As much as we planned for our trip, we really didn’t know what to expect. We’d charted a route, but didn’t know if we could stick to it. We’d made up a budget, but it wasn’t based on much more than guess-work. We had an old minivan, but didn’t know if it would make it or turn into a money-pit of repair work.
Fortunately, things mostly worked out. One of our biggest surprises was that there was more driving than we had anticipated. You can plot the route from destination a to destination b but there’s always a bunch more driving in between, whether it’s back and forth from the campsite or just around town. In addition to that, we ended up going to substantially more places than we planned (at least until Dodgy got that poor bill of health in Edmonton).
Our initial driving estimate was about 30,000 km over the course of the trip, and the final distance was 39,790 km. If we had had our wish and taken the adventurous route back from Edmonton, it probably would have been closer to 45,000 km.
Here’s the map of the planned route:
And here’s the map of the route we actually took:
All in all, we were on the road for a total of 226 days. Of that, we spent over 568 hours or almost 24 days driving. Our average speed? 70 km/h. Our top speed? 138 km/h (welcome to driving in Texas).
We saw 26 states, 5 provinces, and 1 territory. We visited 55 national parks/historic sites in the US and 10 national parks/historic sites in Canada.
Where did we sleep? With the full-size mattress in the back of the van, we were pretty flexible, but we camped a lot and spent almost as much time staying with family and friends.
Given how much we spent on camping (see below), the average amount we spent camping was only $17.10 per night. Not bad.
So, the initial budget for the 10-month trip was about $31,000. We came back after only 8 months and spent about $25,000 which pro-rating the original budget is pretty much right on the money.
Expenditures were tracked pretty accurately by Intuit’s online expense-tracking service Mint, with the following two caveats. First, we didn’t bother to track expenses paid in cash which probably added up to a couple of thousand of dollars (included in the estimate above). Given the outlook for the Canadian dollar at the beginning of the trip, we brought most of this cash with us and used it strategically. We also always made sure to have some cash on-hand for those places that accept nothing else.
The largest expenditure were food-related, which we assumed would be the case. Restaurants are expensive even though they made up a minority of our meals. We could have saved by eating out even less, but then we’d have missed so many amazing flavours and fantastic regional dishes. Alcohol was also included as a food expenditure in the initial budget, and when you lump those three together, we hit the budget right on the money. Experiencing local beer, cider, and food is a big part of travelling for us. Not many regrets here.
We hadn’t budgeted quite so much for auto service and parts, but getting the brakes rebuilt in Whitehorse was not cheap ($900) and then we had to get the outer tie-rods replaced in Edmonton ($400).
Gas ended up being more than budgeted, but that can easily be chalked up to the extra driving we did.
We spent far far less on accommodation than we predicted. But, once we got used to Walmart parking lots, guerrilla parking on the street, and finding free campsites, our costs really went down. It also helped that we spent so much time staying with family and friends. Thank you ❤
Mobile phone expenses were high only because Ben had to buy a new phone on the trip (~$750). We almost didn’t include it in the budget, but it’s the type of expense that happens.
All things considered, we attempted to be as frugal as possible, to reuse what we had, to avoid waste, and to reduce our consumption. Purchasing a national parks pass for both the US and Canada gave us extremely affordable access to breathtaking environments. We refused to go to many privately-run museums and attractions as a way to save money, especially if the cost was over $10.
Looking back on the trip, we made some good (cheap) decisions that allowed us to continue on our journey while also having an amazing time.