Sunday, February 23

How I Became My City’s Cheapest Tour Guide

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Recently, my best friend from Georgia booked a plane ticket to come visit me in Toronto this summer! She has never been to the city before, so when she booked her flight I was ecstatic. I began racking my brain for all the things I wanted to see and do with her.

The city is so full of fun opportunities. But, I was quickly discouraged when I saw how high the price of tourism is in Toronto. Similarly, when we considered I visit her in Atlanta, we ran into the same problem.  I wanted to take her on an adventure-filled trip and was worried we’d have to spend the whole week in the house. Fortunately, with a bit of research and strategic planning, I was able to plan a low-cost trip that would still give her a chance to really see the city!

Finding affordable hidden gems and special events you want to try

A visiting friend or family member is a great excuse for you to also check out an event or sightseeing adventure you haven’t gotten around to yourself. We have a tendency to get caught up in our everyday lives and forget the beauty and fun that attracts visitors to our city. Hosting someone gives you a chance to discover all the cool things you may not have noticed about the city you call home. 

Martin from the popular personal finance blog Studenomics offers a Queen West Coffee Crawl. For only $25 per person, you get a 2.5 walking tour around one of Toronto’s hippest neighborhoods plus all the coffee you need. 

Looking for local discounts

This was the first thing I did! And truthfully, it’s the first thing I do before I do anything in the city. If you’re planning on becoming a cheap tour guide for a visiting friend, family member, or partner, you need to identify what things they like to do and what you think it’s important they see before delving into the rabbit hole of available discounts.

Since I am still a student, I browsed a few local hot spots to see if there were any student discounts. I was happy to find that all the major tourist destinations like Ripley’s Aquarium, Ontario Science Centre, and Royal Ontario Museum all offer a student discount! This put me at ease because I knew I’d be able to afford at least one special excursion. I would recommend making a list of fun or famous visitor locations and picking one (if you can) more costly event/adventure. Make it a vacation for everyone!

Coupons are a savior

There are some other discount options too aside from student. If you’re planning a trip on a budget, be open-minded about potential discounts. You’re likely eligible for more than you think, as long as you look hard enough!

One of the most useful tools I’ve used for cheap trip planning is Groupon! You can find tons of coupons on their site for anything from theater shows and music to museums and zoos! They also have a list of top recommendations of things to do in some of the most popular cities if you need a little inspiration.

Don’t shy away from free activities!

The only thing better than discounted activities are free ones! And genuinely, this bunch of activities are actually my preference compared to some of the more expensive ones.

Personally, I love checking out local markets, art galleries, and parks! Browsing fun thrift or antique shops, record stores, or even malls are another great option. You can never go wrong with window shopping and a chance to slow down and chat with your guest!

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Give your guest a glimpse of YOUR city

Probably what I’m most excited to do when my friend visits is tour the Church and Wellesley community. I love popping into the shops and taking pictures of all the art as I pass by. Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community is one of my favorite parts of living here, so I want to be able to show it to her!

I would definitely recommend simply touring your favorite communities or places where you spend your time if you have a guest. This gives them a chance to see YOUR city. I think one of the most fun parts of travel experiences is seeing what the people who live there actually gravitate to in their free time.

This also means your local community/ neighborhood might be one of the best parts of their trip! I am planning on visiting my school’s campus and my favorite coffee shop while my friend is visiting. And I’m excited to show her my life, which she is used to me relaying to her via text message.

Be selective about where you eat

One of my biggest stressors when I travel, or someone travels to me, is food. It’s expensive to eat out but sometimes it’s what is most convenient. If you’re eating out, I would recommend searching nearby spots and checking out their menu if possible! I like to know what’s going to be offered, the prices, and read some customer reviews before making the choice to spend money on food.

Fast food is another good option. It is typically cheaper and easily accessible, if you’re out and about and need to grab a quick bite, this is what I would do. Tim Horton’s is one of my favorite, less expensive and very Canadian options. My best friend isn’t from Canada so she has never got her Tim’s bagel and coffee fix!

Of course, if you’re in a big city, they are usually home to a lot of fine dining. But, if you want to treat your guest to a more expensive dinner, make sure to budget for it. If you’re a cheap tour guide, you have to prioritize the specialty things you may spend on.

Buy groceries to eat cheap and well

Don’t hesitate to buy a few groceries to share with your guest. Not only will this save you money but it will save you valuable quality time. If you have a planned day out, make some toast and eggs before you head out the door! I am also a big supporter of packing snacks like granola bars and applesauce to tide myself over throughout a long day of travel. Plus, cooking dinner with someone is a fun, usually relaxing activity. Pick up some pasta, veggies, and sauce, and spend the night in!

Getting around on a budget

The transportation aspect of my trip planning as a cheap tour guide should be fairly easy. Use transit!

Sometimes transit can be frustrating, but it is cheap! And big cities offer quite a few methods of transit, so you can get virtually anywhere with minimal walking. Having a transit pass for both you and your guest will make traveling incredibly simple. If you don’t want to buy your friend their own pass, see if you know anyone whose you could borrow and load it up with however much you think you’ll need.

Being a host/tour guide can be a lot of pressure. Not only are you planning a trip, but you are likely housing your guest, and wanting to enjoy quality time with them. Of course, when you’re from a big city, you can expect quite a few expenses when planning a trip. But that doesn’t mean you need to be rich to have fun and show someone around! The cheapest options do not equal less fun. And when you’re used to relying on cheap options, you already know how to make the most of them!

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About Author

Professional Writing student at York University, Toronto. Fascinated by the relationship between oppression, mental health, and money. Writer, avid TV watcher, and poetry obsessed.

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