How To Plan the Great North American Road Trip

On August 1st, 2015, my boyfriend (“Rob”) and I will be starting an east to west trip across Canada and the USA that will see us traveling 10,500 km in 35 days.

We’ll be following this route and be stopping in the following places along the way on approximately these dates:

  • Dartmouth, NS (Starting Point) – August 1st
  • Montreal, QC (just in time for Osheaga!) – August 2nd
  • Ottawa, ON – August 3rd
  • Toronto, ON – August 6th
  • Niagara Falls, ON – August 8th
  • Chicago, IL – August 9th
  • Milwaukee, WI – August 10th
  • Fargo, ND – August 12th
  • Regina, SK – August 13th
  • Calgary, AB – August 14th
  • Canmore, AB – August 15th
  • Banff, AB – August 17th
  • Jasper, AB – August 18th
  • Mt Robson, BC – August 20th
  • Vancouver Island, BC – August 22nd
  • Missoula, MT – August 25th
  • Bismarck, ND – August 26th
  • Chicago, IL – August 27th
  • Toronto, ON – August 28th
  • Lennoxville, QC – September 1st
  • Dartmouth, NS  – September 4th (ish)

Both of us have undertaken long road trips before, but never in this scale, length, or proximity to each other. Scouting out are route and figuring out travel times, dates, and gas costs have been our big logistical challenge so far.

To figure out route and dates, we used Travellerspoint (to create the map above) and Fuel Economy to estimate our gas costs.

We’ll be camping some nights in our two man tent, sometimes staying with friends while passing through cities, and on nights when there’s inclement weather or we’re too lazy to set up our tent, we’ll be sleeping in our modified 2002 Dodge Caravan.

In addition to the obligatory hippie privacy curtains, fly screens and very snugly blankets and pillows, there are some even more impressive modifications that we’ve made to our home on the road.

We wanted a better sleeping and storage situation, so Rob conceptualized some CAD models to fit inside the van using SketchUp:

Van Mod Sketchup

I ‘m actually traveling on the Pacific Coast right now, while he and our friend Shawn built these in my Mom’s garage over the past week, so I take zero credit as a builder. These guys kick ass.




IMG_0222Now we have a structure that we can use as a seat and desk while driving, but also a full-length bed that we can stretch out and use on rainy nights.

How did this come about? I’m lucky that our relationship is partially predicated on a mutual love of travel and the excitement of discovering new places. We also have complimentary skill sets.

If I’d been doing this trip on my own, I would’ve probably just thrown a cheap lawn chair pillow in the back with a sleeping bag. Having Rob along means a much more sophisticated rig, and not having to drive as much (more time for reading). There’s always a bonus to having a partner in crime.

As for the trip itself, I don’t know who suggested it first, but it didn’t take long for both of us to latch on to the idea.

A: “We should drive across Canada.”

B: “Yes.”

A: “This summer?”

B: “Sounds good”

Both of us have been A and B at times, and Canada and summer are easily replaceable my any number of variables? South Korea in the spring? The Labrador Straits for Christmas? Check, check. It certainly helps to have a partner on the same wavelength.

If you’re looking for  a road trip partner, it doesn’t have to be a romantic partner either. Siblings, friends, co-workers, and classmates can all make good road trip buddies. As long as they’re willing to split the gas, you’re good to go.

Will we be striving to live cheaply? Yes. We put aside about $4,000 combined for this trip just in case of car failure, but in reality are hoping to spend less than half of that. We plan to be hitting up Wal Mart parking lots and parks to sleep cheaply, and are psychologically prepared to eat rice and beans for a month.

Will we be smelly? Yes.

Will we still love each other at the end of it? I sure hope so.

Let us know if you’re along our route! We’re looking to experience all the crazy and amazing things these locations have to offer and are definitely taking suggestions for things to do. I’ll also be taking a lot of photos along the way, and am willing to trade photos or writing for food or accommodation.

Also, if you know any really good tea spots along this route, definitely hit me up in the comments below. I’ve totally got a sub-quest to turn this into the start of a North American Tea Tour.

All the best,


ps. Podcast suggestions! We’ll need to kill a lot of highway and podcasts make the time fly. Things similar to Radiolab, History of Japan/China/Rome, and Stuff You Should Know would be welcome suggestions.

Author: Mel Hattie

Hi, I’m Mel, blogger and tea sommelier at Mel Had Tea. I love to explore, learn, and meet new people. Nothing inspires me more than reading, traveling the world, talking to strangers, and drinking tea.

What do you think?

    • And also podcast recommendation: Good Job Brain. I love trivia and these guys do it well. Part play along trivia game and part randomness, it’s a lot of fun for road trips.

    • Yes! And yes let’s do that. Right now I’m in Jasper for another day, then heading to Mt. Robson to do some climbing and camping, then on to Quesnel and Alexis Creek before heading down to Vancouver. It looks like we’ll be arriving there on the 22nd or 23rd. Can I message you on Facebook a day before we arrive; is that enough of a heads-up?

  • This looks amazing! I took a big USA trip a few years ago by train and I wish I’d had the chance to include the smaller, less travelled towns you’ve included. The scenery along this stretch of the states is incredible though, definitely my favourite of the whole country and Chicago was my absolute favourite city. Can’t wait to see your future posts!

    • I would love to go by train! There is something great about having a van and having the sovereignty to go wherever you want. We’ve driven through some really cool small places. Thanks for reading!

  • Mel! My friends and I are setting out on a very similar route, although you and Rob are about 100x more organized than we are! We’re leaving Halifax on July 30th, going to Osheagain MTL, then driving to Calgary, Shambhala in Salmo River, BC, then Nelson, Vancouver, Seattle, Banff and Toronto. All dates are TBD at the moment other than the two festivals. We’re most likely traveling in a van too (currently trying to get one fixed up), but there are 4 of us so it definitely won’t be as cozy as yours!

    We’ll have to keep in touch and see if we cross paths. Feel free to shoot me a message anytime!


    • Hey Morgan,

      My first cross-Canada trip was a 2-month Fringe Festival tour with 7 people in a Dodge Caravan very similar to the one we have now. Although it was 2 months of no leg room, I have to say it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I’m sure the four of you will have an awesome time too. If I had to make a recommendation it’d be some sort of roof rack for luggage (like a THULE-brand one). It’s likely to save you so much hassle depending on the van you’re driving.

      Hope to run into you (not literally) on the Road!


    • Awesome, Morgan! As Rob says, no matter how disorganized you are, you’re probably in for one of the best times of your life. I hope we see you out there somewhere! I’ll keep an eye on Facebook to see if I can tell when we’re in the same place. Happy tripping!