Taking a road trip on the cheap

July 4, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


Even with the sky high price of gas, there are plenty of great reasons to take a road trip with your family. First of all, convenient trains or planes that go directly to your destination may be unavailable. Furthermore, if all you ever do is hop from city to city by air, you miss all the great people and places in between.

But a long car trip can be stressful particularly if you are travelling with young children. Here are some ideas to help you make sure your road trip is an economical vacation to remember, for all the right reasons.


Make a realistic budget for food, gas, accommodation and entertainment and stick to it. That way the afterglow from your family vacation will not be dimmed by unexpected credit card bills when you get home. 

Your car

Have your car fully checked and serviced before you leave. If you don’t already have Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) or some other form of roadside assistance, now is the time to sign up. Consider the more expensive package that will pay for your car to be towed for a longer distance in case you have a breakdown in the middle of nowhere.


Get maps and plot out your route. A GPS is useful, but there is nothing like a hard copy where you can see the whole route at the same time. The CAA sells maps and guidebooks. They will also create a TripTik® for you or you can create your own TripTik® travel planner online.


The selection of food at highway stops is limited and expensive. Bring a cooler and pack a picnic and healthy snacks for the road. Most hotels or motels will freeze your ice packs and you can refill the cooler at local grocery stores before you head out each day. Of course ice cream at local dairy bars is a mandatory summer treat.


Packing a car with car seats, clothes, toys, food and sports equipment for a whole family can be a challenge. Do a dry run before the morning you are leaving to get a realistic idea of what will fit. Then take half out. You may also decide a car roof box is necessary to fit in all the essentials.


Trailer and tent camping can be cost effective accommodation for families. However, if you are not the outdoors type there are hotels and motels to suit every budget. Make a realistic estimate of how far you can safely and sanely drive each day and pre-book. A service like priceline.com allows you to bid on discount hotel rooms and pay for them in advance.


Summer is festival season in Canada. Inexpensive or free concerts under the stars are a treat for the whole family. Coupon books offering discounts for local amusement parks historical sites and sports events can be purchased for many Canadian and U.S. cities. Research local events on the internet before you leave, and where possible plan your stops around the things you want to see and do.


Bring a car charger for your cell phone and keep your phone, tablet computers etc. fully charged. Be aware that cell phone charges can quickly mount up when you are travelling, particularly if you leave Canada and roaming charges kick in. Use Skype on your cell phone or a computer to avoid expensive long distance calls.


Each member of your family needs a passport to travel to the U.S. If you cross at a busy crossing frequently it may be worth getting a Nexus pass to avoid line ups. Check out what you can bring back duty free, depending on the length of your stay.

Drive safely

Follow the rules of the road. Don’t drink and drive. If you are tired find a place to spend the night, even if it is earlier than your anticipated stop. Avoid picking up strangers or hitchhikers. It is dangerous and can put your family at risk.

Do you have ideas about how to have a successful road trip on a budget? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

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18-Jul Buying a home Mortgage insurance vs life insurance
25-Jul Telecommuting Jobs where you can work from home
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