West Coast, here we come


Teatime in Vancouver

We booked our package to Hawaii last weekend! That’s one more thing ticked off the list. The next thing to be done is organizing ourselves for the Victoria and Vancouver legs of the trip. We’ll stay with my aunt and uncle for a few days in Victoria on arrival in the west and then we’re looking at maybe an overnight trip up to Parksville, and possibly another night with another good friend that lives in Victoria. I don’t like to overstay my welcome in any one place and it’s really nice to reconnect with good friends.

From there, we’re over to Vancouver. I’ve been trying to narrow down where we’ll stay. It’s going to be a hotel for the first few nights and then a couple of nights with a cousin who has graciously invited us. As they’re retired, we don’t have to stick to weekends so I think we’ll go there for the Monday and Tuesday before we head to Hawaii for five nights. When we get back, we’ve got an airport hotel booked for a night before flying home and since we arrive in Vancouver very early and leave for Halifax via Toronto on an overnight flight, we’ll have the best part of two days more in Vancouver. I think the hotel is close to a skytrain station to facilitate that.

There seems to be a lot of suite hotels and condo type hotels for rent in Vancouver which is very convenient. I’m leaning towards something like that, more than just a mini-bar fridge and coffee maker. I very much doubt we’ll actually cook but we might get breakfast things in if the rate we pay doesn’t have it included and it’s great for keeping fresh milk and pop, and a chilled bottle of wine, perhaps. I think though we could save money and get a hotel similar to a Comfort Inn or Travelodge, I’d like to get something a bit nicer. They are fine, usually clean and fit for purpose but the rooms are pretty basic looking and nondescript.

I’m actually kind of surprised at the hotel prices. I expected Vancouver to be quite expensive but there seems to be a decent number of hotels in a reasonable price range in the city centre. With taxes included, you can get a fairly nice place for under $200 CAD per night. Considering when we went to New York, a 40% sale at the Holiday Inn Express near Times Square was still over $250 and even hotels a bit away from TS were that and far more, I count myself lucky. Vancouver real estate prices are sky high, I expected the hotels to follow suit. (or should I say suite? *snort*)

I’ve been to the west coast twice before though my husband has not been there. I first went in spring 2000 and the next time I flew out on Halloween, 2003. Here’s a gallery of the photos from those trips, bearing in mind they are low res scans from film photos.

First, Vancouver

Next, Victoria

Staying in London on a budget

It’s well known that London is one of the most expensive cities in the world but it’s also one of those cities where it doesn’t have to break the bank. The hotel might well be the most expensive part of your stay. You may pay more than you’re used to for even a budget hotel, but you don’t have to pay in gold bricks either.  I don’t pay huge amounts for a hotel in London but I also don’t go to the cheapest end of the scale either so though I would class the hotels I use as “budget” they aren’t “shoestring” type budget hotels.

Strand Palace Hotel


I’ve stayed at a variety of hotels but almost always in a budget range between 65 and 100 pounds a night. Now, 65 pounds is probably not going to be common these days though I did get a really good deal on a Hilton for that 2 or 3 years ago.  It is possible to walk into a bargain now and then, especially if you travel outside of the high tourist season (summer), which I generally do.

You don’t have to pay a huge amount for a hotel in London and you don’t have to sleep in a hostel if you don’t want to. That’s not my scene but plenty of people don’t mind. Some of the universities let out rooms in the summer. There are lots of websites where you can often find good deals.  Even Bed and Breakfasts in London aren’t overly cheap,with prices from 70 t0 100 pounds a night, a similar range to the hotels I book.

You should decide on the amenities you must have in a hotel and room. If you don’t mind sharing the toilet and shower facilities, you can save money. There are older hotels and B&Bs that don’t have elevators (“lifts”) which may be cheaper.  The hotel star rating is based on things like that. The higher the star rating, the more you’re going to pay regardless of whether the hotel deserves that rating or not.

The official tourism site for London, Londontown.com, has served me very well in the past for good deals on hotels at times and discounted theatre tickets as well though with the tickets through their broker you don’t have a choice of where you sit.

London Nights has also been a good website to book with. You don’t have to prepay your stay either. Another good site with a decent reputation, though I’ve not used it, is Smoothhound, good for finding bed and breakfasts.

Another service that a lot of people use to get cheaper rates on nice hotels are bidding sites. The top three are Priceline, Kayak and Hotwire. I’ve never used them but I’ve heard all good things about them. You choose the area of the city where you want to stay, pick a star rating and input how much you want to pay. You may or may not get it, or you can change your criteria by upping the star rating or lowering it or choosing a different location. These sites also book hotels directly without the mystery element. The cost will be a little more than if you played the bidding game but still good, I think.

A few of the general travel booking sites like Expedia and Travelocity are also booking “mystery” hotels, where you don’t know what the hotel is until you book it and you can get decent discounts that way. I’ve not used that either, as I prefer to know what I’m getting ahead of time but lots of people do and are happy with the results.

When you use  hotel booking sites and the same goes for booking from the hotel site directly, MAKE SURE you check the Cancellation rules. Some of the hotel broker sites do not charge fees for changing or cancelling your reservation but the hotel itself may still insist on a fee. Prepaid rooms are usually not refundable. This is why cancellation insurance is good to have.

Some other reputable hotel booking sites are:


Generic travel sites include:


The budget site Frommers has a decent rating of some of the sites here, worth reading for what you don’t want in a booking site as well.

Good areas to find hotels with reasonable prices are the Paddington and Bayswater road area, Notting Hill which is close to that,  also the triangle  between Euston station,  King’s Cross station and Russell Square are a lot of bed and breakfast and larger tourist hotels. You will often find some of the ones on Russell Square as part of a package deal with air fare which can work out quite well for your wallet.

Currently the Canadian dollar is quite cheap against the pound so I’ve been paying up to 100 pounds and getting a nicer room than I used to for 65, paying the same money after the exchange rate is factored in. It seems like the room prices haven’t fluctuated as wildly overall as the currency rate. The highest rate I remember paying was $2.60 to a pound about 10 or 12 years ago. I bought £100 the other day for $162 and change, Canadian funds. That’s excellent and makes the U.K. more affordable.

Find a hotel that includes breakfast, that’s always useful to get you started, even if it’s just cold cereal and toast, rather than a full cooked breakfast. If you have a hotel with a mini bar, find out if you are allowed to keep your own items in it. Some hotel rooms might even have a small fridge and you definitely can use that to keep things like bread, muffins, juice and snacks in. For families, hotel suites that are like little apartments probably make more sense.

I’ve had some good hotel rooms and one or two bad ones, mostly rooms that were decent, not too small, clean and comfortable. These days, reviews on travel websites are good to have under your belt but you still need to take them with a grain of salt. Overly negative or overly positive always makes me suspicious unless all or most of the reviews are along the same lines.

Best Western Corona, London

And in case you wanted to know the hotels I’ve used in the past that I would recommend: (Prices are from their current websites, you may get better deals by calling direct or through some of the general hotel booking sites)

London Guards Hotel – Around £100 a night for a double, average, using London Nights.com for a low season weekend. They’ve got family rooms and are on a quiet cul de sac behind Bayswater Road. Close to Paddington station for Heathrow Express and several tube stations within a couple of blocks either way. Would stay here again. Told a friend about it and he and his family really liked it too.

Paddington Hotel – a couple of streets away from the London Guards, same company owns it. No elevator/lift. We had a large room and it had a little fridge. Very nice. In partnership with the Royal Court Apartments across the street. Seems to averag about 70 pounds a night.

Best Western Corona – close to the Pimlico tube stop in the Victoria Station area, a bit of a walk to VS though the bus goes right by. Room was very nice, breakfast adequate. We got this room using Aeroplan points. Best Western rates are usually not too bad, though.

Tavistock Hotel – close to Russell Square and Euston Station. Stayed here a long time ago but I think it’s still decent. Not fancy, but it was clean, if a bit worn down at the edges.

Thistle Euston – next to Euston train station. Might be a little higher priced these days and there’s an Ibis just next to it by the station that may be a bit cheaper. My sister stayed in the Ibis and was satisfied with that one.

These next few were ones I got a really good deal on but are usually a little more pricey than I budget for.

Hilton Islington – Not too far from Kings Cross/St. Pancras, close to the Angel tube station with lots of busses. It’s off the main road so it’s quiet and is next to a convention center of sorts and probably fairly empty on the weekends. I booked this one off Londontown.com for 65 pounds a night, on a weekend, including full breakfast. I think that was a real steal!

Melia White House  – next to Regent’s Park. Also a bit more pricey than usual but I got a good deal booking through Air Canada’s hotel booking site (which, by the way, often has some pretty good deals though you must prepay the room). The hotel felt quite posh and our room was really nice except it was beside the elevator which clattered in the walls into the night.

Strand Palace hotel – My mother and I stayed here. It was affordable because we split the cost of a room but even then, it was a bit higher than I usually pay but I wanted her to be in a great location, central, and good for the bus routes. She loved it!