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January 26, 2007 9:49 PM   Subscribe

Help a bankrupt student plan a week-long, post-exam, "let's-get-away-from-this-silly-place" road trip for cheap!!

I'm in Ottawa, ON, and plan on restricting my destination(s) to Eastern Ontario. I'm hoping for ideas on how to spend one week roaming, to just forget about school and stress.

The trip will probably take place late-May, or early-June. It will most likely be by myself. I'm not looking for very heavily tourist-oriented sites. Sightseeing and attractions are nice and all, but I want to relax, and heavy-duty traveling is tiring, in my experience. I'm all for beaches and museums, but places like Toronto are out. Smaller places are nice.

Example. Last year the family spent a week in North Bay. We rented a waterfront cottage, and did absolutely nothing except for the occasional drive to nearby towns to wander around. I'd be interested in something along those lines.

Obviously, as I'm saving up for tuition, this can't cost too much. I have a bit saved up from part time jobs and such, but I don't want to go all out either, for sure. Dad's lending me our old car if I pay for gas, so that's one expense down. I haven't yet decided if I want to stay in one place for a week and drive around to nearby towns, or if I want to pack up and go as I see fit... advice on that would be good, too.

I'm looking for tips on:
1. Destinations. And cheap places to stay in those destinations.
2. How to minimize costs (beyond avoiding eating out)
3. Anecdotes on roadtrips & how to make the most of them.

(Advance planning as I want this to go off smoothly, and 'cause I need something to look forward to, heh.)
posted by Phire to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Some of my best memories are those trips that I hiked, camped and fished solo. Hemmingway-esque, I guess. If you're not into fishing, a camera can provide lots of creativity and purpose on the journey. Bring a good book or two for evenings.

I don't know Ontario so can't advise on areas. You didn't include your budget, but a week camping (even if you had to rent the equipment) seems about the most cost effective and fun approach.
posted by artdrectr at 12:42 AM on January 27, 2007

If camping in May is tolerable for you (insects, weather, etc.) Algonquin Provincial Park is big, beautiful and tremendously varied in landscape. I spent 4 wonderful days there, didn't so much as begin to scratch the surface, and have always vowed I'll go back. And I will, someday.
posted by paulsc at 2:32 AM on January 27, 2007

Best answer: When I finished undergrad a couple of years ago, my best friend and I took a two-week long road trip west across the States. We spent one or two nights in each destination, and although it would have been nice to spend a little more time in some of the places we went it was still one of the best things I ever did. It cost us about $400 US each, gas included, and also including staying at a hotel the last night of our trip (which accounted for about $50 of the $400). Some advice:

- If you have camping gear (we did), camp. It's cheap and it's a great way to connect with your surroundings even if you don't have a lot of time in each destination. We stayed in either national park campgrounds, or KOAs depending on what was available where we were that day. I'd recommend both; the KOAs turned out to be a pleasant surprise because they were easy to find, had nice, clean washrooms (the showers at the park campgrounds were usually rather spartan) and frequently we could do laundry and get some good ideas of things to do from the people running the place that we wouldn't have from a guidebook.

- If you do camp, look at the places you think you'll want to stay and see if you need a reservation. A lot of times you can show up and get a spot just fine, but in the more popular places that might not be possible.

- Bring more music than you ever think you'll listen to. Seriously.

- Don't plan on driving too much in one day. You don't want to find yourself suddenly too tired to drive with two more hours to go.

- If you're the writing type, bring a journal along with you and write down where you went and what you did each day. At the least it will help you organize your pictures when you get back (take lots!) and you might just end up with a neat little chronicle of your travels.

- As far as where to go, you could realistically get as far east as New Brunswick or Nova Scotia if you wanted to. What we did was figure out the general direction we wanted to head in and how far we could go given how much time we had, and then looked for parks and destinations along the way and planned an itinerary from there. So you might want to take a look at the Parks Canada website, as well as the provincial parks in Ontario, Quebec (not sure if that's the official website, but it lists them), New Brunswick (ditto), and Nova Scotia and see what's along the way.

- We used mapquest's road trip planner when they had it, but this one from Rand McNally looks just as good. Some other helpful links: road trip tips from Transport Canada, and a some interesting links from Canadian Georgraphic.

- One last thing: since you're going alone, be a dork about safety. Let someone back home know where you plan to be on what day and check in with them, bring a cell phone and keep it charged, learn how to do some basic maintenance on the car (changing tires, what to do if it overheats, etc.) if you don't know how, bring a first aid kit. It'll probably end up being for nothing, but you don't want to have a breakdown in the middle of nowhere ruin your trip.

And did I mention taking pictures? Take lots of pictures.

Have fun!
posted by AV at 8:19 AM on January 27, 2007

I'll second the camping idea. Nearly all of my grad-school vacations were of that type, and I was able to travel very cheaply as a result. Even if you have to buy a tent, you'll save enough in a night or two of avoiding a hotel to pay for it.

It doesn't need to be rustic at all. I always had an air mattress, and if the campsite has electricity (nearly all KOAs, and many national parks, do) you can use a cheap electric hotplate (outside the tent!) for cooking.

I camped in Quebec on two occasions, once with a 5-week-old infant in tow, and had a great time. Both trips, we started around Quebec city, and headed east, once along the north coast of the St. Lawrence seaway, once along the south. The north coast had better food, the south, better scenery, but both trips were fantastic.

We went in mid July both times, and the weather was perfect. There also were plenty of cheap eateries, and plenty of cheap groceries and fresh seafood.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:42 AM on January 27, 2007

I'm going to say camping as well. If you don't mind traveling past the Ontario/Quebec border, Le Sablon is a good site with a beach and a pretty young crowd: lots of student-aged people, fewer families. Mind you, if you're just looking for a quiet place that might not be it.
posted by DrSkrud at 3:03 AM on January 28, 2007

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