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Calgary on the Cheap: Summer Road Trip Edition

The sun is shining, the flowers have bloomed and – after what feels like was possibly the longest winter ever - summer is finally here. What better time to take advantage of all the goodness that the season has to offer and hit the road with your family? Sure, travel can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are 10 easy ways to stick to your budget this summer and still have a blast.

1. Get your camp on. Camping is an obvious, fun choice for inexpensive accommodation for the whole family. It’s also a great way to spend time together, work together and enjoy the great outdoors. Everyone will have a blast roasting marshmallows, telling stories late into the evening and sleeping under the stars. Best of all, camping is a heck of a lot lighter on your wallet. For a complete guide to camping in Alberta, including locations, reservations and pricing, visit

2. Stay for free. Know what’s better than cheap? Free! There are several sites around Alberta that you can actually camp at without charge, helping you save a few bucks while still having a great time with your family. Find them by heading to and search for ‘Alberta.’

3. Search for deals. If camping isn’t your thing, don’t worry. There are plenty of low-cost options for those who prefer to opt out of roughin’ it. Just do your research beforehand, and you’re bound to find a good deal without having to sacrifice your comfort. Sign up on sites like Travelzoo, Living Social or Team Buy for discounted nights at hotels, activities and admission to attractions. The only downside: Be prepared to travel during the week, as most of the deals are best when it’s not a weekend.

4. Stock up. Road-tripping with a full cooler of drinks, a big insulated water jug that you can refill, and plenty of fruits and veggies to nibble on when hunger strikes is a heck of a lot easier than frequent roadside stops. It also helps to have a few citrus fruits on hand that you can slice up and put in the water to give it a little more umph (and to ward off the inevitable, “Ew! Water!” comments).

5. Bring the healthy snacks. There’s no doubt that everyone’s belly will start rumbling a few hours into your trip (or a few minutes…), so be sure to pack plenty of healthy, homemade snacks to keep those appetites satiated. Fibre-packed muffins, veggies and hummus, cut-up fruit, cheese strings and homemade trail mix make for great, long-lasting (as long as you’ve got a cooler), tummy-filling choices. Having all of these on hand will prevent those last-minute fast-food stops and gas station snacks, saving money and keeping it nutritious.

6. Be prepared. Or over-prepared, if you can. There’s nothing worse than hitting the road and realizing that you’ve forgotten something, and having to stop and grab items you’ve already got at home or didn’t think you’d need. Fill up a big Tupperware box with the items  below (that way, you won’t be stuck empty-handed). You’d be surprised how often you’ll use some, if not all, of these items, and you can keep the box in your car so you’re prepared all summer long.

7. Free attractions. Every area has some great attractions that don’t cost a dime to check out, so don’t overlook them! Once you know your final destination (along with stops along the way), check out the local tourism sites for a list of good spots to visit with your family. The websites will also showcase any events or festivals happening in the area, helping you find some great activities without having to spend a ton of (if any!) money.

8. Shop locally. Summer in Alberta is wonderful - especially at the farmers’ markets. Produce is at its prime; it’s cheap, it’s delicious and it’s the perfect way to save a couple bucks while on vacation. If you’re getting a hotel, try to book one with a kitchen so you have the option to prepare your own meals. If not, try to get one with a fridge so you can store healthy, fresh snacks to take along with you during the day - again, to prevent those impromptu fast-food stops. Most markets also have a nice variety of homemade baked treats and other goodies, so your little one’s taste buds have no risk of being bored.

9. Stay entertained. An entertained kid is a happy kid, so keep everyone happy and make sure no one gets a case of the boredoms while you’re on the road. Prepare games like I Spy, Road Trip Bingo and Vacation Scavenger Hunt in notebooks that the kids can keep with them throughout the trip, along with ziploc baggies that they can fill up with souvenirs (rocks, leaves, etc.). Try to ditch any technology during the trip and keep the tablets, DVD players and other hand-held devices at bay.

10. Diner delights. Never underestimate a roadside diner. They’re cheap, they never have lineups and they have great menus for families traveling with kids. Plus, they often have some healthy options, kid’s meals and choices for people with dietary restrictions. Unexpected: yes. A great choice for a quick meal-on-the-go: absolutely. On the flip side, it definitely doesn’t hurt to throw an old-school milkshake or a big piece of pie in on a family road trip. You’re trying to have a great time after all, aren’t you?

Be prepared!

• Baby wipes (they can be used on more body parts than wet wipes!)
• hand sanitizer
• tissue
• toilet paper
• a First-Aid kit with extra band-aids
• an emergency kit (AMA and Canadian Tire sell great ones)
• bottled water 
• granola bars
• sunscreen
• bug spray
• after-bite 
• after-sun lotion
• a flashlight
• a multi-tool/knife
• a bath towel
• a big cozy blanket

Stephanie is a freelance writer specializing in travel and food writing. For more information, visit

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