PLANNING YOUR NORTH AMERICAN ROAD TRIP

Snowy mountains, vast canyons, foggy seashores, green plains, muggy rainforests — we witnessed almost every landscape imaginable. Going through 8 states in the U.S. and 5 provinces in Canada can definitely make one want to see more of the world. While we didn’t know it then, Eric and I embarked on the road trip of a lifetime. With a freshly-made playlist of the best road trip songs, a jam-packed van (fully equipped with a double-sized mattress, a cooler, and a spare tire), and a clear-cut smile on our faces, we left at dawn to begin our expedition and fulfill a life-long dream of soaking our feet in the Pacific Ocean.

The most common questions we received when we came back was: How did you plan this? How were you able to afford accommodation every night? How much did this thing cost? Grab a cup of coffee, put on your coziest pair of sweat pants, and make yourself comfortable; I’ll tell you all about our east-to-west-to-east-again adventure and how easy it is to make it a reality.

Here’s what our route looked like departing from Ottawa:

A. Kingston, Ontario, Canada
B. Toronto, Ontario, Canada
C. Detroit, Michigan, United States
D. Chicago, Illinois, United States
E. Des Moines, Iowa, United States
F. Badlands National Park, South Dakota, United States
G. Billings, Montana, United States
H. Beartooth Highway, Montana and Wyoming, United States
I. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States
J. Coeur d’Alène, Idaho, United States
K. Seattle, Washington, United States
L. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
M. Tofino, British Columbia, Canada
N. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
O. Whistler, British Columbia, Canada
P. Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada
Q. Jasper, Alberta, Canada
R. Banff, Alberta, Canada
S. Calgary, Alberta, Canada
T. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
U. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
V. Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

BEGIN WITH YOUR POINTS OF INTEREST

Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? This is the first step to creating the outline of your trip. You’re probably going to get really excited and end up with a bunch of places you won’t be able to fit in your agenda, but that’s okay. You can always keep them for another road trip! Try to pick locations that are on or near an efficient route — this will help determine the length of your trip, which welcomes my next point.

THE DURATION OF YOUR ROAD TRIP

This one goes hand-in-hand with the first step. We had originally allocated about 2 weeks for this road trip, but since we had places like Pacific Rim National Park and Yellowstone National Park on our list, we knew it would not be sufficient, so the length of our road trip grew to about 3 weeks.

Once you figure out your points of interest, the route you’re taking, and how long you’re planning on staying in each spot, the duration of your road trip kind of figures itself out. If a 3-week road trip is too long for you, try narrowing it down to fewer places or staying in a specific location for a shorter period of time. Keep in mind that we left from Ottawa, and we absolutely wanted to reach the Pacific Ocean. Beginning your road trip from anywhere else could completely change the route you decide to take and the things you wish to see.

HOW TO SAVE MONEY ON ACCOMMODATION

Any long-term traveller can confirm that one of the biggest struggles with road-tripping is finding a place to sleep every night on a tight budget. Something that’s proved to be effective for us is spending a night or two in a Walmart parking lot. I said it. A Walmart parking lot.

It was a little nerve-wracking the first time we tried it, however, after nothing but great experiences, the sight of a glowing Walmart sign on the side of the road became a welcoming beacon after a big day of adventures. With that being said, it’s important to get informed on which Walmart allows overnight parking. While we’ve never been approached during our brief stays, I’ve heard stories of people being told they couldn’t spend the night, so make sure to do your research beforehand.

You’ll notice a significant difference in how much money you can save when you don’t book a room every night. It’s a big expense, so we try to avoid it as much as possible. Thankfully, we had a big van in which we stuffed a double-sized mattress at the back, so we saved quite a lot of money by sleeping in our vehicle every few nights. When obtainable, we reserved camping grounds with showers, so we would never go too long without one — a little road trip hack to take with you!

CREATE A SPREADSHEET TO MAKE YOUR BUDGET

We created a day-by-day budget sheet, which allowed us to keep track of how much we could spend each day on food, activities, transportation, etc. We made ample research on the cost of life from city to city, so we knew where we needed to spend less and where we needed to spend more to stay within our budget.

How much did our road trip cost, finally? $2,500 CAD each, give or take. With the conversion rate being the way that it was, we did lose a bit of money when converting to USD. This will be different for everybody depending where you are coming from. Only exchange the bare minimum if you are planning on hopping the border. You can always convert more if needed.

From standing in pure white snow on Beartooth Highway to standing on a massive inactive volcano in Yellowstone National Park, Mother Nature did not disappoint. My constant crave to see our planet only became stronger after this journey was over. It’s crazy how travel can open up one’s mind and heart. I already look forward to get inspired on my next adventure. I leave you with this condensed 4-minute video that sums up our awe-inspiring, spine-tingling, magical 3-week road trip.

Copyright 2020 © Cindy Malette
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