If you’re looking to make your way slowly across Canada and stop whenever you want to check out pretty spots, this post is not really meant for you.
It’s for those of us who need to get from point A to point B with their cars and plan to drive as long as they can to get there (but it’ll still take 2-3 days to do it)
As a background, I’m from Quebec City and my whole family still lives there. Chris is from a small farm outside of Regina, Saskatchewan. Being digital nomads (without a permanent home), we split quite a few summers between SK and QC. We would land from a foreign country in Regina, spend most of the spring there (April to end of May) and then we’d drive to Quebec with a lot of stuff and send the next two months (June & July) in Quebec, before driving back to Sask to help with harvest.
That means that over the years, we got really good a cramping as much stuff as we could into a small Honda Accord (’98 I might add) and drive the 4 days it took to get from Quebec City to Regina and back.
So here are our best tips to make the trip more enjoyable!
Figure out your food
Honestly, there’s quite a bit to cover when it comes to food, so let’s dive in.
We always drove over the summer/fall, so we were camping along the way. That means that we didn’t have access to a kitchen or anything like that (we also didn’t bring anything to cook, you’ll see why as I explain myself, lol!)
So for breakfast, we actually ate after taking our tent down and hitting the road. In the first few years, we made a couple of batches of muffins to eat for breakfast. (Our fave were these zucchini muffins) But to be honest, muffins are a bit too dry for me in the morning. So what we actually ended up doing, which we loved so much more, was making a big batch of egg salad that would go at the bottom of our cooler and we’d put it in a tortilla wrap to make an egg salad burrito (kinda) and it was delish! Pretty easy to eat while driving, but also moist enough. We also kept a few berries in the cooler to snack on in the morning and an orange juice container for some different hydration.
For lunch, we never really wanted to stop since you can easily lose half an hour. Chris is really good at eating and driving, so I put sandwiches together for us while he drove. I don’t really like buying packaged food, like pre-sliced meat or cheese, but on those road-trips, it’s just the most convenient thing. Figure out how many days you’re driving to plan how much of each ingredient you’ll need. And if you’re having sandwiches, I recommend again using tortilla wraps instead of two slices of bread since it holds much better!
For snacks, we loved having some veggies + dip, which is a bit healthier than snacking on chips and candies. We did bring some chips (gotta make this trip pleasant!!) but it wasn’t the only thing we snacked on. I don’t know how you are, but when I’m in a car with nothing to do, all I can think about it how hungry I am, lol! So we just give in to the snacking when we’re in the car and we can burn those calories later. Peace of mind of more worth it. We loved to have some beef jerky and some kind of trail mix/granola mix in the car too (we usually did a Costco haul before the trip). Also, Munchies are great in the car, ha! You get some different flavors here and there, so it’s more fun and satisfying.
Finally, for dinners we decided we weren’t going to bring that food with us, we’d just find something on the road that was quick and easy. We also want a warm meal at the end of the day, after eating cold stuff from our cooler all day, so stopping once a day is fine for us. My best tip is to make sure you have some kind of way of knowing what’s ahead, because, in the middle of Ontario, there aren’t that many options for fast-food. Also, grocery stores make great “homemade meals” that are sometimes way more pleasant than another burger from A&W. And if you’re stopping close to a city, we love having a pizza from Little Caesars to change the pace. Again, you’ll need some skills if you want to drive and eat a pizza, but Chris can do it so we’ve been doing it, ha!
Figure out your water
If you’re road-tripping across Canada, then you should know that most water is potable, so you don’t need to be constantly buying it (unless you’re very sensitive to the taste). We bought one of those AquaPak containers and filled it up before we left. Depending on how much water you drink, it might last you a while, but we tend to drink quite a bit, so we filled it up each night, whenever we could basically.
If you’re camping, most campground will have drinking water (I’m pretty sure all water is drinkable unless it has a notice that it isn’t), but feel free to ask the campsite people if it is!
Chances are you’ll be able to get free water on your way, and since it has a nice tap to it, you can refill your reusable water bottle on the go (or whenever you stop to pee if you don’t want to take the chance of making the whole back of your car wet)
Figure out how and where you’ll sleep
Driving in the spring/fall, we’ve had the luck to be able to camp everywhere. That means it’s much cheaper (we just have a tent in the trunk) but it does get cold sometimes.
We found that when in doubt, find a provincial park to camp at. Especially in Ontario, the provincial park campgrounds are always sparkling clean and well equipped. They might be slightly more expensive than a private campground, but they are well worth the peace of mind. Also, make sure you carry cash! A lot of those places will only take cash, so it’s good to plan to pay for all your nights with cash.
We usually started looking for a campsite around 6-7 PM to find something before 8 PM and be all set up before dark. We carried a tent with us, a blowup mattress, a couple of sleeping bags with some extra blankets, our own pillows and that is basically it.
Even though we’re “camping”, we didn’t bring anything to cook or relax since we just didn’t have space in the car to carry those things and we want to drive as long as possible, so no time to cook at the campground (also that would require a slightly bigger cooler, which we didn’t have room for)
Also, consider that it can get quite cold at night if you’re camping in the spring/fall, so be a bit smarter than me and don’t wash your hair at night. I’ve frozen my head a few times by having wet hair in bed when it’s 5°C or less outside and it’s not fun. If you do have to wash your hair, I recommend doing it as early as possible or using a hand-dryer to get most of the moisture out (or bring a hairdryer if you have one) Otherwise, just wash in the morning if that makes more sense to you.
Figure out access to your stuff
Depending on how full your car is, finding your shower things or your next outfit might be more or less complicated. For us, it was a challenge to pack all of our clothes together and dig to find something. So we decided to make a bag with the clothes we’d need for the trip and put the rest in the trunk where it wasn’t really accessible.
Same for our shower things, we put all of those in one, easily accessible bag, so that after putting our tent up at night, we could just shower and go to sleep.
I recommend making a bag (or two) with clothes for the trip, one for shower things that you can take with you if you’re at a campsite and a bag for things you’ll want in the tent with you. We liked having maybe a game of two in case we wanted to relax a bit, our Kindles and portable phone chargers. If you have any way to charge your phones in the car, I recommend doing that first! And if you need a bit extra juice at night, you can use a power-pack to get it. You’ll also need some kind of flashlight and a Kleenex box or a roll of toilet paper doesn’t hurt.
Also, let’s talk about your cooler for a bit. I recommend buying a good one that is guaranteed to stay cool for at least as long as your trip will be. We freeze a big 4L water bottle and put it in the middle and it does a good job of keeping food cool for the 4 days it takes us to drive. We also make sure to put the cooler on the shaded side of the car (which you can figure out easily based on if you’re driving east or west) and put a sleeping bag on top to insulate it even more. It has worked pretty well so far!
Figure out what you’ll do in the car
This really depends on how many people are going to be in the car and how well you get along with them. You can plan games if you have kids, but we don’t, so I don’t have tips on that. Honestly, we just listened to music all day and just talked, for the whole 9-10 hours that we’re driving. Sometimes the passenger would take a nap but that’s it. I never really read a book while road-tripping, but you might want to!
Chris and I have this weird relationship where even after spending 7 years being together 24/7, we still always have stuff to talk about. And being stuck in the car having nothing else to do but talk actually brings us closer. It’s the one thing I did look forward to the most during our road-trips. I guess it would just be us against the world and it was nice.
If you do need to fight though, because sometimes it happens, just make sure you have something you can do to cool yourself down. Reading a book is always an easy thing to do, or you can get a bit of work done on the computer. Just expect spotty reception, you won’t have awesome data access the whole way.
Figure out where you’ll stop for gas
This is a pro-tip from someone who has done it a few times: gas in Manitoba and Alberta is so much cheaper than anywhere else! So if you’re close to either of those provinces and can make it to the border, wait a little while longer! I promise you it will be worth it, especially if you’re coming from Ontario and heading to Manitoba. Ontario (especially the middle-of-nowhere parts) has the most expensive gas. You’ll also have to pay attention to the signs and know your gas tank pretty well to make sure you don’t run out. Some places don’t have gas for a while, so keep that tank full as much as possible!
Aaaaand I think that’s all, ha! It’s quite a lot of information already on the way that we road-trip. Obviously you’ll have to figure out how to make it work for you, but you can use some of our tips to get started!
Also, I would like to mention that even though I try to reduce my plastic as much as possible on a daily basis, road-tripping is one time that I’ll let that go a bit more. Trying to be zero-waste will make that experience much more complicated than it already is, and so I’m fine with that. We do try to prepare as much as we can from scratch, but it’s just not always possible. I know that in the grand scheme of things, one or two times a year of road-tripping won’t kill this planet. 💚
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