The Cost of a Solo Trip to Montreal

by Jazmine Hughes

This year, I did my taxes myself, settling down with a cup of mint tea and immersing myself in the throes of TurboTax. An hour later, I came up for air, and a week later, I came up the stairs of my apartment nearly 1,000 bucks richer. I had some money, and I wanted to reward myself by spending some of it. I decided to take my first solo, international trip.

I am financially independent, which is why, at 22, I hadn’t yet left the country. I didn’t want to blow my entire return, but I wanted to do something for myself that I did by myself. Destiny’s Child’s ‘Independent Woman Pt. I” rang in my ear:

“The shoes on my feet / I bought it / The clothes I’m wearing / I bought it / A short vacation to Canada / I bought it / ’Cause I depend on me / If I want it.”

I threw my hands up at them.

I chose Montreal because I could get there by train: the trip is scenic in its own right, winding up through the Hudson Valley and traveling parallel to Lake Champlain. Its demarcation of “One of the Train Trips to Take Before You Die” quieted my anxiety about the 11 hours it’d take to get there. The price nudged me over the edge: $134 for a round-trip ticket. I booked it in early April. I waited longer to book my lodging, eventually deciding to stay in a bed and breakfast, where there would be enough other people around — enough so that, hopefully, any murderer would get tired before he or she got to me. It cost $167 for four nights.

I arrived in Montreal with $200 in my pocket.

Day 1:
• $25 cab
• $6.40 grapes, gum
• $0 fine for carrying contraband across international borders because I gave it up willingly (but technically, -$22 for the pepperspray)

I didn’t realize that my familiar little “AT&T” signal in the upper left corner of my phone would suddenly change to “Bell” as soon as we crossed the border, so the final two hours of my trip previously dedicated to finding subway directions to my home were spent trying to beat 2048. I was able to get a “wee-fee” signal (this will never stop sounding sexual to me) when I arrived at the train station. I mapped directions, took a screenshot, and hailed a cab, following the half-pixelated roads as closely as possible to ensure I wasn’t being ripped off.

Another delayed realization: I didn’t know the custom for tipping, so I gave him a big one ($6 on a $19 ride). I wanted to buy fruit for dinner, but the local grocery (UniPrix, which is like Duane Reade if Duane Reade closed at 8 p.m.) was closed, so my host directed me to a “nice but pricy” market (Whole Foods, if Whole Foods were in French) near by. I waffled over the price of grapes — five dollars! — for 10 minutes. “Would I spend this much on grapes in New York? How much do I pay for grapes there anyway? Is there a surcharge because the grapes are imported? What climate are grapes grown in?” The store was closing. I bought the grapes, and a pack of bilingual gum.

Day 2:
• $5 treats (bagel, water, candy)
• $5.75 cronut
• $3.75 postcards
• $0 museum
• $1.14 potato chips
• $23 Ella and Louis record

I chose my Airbnb for two reasons: the price and the bagels. Take a rickety, colorful, charming, slightly dilapidated house, with no oven and a toilet and sink in two different rooms: it’s a hostel. Add complimentary bagels: it’s a bed and breakfast! I filled up on those every morning, but soon spent six bucks on a knockoff cronut, which I will never do again.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ permanent collection is free to those under 30, so I walked the 45 minutes there, and then bought postcards, and stopped on a record store on my way home. I met up with a friend, who encouraged me to buy some Canadian candies and a bagel that didn’t come with anything on it.

Day 3:
• $2.50 macchiato
• $10 gift
• $28 bag and earrings
• $12.36 Schwartz smoked meat and fries
• $3 tea
• $4.14 stamps
• $15.50 gift
• $?? candy, yogurt, granola

Visited Schwartz’s Delicatessen after several recommendations and because I believe that food can’t be that good if you don’t wait in a line for it. “Good but not exemplary,” I wrote in my travel notebook that I stained with Sriracha weeks prior and hadn’t bothered to replace, “and I definitely should’ve bought my floss.”

I bought a lot of beverages so I could use wee-fee and pee in a bathroom with a door that actually locked.

Day 4:
• $2.25 coffee
• $4 movie and popcorn
• $12.65 pizza
• $3 metro ticket

“What did you do in Montreal?”

“I walked 7 kilometers to see a movie that had come out six months ago and then I came home and ate an entire pizza. It was the best trip of my life.” Frozen was OK, the pizza was better.

Day 5:
• $9.09 on breakfast

“I just spent 10 dollars on Starbucks,” I wrote. “It’s time to go home.”

Approximate spending total during trip: $176.53 CAD ($162.59 USD)
Total spent: $463.59 USD

I have about 10 bucks in Canadian coins sitting on my nightstand. I should’ve spent more on candy.

Jazmine Hughes lives in New York.

Photo: Richard Taylor