in May last year, bought furniture and it is our second year working whilst paying black tax, we were left both excited yet anxious of how we would make it a memorable trip. Another gift and sometimes a curse is that Tebogo and I are very curious people who love to travel, eat and shop, so we knew that we had to find a way to make sure that we do not fall into the trap of having to use a credit card and get into debt upon our return. So here are a few tips of how we managed to see Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City and Frankfurt fitting in sight seeing, travel, food and shopping all for R8000 per person.

  1. Research well in advance

As soon as we found out in August that we would be returning to Montreal in December we searched the Internet to get a general feel of what Canada was like within the time frame of our visit. This included the weather, activities on offer and costs. We watched Youtube videos of other people who showed Canada in an affordable way. We then went on Instagram and followed local blogs to get restaurant ideas (pictures help you to see what to expect). However, given that Instagram can be a bit misleading, we  also used Trip Advisor to get people’s honest opinions and experiences of the places we were interested in. There is nothing as painful as knowing that you paid 11x your local currency and just had the worst meal of your life and to add insult to injury, you need to pay an obligatory 15% tip.

2. Make a list

Once you have done your research, draw up a list of the places that you are both  interested in if traveling with a partner. I would suggest that you do this separately at first as people are different and there are some things that are a must for your personally which your partner would not understand. For us, I wanted to go to the Botanical Gardens to see the Japanese gardens and hike up Mont Royal in snow, Tebogo on the other hand wanted to go to the Biodome to see the various animal species domes. I am not a fan of insects and most animals and I did not want to spend my limited funds on something I would not enjoy. Tebogo felt the same especially having to walk in snow when he is seriously not a fan of cold weather let alone paying the same fee to see a garden in Winter compared to cool animals was a point of conflict for us. So in the end we decided we would either dedicate a day where we do our own thing simultaneously or we find a way to still be part of each other’s activities in a cost friendly way. 

3. Draw up a daily plan and budget

I know that you may be thinking that I sound a bit too militant and am leaving little room for surprises, but trust me it is important to draw up a daily schedule of where you are going and what the entrance cost for each place is. This includes meals and entrance fees. We went online and checked the menus for all the restaurants we wanted to see. We also ensured that we grouped places according to proximity to save transport costs.

4. Bring your student card

I always make it a point that I carry my student card with me at all times wherever I go. Remember I said that Tebogo wanted to go to the Biodome and I the Botanical Gardens? Well we found out that not only could we go together to both activities, but by using my student card I was able to save money for us to end up not paying more for both activities. Furthermore, when we went to Quebec City and Ottawa, I got a student discount which made my bus fare cost almost nothing. Finally, student cards get you discounted rates at museums as well.

5. Use local transport

I know that Uber is so much better and reliable but I cannot stress enough the cost savings from using local buses and trains. I am not a fan of trains for safety reasons but whenever I travel overseas I use them daily. Canada much like New York has a great system whereby the trains and buses cost the same for a trip. Even better if you would like to visit neighbouring towns or what we call provinces, you can take a 3 hour train and end up in Ottawa or in 5 hours in Toronto. Cabs were quite expensive and the locals really advised us against them, so we only used them from the hotel to the bus station. Another thing, you can pre-plan by using Google Maps to find out the cheapest way and to get schedules in advance to fully plan your day trip. Another tip, you can get a tourist day pass for buses and trains which means you can go to as many places without worrying about transport. Finally, if you are lucky like we got when we went to see the Montmorency Falls, you may end up with a local offering you a free tour of wherever you are going.

6. Take day trips to other cities

As mentioned before, accommodation is a hassle and even worse if you want to see other cities. We found the best and stress free way to travel in and out of Montreal was to take day trips to neighbouring cities. This meant that we did not have to pack and carry our luggage around. So we woke up early and took a 6 or 7am bus ride to neighbouring cities. I enjoyed the bus rides compared to the train as we got to see even more places like a roadtrip and speak to ordinary people. I was very happy when I saw the Biosphere, St Lawrence River and La Ronde en route to Quebec City. 
7. Join free tours

This is a recent discovery for me and I will continue to use it for the rest of my days. Whilst doing my research, I found out that I could see Parliament Hill for free by going on tour days. Not only did that shift my trip from just being a picture taking festival, but I could learn so much and share that experience with fellow tourists. An added bonus was the Peace Tower observation deck which had the most breath taking views of the city. Secondly, I was very excited when our tour group consisted of people from Spain, Mexico, South Korea and Japan. Their questions and sharing our country’s experiences deeply enriched my experience and I used every opportunity to market South Africa.

8. (Food) Markets

We cannot stress this point enough. If you really want to have a taste of local cuisine, the general city ambience and score unforgettable childhood like memories, markets are the best places to go. Unlike in 2015 when we went to Montreal on the 10th December, last year was super special because we arrived on the 16th just in time for all the Christmas festivities and fun activities. Not only were the markets full, but it was snowing (-33 degrees) and we were able to skate on frozen rivers and Mont Royal Park was heavenly as the snow turned it into a natural ski resort. We had so much fun for just $12 and ate our weight for much less than what we would have paid at the restaurant. This was especially amazing in Germany given that we had budgeted 350 Euros for the both of us.

9. Look out for sales

To be honest I was a serial shopaholic as soon as I started working. In 2015 I blew R8000 on shopping alone in Montreal. My husband was less than pleased and although he respected that it my money I will never forget the day he shared a meme with the following message: You don’t need a new bag, you need more experiences. At that instant I vowed to ensure that when we travel, I see more of the world and shop only on the last night. I literally bought 1 clothing item in Montreal and 2 in Frankfurt (for ridiculously low prices by the way) and just explored all cities like I had a lot of money. Each country usually has combined tours so try to get a tourist sight seeing card, they are cheaper than paying for individual places. I look back at the photos and videos and I feel truly blessed to have seen so much and been to places that were on my bucket list for later all within a 2 week holiday. Try to not buy from stores similar to ones you have back home, and instead get items that you know you would not find at home.

10. Go to random places

I am including this for those shy people who like the familiar. Whilst in Ottawa, I literally had lunch in a sports bar. This is one place you will never find me in but hey it proved to be a fun experience. I went to Mulligans Golf bar where not only did I have the second best burger, but you could play golf on their 3D screen. It was fun and interesting, an experience I would like to do again to be quite honest.

11. Long layovers

If you have a +4 hours layover, do try getting a visa to visit that country. So far I have had 3 layovers in my traveling experience: Abu Dhabi, Paris and Frankfurt. My favourite to date has been being able to go out and explore Frankfurt in Germany. As a fan of architecture, any part of Germany is truly a dream come true. Not only did I enjoy it but for Tebogo and I, it was the one place where as we stood in the rain, we realized what we wanted out of life. The city has a quiet yet focused energy and the people were very friendly. We arrived exhausted but were so rejuvenated in the evening that we were so sad to leave. It was truly a pleasant surprise and made us want to visit Berlin, Munich and Düsseldorf soon.

Travel affordably chic


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