The Canadian dollar is in freefall, dropping below 70 cents the other day for the first time in more than a decade.It’s great for the Canadian tourism industry, but not so wonderful for snowbirds who’re looking for greener pastures in winter. Luckily, there are ways to soften the blow. Here are some tips from a guy who’s been a full-time travel writer for the better part of 10 years and has spent a good many nights on the road in his lifetime.
1. STAY HOME: I don’t mean build a man (or woman) cave in your basement and pry that the Groundhog doesn’t predict a long winter. I mean vacation here in Canada. If you’re in Toronto, try a trip to Niagara Falls, where they have an Icewine Festival coming up over the next three weekends. Or take the kids to the Great Wolf Lodge, just off Highway 401, to enjoy the indoor (thankfully) water slides and swimming pools. There’s now an outlet mall next door, as well. If you don’t mind the cold, the Montreal Fete de Neiges (snow festival) runs weekends from Jan. 16 to Feb. 7. And don’t forget Carnival, the granddaddy of all winter festivals, in Quebec City. Calgary’s business travel market is hurting badly, so you’ll find some pretty good deals. They’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of Whistler this year, and I was just out there to enjoy the skiing. I hadn’t been on skis in years and had never tried skiing in western Canada, but it was positively glorious. They’ve got TONS of fresh snow and powder, and they take the Canadian dollar at par out in B.C. so that’s good. Vancouver just launched its latest fabulous Dine Out Festival, which is a great way to enjoy fine restaurants such as Ancora. Sooke, a half hour west of Victoria, is usually drier still. It’s supposed to be 8 or 9 degrees Celsius this week; damn near tropical when compared to the icy blast in southern Ontario yesterday.
2. LOOK FOR DEALS: Travelzoo Canada has great deals for Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and sunny spots that would make a great getaway. If you’re bound and determined to visit a particular city in, say, Florida, try using Air BnB to save on accommodations. Or get a group and rent a villa or a private home. I read about something in the Toronto Star today that’s called the Winston Club, which promises to match up folks who don’t mind sharing a room (with separate beds) in order to afford a luxury hotel. Myrtle Beach South Carolina isn’t exactly hot hot hot this time of year, but you won’t get snow and you can find very good deals for Canadians as part of their CanAm Days program. Burning desire for a trip to Italy? Starwood Hotels (Westin, Sheraton, W Hotels and more) is offering some of their Italian properties for 20 per cent off. If you’re a member of the Starwood Preferred Guest program, which is free to join, you’ll save another 10 per cent. If you love New York City, winter is a good time to visit. The city’s restaurant week starts Jan. 18 and offers three-course dinners for $38 and lunches for $25 at some of the Big Apple’s best dining spots. If you love Hawaii, try waiting until April/May when most of the snowbirds have gone home, or even September. I rented a car for 10 days on Maui last September for less than $200 Cdn. Try a condo or hotel a block off the beach or, again, rent a large unit for you and a group of friends. Honolulu has very good values and is a fantastic city for food and beaches.3. TRAVEL OUTSIDE THE BOX: If you insist on visiting Florida, try a lesser-known city such as lovely Delray Beach instead of busy Miami. Or aim for the Florida panhandle, where you’ll find excellent deals in Panama City Beach and other towns with great beaches. It’s not a cheap destination, and flights are expensive, but the New Zealand dollar is faring even worse than ours and is now at 64 cents US. That means we actually gain on the transaction and can save a bit of cash in great cities like Auckland and Wellington, with its strong coffee culture.
4. EUROPE BARGAINS I noticed the other day that SATA airlines was running deals from Toronto to Lisbon for about $600. You can get a nice hotel in Lisbon for $100 a night and a good meal at a restaurant for $10 (and good wine for $5). The Azores are stunningly beautiful and make another great Portugal option.
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5. BET ON ASIA You can find terrific deals all year long throughout southeast Asia. I was on Expedia last night and found a room at the Hilton Hotel in Hanoi for $80 Cdn and a room at the fashionable Movenpick Hotel for $120. It’s a lovely and fascinating city with great food. Sure, it costs a lot to get there but with prices like that you can make it up pretty quickly.