Thursday, September 06, 2012

Thoughts About Alaskan Trip

This was truly the trip of a lifetime.  This was our second trip through western Canada and Alaska.  But this time was different.  The first time we were tourists—eager to see all we could and go “ooh” and “aah”.  This time we experienced the journey.  The 2004 trip was our first long RV excursion.  Is that the difference?  Or is it our age and, I hope, some accumulated wisdom?  Whatever, it was even better than before.

In addition to stunning scenery and abundant wildlife, what did we encounter this trip?  Canadians and Alaskans must really love and respect their lands.  We saw almost no litter.  The RV parks are really nothing to write home about.  We found what we needed—electricity (20 amp or 30 amp often, rarely 50 amp).  Some parks even provide their own power with generators. Sewer hookups are unusual.  For one reason, permafrost makes it difficult to run the lines underground.  Two times we encountered parks that required us to take our trash with us.  It seems Yukon no longer provides trash pickup.  Except for a provincial park and two national parks in Alberta, we almost always had wifi and at times it was very fast and reliable.  It was much easier to get email this trip and I seldom had trouble posting my blog. These parks do make us appreciate the amenities we encounter in the lower 48.

The local people were almost invariably friendly and helpful.  RVers provide a major portion of their annual income and they are grateful we are there. All along the route, gas stations are very RV friendly—plenty of room to maneuver and no worry about low canopy roofs. We had no trouble finding diesel fuel, wherever we went.  We carried a 5-gallon container of diesel, but never needed to use it.  We experienced a sense of camaraderie with other RVers on the same journey.

The roads are mostly 2 lane and often have no shoulder.  In places they are downright awful.  The good news: traffic is light and you can drive as slow as you wish or need to without worrying about interfering with other vehicles.

We experienced a summer that locals call “a little winter.”  It was cool, often cloudy and rainy.  We didn’t sit outside much.  But we did get out and go places, often on foot.  The weather didn’t stop us from exploring.  We only had mosquito issues a couple of times.  We never encountered what we have read about—hoards of what some call the Alaska state bird.

Traveling to Alaska with a 36-foot 5th wheel trailer, that happens to be your home, is not for the faint of heart.  Knowing you are not just miles from any technical help you might need, but at times 500 to 800 miles from that help, leads to a sense of vulnerability. 

We didn’t drive the Top of the World Highway to Dawson City and Chicken, as many do.  We didn’t drive the Cassiar Highway or go to the Arctic Circle.  No flightseeing excursions.  No chartered fishing trips.  All of these were choices we made and we have no regrets.  For others, they may be the highlight of their trip. We did what we wanted, when we wanted.  Walking Valdez and Haines several times.  Visiting a botanic garden outside Fairbanks.  Going to Rica’s Roadhouse and watching Alaskan residents net fishing. Some days we did nothing.

Although it was the most expensive part of the trip, we are so glad we took the Alaska Marine Highway ferry from Haines to Bellingham.  It saved us 2 1/2 weeks and hundreds of miles of driving and we were tired of driving.  And we were able to again see the Inside Passage, at least part of it.  We really did nothing for 3 1/2 days. 

Let me repeat, the scenery and wildlife were spectacular.  That is what we enjoyed the most.

We considered buying a smaller trailer to make this trip.  We spent several days last summer shopping.  We never found something reasonably priced that we felt we could live in for three or four months.  At this end of the journey, we are glad we didn’t get another trailer.  That purchase would have saved wear and tear on our Montana, which is home, but would it save money in the long run?  We would have a trailer to sell now.  We aren’t sure the amount we would lose in that transaction would be less than the damage we must deal with on the Montana today.  We’re glad we went in the Montana.

Our only advice to others—take as much time as you possibly can. There is so much to see and to savor. Don’t hurry. It is much better to be “full” and ready to leave than to rush through it and miss things you really want to do.

There are lots of ways to see Alaska. You can take a cruise or a cruise and land tour; you can RV on your own or join a caravan. You can stay in commercial campgrounds all the time or boondock most of the time. You can RV in a pickup truck camper, a 5th wheel or travel trailer, or a motorhome. We did it our own way and loved it. No regrets. Nothing we wished we hadn’t done or were sorry we did do.

We stayed in commercial campgrounds all but two times during the trip.  If you are reading this post, you probably followed our journey on this blog.  We also followed another blog of a couple RVing in Canada and Alaska, but boondocking almost all the time.  They spent a whole lot less money.  And they experienced the journey differently than we did.  From what we read, they were very happy with they way of doing it.  Just like we are happy with our trip.  You can read what they did here.

What did it cost?  I will only include rv park expense and fuel in Canada and Alaska and our ferry trip back to Washington.  Everyone has to eat, wherever they are.  We spent some money on tours, etc.  Those are decisions everyone makes on their own.  I will say that the bus tour through Denali National Park and the boat tour to Kenai Fjords National Park were highlights of the trip and worth every penny we paid. 

RV park expense—26 campgrounds for 84 days, $2709.16.  This was $32.25 per day

Diesel fuel—6,300 miles of travel in Canada and Alaska, $2,517.49. That is 40 cents per mile.

Ferry trip back to the lower 48—$4605.00.

Bank charges were $129.39.  That was mainly foreign transaction fees for credit card purchases and $9 fees for using ATMs that weren’t part of our bank’s network.  If we leave the US again, I will investigate a credit card with lower foreign transaction fees.  I’m not sure if using all cash would be less expensive.  It would result in more frequent trips to the ATM so we wouldn’t have to carry a lot of cash around.  We are used to charging everything because we get 1% back on all purchases and we pay the bill in full each month.

One other consideration.  Telephone.  I added Canadian roaming on my Sprint phone so we could use it in Canada.  We felt there would be enough places with no cell phone coverage that we should have a calling card for pay phones.  Before leaving the US, I bought an international card from a Kroger store, only to find when we reached Canada that it didn’t work in Canada.  (The card included a Canadian flag.  Go figure.)  Next, I picked up a $10 Telus card in Canada.  On reading the fine print, it wasn’t honored in Northern British Columbia or Yukon. I was able to use it once in Jasper National Park.

The trip of a lifetime.  Make it, in an RV, if at all possible.  You won’t be sorry.


  1. Thanks for sharing your Alaska experience. It's something we think about but not sure if we will ever go in the RV. Figured that ferry trip had to be pricey, since it cost us $200 last summer just to go 40 miles across Lake Erie to our friend's island home.
    By the way, the link to Ann and Jerry's blog doesn't seem to work.

  2. Thanks again so much for your blog. We feel like we can almost be prepared now for our trip next summer.

  3. John&Carol,
    Great trip ,great blog and the most important is that you did what you wanted when you wanted.
    In 2002 we started RVing and our FIRST trip was to Alaska but it will not be the last ,take a look
    Best regards and continue doing what you love to do.