Plan your own road trip (FAQ)

If you’ve ever toyed with the idea of driving across Canada, let me tell you, it’s a lot easier than you might think. It doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to take much planning. It’s an incredible adventure and the kind of trip I think every Canadian should do at least once in his or her lifetime.

For most people, these are the first questions that come to mind:

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?

The short answer: four to six weeks

The long answer: I’ve heard it’s possible to drive across the country in seven days, but while I believe it’s possible, I can’t imagine it would be worth it if the trip is meant to offer any kind of R&R or experience of Canadian culture. I took exactly six weeks to get from Victoria, BC to St. John’s, NL, which meant driving for no more than eight hours on any given day and staying for two or three days in a few cities, including a five-day stop-over in Montréal. I also took a detour off the Trans-Canada Highway to drive up through the Rockies, across to Edmonton, and down to Calgary again. If I hadn’t stopped anywhere for more than one night, the whole trip would have taken me one month.

WHAT DOES IT COST?

The short answer: $2,886.10  (my total expenses)

The long answer: While the cost of gas is non-negotiable and an obviously unavoidable expense on a classic road trip, there are ways to increase the fuel efficiency of your ride and there are, of course, ways to spend less on food and accommodation. Eat groceries instead of restaurant meals, and either camp or stay with friends/Couchsurf along the way. Here’s a breakdown of what I spent during my six-week trip:

  • Gas = $940.78 (Total distance approx. 10,000 km, in my Hyundai Accent hatchback, with 27 fill-ups.)
  • Food = $638.31 (combination of groceries and restaurant meals)
  • Accommodation = $255 (one hostel = $15, one B&B = $85, one motel = $135)
  • Entertainment/activities = $523.95 (includes ferries, tolls and bike rentals)
  • Souvenirs/gifts = $377.75 
  • Car maintenance = $53.65 (one oil change)
  • Miscellaneous = $150.31

WHAT SHOULD I PACK?

The short answer: half the stuff you think you’ll need and double the money. (Actually, this applies to pretty much any trip.)

The long answer: Most things you can buy along the way, if needed, but I found the most useful things to have on the road were my camera, sunglasses, and smart phone. I know I would have been horribly lost many times if it weren’t for the GPS in my phone, which I hooked up to my car stereo so I could hear Siri read out directions. It’s also probably a good idea to have a copy of any important documents, such as your medical or glasses prescriptions, travel insurance, driver’s license, or passport (if you’re going to drive back through the USA). The things I found I didn’t need were the maps, flashlight, bug spray, and most of the clothes I brought. Of course, if you’re going to camp, you’ll need the bug spray and a lot of other stuff. For a more detailed list of items to bring, check out 100 things to pack for a summer road trip.

HOW SHOULD I PREPARE MY VEHICLE?

The short answer: get a full inspection and tune-up, travel insurance (CAA is good), and make sure you have a spare tire (and know, before you set off, how to change it yourself (just in case)).

The long answer: I was lucky enough to have absolutely no car trouble during my trip. I think that’s because my car was in great shape when I embarked on my journey. I’ve had it since almost new and maintained it regularly and, before I left, I got it fully tuned up at the dealership, including an oil change, full inspection, tires checked and rotated, and I had good all-weather tires on. It’s expensive to maintain a vehicle, but if you’re going to go on a road trip, you’ll want to make sure you have a reliable mode of transport. If you’re into car maintenance and feel you can do it yourself, check out these 10 ways to prepare your vehicle for a road trip.

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