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Smart spending tips for taking an American vacation on Canadian dollars

CBC logo CBC 2015-12-15

It might not be a good year to be a snowbird. The loonie has sunk to an 11 and-a-half year low against the American dollar. That's going to make a winter vacation down south a lot more expensive. But there are ways to make the trip more affordable.

The CBC's Conrad Collaco spoke with Calgary travel writer Jody Robbins. She writes the blog Travels With Baggage. Robbins has some tips for people who want to save money and still have that American vacation. Listen to the full interview with Robbins by clicking or tapping on the image at the top of this page or read an edited and abridged transcript below.

Jody Robbins, travel writer 

Q. Now, before you leave the house what should you be doing to keep your U.S. expenses as low as possible?

Three tips. The first is that this is a fantastic time to cash in those air miles or Aeroplan points. You can use those for flights, accommodations and even attractions like museums and dining at restaurants. If you are going to pay for it on your own I recommend using a meta-site like Trivago or Kayak. They compile rates from around the web giving you a comprehensive listing and an excellent choice. Also, check with the tourism websites and local bloggers. They will have the most up to date information on local deals, festivals and attractions.

For example, in B.C. the Dine Out Vancouver festival takes place in early January. If you booked in for that you'll see cost savings. There's always so much in our own back yard that we haven't even tapped yet. 

Q. Once you get to your destination. What can you do there to save money?

Eating out costs add up quickly and people often don't budget for it. If you eat out for lunch at a restaurant instead of dinner you'll get a very similar meal at a lower cost. Plus, you can take leftovers and have them for supper. When you are at the hotel check with them to see if they have partnered with any local attractions. 

The Chelsea Hotel in Toronto has partnered with over 20 city attractions and the savings can be up to 50 percent. Also, get back to local transportation. In most cases it's safe and reliable.

Q. What are some cheaper alternatives for a family winter getaway?

Think about not just booking into your traditional hotel. You can book condos or boats or tents. That's easier on the wallet. Many Canadians also forget our winters are very intriguing to people around the world. So if you are a home owner in Canada you can swap that with another homeowner in another country. There are a lot of home exchange site.

Another option is the Alpine Club of Canada. They have the largest network of back-country huts in North America. It might take extra effort to get there but they hover about $25 a night and are set in some of Canada's most scenic spots.

Q. The dollar might not be the only concern Canadians have about travelling to the U.S.. Are you seeing more Canadians reluctant to travel south because of gun violence or political tensions?

I don't have statistics on that. I do think people are getting weary of this news. But this is the world we live in. Anything can happen anywhere at any time. I'm not noticing it to the U.S. but in Calgary, where I am located, I have noticed people are reconsidering travel to Europe. Some schools have cut their international trips. It's a sad reality. Hopefully that policy changes. It definitely is affecting travel plans.

Q. The low dollar will lead many families to spend their money in Canada – where the loonie is accepted at par. What advice do you have for people who want to save money on a vacation closer to home?

Travel at off-peak times. You'll get better deals mid-week. Try to travel when kids are in school if you can. Realize that when you choose to stay in Canada you are already saving 30 percent. And, if you drive instead of fly you'll save even more in your transportation costs. You can pocket those savings or go bigger closer to home. Also, embrace the winter. There's lots to do in Canada. Take advantage of a bucket list item in Canada. We have winter festivals popping up from coast to coast. There are Nordic spas in most provinces. Cat skiing is a cheaper alternative to heli-skiing and you can still avoid the crowds and get a different perspective on the mountain.

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