By SARAH VEENSTRA
Picture this: it’s Friday night. Twinkling lights brighten the ebony sky. It’s a brisk evening but the warmth steaming from the crepe keeps the fingertips warm, while the bittersweet taste of the Grand Marnier and sugar that fills the pastry warms the rest of you.
The structure before you twinkles. It’s a scene that you swore you’d only see in movies. Bienvenu à Paris… Wait – you’re on a student budget?
With essays, exams, work, class and social engagements, it’s no wonder students are feeling stressed. Yet, just because students are on a beer budget, doesn’t mean there’s not a budget-friendly way to catch a little R&R this Reading Week.
“First of all, you’ve got to determine what you want to do and that doesn’t matter whether your budget is $600 or $5,000,” said Scott Allen, a certified travel counsellor for Frederick Travel in Kitchener. “After you determine your budget and your needs, make a plan. What I’ve always done with my clients is take $100 from their budget. This offers them a buffer for hidden expenses and prevents them from incurring unnecessary debt.”
Determining your budget and what you want to do will narrow your focus. This will help determine your flexibility. Often the more flexible you are, the more cost-effective your vacation Allen said.
“If you’re planning on going to a major city, booking last-minute vacations aren’t always the cheaper route,” he said. “When you look at any travel, and I mean any travel, anywhere, the most expensive trips and the least expensive trips always book up first. What you’re left with is the mid-range.”
Allen added that while booking last minute in a big city might not save any pennies, booking in a larger city like Toronto, the home of 400 hotels, may be more cost- effective than somewhere like Kitchener, which may only have 40 hotels at most.
“So, if you’re talking about a large city, you’ll have more selection. However, if you’re looking at activity-based holidays, a place like Blue Mountain where you can do some cross-country or downhill skiing might be a great choice,” said Allen.
Blue Mountain’s five-star spa, amenities and winter sports may not be budget-friendly for a whole week, but could be for a couple of nights.
Skis, snowboards and day passes can run as high as $160 a day but the mountain offers plenty more.
“If skiing’s not your thing, snowshoes can be rented to follow a few of the local trails,” said Tara Lovell, public relations manager for Blue Mountain Resort. “There’s lots of different restaurants from burgers to fine dining, depending on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for the best viewpoint from an après ski perspective, Jojo’s at the Blue Mountain Inn is the original après spot to keep your boots on and have a drink.”
Walk through the shops in the village or enjoy the nightlife. Twist, a martini bar and wine lounge, is the town’s hot spot.
“There’s also a new bar called Smash in the Village,” said Lovell. “It’s a Ping Pong bar and it’s been quite popular.”
If you don’t want to empty your wallet but really want to relax at the spa, try the Gan-Ban volcanic rock therapy at Iwa Spa for $30.
“It’s so warm and relaxing,” Lovell said. “They also offer hot yoga classes in the room. There’s also a tube park, a skating rink and the Runner Mountain Coaster operates all year-round. If you’re looking to get outside, we’ll get you outside.”
While most Canadians may be flying south this winter, Reading Week can be one of the most costly times to opt for an all-inclusive. However, if sun is the only option, Cuba is the most cost-effective country for Canadians – fact Allen insists won’t last for much longer.
“Cuba (is the cheapest) followed by Dominican Republic and then Mexico,” Allen said. “But as Cuba opens itself up to the U.S. market, that will change in the next two years. That demand will increase costs.”
Heading anywhere below the border at the present time might not be the most ideal for those looking to save a few dollars on travel costs.
“Let’s be honest, anyone heading into the U.S. right now is doing so at a 40 per cent premium,” said Allen. “So, if you’re thinking of a shopping trip, remember that extra 40 cents on the dollar.”
Instead, Allen offers the solution of a “staycation,” a vacation that often stays within a driving distance of between five and six hours from home.
“If you feel like a city tour, Ottawa is an excellent choice,” said Allen. “Take the train down, spend a couple of nights, see the Parliament buildings and some museums. It could be a great option. Another is Montreal. Just an hour outside of Ottawa.”
Toronto, Niagara Falls, Stratford, Niagara on the Lake and Elora were also suggestions made for a budget-friendly “staycation.”
“There’s theatres, shops, entertainment, restaurants and tours everywhere,” Allen said. “If you are set, however, on something a little more exotic, Travel Cuts is the best one around.”
Travel Cuts, a travel website strictly for students, offers price cuts and deals that not even travel agents have access to.
“Best recommendation I can make is plan in advance,” said Allen. “And do your research.”
Even though students may lack a big budget for travel, it doesn’t mean they can’t have an enjoyable and relaxing Reading Week no matter what adventure is chosen.
Besides, Paris will always be there.