Alaska’s open roads are a siren song for many 49th state travelers. Scenery, wildlife, and abundant recreation upon a whim – it’s all there, without a tour bus in sight. Dad at the wheel, mom operating the GPS and snapping casually-orchestrated Facebook photos of the kids teetering on the edge of a glacial moraine or reeling in fish caught from a roadside pullout….Ahhhh-laska. At least, that’s the general idea.
How does a family get to that magical, Alaska state of mind? Travel TO Alaska is tough enough without worrying about the logistics of a road trip IN a state twice the size of Texas. Consider, then, the RV.
No. Not THAT RV.
Never fear, we’ll help you get there, in our multi-part series, created with the assistance of Great Alaskan Holidays in Anchorage. I spent a few hours with Corbin Sawyer, VP of Operations for this Alaska-owned company, walking through the logistics of learning about, renting of, and operations thereto of said RVs. So whether you’re a newbie like me, or a tenement-on-wheels professional, sit back, relax, and check out the unique aspects of RV travel in the Last Frontier. Today – I present “The Backstory: Who, What, and When.” (Sounds like a soap opera, doesn’t it?)
Who is a typical RV family? According to Mr. Sawyer, families who rent RVs tend to like a relaxed pace. Starting or stopping the day at their leisure, exploring backroads and hidden hideaways, these families pack bikes, picnics, and hiking boots and explore independently, and like it that way. They are also budget-minded; fixing meals in the vehicle and savoring the campout experienc as opposed to eating and sleeping in a hotel. Are you up for this type of trip? Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do I like sleeping, eating, and entertaining in the same room as my children, sometimes all at once, and for multiple days at a time?
2. Do I enjoy grabbing a map or guidebook, finding the most unique destination possible, and saying “Heck, let’s go there, today”?
3. Does my family have varied tastes in food, or allergies that necessitate special orders at every restaurant or snack bar? Is budget the main guideline during the trip?
4. Are activities centered around unstructured, outdoor-themed, or otherwise independent themes, with museums and tours thrown in as time permits?
Take stock of your family’s traveling style, and embark upon a trip that fits the needs of everyone.
Know when and where you want to go. Sneaky tip, here: Autumn is a fabulous season in which to rent an RV. Colorful leaves, dirt-cheap prices (like $70/day), and quiet roadways full of wildlife and scenic vistas. Hello – why are we not going somewhere this weekend?? Great Alaskan Holidays has a whole page on its website about specials for Alaskans and non-Alaskans alike.
Families with kids should carefully orchestrate the “where” of an RV vacation in Alaska. Do take note of my first trip in 1991, when a friend and I rented a conversion van and obliquely decided to “drive around Alaska” in a week. We drove, all right. All day, all night, and probably as far as Mars before I realized we had bitten off way more than we could chew. Lesson learned. Great Alaskan Holidays, and yours truly, have itineraries for road-tripping Alaska, so you will never ever collapse with exhaustion near the side of a dirt road and shriek into your bandana “WHYYYY?!” (ahem).
Know what you’ll get. RV rentals are a little bit like ordering pizza; pick your crust, then add all the toppings. Okay, maybe not exactly like a pizza, but you get the idea. RV rental agencies are all different, so ask, ask, ask about what is included, and what is for rent at an additional cost. Great Alaskan RV has a great list of both on their website, AND in person at check-in, and frankly, as a list-making, detail-oriented mom, I appreciated that. Ask any rental agency about the length of the rental equipment – is it for a week, a day, a month? Be clear about their offerings and your expectations, ahead of time.
With respect to the actual RV, I inspected three sizes of RV available at Great Alaskan Holidays, ranging in length from 22 feet to 32 feet, and was surprised at the layout and feel of each. Sawyer says that many families think the 22 foot model is just dandy for 10 days in the Alaska wilderness with four kids and mom and dad – only to find out two hours down the road that the tight space just isn’t cutting it. Tell reservations agents everything you think they ought to know about about your family, and match up your crew with their machinery. I highly advise this as opposed to just clicking the “Reserve Now” button.
Need a car seat? This can get a little tricky, but is manageable at Great Alaskan. See Corbin? He’s pointing to a tether anchor screwed into the floor of the RV. The car seat works at the dinette, the likes of which can be folded down (table) to accommodate a car seat with the provided seat belts. There IS only one anchor per vehicle, however, so keep this in mind for those with multiple car seat kids.
I think that’s enough for one day. Are you taking notes? Good.
Next week’s episode? “The WHAT’S Full? Operating instructions and RV know-how”
I bet you can’t wait.