Budget Travel: Toronto


With a metro area of more than 8 million people, Toronto is one of North America’s largest cities. It is the economic and cultural center of Canada and is by far the country’s most international city. Even when compared to New York and LA, it is a culturally diverse place. Nearly half of Toronto’s residents were born outside of Canada. Because all these different cultures have been absorbed into one place, Toronto is unlike anywhere else.

It is also a destination for budget travelers who want an urban vacation but do not want to deal with New York or LA prices.

Getting in

It is easy to get to Toronto by car. Highways 404, 401, 400 and 427 converge on the city. Driving is also advantageous if you plan to explore the outlying areas of this spread out metropolis.

Pearson Int’l Airport hosts a majority of the flights from the US. You might be able to hook into a cheap Air Canada flight, although it is often a better investment to fly into Buffalo and then take a bus to Toronto. Megabus runs regular service between NYC and Toronto via Buffalo. Greyhound also runs the route, as well as connecting Toronto with Chicago and Detroit.
Getting around

The subway is the way to go. Weekly passes cost $32, while daily passes are $9. Buses and street cars are also reliable, but not during high traffic times, when they, like cars, get caught in the rush. Public transit is necessary downtown and in high traffic areas, but if you plan to explore further, a car is the best option as taxis are not cheap.

Where to stay

Global Village Backpackers and the downtown Hostelling International are both good bets for those who travel light and want to keep their hotel fees light as well. Spartan accommodations are the name of the game at both these venues, but if you don’t care about noise and luxury, you’ll be good. Another hostel is Kensington Castle. It offers much more personality than the previously mentioned pair, but the accommodations are pretty much the same. You will be within walking distance of Kensington Market and downtown Toronto.

There are some good two-star inns right downtown. The Bond Place Hotel is definitely a good value as is the Best Western Primrose.

Being a large city, there are plenty of mid-range chain hotels. Holiday Inn Express and Best Western usually offer decent value for the price.

What to see

Toronto Music Garden is designed by famed cellist Yo-yo Ma. It is meant to represent Bach’s First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello. It is a haven of green in the center of the city (and admission is free).

The CN Tower
is one of Canada’s iconic landmarks. It is one of the seven modern wonders of the world. Standing at 1,815.39 ft, it is the tallest free-standing structure in the Americas.

Central Toronto is also home to the Wednesday night art crawl. Unlike some cities, where art galleries open their doors to the public once a month, it is a weekly occurrence in Toronto.

Take the ferry to Toronto Island Park. There are several miles of bike trails and the shoreline offers superb views of the city skyline. Also, there is Hanlan’s Point Beach, where you don’t even have to own a swimsuit to take a dip in the lake. That’s right: clothing optional.

The Kensington neighborhood is easily accessible by public transit as it is directly adjacent to Downtown. This neighborhood offers a rather bohemian vibe. It is full of bistros and cafes serving good food for good value. There are also plenty of thrift stores, if you are looking for a bargain but weren’t able to find anything Downtown. Kensington Market offers interesting and eclectic shopping and eating options. Russian bakers, Vietnamese food stalls and vintage clothing booths sit side by side.

Toronto’s Chinatown is one of North America’s biggest. More of a pan-East Asian town, there are plenty of eating opportunities and, though most of the shops are aimed at Asian clientele, anyone can find good deals by simply wandering down the narrow market aisles.

There are beaches all along the strip of land where Toronto and Lake Ontario meet. Though a majority of the year brings cold temps and, therefore no swimming, the summer means that many locals are out taking advantage of the sun and warm weather. The lake is not the best place to swim however, so swim only in marked areas to avoid currents. Authorities test water for pollutants daily in swimming areas.

The Toronto Zoo is definitely impressive. A $20 admission might seem expensive, but there is enough to keep you busy for an entire day. This is a solid investment if you have kids.

Budget Travel: Minneapolis, Minnesota


Minneapolis. What comes to mind? Prince’s purple jumpsuit, Francis McDormand’s accent in the movie Fargo, the Mall of America and six months of winter.

Perhaps the larger of the Twin Cities (Saint Paul being the smaller) is not on the tourist map, but it often gets props for being a nice place to live. (Forbes called it most affordable city to live well. The Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth was rated the best place to live by CNNMoney).

So it’s a fine place to live. But why visit?

First, there is the food…then the live music, the art, the coffee shops, and, of course, the fact that Minneapolis is second only the New York in number of theater seats per capita.

Bring your coat (and if your ears are delicate, a hat as well) during the winter, but don’t expect ice fishing weather from April to October. That is when the city’s lakes, trails, and outdoor events make it a budget traveler’s dream destination.


Get In
It will soon be cheaper to fly to Minneapolis. Southwest will be launching flights to and from Chicago Midway in March. From Chicago, you can get a connection to any city in the US that Southwest flies. That will drive down airfares to MSP, once a stronghold of Northwest. Names like Megabus, Greyhound and Amtrak are also players in the transit game. Minneapolis sits in the cross-hair made by Interstates 35 and 94. It is reachable by car in a day from virtually anywhere in the Midwest.

Getting Around
The bus and train system is better than average for a mid-sized city, but still far from perfect. This is a driving city, especially if you want to take advantage of outdoor activities. Summer is bicycling weather and most of the urban destinations are within pedaling distance of one another. Buses and the new light rail system both allow bikers to bring their wheels on board.

What to do
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is free every day and often holds special events and exhibits. The nationally famous Walker Art Museum has free admission on the evening of the first Thursday of every month (with plenty of events and activities on offer). The adjacent sculpture garden is open year round, but is mainly a summertime attraction. The Como Zoo (actually in Saint Paul) does not charge for entry and is known for its polar bears and penguin exhibit. It is also free to peruse the art galleries in the growing hipster hot-spot of Northeast Minneapolis (Nordeast).

Theater prices can vary greatly. The Orpheum and Guthrie put on world-class stage productions, but tickets are highly priced unless you luck out in the rush line. There are plenty of other professional theaters and live music venues. These vary in size from a few thousand to a few seats. City Pages (print version is free at pretty much every restaurant, coffee shop and bar in the city) has a complete list of weekly events plus a collection of liberal editorial rants and naughty adverts in back. There is no better source for what happening and what’s cheap each week.

What to do (summer)
An evening stroll around Lake Harriet or Lake Calhoun, capped by a stop at one of the neighborhood bars or cafés in the area, is a pleasant (and cheap) way to spend a few hours. If you are on the prowl, such a trek can easily be seen as a chance to check out some attractive joggers. If that’s too low-brow, there’s the Shakespeare in the Park series during the summer and $2 movies at the historic Riverview Theater near the Mississippi River Road.

Where to Eat
Ethnic eateries line University Ave in St. Paul (from the State Capital to Snelling). These offer a filling, good meal for under 10 dollars. There is a similar strip in Minneapolis on Nicollet Ave. Sandwich shops, bistros, and cafes offer cheap fare throughout South Minneapolis and near the University of Minnesota.

Where to Drink
Nordeast is one of those hip artsy neighborhoods. Though its desirability is growing, there are still plenty of spots catering to the “I’m hip and creative but rather poor” crowd. Lots of these have live music or events on the weekend evenings (and good people watching every night of the week). If you are looking for some fun of the beer-in-a-pitcher variety, virtually any venue on or near the U of M campus will do.

Minneapolis offers a genuinely laid back trip. Cold weather or warm, there is plenty going on. And no, not everyone talks like Francis McDormand in Fargo.

More Budget Destinations on Gadling

Chaos as immigration computers crash at Taiwan airport

A computer crash at Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport caused a major headache on Monday. The computer system used by the National Immigration Agency (NIA) failed, forcing immigration agents to get back to basics, taking down people’s information by hand. Needless to say, lines became quite long, and frustrated expressions of passengers were commonplace. Add to that the fact that yesterday was an exceptionally busy travel day as people headed home after their holiday vacations.

Approximately 20,000 people left the country during the computer blackout. NIA had to wait until the system came back online to see if anyone had entered or exited the country illegally. The agency recently terminated its contract with the company that performed computer maintenance tasks. A new company began working on the system only last week.

According to airport officials, no one missed an outgoing flight as a result of the system’s crash. However, the incident comes of the heels of a baggage mishaps a day earlier. People on a dozen flights were forced to leave without their checked baggage after a conveyor belt broke down for almost two hours.

[Related]

Drunk man forces Moscow-Atlanta flight to divert to Canada

Yesterday, a Delta Airlines flight from Moscow to Atlanta had to make an unexpected stop in Newfoundland after the pilot decided that an unruly passenger had to be removed from the plane. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were waiting at the gate in the town of Gander. They immediately took the man into custody.

Few details about his behavior were given, but he was said to be drunk, aggressive, and unruly. However, the man did not injure any other passengers. The flight arrived in Atlanta about 4 hours late. There were more than 200 people on board.

Canadian authorities are expected to file charges against the man, who is still being held by the Mounties. His identity has not yet been released. A passenger told an Atlanta newspaper that he noticed an empty bottle of Chivas (the 1.5 liter variety) next to the man’s seat. Other passengers said that the man had also taken prescription medication along with the alcohol.


These women weren’t drunk — but they did cause a stir in the air. Click the pics to find out what they did.


In Las Vegas, sin and forgiveness are side by side

It might be called Sin City, but that doesn’t mean that it is a complete place of moral decay (sorry). There are churches of the Catholic denomination located right on the Las Vegas Strip. The most noticeable one is Guardian Angel Cathedral, which located next to the newest of the Wynn casinos. It is actually not preaching fire and brimstone to the tourists who descend upon the city throughout the year. Its main goal is to serve the legions of casino employees, nearly 40% of whom claim to be Roman Catholic. Of course, that probably doesn’t discourage a few down-on-their-luck craps players from lighting a votive candle for good luck.

Las Vegas development guru Steve Wynn offered to construct a new church in return for turning the land where the old one sat into a parking garage for his new project. Church leaders decided not to take Wynn up on his offer, saying that the current church had already been blessed and therefore couldn’t be destroyed. So even in Sin City, you can still get holy, if you want.

[via LA Times]