Travelling Cheap

After my second year of university I did the cliche “tour of Europe”. I managed to spend 4 months on the continent for $5K, including airfare (and saw 23 countries or so in a whirlwind tour). The cost of travel always seems to be dropping, and it seems to be one of those things that, if you don’t keep up with it, it’s really easy to overpay on.

A little over a year ago I went down to Cuba with my then girlfriend. We went in November (not high season) and we got a return flight from Toronto, a shuttle to the resort, all inclusive meals and booze for $600 each for a week. I still have no idea how they can provide this for that price. My only theory is that they have spare capacity during low season, and its best for them to “get what they can” on it.

If you’re thinking about a get-away and are willing to go at non-high-time, I’d suggest having a look at,,, and old faithfuls expedia and travelocity. Note: We don’t have any relationship with any of these sites, I just list them as they’re where I’d look if I was thinking about taking a trip.

One thing to beware of, they separate out the taxes and the price, so expect the quoted price to jump 50% or so (who do they think they’re fooling?). Flight Center had a trip offered at $94.05. When you clicked on it, it turned in to $94.05 + $298.00 taxes & fees = $392.05. Who do they think they’re fooling? Three times the price in “taxes and fees”? If a budget travel site DIDN’T do this (and just listed the actual prices of the trips), they’d get all my business. When I see a few “deals” jump like this, I often just leave the site in disgust.

I’m not sure the best “lead time” to book before your trip. One school of thought is you get the best deal booking well in advance, the other is that you get the best deal last minute (when they’re afraid the room and seat on the airplane will go empty).

What has everyone’s experience been (good or bad) with budget travel? Any suggestions on other places to find good deals?

25 replies on “Travelling Cheap”

I tend to do independent travel – over here in the UK that means that you’ll get the best deals booking well in advance.

Whenever I’ve taken package holidays I’ve always booked at the last minute – but have been pretty flexible on exact dates and destinations, you can never tell what’s going to be available late on.

Ahhh…my favourite “other” topic (the 1st of course being PF). 🙂

I have a subscription to Budget Travel magazine, which I absolutely love. They have a great section called “40 Best Bargain Vacations”. Even if you don’t find a deal you like, it’s great for new ideas.

One bit of advice for Canadian’s living fairly close to the US border is to book your flights out of the US, even if it means driving a few hours. Flights out of the US are generally significantly cheaper than out of Canada.

Just to brag a bit 🙂 …I just booked a flight Detroit to NYC for two of us for $77 RT total. I’m serious. And it’s for a Sat-Tues. holiday weekend.

I also booked VIA rail tickets for us to go to Montreal for $500 total. Can’t win’em all. 🙁

Plonkee – do you find the ‘last minute’ bookings significantly cheaper? or can you tell?

Telly – I’ve heard a lot about the US flights. I believe that mostly applies for flights within the US? ie if a Canuck was flying to Germany would it still be worthwhile to fly from the US?

I’m with telly on this being my other favorite topic! has some great cheap flights to Europe from Canada.

And if you’re into the truly budget traveling be sure to check out I’ve surfed and hosted on numerous occasions and can give you a much more authentic experience while saving you big dollars on accommodation expenses.

My experience is that it’s cheaper to fly internationally out of the US as well. I always check prices out of Detroit and Toronto and have only chosen Toronto for package deals in the Caribbean and a flight to Hong Kong once. Europe, Africa, and Central America were much cheaper out the US.

Flights to London can be had for less out of Toronto as they have cheap charters.

It’s true that you can get much better deals (at least in Europe for 3-4 star hotels) if you book after 3-4pm.

We got to stay in hotels that typically would run 120-130 Euros per night for 75-80 Eu. just by booking online from an internet cafe at the end of the day. Unless there’s a conference in the city you really shouldn’t worry about room shortages and booking in advance.

As for air travel, again at least with flights from Toronto to Europe (with Transat), it turned out to be cheaper for us to book 2 months in advance. From Europe to Toronto – about 3 weeks in advance. 2 weeks in advance prices start creeping up as their worst seats are sold off.

On that note, in the future I’d be willing to pay a little more for travel comfort. It’s only a few hours but when you’re terrified and queasy from turbulence, a bout of claustrophobia is not very helpful.

Oh yeah, my favourite tip…

I ALWAYS use either hotwire or priceline for hotels. I’ve gotten $20 hotel rooms in Toronto on New Year’s Eve, $40 rooms in Montreal & Chicago and $70 in NYC (boutique hotel with a view of Central Park). I can’t remember the last time I’ve paid regular rates for a hotel.

Mike, YYZ has among the highest airport charges in the western world. It can be cheaper to fly to the UK from TO, but only because they have so many of the buses-with-wings airlines going out of here to choose from. One of the biggest transition shocks to me is how much more expensive it is for me to fly to Europe, and obviously specifically Dublin, from Toronto than New York. If you have the ability (and our immigration histories make it a headache for us to do so) flying out of Detroit or somewhere – even Hamilton – will absolutely save you money.

Guinness – I didn’t know YYZ was so expensive. No big deal for me – we’re going to Germany next year on points and then we probably won’t fly again for many a year. One salary and four plane tickets isn’t going to happen.


telly: You’re right, I saved a fair bit flying to Asia by leaving from Buffalo instead of Toronto years ago.

MM: I love the concept behind coachsurfing, but I don’t really like the people on the site (the ones I’ve interacted with have left me less than impressed – I wouldn’t want to stay with them or have them stay with me).

Ar, the travel topic where people brags about their cheap trips (somewhat like stocks, one brags the good and hide the bad)

Usually US (Buffalo/Detroit) has awesome fares compared to YYZ, although for Asia flights sometimes it’s just not worth it depending on which route

e.g. if you travel YYZ-JFK-HKG, vs YYZ-HKG, you may save $200-$300 but you might have to deal with US custom, overnight transfer, etc…

I have yet to use Priceline so far, that’s my to-do. I’ve either got free accommodation or never needed to use Priceline

btw, it’s CouchSurfing I believe, not CoashSurfing for staying on people’s couch for free stayover

Mr. Cheap,
I would be curious to have a break down of your expenses and what you did during your 4 months in Europe.
I did the same thing (6 months as a foreign student) and it cost 15K. The worst part is that I was proud of myself as I find it was not too bad! I mean, 3 days in London cost $500 without transportation fees! I am guilty to have been there 3 times during my trip 😉

There are tons of options when booking flights however the airline pricing system works is a mystery to me. I check a variety of sites, including the ones above. One you didn’t mention was They seem not too bad. You can register your email and they will send you notification when there are sales (prices below there calculated average) for various routes.

I wrote an article on how my wife and book our flights each summer (we do a month trip somewhere in the world every year). Basically it involves using the different online sites and breaking down into different legs to find the cheapest combination. Flight Centre will match and beat by $10 any flight as well. Here is my article, but I have a few different ones talking about flights…

As everyone was saying, YYZ is the most expensive in Canada. Just to have an idea, if you fly to Cuba you have to pay taxes (around 230). If you’re going to the Dominican Republic is around 340. Every two years my wife and I travel to Brazil. If we go through the US saves us at least 400 dollars.

I’d say to check the following sites: (check the travel section) (check this to get an idea about the hotels outside. If you’re planning to go to Cuba stay in a 4 stars hotel).

good luck! 🙂

I spent about a month in Europe when I was in college too…$500 for ticket (check Iceland Air Lucky Fares), $500 for Eurorail (we went at the last minute and had no travel schedule), then we lived on $500 for a full month. We went to grocery stores, stayed in hostels and didn’t buy a lot of souveniors (wouldn’t fit in the backpack).

For travel in the US, I always ask for AAA discounts. I call the hotel to see if they can give me a lower rate than the internet gives (usually I get about $10/night knocked off). I also try to eat at only local type restaurants (avoid Panera, etc). If I don’t have a local restaurant in mind, I just swing by the grocery store. Also, I constantly fill up my nalgene…no need to purchase bottled water!

I hate when that happens. For travel within Europe, I use Easyjet to get good deals. You can also get deals to some European destinations through jet2.

When searching for deals, seems to come up with some of the best prices.

For transatlantic journeys I mostly use Virgin as I like them and always book through their own website. And I have also noticed that Zoom airlines have excellent deals for popular destinations eg. London to New York and many places in Canada.


I am going Taiwan in the end of June. Just wondering if anyone can suggest the best time to purchase my ticket… Now v.s June!

Ecce: If you’re based in Canada, I found it cheaper to buy from a US travel agent (and I flew out of Buffalo) when I went to Taiwan years ago.

Have fun, its a great country! Are you going to teach English?

You can actually go through a Canadian Home Based Travel Agent to book with US suppliers. No need to find an American Travel Agent when there is someone at your back door that can help.

The Home Based Travel Industry is mainly American Based with International Agents. All their agents are therefore tied to booking through US suppliers unless the company has finished the complicated process of setting up shop in Canada.

Yes, if you want deals cross the border!

Not sure if we are allowed to post our links, but here is how to reach our home based travel business if you need help with US supliers.


Safe travels.

You could also try checking out – it’s one of the largest independent sites for Canadian travelers / backpackers / and expats.

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