After an amazing winter season in Whistler, Canada, my partner in crime Henry and I decided to go on an epic road trip around Canada and the US. Of course a trip like that requires a lot of preparation and planning. To make everybody’s lives a little easier, I have collected our top tips, so your road trip can be as amazing as ours!

Getting Ready for an Epic American Roadtrip - Agnes Icher,Travelettes 9

Finding the perfect ‘Home on Wheels’

We thought long and hard about what he wanted to do and realised that to have a ‘Home on Wheels’ would be the most convenient and cheapest way to travel. We started shopping around for the perfect van, primarily on Craigslist – we needed a vehicle in a good enough condition to go thousands of miles, big enough for us to live in for several months and relatively economic in terms of gas consumption, insurance etc.

There were loads of vans for sale in Whistler and we went to see a few, but soon realised how much more money owners were asking for in comparison to people selling in Vancouver. Therefore we arranged a few viewings in the city where we found Bernaby, our home! Henry, being a mechanic by trade, knew exactly what to look for and appropriate pricing whereas I was looking at what accessories we would need for our trip. Rule #1: Know your mechanics! (or know A mechanic…)

Bernaby is a 1980 Dodge Ram Van with two benches in the back which converted into a big bed, a sink, a few cupboards and drawers, another bench behind the driver’s seat, a foldable table which could be placed in front of it and front seats that turned 180 degrees. She was old but in great condition on the inside – we even had electric windows and cruise control, not bad for a 35-year-old van. We were her third owners, she had just had a service and only superficial work was needed to get her road trip-ready. She only had 11,5000 km on the clock and we paid CA$3000. In Whistler people were asking for around CA$4500 for vehicles with more mileage and less to offer. Rule #2: Look for sellers in bigger cities to save you pennies!

Getting Ready for an Epic American Roadtrip - Agnes Icher,Travelettes 6

We bought her in March although our trip was only planned to begin in May. We decided to buy the van in good time before to take her for test cruises in case something had to be fixed before hitting the road. Rule #3: Don’t buy under time pressure and allow enough time for test drives.

We decided to buy the most basic insurance which covered us for up to $1million accidental liability. I wasn’t allowed to drive in Canada as after living in BC for more than 90 days I would have had to swap my existing driving license for a BC driver’s licence. If you decide to do this, it is very straight forward: you simply need to go to a local ICBC branch, have your picture taken with a proof of address, ID, current driver’s license and you will be given a temporary one until the card comes through the post. They will keep your existing one until you leave and bring the BC one back. This costs roughly CA$25. I didn’t want to go through the process, as we continued to the States, so I couldn’t drive Bernaby until we arrived in the US. Our Canadian insurance covered us in the States for up to 90 days, which was perfect as our US tourist visa lasted for the same period.

We had to buy a few things for Bernaby such as pans, plates, a small tool kit, citronelle candles (to prevent mosquito attacks), electric lamps, a BBQ, camping chairs, a remote shower etc. – all basic camping equipment. Most of this we managed to get at very low cost from The Re-use It Centre in Whistler – you could also check Craigslist for good deals. 

Getting Ready for an Epic American Roadtrip - Agnes Icher,Travelettes 8

Planning Your Route

My parents had given us Michelin’s Map Book for Canada, US and Mexico which is all we needed for the whole journey. We were certain of a couple of places to go to, and we knew we had to leave by August as our visa were only valid until then. Based on that we drafted an itinerary and laid it out on our maps.

Getting Ready for an Epic American Roadtrip - Agnes Icher,Travelettes 8

Big plans, no? While many people told us we’d be rushing too much and wouldn’t have enough time to see everything along this route, we decided to do it anyways. We all travel differently and we were happy with our itinerary being flexible - of course things would be changing along the way. We knew what we wanted to see, and we knew the time frame we had so we made it work for us and we loved every minute of it. There is always going to be people criticizing your ideas or plans, but we are all individuals and it is important to go for what you believe is right for you and your situation. Some people will take out an entire year to travel our route, but we couldn’t do that, so we made it work for us and had an amazing time!

US Visa & Health Insurance

Now, to be able to travel around the US we had to get a tourist visa called an ESTA. It enabled us to spend three months in the States and only costs US$14. You can complete the application online, which takes ten minutes, and you will receive an email almost straight away with the confirmation. ESTA is valid for one year after applying.

As health care costs a lot in Canada and the US, it was important to get the right kind of travel insurance. Being on the road all the time, we had to prepare for the worst-case scenario, so no accidents could jeopardize our trip. We checked with our health insurance provider at home, who luckily also covered us abroad. Being a doctor, my father brought some medication and a first-aid kit with him from France, when he came to visit us in Canada – super helpful!

Getting Ready for an Epic American Roadtrip - Agnes Icher,Travelettes 4

Surviving Financially

The other important survival aspect of our trip was related to our finances. We were not going to get a salary for months, but yet would cover thousands of miles and still needed to live off something! As mentioned on my previous article on work and travel in Whistler, we had been saving money back at home for years and worked full-time jobs in Whistler to avoid touching our savings as much as possible. It turned out that we still had most of it and we even managed to save more while in Canada. Three quarters (!) of our trip were funded by our Canadian income. Here are some 25 tips on how you can save money in your daily routine as well – you’d be surprised how easy it is! 

We didn’t want to open a bank account in the US, so we cashed out all our savings and travelled with cash only – hidden in different spots in the van, or on us if we parked in a city. We spent most of it on gas, which I will tell you more about soon. To save money on food, we would usually buy tins, cheap with a long expiry date or go to fast food restaurants, which usually also offered free WiFi. We tried to find free places to park at night (using the website, free or budget activities, filled up water bottles at gas stations and used our common sense. With all that in mind, it is definitely feasible to travel on a budget!

Getting Ready for an Epic American Roadtrip - Agnes Icher,Travelettes 10

Living in a Van

Henry and I had never lived in a van before, so it was a steep learning curve and we improved all the way. We were told that we would end up hating each other because we would be together 24/7, however we had a great time and actually, we are currently planning our next road trip in the southern hemisphere. It is hard to travel with someone else, it could be stressful, you might want to do something different, get on each other’s nerves but we didn’t have any of these issues. It is important to know the person you are travelling with, because you will get stressed at times, things will happen or go wrong - having a travel partner you can rely on, will be the most important thing! Here are a few reads of good and bad travel partners:

What Makes a Great Travel Partner?

The Worst Travel Buddies – and how to deal with them

Going Solo vs. Travelling with Friends

Getting Ready for an Epic American Roadtrip - Agnes Icher,Travelettes 11

Very quickly we realised what was practical and what wasn’t. Living in such a small space with little money makes you street-wise. We would eat mainly pasta, rice, beans and tinned food which we could keep for a long time, didn’t suffer from the heat too much and was relatively cheap! We would also go to Starbucks or fast food restaurants where we could use WiFi to update our website and talk to our families – we both terminated our phone contracts before leaving home, an extra charge we easily avoided. We had a remote shower which we would fill up at gas stations, let it warm up for two hours in the sun and find a quiet little spot with some privacy. If we needed the washrooms, we were always close to one during the day and even at night some places would be open, such as Walmart!

We had an amazing time and I can’t wait to share more in details where we’ve been, what we did and how we did it. Keep an eye out for more stories to come!

This is a guest post by Agnes Icher.

Getting Ready for an Epic American Roadtrip - Agnes Icher,Travelettes 7 Agnes has always wanted to travel. While many girls dream of a big wedding or having a family, her dream was to go out there and see as much as possible. She has been travelling for just over a year but what a year that was! You can followe her and Henry’s adventures on their blog The BG’s Trip.