Canada | Personal Finance

How to save money on your summer road trip

From planning accommodations strategically to budgeting for gas, here are some tips to keep your spending on track

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mother securing kids in to back seat of mini vanA road trip might be cheaper than plane tickets for the entire family, but costs can still add up quickly (Getty Images/pixdeluxe)

With winter starting to fade from memory, Canadians from coast to coast have their eyes on that coveted summer vacation. Whether you’re crossing the country or exploring your own backyard, a road trip is a fun and affordable way to get away. It might be cheaper than plane tickets for the entire family, but costs can still add up quickly.

“The problems with vacations, even road trips, is everyone wants to do them, but they don’t really budget for it,” says Barry Choi, a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert.

Choi shares a few tips so you can spend more on fun, and less on logistics. 

BE STRATEGIC WITH LODGING

On most road trips, your accommodations will probably be the biggest expense, no matter how long the vacation, Choi says. “The nice thing about road trips is that you have a vehicle with you—so you can probably stay outside of the city centre,” he says. “Staying in the downtown core means paying a premium on the hotel room, plus parking.” 

Choi also suggests joining every hotel loyalty program you possibly can. “You might not be able to take advantage of their points right away, but depending on how often you stay at hotels, you can use those points for free stays later.”

PLAN OUT YOUR GAS GUZZLING

Have you looked at gas prices lately? Those pit stops are going to add up—even for the most fuel-efficient cars. For the biggest savings, Choi’s favourite app is GasBuddy

“It allows you to see what the gas prices are along your route,” he says. “Best of all, it can calculate how much you’ll spend on the entire trip. I like that you can build that into your budget.”

FIND AFFORDABLE ATTRACTIONS

You want to have some fun on these road trips—but that doesn’t mean every attraction has to take a bite out of your wallet. Choi suggests looking at free things along the way, such as a beach or a provincial park. “A lot of small towns you pass through have one major attraction, and it’s usually free or really cheap,” he says.

That being said, if you are going to any major cities, Choi suggests looking ahead to see if there are any free days at major attractions. If not, see if you can purchase tickets in advance, and maybe skip the line.

CREATE YOUR PERSONAL FOOD TRUCK

“As a child I took a few road trips with my parents and cousins,” Choi says. “My aunt would actually pack a rice cooker!” No need to bring your own mini kitchen, he says, but one of the best thing you can do is bring a cooler with you. 

“If you have a cooler and buy some groceries on the way, it’s easy to make sandwiches and snacks as opposed to stopping for fast food every time.”

MORE SUMMER VACATION PLANNING

A survey conducted for CPA Canada found that 35 per cent of participants planned to travel within their home province/territory during summer, while 23 per cent of participants had plans to travel to other provinces/territories within Canada. Read more from the 2019 CPA Canada Summer Spending Survey. 

And before you confirm your travel plans, make sure you know the common vacation scams and how to avoid falling victim to travel fraudsters.