Wayne Gass planned a nice road trip for the summer: drive along the Gaspé Peninsula, follow the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia, then walk back to Prince Edward Island.
But since gas now costs more than $2 a gallon in the Greater Montreal borough of Vaudreuil-Dorion, where he lives, Gass says he’ll stay closer to home — perhaps taking shorter trips to Ottawa or Mont-Tremblant, Que instead.
“Nothing on a grand scale of going up the east coast, which I’m going to miss because I love going there. It’s a beautiful country.”
Gass is one of several Canadians who may be rethinking their road travel plans as gas prices hit new highs across the country, exceeding $2 a gallon in several places.
Those record prices, plus rising costs for everything from food to housing, add additional uncertainty to the post-pandemic rebound the travel industry has been counting on.
“What could have been a great year [for travel] will be a little more subdued than we’d hoped,” said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada.
A new Conference Board report says there is huge pent-up demand for travel after two years of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but notes that higher prices for gas and other goods will be a “significant deterrent” to travel . And while more Canadians will likely be taking road trips this year, they probably won’t be “bucket list” trips the way Gass intended.
Plans change as gas prices rise
Linda Schaeffer and her husband Don changed their vacation plans for August when they realized it would be much cheaper to fly from Calgary to Halifax and rent a car there so they could visit relatives than to drive across the country.
“We thought with the price of gas, by the time we drive there, lodging and food and whatever else we want to do… it would cost us about $10,000 to $15,000. That’s crazy,” Linda said. .
“It’s way too much money to travel around Canada.”
Instead of the month-long road trip they had planned, the couple will now be away for two weeks, using airline points and credit card rewards to cover most of the cost of their flights and a rental car in Halifax.
“We will have to buy gas to drive around, but it will be a lot less than driving across Canada,” she said.
But flying may not be a cheaper option for everyone, especially those who pay cash rather than reward miles, warns Patrick De Haan, chief of petroleum analysis at fuel price comparison website GasBuddy.
“Airline tickets have also gone up with the jump in the price of jet fuel, so that may not be certain either.”
Downsizing the car and the cost
Meanwhile, Christophe Glenard and his girlfriend, Daria Senft, saved fuel on their recent road trip from Montreal to Saskatchewan by downsizing their vehicle.
They had made the same trip in 2018 to visit friends, in a converted van and sleeping on a mattress in the back. At the time, gas prices were about $1.30 a gallon, and they spent $650 on round-trip gas.
This year, the couple bought a cheap used car — and the better fuel efficiency left them with money to stay in motels during their trip.
“We thought it would be more expensive, but with the prices we paid for gas, it actually turned out to be cheaper to go with a small car and the motels,” said Glenard.
He added that they plan to sell their car before moving abroad next month so that they will recoup most of the cost.
De Haan said he expects many travelers to look for other ways to cut costs during their trip, “whether by stopping at fast food instead of a casual restaurant or trying to cut hotel costs — or even by trying to camp.”
Better planning can save gas money
The Canadian Automobile Association says it still gets a lot of calls from people planning to go on road trips in the summer, but they plan better than they would have done in the past, said Teresa De Felice, assistant vice president of government and community relations at CAA South Central Ontario.
That includes signing up for loyalty programs that offer gas discounts, as well as being more aware of driving habits, such as reducing speed on highways to increase fuel economy.
“I think everyone is concerned about the price of gas… People are really trying to find ways, little ways, that they can both improve their mileage and [what they] spend, but not about to sacrifice some of the plans they had.”
De Haan said motorists looking for petrol can save up to 10 cents a liter – and if traveling between provinces they should be aware that prices can be significantly higher or lower depending on where they are going.
And, he said, travel budgets need to consider the potential for gas prices to climb even higher in the coming months.
“It could take more than a year, maybe even two, for gas prices to fall back to what we would normally consider.”
Tips for Lowering Gas Costs for Road Trips
- Plan your trip to avoid rush hour travel and extra stops.
- Bring your vehicle in for a tune-up before going on a road trip.
- Shop around for lower gas prices.
- Loyalty programs, credit cards, and other memberships can get you discounts.
- Reducing highway speeds can increase fuel economy, as well as avoid jumpy starts, quick acceleration and hard braking.
- Avoid excessive idling, even during rest breaks.
- Turn windows down instead of blowing up the air conditioning if possible.
- Remove excess weight, such as bicycle and ski carriers, from your vehicle.