I’m continuing my series on 12 Road Trip Tips and lessons from our Alaska trip. Before I go on, let me remind you of the previous tips:
- Break the Trip up into Stages for Planning Purposes.
- Use maps, books and the internet to plan and find all the interesting things along your route–but don’t over-plan!
- Be realistic With your time. Stop and relax when you need to.
- Figure a budget and stick to it as best as you reasonably can.
Lesson Number Five: Balance is critical; Go prepared, but don’t take too much.
One of the things we did right, but could have done better, was to look ahead and realize that in certain places along our way everything was going to be much more expensive, especially northern Canada and bush Alaska. So we made sure we had enough of everything to get through those places without spending money. It worked, we bought almost nothing until we got to Anchorage; where prices were more reasonable. That partially explains how Judy was able to spend so little, she had stocked up in Flagstaff, where it was cheap, before the trip. We did that part right, but we got carried away and took too much. For the first week or too we had stuff crammed everywhere and that meant we had to shuffle things around all the time–which just added to Judy’s stress.
Eventually the large surplus was used up, but until then we were more crowded than we should have been. So it’s good to plan ahead so you avoid purchases where they will be very expensive, just don’t get carried away and take too much. You may not go to Alaska, but nearly all remote tourist areas everywhere in the country are equally expensive, so planning ahead to buy as little as possible will save you money–maybe a lot of money.
Because we knew having two people in a van was going to be very hard, we both brought the absolute minimum with us and we did a very good job of minimalism. Once our surplus of food was used up we were quite happy in the van together and didn’t feel crowded at all because the way we built the van worked really well. If we hadn’t hurried too much, we would have been very happy with two people in a van.
Lesson Number Six: Make your best guess on weather, but go ready for the worst.
Having lived in Alaska all my life I knew what the weather patterns were and I planned our trip around it. Most often, May and June have the best weather with the most sunshine and least rain, so I planned our trip to get there in early June. But this year was atypical; the weather had been very good, but when we got there it turned to s**t! It rained nearly every day the first 2 weeks we were there. Fortunately we had built the van with the idea of the two of us being stuck in the van because of bad weather and so when it happened we endured it pretty well. Then the weather improved and while we still had some bad weather it was mixed in with good days making it much more bearable.
So my advice is to do your research and find the weather patterns of where you are going on your trip. Then play the odds and go when you have the best chance of good weather. Just be aware that in any given year you could be in for an unpleasant surprise so be prepared for the worst:
- Set up your van so you are comfortable trapped in it for up to a week at a time. If you are tent camping, try to have your vehicle set-up for cooking and sleeping if at all possible. Being trapped in a tent for a week at a time because of wind, rain or even snow is no fun at all!
- Have enough food, water and miscellaneous items for a week without moving. There was so much rain while we were there some parts of the state had flooding and road closures. We didn’t run into that but we had enough supplies we would have been alright if we had.
- Have something to do so you aren’t bored out of your mind in bad weather! A laptop, Kindle or iPad full of books, movies and games is ideal!
- Carry foul-weather gear. I always carry an umbrella, Gore-Tex rain coat, rain pants and boots so I can get out in the rain. I also brought cold weather gear because we thought we might not get back till late in the year.
- Be able to eat in the van. It poured for three days straight and we weren’t going outside to cook so we just ate cold food and then finally we tried cooking inside. That went well so my advice is be able to cook in the van if you’re forced to.
Lesson Number Seven: Carry a second form of transportation if you have it.
I debated trying to take my motorcycle with me but ended up leaving it behind. In retrospect, I think that was a mistake. Carrying a bicycle, scooter or motorcycle is probably within the ability of most of us and I encourage you to strongly consider it. If you have an RV, give thought to towing an economy car. If you stay at RV Parks in cities, a second form of transportation is perfect for you, your rig stays home and the scooter takes you around town. If you mainly boondock, a scooter would be perfect for you. The only situation where it wouldn’t work is if you mainly stealth parked in the city, and then it would be of limited value.
Because I am a boondocker and rarely park in cities, I plan to take my Honda Rebel 250 motorcycle with me on a rack that goes into the receiver hitch of the van on all my long trips for these reasons:
- Improved gas mileage. My Rebel gets an honest 70 mpg and my van gets about 13 mpg so obviously having it along will save me lots of money in gas. There were numerous instances where I would have taken it to photograph, explore or run into town and saved a lot on gas. Because it only weighs 300 pounds, it wouldn’t have much impact on our average MPG.
- If you are traveling as a couple, it gives you time apart, that can be a very good thing when you are both naturally loners! Had Judy and I had it along, she could have spent much more time relaxing in camp while I took the bike to explore and photograph. Instead, every time I wanted to go somewhere, she had to drive me. Several of our camps didn’t have internet so that meant daily trips into town to use the net. In Talkeetna we made daily trips into town to check the weather for the flight to McKinley. All that could have been done on my Rebel, leaving Judy alone in camp recovering.
- If you break down in the middle of nowhere with no traffic, you can go for help.
- Photography is much easier done from a motorcycle, scooter or even a bike. Most of the places I go are stunningly beautiful and as I drive along I often see places and things I want to stop, get out and photograph. But with a big lumbering van or RV, that’s very often that is nearly impossible. First, those are usually narrow, winding roads with nowhere to pull over and safely get off the road. Second, if you decide it’s worth the effort to turn around and go back, you can’t find a place to turn around. A motorcycle makes both of those things much easier because it can easily turn around in the width of the road and often you can find a spot to tuck it safely off the side of the road when there is no possibility of parking a car or van, much less an RV.
This post has got long enough so I’ll stop here and pick up on more tips next time.