For most, going on a road trip is a brief-yet-wonderful respite from daily life. Unlike vacationing at a resort, a road trip lets you explore endless distractions at your own pace, with full control of the costs.
But what if you’re short on money and longing to get away? What if you just want to get away, but don’t have a car?
Consider Canada DriveAway, a small Toronto-based company headed by David Smaller. He formed the company in 2005 as, first and foremost, a Canadian vehicle delivery service, but also as a resource for budget-conscious travellers. It’s all about connecting drivers with vehicles that need transporting.
Here’s the business model: the client – the car’s owner – pays Canada DriveAway an amount cheaper than most transporter-truck firms. From that sum, Canada DriveAway deducts a price to pay the driver.
The compensation provided to the driver varies depending on the length of the trip, but it’s mostly meant to cover expenses, plus a little extra. Don’t expect to turn a big profit.
Smaller figured the amount typically works out to roughly $100 to $125 per day—enough to cover the gas throughout the trip, plus one or two hotel stays.
If you’re willing to stay at cheap places and not spend too much on food, the funds – you get paid once you deliver the vehicle – could cover quite a bit of the trip. Just remember, this is a one-way ticket, and you have to make your own way home.
The model is unusual to say the least—it seems born out of the freewheeling ’60s and ’70s. But it’s in the long-distance journeys over 2,000 kilometres that going with Canada DriveAway becomes a financially viable option for both client and driver.
The costs may add up for all parties, but one thing is for sure: both the client and driver need to have a “free spirit” mindset.
Yes, the drivers are given a background check and all paperwork has to be in order, including a driver’s license, passport, driver’s abstract and reference. Drivers also pay a security deposit of $500, in case something was to go wrong.
The reality is, clients are providing their vehicles to non-professional transporters looking for cheap travel. I know that would scare me if it was my car, but like I said, it’s not for everyone.
I had apprehensions, but was intrigued. And when a rare chance to make a short drive from Toronto to Boston came up in a 2008 Toyota RAV4, I put in a request and got approved for the job, set to depart in less than four days.
That’s a quick turnaround compared to most trips, but based on my conversations with Smaller, it’s not common to have more than two weeks’ notice for these things.
As I started to make arrangements, I was quickly given a reality check: this undertaking was more of a job than the freewheeling adventure percolating in my mind. Smaller started to go over the fine details of what I needed to do for vehicle pick-up, and the instructions and paperwork involved in the border crossing into the United States and on final delivery in Boston.
On top of that, the client needed to ship some goods including a bike and four winter tires, forcing the second row to be folded down, creating limited space for my own luggage.
I picked up the RAV4 from the client, inspected it, got all the paperwork in order and was ready to go.
Hitting the road from Toronto-to-Boston
A trip from Toronto to Boston can typically be done in two ways: with a stop at a halfway point to rest in the evening; or via a drive of eight-and-a-half straight hours. I chose neither, and instead decided to make a few pit stops before entering the heart of New England, including one in New York City.
My first act of research was to head straight to Google Maps. This route would take me through the toll-heavy I-90 East, but that was to be expected. Driving all the way through New York State can be a long and tiresome journey, with a lack of intriguing destinations.
The college city of Syracuse is a safe choice with a surplus of hotel and restaurant options, so that’s where I decided I’d make my first stop; I’d eat up four-and-a-half hours of driving in the process.
My hotel of choice was the new Aloft along the inner harbour, which had just opened two weeks prior to my visit. It provided all you could ask for: clean and comfortable rooms, a welcoming and helpful staff, and, overall, a peaceful overnight stay.
The next day I was set to go to the Big Apple, but the smell of baseball heaven was less than two hours away—Cooperstown, the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I’ve always wanted to go, and now on this road trip, I had the freedom to do so.
The drive took me around some nice sweeping roads and along the picturesque Otsego Lake, nothing this RAV4 couldn’t handle. To be honest, outside of the squeaking brakes, the seven-year-old RAV4 held its own, adding comfort and performance throughout the journey.
I could only stay in Cooperstown for a short time, but was impressed with the beautiful community, the historic main street that’s home to the Hall of Fame, and the museum itself, which can keep you mesmerized for hours.
The first few stops were just an appetizer for New York City. I was there for only a day-and-a-half, but I managed to take in a little of everything. There’s too much to sum up, but I managed to check off my list a visit to the Chelsea Market; Kenny Kramer’s Seinfeld Reality tour; a few great restaurants; and a late evening at the Comedy Cellar.
After a long day, I went back to my mission to head to the RAV4’s final destination, Boston, with one day to spare before delivery. I spoke with the client and worked out the time, and then it was off to explore a few things the city is known for: the Boston Tea Party, seafood, and, to continue the baseball theme, a trip to Fenway Park.
It’s an underrated city that’s filled with a rich political history, a European vibe, and pedestrians that walk at a better pace than those on the bustling streets of New York.
The road trip was filled with excitement and plenty of memories, but alas it was time to fulfil my Canada DriveAway duties and deliver the vehicle to its client, in Chinatown.
The last thing I needed to do was to top up the fuel tank—a simple task, but one made impossible by the fact I couldn’t find a gas station downtown. Thankfully, the client understood the situation. We signed the final documents, passed on the keys and the transaction was complete—a nice stress-free drive without complication.
An alternative way of travelling?
In the end, everything went smoothly, from the border crossing to the delivery of the vehicle. The Canada-U.S. transfer did take a little extra time as they had to look over the paperwork inside, but after 15 minutes, I was on my way.
So—was it worth it? That all depends on the driver and their travel style. For someone like me who prefers bigger cities with four-star accommodations and going out at night, the compensation would hardly be worth the trouble.
And what if something would have gone wrong with the RAV4? That headache could have jeopardized my hotel reservations and engagements. You’re provided the contact information of the company and the client, but to fix the problem, you’re mostly on your own. And if it happens to be your fault, your $500 deposit goes towards those expenses.
However, if you’re going to make a fuller assessment, you have to look at it from other points-of-view. I may not have been the right fit for this alternative trip, but there are flexible travellers with a carefree attitude that would happily take a free car and some extra cash.
If you’re of that ilk and aren’t too fussy about accommodations, Canada DriveAway could just become your new favourite way to travel.