London 2013 – Traveling on a budget!

There comes a time in every urban Torontonian’s life when they discover a bigger, better place that, despite Through-The-Looking-Glass differences, seems like home.

I’m of course referring to London, England!

Heathrow Connect - Ealing BroadwayPreviously I maaaaay have dropped some hints about a trip I was going on, a trip I promised to explain and talk about. Turns out that was a lie, because this is now a trip that I returned from last week: a weeklong trip to London! This was a pretty big vacation for three reasons. 1) Since saving for school, going to school and securing a job, I haven’t been on an actual vacation in over two years. 2) My boyfriend and I haven’t had a week together away from Toronto in four years. 3) I’d never been to Europe! This was my first trip outside of North America! So yeah, a bit of a big deal. (Remember, one of my goals for the year was to finally take that much-needed vacation…)

How did this opportunity arise?

My boyfriend was working for a company that was sending all of their international staff to the UK for their annual general meeting. He spent two days at a manor estate, drinking and networking before heading to London. His company let him extend the date of his return trip, so his flight to and from London was absolutely free! After he arrived in London, I met up with him the next day at our Airbnb. Keep in mind that London is a pricey city, this Airbnb cost more than a month of our rent in Toronto, for only 9 nights! But considering the location and the price? Totally worth it!

Because his flight was covered by work, his initial costs for the trip were much lower than mine and I still had to find the funds for my flight! Luckily, this year I received a generous tax refund and put half of it on my student loan and the other half paid for my flight. Done!

To pay for the Airbnb, my boyfriend and I tapped into our joint savings account that we set up with ING Direct last fall. It was a painless process and with automatic deductions, we both know that we were equally contributing to future vacations together. I highly recommend setting this up if you’re a couple like us that don’t mix your bank accounts just yet.

In the ING account, we had enough for about 2/3rds of the Airbnb cost and my boyfriend paid for the rest (remember, he had free transportation already!)

So as it stood, my plane and accommodation were already paid for before I even left for London, leaving me some time to save up. But the real question remained, how does one truly budget for costs DURING a vacation?


When I went to San Francisco a few years ago, I also paid for the trip before I went, but I didn’t properly plan for my spending money for my time there. It was a much more last-minute trip and I put more on my credit card than I realized. The exchange rate to the US was not NEARLY AS FAVOURABLE as it is now, probably on par with what the CAD to GBP was during our trip to London. But while I did spend quite a bit in San Francisco, my boyfriend and I skimped on food which is a deadly sin in my eyes. This time we decided that, within reason, price would not be a barrier to our vacation. Since most museums in London were free, we could get a lot of our tourism experiences on the cheap while spending more on food!

I didn’t want to bore you with the spending journal, but here is my rough estimation for our trip (All prices in Canadian dollars). This covers my expenses from the evening of May 18 to the mid-day of Sunday May 26.

London Spending Summary!

$1016 – Flight
Return flight to London Heathrow and back. I spent weeks trying to find a better deal, I could’ve saved $50 by going to Gatwick and coming back on a different flight than my boyfriend but that was useless for the tiny cost difference.

$350 – Accommodation
The total of the Airbnb was about $1100, $700 came from out joint fund, of which $350 was mine. My boyfriend covered the other $400 to make up for our differences in flight expenses. (His having none!) A total steal!

$115 – Transportation
Train from Heathrow to London, and back, as well as an Oyster card for the week. A big chunk of this was taken up by having to take the London Express to Heathrow on our way home, it cost $32 from Paddington Station to get to Heathrow for our early flight, no other options got us there with enough time to bag check-in and go through security in time. Paid for some peace of mind.

london2$250 – Food
All of the food! Coffee, lunch, dinner, drinks, and candy, lovely British candy! My boyfriend paid a little bit more for food than I did to make up for our differences in expenses, but I think we definitely spent about the same when it came to my sugar addiction.

$110 – Attractions
Almost all of this is from the British Museum. Despite what I said about free attractions, they sucked me in with not only an exhibit about Pompeii, but an Ice Age exhibit with some of the oldest known pieces of cave art in the world. AMAZING. Also included? My $20 ticket to The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-Time and a trip to the Clink.

$525 – Shopping
So, obviously, this is where the most damage was done. Almost all of this is clothes from Uniqlo and TopShop and Bravissimo and a few books. For a bit of context, I’ve spent only about $500 on clothes, books, DVDs, toys, ANYTHING since January 1st, and once I booked my trip, I knew that I’d be spending quite a bit on shopping while here.

$85 Souvenirs
I bought some candy back for some friends, some special exhibition items and silly souvenirs for some of my friends and family back home! Also? The David Bowie exhibit at the Victoria and Albert had some really cute stuff!

So how did I do? What was the total damage? $2451. Of which, $1481 is all mostly non-negotiable rates for transportation and accommodation.

london3But the real question: did I stay on budget IN London? I think the answer is safely, yes. I had tentatively budgeted $1000 in expenses for the week in London. While I hadn’t done a proper breakdown, I figured most of it out. I underestimated transportation a little bit, and spent a bit more on clothing than expected, but overall I’m totally happy with the result, and it’s already paid off with my savings.

But most importantly, I had an amazing time. I desperately needed this fun, urban adventure, and while my next trip won’t nearly be as pricey (and next time I spend $1k for a flight, I’m staying for two weeks) I don’t regret it for a second. Except, maybe, I would’ve brought more chocolate and bonbons back home…

So, London 2013 is in the bag! Next up? Montreal in July, and potentially New Orleans in the fall!

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