Can't afford to buy a cottage? Don't lose heart. All it takes is some research, advance planning, even a bit of off-the-grid and outside-the-box thinking and you can afford to get away – yes, regularly – to cottage country. Here are some cost-effective ways to budget that classic Canadian R&R retreat into your summer downtime.
Find a cottage from the comfort of your desk through websites like cottagelink.com, or in Ontario, cottageportal.com, which has a Last-Minute Availability search if you're late out of the gate (the smart money starts booking in January or February). You can search by region or price and check out photos of cottage interiors and exteriors before you contact the owners. Modest cottages can go for as little as $300 per week (off the electrical-power grid and outhouse-equipped, for a rustic experience) or $4,000 (or more) per week for a lakefront McMansion (doable if you rent it with a large group of friends or family).
Fractional ownerships are similar to old-fashioned timeshares in that you share ownership of a vacation property with others, and in return for your investment, you get a portion of high- and low-season vacation weeks for your private use. But they differ in some ways as well. For one thing, you have a deeded ownership interest that you can resell. Also, fractional ownerships tend to be in luxury resort settings where the amenities may include concierge service (want your fave groceries prestocked in your fridge? No problem!), fitness centres, house cleaning and so on.
Shares are commonly sold as eights or quarters, with a property management company handling maintenance, scheduling your vacation time and so on. With cottage prices all over the map, prices will vary (many with additional maintenance fees), and for the most part, you're looking at investing in the five figures to $125,000 or more, unlike timeshares, which can be had for mere thousands. Not "cheap" per se, but fractional ownership can get you into Ontario's Muskokas or the Prince Albert, Alta., area, even if you can't foot the $500,000+ prices many of these properties command.
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Cabins and yurts
For those of us not into pitching a tent, a cabin rental within a provincial or national park offers numerous advantages. It's quiet, you're close to nature, but hey, you've got walls (and, often, heating, if you're at the beginning or tail-end of the season, when it can get chilly at night). Usually within walking distance to shared shower and washroom facilities, it's a good option for that semirustic adventure.
Ontario's Algonquin Provincial Park, for instance, rents yurts (eight-sided tentlike structures on a raised wooden pallet) for about $70 per night, and deep in the park's interior offers remote, historic ranger cabins from $50 per night to $120 per night (based on one person, additional costs for more occupants).
Check your provincial parks to see if they rent cabins, huts or yurts. To search for facilties in Canada's National Parks, go to pc.gc.ca and do a search under the word "cabins." Tip: Bring your own sleeping bag and don't expect maid service.
Exploring by recreational vehicle offers freedom and a certain off-the-beaten-track road-warrior appeal that's worth embracing. RVs can be rented in no-frills through luxury configurations, with a basic four-berth model with shower, toilet, fridge and microwave and stove and picnic awning renting for as little as $50 per day, while $215 per day and up will get you a late-model, extra-roomy, extra-comfy version with those amenities, plus TV and DVD player and private master bedroom. Overnight spots in national and provincial parks are inexpensive, and the best part? Unlike those tent folks, you've got your own private shower.
Yuki Hayashi is a freelance writer. Read her stories 6 fashion mistakes moms make and 8 ways to blast belly fat: exercise and diet tips for a slimmer stomach.
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