Traveling On a Budget: 5-Day Road Trip for Under $1,000

Traveling On a Budget: 5-Day Road Trip for Under $1,000 - Casual Money TalkI’m happy to announce that, after more than 2 months of underemployment, my husband has finally landed a permanent job.

It’s not the most glamorous job and he is taking a significant pay cut. But he’s in a role he likes, working for a company he admires, and starting a new career path that offers real opportunities for skill development and advancement.

After the official start date of his new job was decided, which was in another 2 weeks, my husband asked me, “why don’t we go on a road trip?”

The next words that came out of my mouth were, “why don’t we leave tomorrow?”

We looked at each other with googly eyes.

A spontaneous trip! We certainly haven’t had one of those in a long while.

Being an adult with a career and being able to pack up and leave at a moment’s notice don’t usually jive well together.

So when we’re presented with a rare chance to ditch everything at the drop of a hat and hit the road, we don’t hesitate.

The logistics of the trip was taken care of nearly as quickly as the decision was made:

Destination: we knew that we wanted to explore Canada’s diverse landscapes, but Banff is out of the question due to it being more than 3,500 kilometers away, so we opted to head in the general direction of Winnipeg and see Lake Huron and Lake Superior along the way.

Packing: we took one small luggage with us. Included in it are toiletries, swimsuits, books, our collection of coupons, and 3 days’ worth of clothes. We also brought a gigantic bag of Doritos as our road trip snack.

Lodging: we wanted to keep this road trip fun and spontaneous, so we purposefully didn’t craft a detailed day-to-day itinerary. We booked the hotel for the first night before we departed and let serendipity sort out the rest.

Work: I worked during this trip, partially because we needed the money, partially due to professional ethics (I prefer to give a longer notice period before I go on vacations), partially because I truly enjoy what I do and juggling sight-seeing and work projects seemed manageable.

I have been sharing our financial journey for the past few months, now I’m going to share an actual journey that we took – where we went, how much we spent, and what we’ve seen along the way.

Our road trip route.

Day 1 – June 8, 2018

Destination: Mississauga – Blind River

We left the house immediately after lunch, and spent the next 3 hours driving on the not-very-scenic highway to make up for lost time, so we could make it to our hotel before nightfall.

The first day was exhilarating – the freshness of the experience, the awe-inspiring sights, and the interesting conversations I had with my husband.

Every turn brought something new into view. Dainty creeks, funky rock formations, rolling hills that are covered by shades of green, and endless streams that twist and turn like thin silver ribbons, our eyes absorbed them all.

At night, we settled in our first motel, which didn’t look like much from the outside but provided all we needed to sleep safely and comfortably.

Our fatigue overpowered any hunger we would’ve felt, so we skipped dinner and went directly to bed.

Here’s what our spending looked like on day 1:

  • Bag of Doritos (640g): $5.64
  • Gas: $50
  • Small can of Coke: $1.98
  • Motel: $111.87

Total: $169.49

Day 2 – June 9, 2018

Destination: Blind River – Shreiber

I woke up bright and early, and got a lot of work done in the little office nook of our motel room.

It occurred to me then that this must be what it feels like to be a digital nomad.

By 10AM, we were ravenous – we hadn’t eaten anything for 19 hours at that point. I ordered eggs and toasts, with a side of sausage, while my husband opted for a bowl of Cheerios.

After a friendly chat with our charming waitress about the road ahead, we bid farewell to Blind River.

The weather that day was just perfect. Sunny, but breezy.

What we saw on day 2 completely blew our minds.

We lost count of how many lakes and rivers we passed by that glimmered against the misty mountains and among the Tolkien-esque ferns, and how many breathtaking views that should grace the pages of National Geographic.

I also learned to appreciate the beauty of birch trees, especially against a patch of cloudless blue sky.

I remember thinking: this feeling right here is the reason we want to achieve our financial goals — so we can afford to enjoy more moments like this.

For lunch, we stopped by a tiny but peaceful village called Chapleau. With a population of 1,964, everyone we met seemed genuinely friendly and content with life. While I don’t see myself retiring in a tiny town, I do see the appeal of a quiet, but unordinary life.

After we washed down our KFC burgers with lemon iced tea, we chatted about books, the latest news, people in our lives, childhood memories, and of course, money.

This wasn’t new for us. Our best conversations take place almost exclusively when my husband is behind the wheels. Over time, these conversations brought us closer on an intellectual level, and resolved many perpetual arguments.

When we finally arrived at our motel, which was at the foot of a hill in Shreiber, we were again tired but not hungry. Skipping dinner 2 nights in a row was a no-no, so we had a breakfast sandwich each and called it a night.

Here’s what our spending looked like on day 2:

  • Breakfast (complimentary but sausage and tea were not included): $4.8
  • Lunch (KFC): $18.44
  • Gas: $20
  • Dinner (A&W): $9.02
  • Motel: $89.27

Total: $141.53

Day 3 – June 10, 2018

Destination: Shreiber – Thunder Bay

After spending 16+ hours sitting in the car during the last 2 days, we were ready to switch it up.

We charted course to Thunder Bay, a nearby city that is located on Lake Superior. We didn’t know too much about this city but we were eager to explore.

We caught glimpses of Lake Superior on the way there, and it did not disappoint. Words like immense, divine and majestic came to mind.

Thunder Bay itself was a nice change of scenery for us. While we loved driving on carless roads and immersing ourselves in preserved nature, being in a city meant that I could buy a fresh pair of sandals to replace the ones I broke the day prior.

As a sucker for quaint coffee shops and bistros, I was happy with the array of lunch options. My husband and I enjoyed a hearty meal on the terrace of Nook, a chic Italian restaurant with a light-hearted atmosphere.

My husband ordered the Italian Sausage pizza with roasted peppers and herbs.
I ordered the Muffuletta sandwich with a side of salad.

After lunch, we drove to the marina to read on the lawn while breathing in the faintly familiar lake air. I felt perfectly at peace.

Here’s what our spending looked like on day 3:

  • Breakfast: $7.88
  • Gas: $40
  • Sandals: $33.9
  • Lunch (Nook): $42.82
  • Motel (Days Inn): $133.23

Total: $257.83

Day 4 – June 11, 2018

Destination: Thunder Bay – Sault Ste. Marie

All good things come to an end. We had been having a blast, but we knew we couldn’t sustain the cost of traveling. It was time to head back home.

The first half of the day was spent retracing the roads we’ve already traveled.

The air was hot and humid, and we were both mildly annoyed. Even our conversations became uninspired.

Full confession: I strongly dislike coming back on the same road, no matter where the destination is.

Alas, things got more exciting as soon as we entered the Lake Superior Provincial Park.

I’ll let the video speak for itself.

This was just the tip of the iceberg. We will definitely revisit this park at some point in the future to explore it more thoroughly.

Here’s what our spending looked like on day 4:

  • Breakfast (complimentary): $0
  • Gas: $30
  • Lunch (Pizza Hut): $14.10
  • Snacks: $4.38
  • Dinner (McDonald’s): $11.50
  • Hotel: $114.84

Total: $174.82

Day 5 – June 12, 2018

Destination: Sault Ste. Marie – Mississauga

The last day was relatively unadventurous.

We drove mostly on highways and the views were getting duller, but our spirits were shockingly high. The fact that we were able to sleep in our own bed that night probably helped.

The sun was blazingly hot, and I had sporadically dozed off in the passenger seat. My husband was kept awake by drinking Coca-Cola, which he bought at lunch.

The only highlight was when we discovered that the city of Sudbury is home to SNOLAB, an underground laboratory that focuses on neutrino and dark matter physics. Fascinating stuff!

The rest of the afternoon passed in a blur.

It was only when we became engulfed in a severe traffic jam did I realize that we were on the final stretch of the road.

They say the return trip always feels shorter than the way there, but I beg to differ.

Here’s what our spending looked like on day 5:

  • Breakfast (complimentary): $0
  • Gas: $75
  • Lunch: $28.34

Total: $103.34

The Verdict

We have spent a total of $847.01 for this short escapade.

Could we have spent less? Yes. If we had more time to prepare, we could’ve packed more non-perishable foods, and booked cheaper hotels. But then it wouldn’t have been a spontaneous trip, would it?

On a related note, you might notice that we ate a crazy amount of fast food on this trip. Regrettably, the severe lack of food options along the Trans-Canada Highway was partially the reason. For anyone planning a similar trip, be mindful of that, especially if you have dietary restrictions.

Overall, the experience of a spontaneous road trip was unparalleled, so I’d say it was money well spent.

Category: Frugal Living

3 comments

    1. Thank you, Owen! Since we didn’t do any research before the trip, it was a huge surprise to see sights like that. 🙂

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Article by: Flora Pang

Flora is a personal finance blogger, digital marketer, and lover of Lego products. You can catch her rambling about money on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.