The smart money vacation choice of 2015 is a l-o-o-o-n-g driving trip in Canada.
Visit St. John's and then drive to Gros Morne in Newfoundland this summer. Make the trek from Central Canada through the Prairies to the West Coast. Tour the Maritimes, or wine country in Niagara or the Okanagan. Gasoline may never be this cheap again, so take advantage.
Whatever you do, skip a trip to the United States. I made this suggestion in an October column, when the dollar was at roughly 90 cents (U.S.). The currency has fallen roughly 10 per cent since then to a little less than 80 cents. Expect to pay roughly $125 (Canadian) for every $100 of U.S. currency you buy at a foreign exchange dealer.
You've every right to feel a bit stunned by recent financial and economic developments. Planning a Canadian vacation for March break or the summer is one way to exert some control. You'll capitalize on what's working for you (low fuel prices) and minimize your exposure to what's not (the dollar).
GasBuddy.com shows that gas prices on a national basis are about 27 per cent below where they were a year ago, a decline to 89.8 cents a litre from $1.23. In Ottawa, where I live, prices got as low as 73.9 cents per litre the weekend before last. People were so shocked that they lined up for gas at station after station in my part of town on a Sunday afternoon.
Gas prices could edge higher, but we're not headed back to $1.40 or more a litre any time soon. Sales of pickup trucks are booming, but that's the wrong way to capitalize on low gas prices unless you need the vehicle for work. Prices over the period of time you own a truck bought in 2015 will almost certainly rise a lot.
A great way to seize the day on low gas prices is to tour Canada by car. The drop in national average prices means that over the 9,000 or so kilometres you'd cover on a return drive between Toronto and Vancouver, you'd save $224 or so off the $830 cost a year ago (assuming good but not spectacular fuel consumption). That's not a life-changing amount, but it should be enough to cover a night in a motel and dinner for the family.
For example, the Comfort Inn chain was showing rooms with two queen beds in Calgary for as low as $115 a night in mid-July (prepaid). Google maps shows there's a nearby BIG T's BBQ & Smokehouse with a kid's menu. You can thank me later for that tip.
My family has enjoyed a bunch of driving trips in the United States, as well as Canada. From Ottawa, we've visited Boston, upstate New York and New York City by car – all great trips. If you do head south of the border, you'll benefit from much lower gas prices than we have in Canada.
Gasbuddy.com shows a national average price of $2.05 (U.S.) a gallon, down from $3.28 a year ago. At those prices, you might cut roughly 25 per cent off your fuel bill for a comparable Canadian driving trip, even after accounting for foreign exchange costs. Problem is, you'll have to convert all the other travel expenses on your trip back into Canadian dollars.
Assume you have a $2,500 (U.S.) budget for a trip to the United States, from Vancouver to Washington, D.C. At current foreign exchange rates, the total cost would be about $3,155 in Canadian currency. You'd have to drive awfully long distances to recoup on gas savings what you're losing to higher exchange rates on a U.S. driving trip.
In Canada, driving trips look especially good compared with flying right now. A quick run through a few travel websites pegged the cheapest return tickets between Toronto and Vancouver in July at $672, tax and fees included. That's one ticket at a comparable cost to the entire gas bill for the trip.
It's worth noting that if you're heading to other parts of the world besides the United States, currency conversion costs for Canadian travellers may not be so severe. In fact, our dollar has gained a little ground against the euro in the past 12 months and held up reasonably well against the Australian dollar, Icelandic krona and Argentine peso.
Canada's the travel value of 2015, though. See it and save.
Here's how falling gas prices and our falling dollar would impact two driving trips, one in Canada and one in the United States
|The trip||Toronto to Vancouver and back||Vancouver to Washington and back|
|Budget||$2,500 Cdn||$2,500 U.S.|
|Forex cost in C$||n/a||$655|
|Gross cost in C$||$2,500||$3,155|
|Focus on driving costs:|
|Your vehicle's average fuel consumption:||7.5 litres per 100 km|
|Total distance:||9,000 km||9,000 km|
|Fuel cost in C$||$606||$460|