Considering Montreal’s annual post-winter thaw has come early this year, now is the right time to think about weekend getaways. With spring around the corner and temperatures creeping above 10 degrees, a warm March trip is sounding more and more like a good idea. Chances are, a travel-hungry, undergraduate student in the middle of second semester probably hasn’t saved up a huge trip budget. That being said, there are plenty of cost-effective options for exciting trips to take from Montreal that won’t break the bank. With low-budget transportation, cheap accommodation, and student-friendly activities, you can plan your own inexpensive weekend trip that will leave your friends commenting on your Instagrams that they have “FOMO.” For those not ‘vehicularly blessed,’ don’t fret—there are options.
Okay, before you skip to the next option, hear this one out. It can’t be claimed that the nation’s capital is the coolest city in Canada, or that Ottawa is a sprawling, cosmopolitan metropolis teeming with culture—but people who tell you that there’s nothing to see here are just plain wrong.
First, go check out Parliament Hill. Even if you’re not into politics or Canadian history, you might be pleasantly surprised. Most importantly, tours are free. Next, check out the National Gallery or the War Museum (student discounts!) for your culture fix. Open-air activities, like a stroll along the Rideau Canal or a walk through ByWard Market, allow you to take in the sights while still enjoying the weather. Another recommendation for the culturally-inclined is House of TARG. This live music venue/arcade hall is a popular choice among university students and locals alike. For accommodation, go with Airbnb and stay in Sandy Hill, a big student area, or The Glebe, bustling shops, pubs and restaurants. Otherwise, decent hostels start at around $30 per night.
In terms of transportation, start with rideshares. Check out the McGill Carpooling/Rideshares group—it’s nice knowing that you’ll be traveling with fellow students. If there are no lifts there, try a larger, more targeted network of ridesharers with the Carpool Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal-Sherbrooke-Quebec-co-voiturage. If you’re not comfortable catching a ride with strangers, Ottawa is only two hours away by train. Via Escape fares start as low as $33 one way, or you can check its site on 'Discount Tuesdays' between 7 a.m. and midnight for deals. You can also go the bus route and take the Greyhound; one way is two and a half hours and costs about $20 if booked in advance.
If you really want to get a sense of Quebec’s rich history, this is the place for you; think Montreal, but older and more charming. As one of Canada’s oldest cities, Quebec City has plenty of European colonial architecture. You can visit Old Quebec which has a similar aesthetic to Montreal’s Old Port, and marvel at centuries-old stone buildings. Go see the historic Plains of Abraham battleground, and Canada’s oldest cathedral, Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec. The trendy Rue Saint-Jean is also a hotspot for students and a great place for a night out. For rideshares, try the aforementioned rideshare groups; Via Rail is also still an option (the cost is similar to Ottawa). Accommodation-wise, HI-Quebec-Auberge Internationale de Québec comes highly recommended on HostelWorld.com
Boston might require the most planning, but it’s worth it. Give yourself an extra day for this one because you’re looking at a five-hour drive. Ridesharing is definitely the way to go for Beantown. Check out the Boston-Montreal Rideshare group for rides as late as the day before (they usually cost $20-$30 USD one way). Greyhound is also an option, but the journey is a bit longer (around eight hours) and more expensive if you leave it to the last minute.
Since you’re looking at a bigger city, consider Couchsurfing, a networking site that puts you in contact with locals who will host you for free. It might sound sketchy, but the profiling process is actually pretty transparent.
There are plenty of things to do in Boston. Check out Faneuil Hall, a charming marketplace near the city’s Long Wharf that sells famous New England clam chowder. Do some boutique shopping on the posh Newbury Street in the Back Bay neighbourhood. The city’s central park, Boston Common, is also a pretty sanctuary in the middle of downtown. Harpoon Brewery offers tours and is a fun way to get acquainted with some local New England draught. It is also recommended to visit the town of Cambridge and take obligatory Harvard photos. Pro tip: Don’t forget your passport!