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When school's out, a Canadian dorm stay could open the door to big savings


If you're traveling to Canada for its sesquicentennial, there's an inexpensive way to do it - but it requires going back in time. 

When I graduated from college many moons ago, I swore I never would set foot in another dormitory.  

But since then, I've attended several professional conferences on Canada's college campuses, where participants were offered the chance to stay in the dorms. They turned out to be both convenient and affordable, and my view of those accommodations has changed substantially.  

So much for never.  

I now consider staying in dorms even when I'm on vacation. Particularly in Canada, where nightly prices can be reasonable even in large cities - around $100, and sometimes less in more rural areas. I've stayed at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in St. John's, for as little as $75 per night during summer months when lodging is otherwise scarce in the area.  

Although some dorms still have bathrooms down the hall, many now feature suites or private rooms with bathrooms. Some even have mini-kitchens.  

Aldo Sdao, summer business coordinator at the University of Toronto and president of the Canadian University and College Conference Organizers Association, said that thousands of visitors take advantage of dorm rooms at his school every summer.  

The budget-friendly option attracts a cross-section of travelers. "Your neighbors in dormitories could be fellow travelers like yourself, college students taking summer classes, sports teams or conference attendees," Sdao said.  

During my time in Canadian dormitories, my fellow lodgers have included travelers from St. Lucia and South Africa, young families with kids and, of course, lots of students - college kids taking summer courses and high schoolers on class trips. Even tour operators sometimes book dorm rooms, as emergency housing when local hotels are full or in areas where there are limited accommodations for travelers.  

--How to find them: Dormitory accommodations are available only when classes are not in session (usually May through August), and the rooms go quickly. Be sure to book early.  

Start by checking out college and university websites in the area you plan to visit. You can find them at connectoncampus.ca. Dorm-room rentals are often listed under the "Summer Programs" section of university websites.  

Many universities, however, are now using third-party websites such as Expedia.com, Booking.com and Hostels.com. Check out both options: A third-party website may list rooms in a particular dormitory on a campus, but there may be other facilities on the university's website that could be better suited to your needs.  

A quick check of one of the hotel websites for dormitory accommodations at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for example, listed rooms for about $26 without a private bathroom. The university's website mentioned available rooms at a different dormitory with private facilities for about $74.  

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Are dorm accommodations for you? Obviously, most dormitories do not have the charm of a bed-and-breakfast or the wow factor of an upscale hotel. Here are some factors to take into consideration before booking:  

--Shared suites, where there is usually a living room, kitchenette, and bathroom may be good choices for families or friends traveling together. But if that's not your situation, make sure to ask whether the room you're booking is in such a suite, which generally means a shared bathroom.  

--Breakfast is sometimes included in the price or available on the premises. On some campuses, dormitory guests can use gym facilities or swimming pools on campus for an additional fee.  

--Ask about air conditioning. Some dormitories in extreme northerly areas do not have air-conditioned rooms.  

--Determine whether WiFi is available in rooms or only in public areas.  

--Many dormitories are close to public transit, which can save you the cost of a rental car. One of my favorite Canadian destinations is Vancouver, where I have enjoyed staying in a suite at the University of British Columbia, with its convenient on-campus bus stop that offers access to the city's downtown area.  

--Not all dormitory accommodations are located on campus. McGill University in Montreal, for example, has several dorms that once were hotels, situated not far from the campus and close to downtown. McGill's New Residence Hall is a comfortable walk from downtown shopping and the Via Rail Canada station.  

--In most cases, disabled travelers can be accommodated in special rooms, usually dependent on the age of the dormitory. Always ask if there are elevators in the dorm. A few summers back, I had plans to attend a conference at Cape Breton University, in Sydney, Nova Scotia. With bad knees, I do almost anything I can to avoid unnecessary steps, and the rooms available when I made the initial reservation in early May were in a dormitory without elevators. I asked to be placed on a waiting list for a dorm that had an elevator. Happily, I got one.  

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Caruana is a writer based in New York City.


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