Well we have a few tips that have saved us quite a few $$’s and definitely means there is more money to spend on activities or to just prolong the travelling dream.
1. Free camping
Free camping whether this be in a tent or Campervan is accepted in Canada and America, however only in specific locations. You can camp for free on state/government land which usually include a selection of recreation sites or lay-by’s on Forrest logging roads. Resources to help you locate these are the WikiCamps app, freecampsites.net and there is a BC recreation sites government run website (specific to British Columbia). It’s also worth downloading the ONP Walmart app as you can park for free in a number of their car parks (we’ve heard that you can also stay overnight in Canadian tire but have yet to confirm). Most of the free camp sites on state/government owned land can vary from an equipped picnic area with pit toilets, fire pits and picnic tables to a pull off on a logging road. We have free camped 80% of our entire trip.
Camping in provincial and national parks is only permitted at designated fee campgrounds or backcountry camping (again with a fee). If you are unable to find free camping, these sites are probably your next best option as prices can range from $23-$30 and for that you usually get a picnic table, fire pit, access to drinking water, toilets and if your really lucky-showers. Facilities vary and are definitely worth checking out and are usually located near points of interest within the parks such as waterfalls, lakes, popular hikes or beaches.
If your lucky you will also meet some amazing people along the way who will offer you a place to stay. We have made some amazing new friends.
Our camping spot on the banks of the Kicking Horse River in the Canadian Rockies. We found this one on freecampsites.net and it was beautiful.
2. Home ‘camp’ cooking
Yes it’s not as exciting as sampling the local cuisine and takes a little more effort but it’s definitely cheaper and probably healthier. We purchased a full time working compressor fridge powered by a leisure battery we had installed in the car. This enables us to keep food fresher longer meaning fresh meat and veg on the menu and milk for breakfast and importantly coffee. Even with the cost of the fridge and battery it still works out hugely cheaper to cook yourself than eat out. Even without this facility the occasional camp cooked meal will save you $$.
National and State Parks have day use areas that you can cook in, and when you are along the coast there are plenty of places to stop and cook.
We start the day with cereal and fruit, make sandwiches for lunch and end the day with a proper home cooked dinner. We try to cook in bulk when we can. As Jasper is a growing boy we try to ensure he eats healthily. To be honest if we didn’t have him we would probably be eating instant noodles and living off cereal bars-the things we do for kids.
And if you are in a city for lunch/dinner… check out CHINATOWN!!! We can stop off at a Chinese bakery and get a full bakery lunch for under $8 for all 3 of us. Cheap cheap cheap and the perfect solution when you are out and about. I love a Chinese pork steamed bun. Yum.
A bit of wild washing up on the banks of the river near Strathcona Provincial Park on Vancouver Island. If your going to do this make sure you are using environmentally friendly washing up liquid!
3. Buy a Thermos
If you haven’t noticed, a lot our posts mention coffee. Amazing sweet coffee. We have a coffee problem. Certainly Mummy, without a coffee in the morning I can say I do resemble perhaps a British Sasquatch and have certainly unleashed my wrath once or twice already. If your on a budget it doesn’t mean kicking the habit.
We purchased a Thermos from Canadian Tire for $17 (+tax). We make the coffee the night before and it’s still hot 24 hours later. This means no faffing in the morning and hot instant coffee all day. At coffee coming in between $2-$4 a pop per cup at any local establishment this has certainly saved us a considerable amount.
If you want to step it up a gear (like we did), you can buy a French Press from IKEA for around $6. Again, for coffee lovers this is a must.
4. Shop around. Shop around again….
Most towns and even the smallest of villages you pass through have Thift shops. These are the Canadian/American version of a charity shop and man are they cheap! We have picked up travel books at $2 a piece (including lonely planet guides, wildlife identification books and my favourite-how to survive a bear attack). Also on our purchase list are a pair of hiking trousers for Jasper ($2), brand new North Face hiking trousers for Daddy ($15), numerous toys for Jasper ($2-$3) and much more. You never know what gems you can find. We are on a current search for hiking poles…
If you are looking to purchase camping gear when you arrive check out the local Walmart first as they have a selection of cheap camping gear that will do the job and if not there then head to Canadian Tire (Canada only). Where there’s a Walmart there’s usually a Canadian Tire. There are more specialist camping shops such as MEC which we purchased a few must have bits at but these shops are a lot pricier!
Whether these be online, in a tourist magazine, Groupon or for purely booking in advance it’s worth taking a look.
As an example for the Peak to Peak Gondola in Whistler we saved a considerable amount by booking 2 days in advance. This could only be done online or by telephone and not at the guest information.
It sounds simple but save your fuel and use the cruise control (if available). Fuel is most expensive in the tourist areas. We’ve found a difference of up to 30c per litre in the same region.
The size of the vehicle for the trip was an important consideration for us as we really wanted to achieve a great MPG to save as much as we could on fuel. Our fully laden Dodge Grand Caravan currently achieves 28.8 MPG.
Carry a water container (ours is 3 gallons) and re-fill this (along with reusable water bottles for day use) at day use areas, camp sites and some visitor information centres. The water is drinkable and will save a few $$’s.
You can also purchase large reusable bottles from Walmart and they have a refill station inside most stores that works out cheaper than buying bottled water in the long run.
8. Use a Budgeting App
We use an app called Trail Wallet (the upgraded version). This allows us to have a daily budget derived from the full trip length and total budget. You can add daily amounts, spread amounts over a number of days, categorise spend and see your tracking daily and monthly averages. The app also allows you to use multiple currencies and see where most of your $$ is going.
Find a gym that offers a free trial. You can go to the gym and get a free shower. In Canada on certain days you can also swim and use the facilities in the YMCA for free. It’s pretty easy to join and check ahead for the days in the area. When you are travelling along the coast we found a lot of the National and State Parks have showers. These are mostly outdoors showers but some have indoor private facilities too.
10. Park Passes
We purchased a park pass for both Canada and the USA. We only had to visit 3 National Parks before we had covered the cost of the pass. They also have day use areas that you can use to cook with some day use areas also being equipped with washing facilities and if you are lucky-hot water!
Park passes also cover National Historic sites and in the USA, the National Recreation areas. I downloaded some of the National Parks apps that allowed us to locate the parks and understand their facilities before we arrived.
Also always check out the free activities in an area, this includes local community and cultural centres.