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Family Travel Ink
Budget: Family Travel Tips for Roaming on a Budget
“Well, it must be nice to be rich,” shouted a neighbour as she watched us piling into an airport taxi for yet another escape from home. We were running late so I didn’t stop to argue. But we are definitely not a champagne and caviar family. We live in an old un-renovated house with few closets and temperamental plumbing. When it comes to travel, we hunt out bargains so that we can roam the globe without cashing in the college fund. Here are a few ideas for this summer’s adventures:
Hostelling International These friendly “youth hostel” accommodations aren’t just for roaming backpackers anymore. Many HI hostels come with family rooms and a warm family atmosphere. A big plus is that all Canadian hostels offer TV lounges, Internet access, games rooms with pool tables or video games, laundry facilities and quite often a café or cafeteria. Many offer airport shuttle services and local tours. Once you’ve become International Hostelling members ($35 for adults, kids 17 and under are free), you can pick from dozens of choices including a hostel with family facilities in Niagara Falls, a cabin at Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park (closer to the Falls than any motel or hotel) and outside Vancouver, a former army barracks with gleaming floors just feet from the Pacific Ocean. Rates vary (starting at $18 per person; some offer half price for under 12s and free beds to under 6s) so check with www.hihostels.ca. To become members or to receive a free directory, call Hostelling International, 1-877-848-8737.
Try a Home Swap No payment for accommodation if you’re swapping homes with another family. Pay a registration fee and then you’re free to contact members in countries around the world including Canada. You can often swap with families who have kids the same ages as yours. You’ll arrive to find bikes and toys that are age-appropriate. Some families also exchange cars and pets so you’ll avoid transportation or pet-sitter costs. Check out HomeLink International Canada in Vancouver (604-987-3262 or www.homelink.ca) or Intervac in Calgary (403-284-3747 or www.intervac.com) for lists of possibilities.
If you really can’t fathom life in a tent with three children under five, opt for some of the alternative park accommodations. In Ontario and Quebec, some parks such as McGregor Point Park or the Pinery on the beautiful Lake Huron shore rent a six-sided canvas yurt with bunk beds and a wooden floor (for about $55 a night or $350 per week). Algonquin Park offers ranger’s cabins. Call 1-888-ONT-PARK (668-7275 or visit www.ontarioparks.com. Even big cities have campgrounds within driving distance so you can see the sights and still sleep by a lake. Check with local tourist boards.
Take the Train : This summer, between May 25 and August 31, VIA Rail is offering a “Kids Travel Free” program (one child for every adult) in economy class across Canada. Kids two to 11 must travel with an adult 18 years of age or over. VIA also hands out “kiddie packs” with colouring books and offers reserve-ahead four-seater tables where you can play cards or games. Call 416-366-8411 or 1-888-VIA-RAIL for more information.
Students of any age with an International Student card get 40 percent off their fares as well as adults who book ahead. Some Canadian routes offer special cars to carry canoes, bicycles, and other outdoor equipment (for a small fee). Visit the train adventure website www.viarail.ca/adventures where you’ll also find rail adventure stories, weather reports and contests.
City Tours We’ve had the most entertaining (and most eye-opening) tours on local public transportation. For under a dollar often, you’ll be able to ride around town for hours. Ask the tourist offices for the most scenic routes, or the routes where you can stop off with the kids to visit music stores, toy stores, or attractions. On the #506 Streetcar in Toronto for example, you’ll travel the world from Little India in the east end to Little Italy in the west end and end up with a romp in High Park. Hop a local ferry to Granville Island in Vancouver or take the Splash Dash waterbus across the Assiniboine River in Winnipeg for a sightseeing “cruise.”
Free Museum Days Check with local tourism offices about free admission times or discounted days at top tourist attractions. In Ottawa, for instance, the National Gallery of Canada, with excellent family programs (everyday children’s activities this summer in connection with the Tom Thomson exhibit) charges no admission. The Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto and the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal ask for donations only. My kids were always proud to drop in a few of their own nickels.
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