How to Plan a Road Trip: Tips 5-7

The memories you will make on a Road Trip, are worth all the effort!

The memories you make on a Road Trip, are worth all the effort!

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:

  1. Break the Trip up into Stages for Planning Purposes.
  2. Use maps, books and the internet to plan and find all the interesting things along your route–but don’t over-plan!
  3. Be realistic With your time. Stop and relax when you need to.
  4. 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.

There is a Walmart as far north as Whitehorse, Yukon Territories, but most prices in it are close to double or more what they are in the United States.

There is a Walmart as far north as Whitehorse, Yukon Territories, but most prices in it are close to double or more what they are in the United States.

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.

Going to Alaska in June doesn't mean you won't run into snow!

Sometimes the memories you treasure most on a Road Trip are the bad times! Going to Alaska in June doesn’t mean you won’t run into snow!

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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
My Alaskan life!

My Alaskan life! Go ready for bad weather!

On my 2006 Road Trip I ran into temperatures as low as -30 below Fahrenheit and lots of rain and mud on the Alcan.

During my 2006 Road Trip I ran into temperatures as low as -30 below Fahrenheit and further south I got lots of rain and mud on the Alcan.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. If you break down in the middle of nowhere with no traffic, you can go for help.
  4. 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.

My Honda Rebel on the back of Judy's van.

My Honda Rebel on the back of Judy’s van.


I have a receiver hitch on the front and back of my 1 Ton Chevy Express van, so I can easily carry my Honda Rebel motorcycle front or rear.



I've been a full-time VanDweller since 1995 and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again! Check out Homes On Wheels Alliance (HOWA), our nonprofit that I co-founded. HOWA is dedicated to helping nomads in need.

15 comments on “How to Plan a Road Trip: Tips 5-7
  1. Avatar Calvin R says:

    I wondered about the bike when you gave your planning process. You had difficult decisions to make and I was happy to let you and Judy be the experts. For those of us whose decisions are not yet final, your experience is pretty much decisive except as you mentioned, when stealth traveling in cities. The other tips are useful as well.

    • Bob Bob says:

      I did want to take it but we had to have the hitch haul in back for extra storage, that meant we couldn’t take the motorcycle. When I travel alone, I will always take it.

  2. Avatar Calvin R says:

    I just saw a CBS story on how hotels are jacking up the prices by adding fees for everything including doing your own parking. You and I don’t need another reason for avoiding hotels, but maybe some others will see still another reason.

  3. Avatar Jan Cook says:

    I don’t like to shuffle anything around and try to keep that in mind when organizing things. Judy is right. To shuffle is stressful. Jan

  4. I am constantly shuffling in my Safari, and it’s just me. That tells me I haven’t gotten rid of enough stuff yet. I thought of buying one of those big Sterilite drawer units that you two have but then I thought no, I’d just wind up with more stuff. So, as soon as I am in a spot where I can tear everything out and start over, that’s what I’m going to do. Meanwhile, my mantra is No More Stuff, No More Stuff, No More Stuff.
    LaVonne Ellis recently posted…An Open Letter to Congresswoman Susan DavisMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      LaVonne, yeah, it is very hard to find the balance and it isn’t the same for any two of us. What’s important is that you find the balance that works for you. Shuffling things gets old very fast!

  5. Stocking up. That reminds me of the little debate you and I had in Cottonwood, Bob, about the buy-two-12-packs-of-cola-and-get-one-free deal. You were perplexed that I got only two and not the third free one. “Because I don’t have room for it.” Well, technically, I did, but it would have meant shuffling things around, stepping over things, feeling more crowded, adding stress. In the months since then I’ve been even more ruthless about decluttering, because that has been a higher priority than saving a few bucks here and there. I make up for the extra cost by consuming less.
    Al Christensen recently posted…ClaireMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Al, no doubt it is a trade-off and each of us must set our priorities. On Judy’s budget she HAD to save money, but I got carried away so if we had found a balance it would have been much better.

  6. Avatar Ming says:

    I like the idea of an extra vehicle, though all I’ve ever been able to bring along so far is a bike. What do you think would be the lightest motorized 2 wheel vehicle that one could get (I already know about electric bikes)? Heaving it up onto a rack is an issue.

    • Bob Bob says:

      You only have two choices that i know of, electric bike or add a motor. I think they will both add about 20 pounds or more. I’m guessing the weight would be about the same. If you start with a light enough bike, it might be doable.

      • Avatar Ming says:

        ok, I know my way around those 2 options already, good to know. Bad knees and bad back, being small and getting older are a great combination, but we have to adapt, don’t we?

  7. Avatar Opa says:

    I carry a bicycle for exercise and runs to the stores as long as they within a 15mile radius . I can peddle from Ehrenberg to the Safewey store in Blyhte and back with fresh food and getting a good workout. In tourist towns it is much easier to get around with the bicycle and easier to park.It helps on the wear and tear on the van und gas savings. I lost 60lbs in almost 2 years because of the bicycle exercise. But the greatest gain I achieved, is better nutrition and more healthful choices because I can get fresh vegetables and dairy and fruit every other day when I peddle my bike to the stores. I cut and eliminated most of my canned food and fast food joints. I do like the senior coffe at McDs!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Opa, that’s great that riding the bike has been so good for you! I envy you that! I really wanted to start riding a bike but I am terrified for my bad knee and don’t want to risk further damage.

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