Saturday, September 12, 2009

How to road trip across Canada on a budget

Road tripping across Canada is such an amazing journey, and I would highly recommend doing so at least once in your lifetime.

Before you start planning your exciting cross-Canada road trip, read our travel tips from a recent road trip across Canada:

Prioritize what you want to see:

Canada is such a diverse landscape. While road tripping across Canada, you travel through 10 provinces that span over 8000 kms of highway. There is so much to see on such a big trip. With so much road to cover, it's important to prioritize which attractions you want to see while road tripping. This will of course depend on how much time you have allotted for your trip.We opted to look for free parks, water falls, famous landmarks, and roadside attractions.

We had just over 2 weeks to travel from Vancouver, BC to Peggy's Cover, NS and back home. As you can tell, we didn't technically make it all the way across Canada, but that can be saved for another road trip.

We chose to see at least 1 attraction in each province. In one long run on sentence here are some of the attractions we saw; West Edmonton Mall, Saskatchewan outdoor zoo, the happy rock in Manitoba, also the historic district in Manitoba, Kakabeka falls, Thunder Oak Cheese farm, horseback riding in Thunder bay, Eagle Canyon Adventures (a must see), Niagara falls (maid of the mist), we were able to get in the Much Music audience for an episode, Canada's Wonderland, Montreal, Quebec City, a light house in New Brunswick, we also came across a geyser in New Brunswick, Peggy's cove, and finally a great pizza place in Halifax. We also opted to drive home via the USA. In America we saw New York (statue of liberty, Ellis Island, Time Square, Central park - we even took the subway, and ate a hot dog from a street vendor), Millennium park in Chicago, Sioux city, Salt Lake City, Shoshone Falls in Idaho, and finished off our road trip with a hike up Mt St Helens. We missed a ton of attractions along the way due to bad planning before our trip, but still had an amazing time. 

Discover your travel style:

While planning your trip, it's important to know what your travel style is.

Being that we are young/broke university students, we opted to travel in more of a yolo style. We travelled in our car (a 2000 honda civic), slept in our car, and found off beat roadside attractions along the way. Our diet consisted of cereal, pb & j sandwiches, 10 lbs of spaghetti to last through a few dinners, some fresh fruit/veggies, and some snack food. Buying food while road tripping can become quite costly. We like to travel with a cooler and stop at local gas stations to heat up our food.

We've been asked by many aspiring road trippers how we were able to sleep in a car for 2.5 weeks. Our response; you get used to it after a few days. Think of the amount of money you save on hotel costs, and how much ground you cover sleeping in shifts while the other person is driving. We chose to sleep during long stretches of roads where there weren`t many attractions to see (ie Saskatchewan and the drive between Ottawa and Montreal).

Expect the unexpected:

While we travelled with a large list of attractions to see in every province, we did leave room for flexibility in our explorations. We came across many unexpected fun roadside attractions, small towns, random statues and fountains on our journey.

We also encountered a small tornado while in Toronto, Hurricane Bill in Halifax, and flash flood Danny in Chicago. These of course were natural disasters were weren't expecting to encounter. Expect the unexpected while travelling.

Budgeting for your trip:

Knowing how much your trip will cost you is important. Allot extra spending money for unexpected expenses or situations (like your car breaking down, or a needed hotel stay). We chose to buy a roadside assistance package just to be safe. You never know when you are going to need it.

This of course brings us back to our first point of prioritizing which attractions you want to see, know how much entrance fees and admissions will cost you ahead of time. Opt for free or cheap attractions if money is an issue.

Break down your road trip budget into these categories:
- gas (I used Google map to estimate how many kms we would travel, which helped estimate how much gas we would need to buy)
- rental car/rv (if you choose to do so)
- food (always cheaper to buy food from a Wal-mart then eat out for every meal)
- hotel stay
- park entrance fees (find the free parks and go exploring)
- admission for various attractions (find coupons online before hand)
- budget for unexpected essentials
- spending money for touristy purchases

Also, just a note that driving through the province of Nova Scotia, it costs $4 to get in and $4 to get out. If you travel through the states on your way home, budget for LOTS of toll roads. 

Our biggest mistakes:

- Not mapping out where to shower (we eventually found local wave pools for a quick swim and shower)
- Missing some amazing attractions like Ottawa, Prince Edward Island, and many hidden gems along the way.

Final tip:

I found it helpful to type in town names of places we were passing through, and looking on Google images to see fun roadside attractions and parks to see. This helps a lot with planning. Google maps also helps us a ton with planning our trip, travel times between destinations, and gave us a great estimate on gas costs (how many tanks of gas we needed). Also remember that gas prices vary across Canada, so anticipate to pay more for gas in certain provinces. 

We also found it fun to get a picture of us with each province`s sign :)

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