How to Budget for Carnival + Carnival Prep Workbook

Island people live all over the world – and where there are West Indian people, there is Carnival. Carnival is very important to Caribbean culture. Traditionally, Carnival takes place on Mardi Gras, which is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, in February.

Toronto 2014

However, since it is freezing cold in the Western world in February, island people instead celebrate this outdoor festival in the warmer months in Europe and North America. In London, Carnival is in August. In New York, it’s in September. Miami has Carnival in October, whereas the Toronto celebrations are in late July or early August.

Toronto, 2016. Mom, sis, and me

Toronto nicknames their carnival “Caribana.” Since I’ll be going to Caribana this year, I thought now would be a great opportunity to write a post on how I budget for carnival! Later on in this blog post, I also unveil a brand new workbook for you, the Carnival Prep Guide, to help you get organized for this island festival of dancing and indulging all the best that life has to offer!

There’s so much preparation that happens before Carnival. If you want to be a part of the band, you can’t just show up the day of Carnival and dance in the streets. You have to go through a process. You select a band, choose a section within that band, and buy your costume months (sometimes a year) in advance. You have to consider many details – from choosing a hotel to determining a meeting point where you and your friends can congregate if anyone gets lost on Carnival Day.

One of the most important details to consider is budgeting for the bacchanal so you have a marvelous time and enjoy the celebration stress-free.

Today, I’ll be talking about the four major expenses you’ll want to think about when you’re planning on “playing mas” (translation: participating in Carnival). They are:

  • Transportation

  • Your costume

  • Accommodations

  • Fêtes

Transportation

Carnival happens in different cities all over the world at different times of the year. Some people even run the Carnival circuit, chasing from one city’s Carnival to the next!

Depending on where you live and the destination city of the Carnival you plan to attend, you may have the option of flying, taking the train, or a bus to the festival. I advise that you take the quickest, most direct route you can comfortably afford. Typically, flights or trains that have stops are cheaper, but they take up more of your time and drain your energy.

Carnival is a high-intensity experience. There’s a lot of walking, dancing, and jumping involved. There will be trucks driving alongside revelers on the road, with huge speakers and a band leader or soca celebrity cheering into a microphone to liven up the crowd. Some soca celebrities will even call you out if you’re not dancing!

Buy as early as possible to save money. Use an incognito window to search for flights. Subscribe to newsletters like Scott’s Cheap Flights. Talk to carnival veterans and ask about their transportation plans. Also, budget for transportation costs once you arrive to your destination. You’ll want to consider how much it will cost you to go back and forth to the airport from your hotel, how you’ll be arriving at the starting point of the parade on Carnival Day and how you’ll return back to your hotel after the parade has finished.

Toronto, 2014

Costume

It’s more expensive than you think.

Port of Spain, Trinidad, March 2017

Costume prices vary from country to country. In Trinidad & Tobago, expect to pay between $800 – $1200 USD for a quality costume. A floor costume is the most basic costume – just an adorned bikini top and bottom. Floor costumes start at $600 USD. Most people add on upgrades, like a collar (an ornamental piece that goes around your neck), a headpiece, or vibrant feathery adornments. These upgrades can add anything from $50 to $500 USD to the price of the costume.

In Canada, the prices of costumes are more affordable. You can expect to pay between $200-$500 CAD for a quality costume. Just as in Trinidad, the more upgrades you add to your costume, the higher the price will be.

The price of your costume includes the costume itself, meal tickets, and water. The best bands provide you with unlimited water bottles. In certain bands in Trinidad, you can purchase an all-inclusive drink package for premium alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. In Trinidad, the costume price also includes the trucks that house the portable bathrooms and feminine hygiene products.

Port of Spain, Trinidad, Carnival 2017

Research your costume package options carefully.

Accommodations

Be strategic about where you choose to stay. In my experience, the most important thing to consider is your proximity to the start of the parade. Consider choosing a hotel that has easy access to where your band will be stationed on Carnival Day. Alternatively, you may want to stay close to where the parade ends, since there are sometimes parties and festivals that occur in this area at the close of Carnival Day.

Other locations you may consider staying nearby are the beach, a concert or party location, or at the hotel where the soca celebrities will stay. Many celebrities stay at the Hilton in Trinidad & Tobago during carnival season.

Wherever you stay, know that the best places don’t come cheap. It’s always a good idea to start saving as early as possible.

Fêtes

In Trinidad, the word “fête” means party. One of the best parts of carnival are all the fêtes that happen around this time. Each fête has an entrance fee and your ticket usually includes food or a freebie of some sort – a tee shirt, cute shorts, a free drink, etc.

Washington, DC 2017, Soca fête

In order to have a true carnival experience, sign up to go to a few soca fêtes. There are pre-Carnival parties and post-Carnival parties. The cost typically ranges from $40-$80 USD. J’ouvert is celebrated the night before Carnival Monday in Trinidad, and it is one of the biggest street parties there is. If you’re going to Trini carnival for the first time, your celebration would not be complete without participating in J’ouvert. You must go!

J’ouvert morning, Port of Spain, Carnival 2017

Consider how many parties you’d like to go to, look up the cost of tickets online, and what the ticket price includes. From there, you can decide how you’ll finance the fêting!

Carnival is so much fun! In order to truly enjoy the experience, it’s important to get organized and properly prepare for it. Depending on how much you make, you may need to start saving a year in advance.

So many people that I come across are curious about carnival and don’t quite understand how this all “works” and how much it costs to participate in the celebration. I hope that this blog post dispels any confusion that you may have – especially if you’d like to play mas one day!

Toronto, 2016

If partying in Carnival and dressing in masquerade is on your bucket list, check out the Carnival Prep Guide. It’s a 6-page workbook and travel guide that walks you through the process of getting organized for carnival. Every page is dedicated to a specific step in preparing for the celebration. There’s a table to help you start creating your budget, a page for brainstorming which band to choose, guidelines on deciding where you want to stay, a page on thinking through transportation, and more.

I created this guide to be as simple to use as possible, so I made it an editable PDF. This means that you can type right into the document from your smartphone or computer. There’s no need to print it out first and you don’t have to create any text boxes. I took all the work out of it for you.

If you’d like to learn more about carnival, you may be interested in my earlier posts, the Caribana Survival Guide and Carnival 2017 in Trinidad & Tobago, as well as my Trini carnival vlog on YouTube. You can also take my free Carnival Survival Guide mini course here.

What vacation plans do you have this summer? How do you organize your finances when you’re planning a holiday?

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