7 money-saving tips for thrifty road trip travellers

Road trips: so fun and carefree, right? But whether you’re cruising the Manitoba highways, heading out of province or taking a trip across the border, they’re not always cheap. 

Hitting the open road still means opening your wallet. One U.S. study found the average out-of-town car trip costs $669 in gas, $172 for parking, and $71 in road tolls. Keep in mind, this study showed U.S. dollars, is an average of all ranges of trips and, most importantly, was before the price of gas climbed higher. And these figures don’t even include food, which we’ll dig into later. 

road trip with dog

That all said, there’s still nothing quite like the open road, and there are plenty of ways to be thrifty. Here are seven tips to keep an eye on expenses while taking the scenic route. 

1. Save on gas

This information has never been more helpful. The GasBuddy mobile app tracks prices at 150,000 gas stations across North America to find the cheapest fuel near you in real-time. Plug your route details into GasBuddy’s cost calculator to estimate gas costs for all or part of your trip.

2. Cut parking costs 

The SpotHero app, which has been called the Airbnb of parking, finds the cheapest parking spaces rented out at houses, condos, apartments, businesses, churches and schools. To save even more money, you can also list your own home parking spot on SpotHero while you’re on the road. (Check out the Winnipeg locations here)

For road trips further away, instead of getting dinged for pricey parking, shop around for the cheapest spots on the ParkWhiz site or mobile app. You can compare prices, reserve a space and pre-pay for parking in 230 North American cities, including Toronto, Chicago, New York and San Francisco. 

Plus, factor parking into the price of your accommodations, and prioritize places that include a spot for your vehicle. Nothing racks up a hotel or vacation-stay bill like an additional parking charge!

3. Eat inexpensively 

Restaurants can take a bite out of travel budgets: the average road trip warrior spends $27 per day on food by eating out — but only $6 per day by making their own meals!

Book a hotel suite or vacation-home with a kitchen to cut back on restaurants. Also, check if your credit cards, loyalty cards or membership programs (such as CAA Manitoba) offer discounts at restaurants along your route. The GasBuddy and CAA mobile apps can also be used to locate deals at participating convenience stores and highway rest stops near you.

4. Sleep cheap

Vacation-home rentals like Airbnb accommodations are already a popular alternative to pricier hotels. Home swapping is another option: if you swap houses during your trip with another homeowner on a site like HomeExchange or HomeLink, your lodgings are absolutely free.

And did you know camping is cool again? (Was it ever not cool?) If you’re doing a road trip to camp in Manitoba, reserve your sites in advance and check out special options like the yurts and family vacation cabins.

Across the country, besides regular tent and RV sites starting at $15.70 per night, Parks Canada now offers upscale ‘glamping’ options like cabins and MicrOcube (furnished with a double bed). Other provinces have their own camping specialites, such as options in Alberta and Saskatchewan for around $45 per night that will get you a traditional canvas tipi experience that sleeps five to eight people, plus a picnic table. Upgrades like cots are just $10 per night. 

5. Cheap thrills 

Closer to home, Travel Manitoba offers a great outline of activities and adventures that could occupy your entire road trip, including an interactive trip planner.

Look for promotional deals that bundle together local tourist attractions — and save you money. The Vancouver Attractions pass saves you 20 to 35% off separate regular admission prices on locations like Grouse Mountain and the Sea to Sky Gondola ride. Travel Alberta has its Travel Offers, which showcase some great destinations for the whole family at reasonable rates.

For larger urban destinations that might be on your road trip route, CityPass is available in 13 U.S. cities as well as Toronto. And the Attractions Ontario site features coupons for activities throughout that province if you’re heading east. 

6. Stay outside the city

Hotels and restaurants are often cheaper if you find a stay 30 minutes outside of downtown. If there’s a commuter rail system in your destination city (like Vancouver’s Trans Link, Seattle’s Link or Toronto’s GO), leave your car at your suburban accommodations and take public transit into the core to save parking and gas costs.

7. Don’t use data 

Avoid data charges by booking accommodations with free Wi-Fi, printing off driving directions rather than using real-time way-finding apps, and downloading movies, TV shows, and podcasts to devices so passengers can consume them in the car without streaming. 

Looking for more tips for budget-friendly ways to travel in style? We’ve got you covered here.

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If you need to set up a savings account or plan a budget for your next vacation, our financial advisors are here for you. Whenever you’re ready, feel free to book an appointment online and we’ll be happy to assist you.

About Christine Wong

Christine Wong has been covering business and technology since 1995, when Mark Zuckerberg was in sixth grade. A former associate producer at Business News Network and Slice TV, Wong freelances while chasing after the biggest story of her life — Ben, who is 10.

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