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Photo by Adriana Sgabellone

Travelling as a student can seem impossible. With limited free time and cash, warm sun and wide beaches may not be doable anytime soon. But sometimes the best part of travelling is the feeling of being a tourist, and it’s a feeling that doesn’t depend on distance travelled or dollars spent. Here are three affordable options to live like a tourist for a few days.

Staycation in Ottawa

You don’t always have to go far to live like a tourist. Treat yourself to a nice staycation right here in town. Rediscover your city, give your bus pass a workout, and enjoy what your environment has to offer. There are a ton of things happening in Ottawa during the winter that people travel from far and wide to see.

When you spend the majority of your time on campus, you can forget that we actually live in the nation’s capital with lots of must-see attractions for any Canadian. Go take a tour of the Parliament Buildings and walk up the Peace Tower. Head over to New Edinburgh to see Rideau Hall, the home of our governor general. Take a guided tour of the Supreme Court of Canada, and get familiar with Canada’s highest court.

Take some time to appreciate winter: skate on the canal, the world’s longest skating rink and a UNESCO World Heritage site; take in the beauty of the ice sculptures at Winterlude; and most importantly, get a Beavertail.

That’s not even to mention the museums. Ottawa is home to the Canadian War Museum, the Canadian Museum of History (in Gatineau), the National Art Gallery, and the Canadian Museum of Nature. Each one is affordable and worth checking out, and they’re even free Thursday evenings after 5:30 p.m.

For some offbeat adventure, take the bus to Chinatown for some pho, really cool independent coffee shops, and eclectic markets; or head down to Old Ottawa South, catch a film at the Mayfair Theatre, then walk across the street to House of Targ for some beer, perogies, and arcade games.


Montreal is such a different city from Ottawa, it’s amazing they’re only 200 kilometres apart. Heading to Montreal for a few days is a great way to get out of the city for a bit and travel a short distance to somewhere that feels like it could be a European city. 

As long as you book your tickets a month in advance, the Greyhound bus will cost you around $35 round trip. You can stay in Montreal’s Hostel International, located downtown, close to Concordia and McGill, for $15 per night for a bed in a dorm. That leaves a lot of cash for going out and sightseeing.  

Montreal definitely has the best nightlife. Walk down St-Laurent, St-Denis, or Ste-Catherine, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a great night.

When you get hungry, invest in a bag of bagels from any number of bakeries, such as Dad’s, St-Viateaur, or Fairmont, for a great breakfast food and/or alcohol absorbent. Schwartz’s smoked meat is a must, as is poutine from literally anywhere. Want to get some real Montreal grub? Check out Chalet Bar-B-Q Rôtisserie, where the only thing on the menu is chicken and fries.  

During the day, Montreal has some incredibly beautiful attractions. Check out the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal, Notre-Dame Basilica, and the Biodome for some cultural sightseeing. Walk around Old Montreal and the McGill University campus for exceptional architecture. Keep your eyes open and you’re bound to find an adventure.

New York City

If you’ve somehow managed to save up a grand to treat yourself to a bit of a grander trip, head down to New York City. If you book now, you can get a round trip Greyhound ticket for $150 plus tax. 

If you want to hit up all the usual tourist attractions, invest in the New York Pass. It gives you access to 80 of the city’s most popular destinations, including the Empire State Building, the Botanical Gardens, NBC Studio tour, museums, and bike tours, to name a few. For a five-day pass, it’ll cost you $219 with the hop-on-hop-off bus tours, or $180 without.

Finding somewhere to sleep is what really kicks you in the wallet. A bed in a hostel dorm, if you’re lucky, runs between $45 and $75 a night. If you’re travelling with a few friends, see if you can rent someone’s apartment for the week on Airbnb. That way you have a kitchen and can split the cost of a room. 

This leaves you about $300 for food and other expenses. Eat street food, buy a dozen bagels, and remember they still sell Mr. Noodles in America.