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Planning an Epic Road Trip - Canada 2017

We have planned many trips in the past: extended trips in Europe, camping trips, weekend getaways, weekend and week-long road trips, a winter in Mexico and relocation from Portland, Oregon to Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2014. A job opportunity had relocated us from our home in the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest in 2014, but after many conversations about where we wanted to be, we packed up our stuff and moved home in the summer of 2017. While we traveled a lot in 2017, but this trip topped our Best of 2017.

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Plaid Pinecone: view through trees of Round Island off Washington coast

We quit our jobs and decided to take our time getting home to Portland. Instead of retracing our steps backward across the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, we decided to spend a month traveling through Canada from Manitoba to British Columbia and ultimately home to Portland, Oregon.

Our move home turned into an epic one-way road trip. We packed our belongings and shipped everything to Oregon. We packed our SUV with a cargo box on the roof and headed west. Planning for a camping trip while on a never-ending road trip has it’s challenges, but it’s easily doable. Below are some things we learned from the adventure and tips to keep in mind when planning our next.

The Plan

First, we tried really hard not to plan our trip. M wanted to be spontaneous and go where we pleased without rules about timing, place, etc. This was great in theory, but really hard in practice (for me). We were traveling during July, a popular time of year for camping. We had plans to be in Oregon on the 27th, so we couldn’t still be futzing around in Calgary on the 26th. Speaking of Calgary, the stampede happens in July and the city gets booked for the event. We also needed to be in Banff on a weekday for a chance to get a first come, first served campsite.

I kept an excel spreadsheet with the plans and dates that were planned/booked and left blanks for those days that were free for us to choose where we wanted to be. In the end, we were happy with our loose itinerary that allowed us to adjust as we wanted. We followed only a few rules:

  1. Leave Minnesota on July 1
  2. Travel from east to west
  3. Visit both Banff and Jasper
  4. Visit friends on Vancouver Island
  5. Reconnect with friends at the annual camping trip on Mt. Hood (Oregon) on July 27
  6. Camp as much as possible

Plaid Pinecone: campsite, tents and meal equipment. Jasper Alberta, Canada

Meal Planning

Second, we had to adjust our meals to what was readily available in small town and Canadian grocery stores. We also had to plan meals without having hours of prep time. We 'invented' our one-pot Italian-inspired stew during this adventure and ate it many times.


Next, we didn’t miss our stuff as much as we thought we might. We pre-packed our SUV before the storage container left Minnesota to be sure that everything we had planned to take with us would actually fit in our vehicle and still give us room to live. With thousands of miles of road ahead of us, we wanted a little comfort. We did a really good job of thinking through what we would need and paring that down to a minimum set of things that could fit in the vehicle. We each packed no more than 30 articles of clothing. Our longest camping stint was planned for nine days, so we needed ten outfits (one to wear while doing laundry). We packed layers as we would need both shorts and long pants, hoodies and extra layers for cold nights in the north.

Another thing we learned was ways to feel at home without actually having one. We made sure to have camping clothes and multiple layers, but we also made sure to have an outfit or two that was appropriate for town. This made us feel less like a bunch of campers for a day or two while we visited town and prepared for the next round of camping.    

We also had our laptops and phones with us. This made hiking a bit tougher, as we didn’t want to leave our laptops in the vehicle for longer than necessary. In addition to our clothes backpacks, we each had a day pack that held our laptops during hiking trips and treks in the city. We kept to some of our usual activities like taking Euro out for walks, visiting dog parks and stopping for tea and coffee while on the road and making cups of tea at camp. Really small things like that gave us comfort and kept us sane. We also planned to cook many of our own meals. Eating out is part of the fun of travel, but it can be too much and we were planning to be on the road for a month. We like to have breakfast and lunch on our own and only head out for dinners when in town.

Filling Time

Lastly, we thought we had a massive amount of time. A month seemed like it might even be too much. That we would be able to forget we even owned a vehicle between locations when we were out in the woods. We thought we would be able to hike miles and miles and see all that there was to see. We made lists of hikes, destinations and sights we had hoped to see. In the end, we only had time to see a few things, hike small amounts here and there and spent a lot of time in the car seeing the sites through windows. We love to travel so being on the road and away from home is a joy for us, but in the case of an extended trip, you should always give yourself downtime. And give yourself extra time to enjoy something unplanned. Don’t plan every single day from sunrise to sunset or you’ll be exhausted.

Without further delay, we left Minnesota!

July 1: Overnight in Fargo, ND. We had been through a lot in the past four weeks with our last days at work, packing the house and arranging for being on the road for a month. We wanted our first day to be relaxing and a celebration of our freedom, not an overwhelming 10 hours worth of driving. The rule was to get out of Minnesota and head north toward the border. This would be our last night in the states for practically a month.

Keep reading about our trip (from East to West):

                Part 1                                     Part 2                                    Part 3                                        Part 4

Winnipeg to Calgary         Banff, Jasper, Whistler           Vancouver Island         Home Stretch (WA/OR)

Plaid Pinecone: Sunset on Crooked Lake Saskatchewan, Canada    Plaid Pinecone: Jasper Alberta, Canada, mountain and river view of Mistaya Canyon   Plaid Pinecone: scenic and cloudy Sproat Lake, Vancouver Island Canada   Plaid Pinecone: View through trees of Round Island, Washington Coast

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