Canada Trip Part 6: Trip Wrap Up
If you’re following along on our summer trip to Canada, check out the first five posts in the series:
- Part 1 – From Raleigh to Philadelphia
- Part 2 – A few days in New York City
- Part 3 – Settling into our apartment in Montreal
- Part 4 – Sights of Montreal
- Part 5 – Quebec City, Canada
Quebec City was as far as we made it on our trip. We decided to call it quits, pack up, and go home after we found out our apartment for the week in Quebec City was really, really, really dirty. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy our limited time in Quebec City. It’s a cool place with lots to see. We, as a family, were travel weary.
We were worn out. We set out on what was supposed to be a five week trip with dual goals of sightseeing and relaxation. We visited all kinds of places and saw most of the things on our wish list. But that took a toll on our efforts to relax.
Spending at least a week in one place is a great way to relax. But moving to a new apartment is a big chore when you have two adults packing up stuff for two adults and three kids. Then when you arrive at a new apartment that requires hours of cleaning, it breaks your spirit of adventure. We missed out on visiting Ottawa and Toronto, but maybe that will be a different trip in the future.
Was the entire trip worth it? YES! Was it fun? YES! Was it exhausting at times? YES! Do we regret going on the trip? NO! Were we glad to be back home? YES!
Our Trip Budget
While planning what was supposed to be a five week road trip to Canada, we budgeted $4,266 for the whole trip. We ended up cutting the trip in half from 34 days to 17 days. We came in well under budget at $1,316 for the 17 day trip. We budgeted $125 per day initially, and ended up spending only $77 per day.
Our early retirement budget has $5,300 set aside for vacations each year. If we can manage future vacations at $77 per day, that means we can afford about ten weeks of vacationing each year! And we visited somewhat high cost of living areas in the northeastern US and Canada. We also want to visit lower cost areas in Central America, Mexico, and Asia, so the main constraint on travel for us will be the kids’ ten weeks of summer vacation and not necessarily cost.
|Category||Notes||Projected cost||Actual cost|
|Restaurant Meals||$19/day - lots of take out; a few restaurant meals||1200||323|
|Groceries||$12/day - we cooked a lot at home||600||212|
|Gas||2,300 miles @ $0.135/mile||600||311|
|Parking||~$10/day when we paid for parking||350||86|
|Tolls||good guess to start with!||100||92|
|Transit||we rarely took transit||250||36|
|Four Points by Sheraton (Philly)||4 nights, 16,000 SPG points||0||0|
|NYC Hotel||2 nts, incl. $50 off coupon @ Expedia||192||192|
|AirBnB Apartment - Montreal||8 nights||471||471|
|AirBnB Apartment - Quebec City||2 nights (cancelled last 6 nights and received full refund for entire stay)||446||0|
|AirBnB Apartment - Ottawa||$38 cancellation fee withheld from refund||357||38|
|Barclay Arrival Plus bonus||$500 travel bonus for signing up||-500||-500|
|Entertainment/Admission Fees||so much awesome stuff was free||200||49|
|Souvenirs||no thanks; our house is full already||0||0|
|TOTAL TRIP BUDGET||17 days at $77/day (vs. planned 34 days at $125/day)||$4,266||$1,316|
The main areas where we came in significantly under budget were restaurant meals, gas, parking, and transit. We cooked at our apartment more often than expected. We found cheap or free parking in most places. And we rarely took transit since we had the car with us on this trip. Gas and parking is often cheaper than transit if you have five people traveling together.
I used Personal Capital (review here) to keep track of all our expenses while we were traveling. Instead of worrying about keeping all the receipts from each day’s expenditures, I let everything flow automatically into Personal Capital where I can review and query the data when it’s more convenient. Since we tracked expenses in great detail on this trip, we can budget better for future trips.
What we learned on the trip
This was our first big road trip as a family. I think the mix of hotels and apartments was good. Hotels are easy for a couple of nights (not much to unpack) and apartment rentals are better for stays of a week or more since you do have to spend more time getting settled in and unpacking.
On our next trip, we will focus on “slow travel” more by planning apartment stays of 10 to 14 days and plan on visiting fewer cities. That way we can schedule in more “do nothing” days where we don’t do any sightseeing and we have plenty of time to relax, wander around the neighborhood where we are staying, and sit by the pool all day (if that’s what we want to do). Montreal seems like a good place to spend a few weeks during the summer given their mild weather at that time of year.
AirBnB is still a good tool to find apartments that fit your needs, in spite of the one negative experience we had. We will definitely see what apartments or houses are available wherever we go next. Since we were traveling with our family, the extra space in an apartment made life a lot more enjoyable because we could spread out in different areas of the abode. In a hotel we felt like we were bumping into each other all the time.
We saved a ton of money by shopping at the grocery store and cooking our own meals. We were able to shop at local grocery stores and farmer’s markets and make some wonderful meals for a fraction of the cost of restaurant meals.
The only thing we missed was a dishwasher, since it sometimes took 30 minutes to wash all the dishes for the day versus 5-10 minutes loading the dishwasher at home. I might add “dishwasher” to the search criteria for future apartment rentals if we plan on cooking at home.
We went for the cheaper apartments on this trip, and found a great apartment that way. We also found a bad apartment. We might aim for a slightly more expensive apartment than the absolute cheapest we can find that fits our minimum criteria. Paying $600 instead of $450, for example, for a weekly rental would only cost an extra $20 per day but might mean a much nicer place, more room, more amenities, or better location.
Driving to Canada from North Carolina was a good choice overall. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a loooong drive. But having the convenience of a car was nice. We didn’t need to wait for taxis and didn’t have to rely exclusively on public transit. We also managed to make a few stops in Washington DC, Philadelphia, and New York City along the way that wouldn’t have been possible if we flew directly to Montreal.
Driving also saved us a significant amount of money compared to flying. We spent less on gas and even including the $600 we spent on a new set of tires, we still came out ahead versus flying which would have been $1,500+ for the five of us. Each day we were out sightseeing, we only spent a few dollars on gas and occasionally $10-15 on parking instead of $20-40 on transit and taxis. The car also allowed us to run quick errands effortlessly.
We were traveling with our kids (age 2, 7, and 9), so driving made life easier, too. After a long day of sightseeing, we jumped in the car (sometimes after I spent 15-20 minutes walking back to the car) and drove back home relatively quickly. Sometimes we decided to tour around by car and not even get out. Though not ideal, that’s a better choice than having a two year old screaming all morning if he decides he doesn’t like sightseeing.
As far as traveling with kids goes, I’d suggest building in plenty of down time. I don’t mean visiting lots of kids museums, theme parks, water parks, and ice cream shops. I mean unscheduled play time. Visit the local swimming pool or library. Spend the day at a local park and enjoy a picnic. Find a quiet place to walk in the woods. Let them watch local television for a few hours.
On this trip, we saved a ton of money by using some basic travel hacking strategies.
For stays in hotels, I used my Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points when I found a good redemption option. We stayed twice in Philadelphia (a total of four nights) on the way to and from Canada in a nice Four Points by Sheraton hotel for 4,000 points per night (16,000 points total). This hotel is a Category 2 redemption, which tend to be great values. We saved at least $500-600 compared to paying cash for the same hotel.
We got most of our SPG hotel points by signing up for the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card. That card offers 25,000 to 30,000 bonus points when you sign up for a new card (with no annual fee the first year). I signed up for one and Mrs. Root of Good signed up for one, so we each received 30,000 points (which can be combined into one account). They also have Starwood Preferred Guest business cards where you can get another 25,000 to 30,000 points if you have any kind of business. Check out my Credit Cards page for more info on the SPG cards and other good cards with sign up bonuses.
60,000 points translates to at least 15 free nights in a hotel, and probably closer to 20 nights if we stay on weekends or in Category 1 hotels that offer cheaper redemption options.
For the AirBnB reservations, we received $25 off the first reservation by using someone’s referral link. You can use my referral link to save yourself $25 off any AirBnB reservation while saving hundreds more compared to staying in a hotel.
We signed up for a Barclay’s Arrival Plus Card that offers over $400 worth of free travel credits you can redeem on any travel purchase. We simply paid for our AirBnB apartments, then requested statement credits totaling $500 (the $400 bonus plus 10% bonus points after each redemption plus $60 more credit for meeting the $3,000 spending requirement for the bonus). $500 in travel credits meant our eight night apartment rental in Montreal was completely free!
We cut the trip costs in half by signing up for a couple of credit cards and using a couple of discounts. Or looked at another way, half price trips mean we can travel twice as much each year!