Getting Our Ball Bearings (maps and stuff)
First off, let’s put some things in perspective here. Kelsey and I live in Philadelphia. Montreal is alllll the way up in Canada, right? Sort of. Montreal is in Canada – true. But it’s really just across the border, and that border is just the top line of New York State, which puts Philadelphia just 451 miles from Montreal. This means that if you live in almost any other Northeastern State – New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, Maine, etc. – Montreal is even closer.
Google Maps calculates the driving time from Philadelphia to Montreal as 7 hours and 20 minutes. Factor in a few stops for food, fuel, bladder relief, etc., and it’s really more like 8 hours. Folks, let me tell you – an 8 hour drive is no biggie. In fact, the road trip is a blast! Open country highways and beautiful mountain vistas make the workday long drive go by in a breeze. Especially when you think of it this way: Leave the house at 8am and arrive in a French-speaking, uber-chic, european-esque city by 4pm. Not bad, right? Turns out North America has some really cool stuff going on – thanks Canada!
Tip: Canada is a quick drive from anywhere in the Northeast.
Skillz to Save the Billz (Airbnb)
Let’s talk economics. “Buy low, sell high! Boom and bust! It’s a bull, no a bear market!” Just kidding – those terms don’t make any sense here nor do they have anything to do with this trip. I just genuinely enjoy throwing out all the cliche catch phrases in a category from time to time.
So bulls and bears aside, the economics of this trip largely came down to one amazing website/app: airbnb.
If you haven’t heard of Airbnb, it’s a brilliant site that allows individuals around the world to list their living spaces for any other AirBnb user to rent at a nightly rate. All communications and transactions flow securely through the Airbnb site, and honest, public reviews are required on both the host and traveler side after every stay. The site and app itself has a beautifully designed and intuitive user experience, which makes searching for lodging easy and incredibly enjoyable. And I’m not kidding around about this – it is so fun to browse some of the spaces listed in an area. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you’ll be blown away by how unique and beautiful some of the places are for rent on the site. All of us Escapers have used Airbnb many times and none of us have ever had a bad experience. Kelsey and I even have our own home listed on Airbnb, have hosted fellow Airbnbers, and made some sweet side-dough in doing so!
The site/app allows you to search for places to stay by location, dates available, categorization – ie, is it a shared room, a private room, or entire apartment/home – and by price points. You can set a maximum and minimum according to how much you want to spend per night. So through Airbnb it’s incredibly easy to find a place to stay in your destination, and you don’t ever have to share a living space with a stranger if that’s not your thing. Furthermore, you can easily narrow your scope down to just the places available in your price and date range.
Tip: Go to airbnb and sign up ASAP!
Albanian Nights (a night in Albany, NY)
Leveraging Airbnb is exactly what Kelsey and I did. In our brief planning session the weekend before we left, we decided we really wanted to maximize our time in Montreal. Kelsey and I both had off of work Friday and the following Memorial Day Monday, so instead of starting the 8 hour drive on Friday morning and arriving in Montreal around 4pm, we decided to break up the trip. We left after work Thursday evening around 7pm and, by way of Airbnb, snagged a room in Albany that night. This way we could hit the road from Albany around 7am on Friday morning and arrive in Montreal well before noon.
Albany was a perfect halfway point for us and really just a place to rest our heads. So we opted to rent a private room from well reviewed Airbnb host, Gregory, which worked out perfectly. We arrived at Gregory’s precious country cabin-style home around 11pm that night. He stayed up to greet us, showed us the room, and was an all-around friendly and accommodating guy. (Thanks again Gregory!)
The room itself was spotless, comfortable, had it’s own private bathroom, and even came stocked with a complimentary basket containing all the toiletries a traveler could need! And the best part – it was only $50! So we arrived at Gregory’s place, hit the hay, and then hit the road again at 7am the next morning.
Because we broke the trip up this way, we weren’t in a rush and were able to take our time with the drive and enjoy the beautiful upstate New York scenery.
We even stopped for a delicious breakfast at the legendary Malta Diner. (I’m honestly not sure of this diner’s legend status, however it was exceptionally delicious and had some rare gemstones of advertisements on the placemats.)
Tip: Leave a day early and break-up that drive like a celebrity marriage to maximize your time in Montreal!
Baller Montrealers (our economy studio apartment)
So I’m sure you’re still dying to know about our lodgings in Montreal. Well here you go: through Airbnb we rented an entire studio apartment just one block off Rue St. Laurent in the Mt. Royal Plateau neighborhood (think Boho-Chic), for just $46 a night. That’s it people. Three nights lodging in Montreal cost us less than $150!
Now to be completely transparent here, these accommodations were not the Four Seasons. But they were forty-freaking-six dollars a night! Sure the apartment had been well loved, and the refrigerator could have used a bit of a scrub, but it was otherwise clean and neat. It had exactly what you would need for a city exploration trip – a bed, a private bathroom, and a small kitchen. Now to be fair, the apartment did lack towels, which was a bit of a bummer, but nothing a quick walk to the Pharmacy a block away couldn’t fix. Our host Koly was responsive and helpful as well. (Thanks for the great place Koly!)
Tip: Double check with the host as to whether linens will be provided if not explicitly mentioned in the posting!
Segal Style (local grocery store)
So now our total trip lodging costs come in at just under $200. This leaves Kelsey and I with about $300, right? So how did we stretch it? Simple: Eggs, PB+J, Granola Bars. Since Kelsey and I wanted to keep the trip economical but still go out to some nice dinners, hit up the Contemporary Art Museum after Dark party, and enjoy a few drinks around the city, we decided to minimize our spending on food. This turned out to be a great tactic, a ton of fun, and added some adventure to boot!
When we arrived in Montreal Friday morning, we dropped off our bags at the apartment and took a quick stroll down Rue St. Laurent in search of a grocery store Google told me about called Segal’s Market. And thus the adventure begun! Segal’s is a tiny hole-in-the-wall style market that we walked by at least four times before finally asking a local for a very clear description of the store front. French signage plastered all over the windows made us mistake it for a closed down bodega, but once we opened the door and stepped through the threshold, we entered a cozy, organic grocery store authentically tucked away in Narnia-like fashion.
With isles barely wide enough for 1.5 persons and shelves jammed with organic foods of all shapes and sizes, Segal’s felt like a local’s grocery oasis. We had a blast checking out all the organic food, guessing at what exactly we might be buying since neither of us speak french, and bursting personal bubbles like a night clubbin’ sorority girl on the prowl.
So after 15 to 20 mins of giggly “excusez” and “pardonnez-moi”s, Kelsey and I proceeded to one of the two check out counters in hopes of returning home with our edibile treasures. Then we found out Segal’s is Debit or Cash only. Then we found out our Debit cards only work as credit cards in Canada. Then we found out we can’t even use our debit cards to get cash out of ATMs in Canada. So, a bit deflated, we left our bounty at Segal’s and regrouped on the sidewalk. After some more ATM trial and error we learned the hot tip below:
Tip: To get Cash from an ATM in Canada, you must use a Bank ATM machine.
Don’t even ask – I have no idea why. Anyhow, after we discovered the above, we promptly returned to Segal’s with triumph in our hearts and “tourist” on our sleeves. We then paid for our groceries with dat crazy Canadian see through cash and headed to the apartment.
Success! Sure there was a bit of a learning curve here, but it was well worth it. We were able to make yummy organic eggs for breakfast each morning, bike around the city all day with an eclectic mix of granola bars and sandwiches powering us along, and save mad dough through it all.
Tip: Cook yoself sum eggz!
This is how we do (did) it!
So there you have it folks. That is how you do a four day trip to Montreal in less than $500. Now get back to work – or at least sign up for airbnb, rent a place in Montreal, and then request off so you too can experience the city!