Day Eleven (Monday) – Heading Home, Plus Our Trip Cost & Budget

Not much to write about; we left Butte at 4:50am – with a full gas tank – and arrived home at 8:30pm. We did get one more picture of Ava, this time at the Montana border:


Cost & Budget

As I said in the beginning of this article, we did this 11-day road trip for a total cost of $2,540. Of this amount, we spent $470 on gas and around $1100 on lodging. The rest was for food and souvenirs.

We have gotten to be experts on affordable road trips. Here are some of our tips so you, too, can take these fantastic trips:

1. Get to your destination as fast as possible.

All road trips have three distinct legs to them: from home to your first stop; from first stop to last stop; and last stop to home. On this trip, the first leg was from Clear Lake, Minnesota to Lethbridge, Alberta. We knew we wanted to travel during the day, so we limited nighttime driving to roads we knew well. That’s why we started at 3:30am so we could get to Lethbridge around 7:00pm. Other than pit stops, we drove straight through.

2. Never stay in tourist areas.

Since the only thing we use hotel rooms for is to sleep and shower, we are in our rooms for less than 10 hours a day. While hotels in tourist areas are convenient, you are paying for that convenience. Our time is free, so we are willing to spend time on the road in out of the way places in order to find affordable lodging. works great when traveling in the USA, but there were no places we could find them in Canada.

For example, we stayed in Lethbridge instead of High River; Calgary instead of Banff; Golden instead of Lake Louise; Hinton instead of Jasper; and Squamish instead of Whistler. Yes, we incurred a gas expense in the additional driving, but even at the inflated gas prices in Canada we definitely saved money. Our Buick Lacrosse gets 25 MPG; even with the 200 additional miles of driving from Calgary to Banff and back, 8 gallons of gas in Canada cost us less than $30; the rooms in Banff were much more expensive than that.

3. Bring food and water with you.

Lodging and food are the two biggest costs on any road trip. We budgeted $50 per day for eating out (around $17 per person), and we ended up under budget. We used two coolers: one for water and one for food. We had lunchmeat, peanut butter, salad, salad dressing, and milk in the food cooler. Every day, we used the hotel ice machines to fill up our coolers.

We stocked up on food at a couple of points along the journey; we went through a 24-pack of water every other day. In a grocery bag we had chips, pretzels, and other snacks; we put buns on top of the grocery bag. We were never hungry at all. We ate at a Chinese restaurant and at Subway in Calgary; Wendy’s in Kamloops; Pizza Hut in Squamish; IHOP in Sequim, Washington; and McDonald’s in Miles City, Montana. That’s it.

4. Pre-plan your trip; use simulations.

When I started planning our road trip last winter, I knew that we had 11 days for the total trip. I also knew what we wanted to do: horseback riding, whitewater rafting, seeing Banff and Jasper National Parks, and going to Butchart Gardens. The road trip was planned around those activities. Finally, I was using a $2,500 budget for the trip.

The first thing I did was simulate how much the gas cost would be. Using websites and foreign exchange rates, I estimated that the total gas cost would be around $500.

Next, I reviewed lodging. I started with trying to get an average of $100/night. Fortunately, the exchange rates are favorable for USA travelers going to Canada; we were able to average $70/night (after the exchange rate and foreign transaction fees) for the trip. Add $770 to the cost of the trip.

Butchart Gardens is on Vancouver Island, which meant two ferry rides. I checked out the cost of the ferries ($110 each) and factored that into the equation. Horseback riding and whitewater rafting also needed to be factored into the cost. Horseback riding was $168.75; whitewater rafting was $330.68. So add $499.43 to the total.

Now we’re up to an estimated $1989.43 for the trip. That left us with $510.57 left for food, park entrance fees, Butchart Garden fees, and souvenir shopping. We figured if we cut the daily restaurant budget down to $35/day ($385 total), the remaining $124.43 would get us into Butchart Gardens and cover some unanticipated expenses. Well, we went over, but by only $40. Not bad.

About the Author

dale powers headshotDale Powers is based in Clear Lake, Minnesota, 50 miles NW of Minneapolis. He has written for professional publications in the past, and his career spans from telecommunications and transportation to city government and education. His road trips have taken him to 46 states and 6 Canadian provinces. When he’s not travelling or writing about travel, he’s indulging in his passion for Minnesota sports teams and local government – he’s on the city council!