Part 1: Road Trips & Travel Tips

August 06, 2012

We were lucky enough to go on a road trip at the beginning of the summer, for two weeks, across western Canada with my brother! On my last day of nannying (I am still in denial it is over), we left at 10:30pm, and drove for 39 hours straight (aside from washroom breaks, gas fill ups, and an occasional snack break) through endless Ontario wilderness, and infinite prairies of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, until we finally reached Calgary, Alberta.

Altogether we spent 9 days in Alberta, 3 in Vancouver, and nearly 5 days driving altogether.

On our travels, and even before we left, we were frequently asked "Why?" as in "Why travel out west?" "Why not go through the states? It's way faster?" and "Why the heck would you drive?"
I have several answers to any variation of "Why?" and they go a little something like this:

Because we had never been west of Ontario before. Because we like adventure. Because when your brother asks you if you want to go on a road trip with him, and you haven't traveled since your honeymoon two years ago, you say yes!!! Because over the past few years we've had several friends, including family members, move to Alberta and British Columbia. Because we wanted to see our home country (it was well worth it). Because we could!

Do I recommend driving? I think that it depends on the person/people involved. There can be such a shared and intimate comradery when you take a long road trip with friends. However, it can also strain relationships! My former employer took a similar cross-Canada road trip with an ex-boyfriend several years ago, which, at the half-way point, revealed to her that he was soon going to be an ex-boyfriend. While Patricio, my brother, and I would get on each others nerves now and then, we can all look back positively on the experience.

Not our van, but I wish!
More photographs to come, but for now, some tips I gleaned from our travels!

Five Tips for Traveling on a Budget (Road Trip)

1. Put Money Aside

Patricio and I are on a fairly tight budget every month, so in the months leading up to our trip we put aside any extra cash I made babysitting, from my birthday, and filled up coin rolls with any spare change. Before we left I paid all our phone, internet, and credit card bills in advance, in case the payment due date occurred while we were away. (I actually ended up overpaying one of my credit cards, which was a nice surprise later.)

2. Skip the Hotel
We stayed at friends houses exclusively throughout our travels, which cut back heavily expenses. I realize that this is not an option for many people. Some options that might end up being cheaper than staying in a hotel - camping (some camp sites are free) if you're up for roughing it, or renting from people on a website like airbnb. We booked our honeymoon through airbnb two years ago, and stayed at a charming apartment in the heart of Montreal, Quebec, which was in walking distance from most major attractions, had a kitchen (we cooked most of our meals), wireless internet, and was more than half the price of staying at a hotel, plus we found a discount coupon for $50 off.

3. Bring Snacks
Patricio and I are both vegan, so we knew we might face a bit of a challenge in terms of finding food while on the road. We knew that it would not always be convenient to try to seek out suitable vegan take-out, or to stop at a grocery store to pick up a few items, so I spent the week before we left preparing and buying snacks that would sustain us on the drive there, and then some.

Our big cooler full of goodies included: apples, bananas, carrots, cherries, dates, dehydrated fruit strips, oranges, almond milk, almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds (the nuts were a healthy source of protein), homemade granola (a source of fiber, omega-3, and protein), homemade energy balls (loaded with dates, almonds, hemp and chia seeds for omega-3, protein, fiber and iron).

We also bought 4-liter jugs of water to fill our water bottles with along the way, and also to aid in our roadside teeth-brushing.

4. Cook Your Own Meals 
Homemade tacos... drool.
We made sure to partake in some of the local vegan eateries, but for the most part, Patricio and I would find a local grocery store and buy what we needed to make our own meals. Even though food prices are slightly (sometimes significantly) more expensive than in the Toronto area, this saved us money rather than eating out for every meal.

Our wonderful hosts would sometimes feed us (we stayed with one friend who had previously been a raw food vegan), but we didn't expect them to have vegan-friendly food in their pantry or to cook items specifically for us. We made sure to cook for them, though!

5. Visit Free Local Attractions
Let's just say we were heavy on the sightseeing, light on the economy-building. Staying with friends allowed us to experience in the real local culture, rather than some of the more obvious tourist-y attractions, and also saved us a significant amount. We visited outdoor parks, beaches, and explored city art and architecture. We didn't feel like we missed out on anything, especially after calculating how little we spent at the end of the day.

Oh, and Pack Light.
I didn't include these in the tips because it isn't so much a money-saving tip as it is just a plain old tip - although having less weight in your car does improve your gas mileage. Patricio and I packed light when it came to clothing and brought our own detergent in anticipation of doing laundry during our travels. We were lucky enough to stay with friends who offered for us to use their washers/dryers, but we were prepared to hand-wash items if needs be, all for the sake of packing light!

Six Things That Came In Handy

1. Pillows
Pillows to cushion your aching rear, pillows to prevent your head from colliding with the window with every bump. Cars are not exactly designed to be a comfortable place of sleep.

2. Hand Sanitizer
Because there are germs EVERYWHERE. And who knows if that dimly lit gas station bathroom will have soap... or paper towel to use to avoid touching every surface.

3. Stain Remover
If you are a clean freak like me (not really, but kinda), bringing your favourite stain remover (Spot & Stain by Ecolife) is a must. This came in handy on multiple occasions, while on the road, and while staying with friends. Grease stains, eating in the car stains, blood (for whatever reason!).

4. Vitamins & Medicine
We all needed the extra help to boost our immune systems while we were driving nonstop with infrequent meals. I brought B12, C, D drops, and Blood Builder (iron) vitamins. I refused to get sick on our trip, but I brought some cold medicine and ibuprofen just in case. My brother ended up coming down with a cold, and getting several head aches, so both were used. 

5. Audiobooks
My brother has a DVD player in his car, which resulted in endless movies and tv shows. We also enjoyed hundreds of songs from three different ipods. But the highlight of our shared media experience was when we put on our Harry Potter audio books (read by Stephen Fry). I also ended up reading The Martian Chronicles by the late and great Ray Bradbury aloud to the entire car, which kept us all awake.

6. A Map
I don't mean a GPS, or google maps, but a tangible, up-to-date, paper map. I am not saying don't use your GPS or phone if you have them, but don't overlook a good old-fashioned map. No technical difficulties, no endlessly scrolling on a 2-inch screen to see where you're going, no searching for a signal. When you're in the middle of the mountains and you can't get any signal, you'll be thankful.

If you read through all of that, then I applaud you! I hope that some of it was useful. More details on our travels, and picture posts to come!

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