Six months ago, Christine Martin secured a camping site in Bruce Peninsula National Park, near Tobermory, Ont. It’s a picturesque spot on the shores of Georgian Bay, and she says it’s hard to snag a spot, “especially on the peninsula.”
“I booked it in February thinking that the gas prices be okay, and here we are a week before we’re supposed to go and I had to cancel it,” she said. With the cost of gas – provincial averages at the time of writing ranged from $1.88 a litre in Alberta to $2.16 a litre in British Columbia – she couldn’t justify the seven-hour drive from her home base in Morrisburg, Ont.
“You have to budget about $700 for gas to go camping for a week when you pay about $150 for the campsite. It just doesn’t seem worth it,” she said. “And the other thing, too, is the car that we’re taking is an SUV. I can only use premium gas. So it’s even worse.”
Many Canadians are in Ms. Martin’s shoes. A Leger survey conducted for the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada in May found that 66 per cent of Canadian drivers are cancelling or limiting road trips this summer because of gas prices. That number jumps to 75 per cent for those aged 18 to 24.
Ms. Martin pointed out that she could get a flight to visit her uncle in British Columbia for the $700 she’d spend on driving to her camping site, but the unpredictable scenes happening at airports around the world – lengthy lineups for security and customs, delayed and cancelled flights, missing luggage – are off-putting. Still, the desire to travel remains, particularly after the past two years.
Karolane Lessard, content manager at Authentik Canada, a Montreal-based travel agency that specializes in Canadian road trips, says people are still hitting the road. “People are not willing to give up on travelling. I think they’re just adjusting their expectations,” she said.
Similarly, Kaitlynn Furse, director of corporate communications at CAA South Central Ontario, says the number of requests for TripTiks, the organization’s destination-specific road-trip planners, is the same as it was prepandemic.
Sheldon Franchuk is one of these travellers. The Toronto resident and his girlfriend are driving to Tadoussac, Que., to go whale watching – a trip they have been talking about since 2020.
Mr. Franchuk commutes to work by car every day, an 80-kilometre round trip, and says the cost of gas is something he’s gotten used to. It now costs $80 to fill his car’s tank; before prices started rising it cost $55.
The couple also like the flexibility that driving provides them. “Things are opening up, but we’re still a little nervous about things. You have a lot more control in a car, rather than travelling by plane,” he said.
When it comes to making the decision to forge ahead or change plans, Ms. Furse says $2 a litre is the magic number that makes people change their behaviour. Of the respondents to a recent CAA survey, 64 per cent said rising fuel prices are likely to affect their road trip plans.
But, Ms. Furse said, many are willing to adjust their budget for other travel expenses. “Perhaps you spend less on hotel and food to offset some of the extra costs that is coming through on the gas,” she said. Other travellers are opting for different routes. “Not a huge trip down to PEI or whatever it might be, but choosing shorter distances that might be a little bit more affordable.”
Melissa Leong, a Toronto-based money expert and author of personal finance advice book Happy Go Money, said there are ways to save if you are heading out on the road. Plan your trip so you’re not taking a circuitous route or making stops that are out of the way, she advises.
“Google Maps has eco-friendly routing and an option to avoid tolls. Use a gas app to find the least expensive gas prices in the area, and avoid stations right off the highway. And when you reach a big city, park and opt for public transit into downtown to avoid parking costs and traffic.”
Ms. Leong is thinking of taking her own weekend road trip, with another family, in a van. They could split the costs, stay in province take advantage of Ontario’s Staycation Tax Credit, Ms. Leong said. “A road trip, for me, is all about adventure and a change of scenery. You don’t need to go far to find that.”
(The tax credit allows Ontario residents to claim 20 per cent of eligible 2022 accommodation expenses, up to a maximum of $1,000 for an individual or $2,000 a family, on their tax return.)
Ms. Lessard of Authentik Canada said her agency is recommending clients embrace “slow travel.” This doesn’t mean shortening the trip, but stopping at fewer destinations and staying for longer periods of time, exploring, discovering and getting to meet people.
And then there are the driving habits that curb fuel consumption: keeping tires at the manufacturer’s recommended pressure; turning off the vehicle if you’ll be waiting longer than a stop light; minimizing air conditioning use.
There are some spending habits that can help, too: CAA has a partnership with Shell that allows members of CAA, BCAA and AMA (Alberta Motor Association) to save 3 cents a litre at the pump, and several credit cards offer cash-back or loyalty points for fuel expenses.
Managing expectations while managing costs will minimize road trip-related stress. “Obviously, it’s going to be different for a while, and everybody’s trying to adjust,” Ms. Lessard said. “We’re all making the best out of this situation.”
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