Have rising gas prices made summer car trips unaffordable? Here are some ways to save

Eastbound traffic on Highway 33 near Warings Corners in Prince Edward County, Ontario on April 30.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Six months ago, Christine Martin secured a campsite in Bruce Peninsula National Park near Tobermory, Ontario. It’s a scenic spot on the shores of Georgian Bay, and she says it’s hard to get a spot, “especially on the peninsula.”

“I booked it in February because I thought the gas prices were ok and here we are a week before we were supposed to leave and I had to cancel it,” she said. Gasoline costs — provincial averages at the time of writing range from $1.88 per liter in Alberta to $2.16 per liter in British Columbia — could not justify the seven-hour drive from her home base in Morrisburg, Ontario.

“You have to budget about $700 for gas to go camping for a week when you’re paying about $150 for camping. It just doesn’t seem worth it,” she said. “And also the other thing is that the car we’re taking is an SUV. I can only use premium petrol. So it’s even worse.”

Many Canadians are in Ms. Martin’s shoes. A Leger survey conducted in May for the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada found that 66 percent of Canadian drivers will cancel or cut back on road trips this summer because of gas prices. That number rises to 75 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds.

Ms. Martin pointed out that for the $700 she would spend to travel to her campsite, she could get a flight to visit her uncle in British Columbia, but the unpredictable scenes that unfolded at airports around Playing the world – long lines for security and customs authorities, delayed and canceled flights, missing luggage – are a deterrent. Nevertheless, the desire to travel remains, especially after the last two years.

Karolane Lessard, content manager at Authentik Canada, a Montreal-based travel agency specializing in road trips in Canada, says people are still on the go. “People are not willing to give up travel. I think they’re just adjusting their expectations,” she said.

Similarly, Kaitlynn Furse, director of corporate communications at CAA South Central Ontario, says requests for TripTiks, the organization’s destination-specific road trip planners, are at the same rate as before the pandemic.

Sheldon Franchuk is one of those travelers. The Toronto resident and his girlfriend head to Tadoussac, Que. to go whale watching – a trip they’ve been talking about since 2020.

Mr Franchuk commutes by car to work every day, an 80km round trip, and says the cost of petrol is something he’s gotten used to. It now costs $80 to fill up his car’s gas tank; Before prices started to go up, it cost $55.

The couple also appreciate the flexibility that driving gives them. “Things are opening up but we’re still a little nervous. You have a lot more control in the car than on the plane,” he said.

When it comes to making the decision to move on or change plans, Ms. Furse says $2 a liter is the magic number that makes people change their behavior. Of respondents to a recent CAA survey, 64 percent 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’ll spend less on the hotel and food to offset some of the extra costs that the gas adds,” she said. Other travelers choose other routes. “Not a big trip to PEI or whatever, but choosing shorter distances that might be a bit more affordable.”

Melissa Leong, a Toronto-based money expert and author of a personal finance guide lucky money, said that there are ways to save when you’re on the go. Plan your trip so you don’t take detours or make remote stops, she advises.

“Google Maps offers eco-friendly routing and an option to avoid tolls. Use a gas app to find the cheapest gas prices in the area and avoid gas stations just off the highway. And when you reach a big city, park and opt for public transport into the city center to avoid parking fees and traffic.”

Ms. Leong is thinking about taking her own weekend trip with another family in a van. They could split the cost, stay in the province and benefit from Ontario’s Staycation Tax Credit, Ms Leong said. “For me, a road trip means adventure and a change of scenery. You don’t have to go far to find this.”

(The tax credit allows Ontario residents to claim 20 percent of eligible housing expenses on their tax returns in 2022, up to a maximum of $1,000 for an individual or $2,000 for a family.)

Authentik Canada’s Ms Lessard said her agency is advising clients to “travel slowly”. That doesn’t mean shortening the journey, but stopping at fewer destinations and staying longer, exploring, discovering and meeting people.

And then there are driving habits that dampen fuel economy: keeping tires at manufacturer-recommended pressures; parking the vehicle if you wait longer than a traffic light; Minimizing the use of air conditioning.

There are also some spending habits that can help: CAA has a partnership with Shell that allows CAA, BCAA and AMA (Alberta Motor Association) members to save 3 cents per liter at the pump, and several credit cards offer cash back or loyalty points for fuel costs.

Managing expectations while managing costs minimizes the stress associated with driving. “Obviously it’s going to be different for a while and everyone is trying to adjust,” Ms. Lessard said. “We’re all making the best of this situation.”

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