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Can't Afford a Summer Vacation? 3 Ways to Make it Happen

July 5, 2018
5 mins
A older woman and man walk up a hill as the sun sets behind them

Maybe you’ve decided to invest more in renovations this summer, or you’ve recently bought a new car, or you have tuition to pay in the fall, or you’ve realized how poorly the Loonie has been converting to USD as of lately. No matter your reason, for those on a budget this season, here are some low-cost last-minute ways to vacation before the leaves start to turn, as well as some ways you can prepare for a dream holiday next year.

Stay put and see the sights

A few years ago, the term “staycation” entered our collective vocabulary. And not long after that, it became a dirty word for some, as its meaning turned into “I can’t afford a real holiday, so this is the best I can do.”

But unless you live in a particularly dull part of Antarctica, there are probably a number of interesting tourist sights and attractions in your own backyard that you’ve never even seen.

Case in point: Way back in 1975, my dad took me as a two-year-old to watch the very top of the CN Tower being set with a helicopter. And though I’ve lived my whole life in Toronto, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I actually took the elevator up to the observation deck for the first time (even my own kids had been already!).

And since the weather is hot enough to cook an egg on the sidewalk, there will be no lack of things to do from coast-to-coat. Whether you live in a big city or a small town, you’re guaranteed to be a short drive away from festivities, shows, carnivals, and more.

To save money, rather than paying full fare, most attractions offer discount coupons and special online pricing (for example, each national park offers a day where you can visit at no admission cost in 2018, and the schedule is available online). Also, you can easily turn your day trip into an overnighter affordably and stretch the “stay” part of your “staycation” by going camping or booking a room at a budget hotel.

You could also save by looking into expeditions offered in exchange for your credit card points. For instance, the Scotia Rewards program offers more than just travel rewards. You can easily redeem points for local experiences like a Toronto CityPASS®, which gives you access to some of Toronto’s most popular attractions, from Ripley's Aquarium of Canada to the Ontario Science Centre.

And for a limited time, apply for a Scotia Passport® Visa Infinite* card, Scotia Momentum® Visa Infinite* card or Scotiabank®* Gold American Express® card through RATESDOTCA and you’ll receive $100 in cash via Interac e-Transfer or an e-gift card from RATESDOTCA when your application is approved. These three great offers are available until July 31, 2018.

All of these cards have an annual fee, but with the Scotiabank Passport® Visa Infinite* card in particular, you get 25,000 bonus points with your first $1,000 in everyday purchases in the first three months. Earning points is also easy as you get two Scotia Rewards® points on every $1 you spend on eligible grocery stores, dining, entertainment purchases and daily transit purchases (including buses, subways, taxis and more). And whenever you are ready to take a trip, the card comes with a bunch of travel perks, like no foreign-exchange fee mark-up, and complimentary airport lounge access, including six free lounge visits per year.

Rent, swap or mooch

My family is a big fan of online short-term rental services like Airbnb and VRBO when looking for holiday accommodations. Most recently, we stayed in a trendy part of Brooklyn, giving us easy access to the Big Apple, plus a chance to explore a culture-filled neighbourhood that we might have otherwise passed in favour of more touristy spots.

Short-term apartment rentals save you money in two ways: for one, the rent you pay tends to be significantly cheaper than what you’d pay at a hotel. Plus, you have a full kitchen (and oftentimes, laundry facilities) so you can make some of your own meals “at home” instead of eating out during the entire trip. Even having some toast or cereal with your morning coffee before heading out for the day can add up to significant savings over the course of a week. And, at the end of the night, a beer or a bottle of wine chilling in the fridge is a lot cheaper than trying to get a buzz from the minibar!

Another unique way to save and experience something new – Our family signed up with a few home exchange sites to see how we could potentially swap our home with someone interested in coming to Toronto. However, we found that by the time we registered in late-spring, all the interesting homes in the places we wanted to visit were booked. So we (read: my wife) are already searching around for potential destinations for next year.

If you still want to get away but your pennies are pinched too tight for accommodations overall, consider calling in a favour from friends and ask to couch surf or stay in a guest room. Just remember to offer to return the favour.

Last-minute vs. long-term planning

There are certainly some fantastic deals when buying unsold flights and hotel accommodations on sites such as (seven days at a Cuban all-inclusive for less than $600 anyone?!?). But, with that being said, you’re leaving the timing and location of your trip to the whims of when and where everyone else didn’t want to go.

If it’s a resort holiday you’re looking for, you can also book months in advance for substantial savings. You’ll only need to pay a small deposit to confirm your reservation and pay the balance just before your flight leaves.

Planning well-ahead also pays off if you’re looking into cottage rentals, short-term apartment rentals, or home exchanges. The best places get booked up early. So if you feel you’ve run out of time for a holiday this year, but some of your vacation time towards next year’s big trip.

Finally, mid-to-late September is a great time for a getaway if you don’t have kids heading back to school. In Canada especially, you’ll find popular tourist sites are less crowded, the weather is still quite pleasant and attractions and hotels are less expensive. –

This post has been updated.

Allan Britnell

Toronto-based freelancer Allan Britnell is an award-winning writer with nearly 20 years’ experience. He covers a diverse range of topics, including DIY and professional home renovation projects, nature and the environment, small business, personal finance, and family and health issues. He is also the managing editor of Renovation Contractor, the publication written for small- and medium-sized contracting and custom home building companies. He lives in Toronto with his wife, two daughters, and their dog, Oscar.

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