Trickster Trips’ VW Synchro a Beefy Way to See Alaska

Polychrome, the 1986 VW Synchro rented by AKontheGO publisher Erin Kirkland. AKontheGO image

Yeah, I used the word “beefy,” but to be fair, there’s really no other word to describe this 1986 hunk of burning VW love named Polychrome, or “Poly” for short. I first wrote about Trickster Trips last December when owner Mandy Morell was just beginning to assemble her fleet of three vans. They’re hard to come by, VWs, but diehard former van drivers like me are always on the lookout for the opportunity to travel in one. 

When a chance arose to drive south to Seward for some work-related travel, I borrowed Poly and motored on for a weekend of solo adventuring at the Seward City Campground, along the rocky shoreline of Resurrection Bay. 

Trickster Trips also puts some reading material in each van. Alaska On the Go! Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO


Oatmeal, coffee, and a side of water for breakfast in Polychrome, a Trickster Trips van. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

For those not accustomed to driving a VW van, Trickster trips may be a perplexing fit. They are, with the exception of one, manual transmission vehicles, with the long pole of a shifter that has stymied many novice drivers over the years. That said, if you have time to practice in a parking lot or backroad, Trickster Trips vans can be trusted to get you and your people to an Alaska destination without too much trouble. 

Poly was quite a powerhouse; the engine had plenty of power for cruising the Seward Highway and the heater was designed to warm up even the coldest, wettest, rainy Alaska spring day (Poly is, incidentially, the only van of the three available for winter rentals). 

Morell puts a comprehensive operations guide in each of the vans, and it’s worth a read, especially if you are new to pop-top and small camper kitchens typical of the 70’s and 80’s vans. She walked through the entire process with me, however, so don’t feel rushed when you meet up to collect your van — it takes time to learn the nuances of such treasures as Poly, Sue, or Goldy. 

I had no trouble at the campsite, choosing to sit in the open doorway with a cold beverage rather than use the little table I brought. I was reminded of a hundred similar camping trips, years and years ago, when my brother, sister and I would sit in the same place, door open, our faces dirty from campground shenanigans.

Polychrome’s long back bench seat folds into a cozy bed for one or two. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

At night, I folded down the back bench seat for a cozy nest where I could lie and watch the sea lions, otters, and whales cruise the shoreline in Alaska’s midnight sun. The heater came on and off as temperatures inside fluctuated, but come morning I was cozy enough to want to stay in my sleeping bag while the coffee brewed on the van’s little propane stove.

Traveling with kids will undoubtedly crowd things, to be sure, but the pop top sleeps two, the bench bed another duo, and there’s always the option to pitch a tent for any additional people. A small swing-out table was more of a pain than useful, so I’d recommend a fold-up table or provided campsite picnic table to minimize spills or little elbows in your food. 

An important note; the van travels with five seatbelts, including driver and front seat passenger, so if you need more than two car seats, best to bring a second vehicle because it could get crowded back there.

But you’re in a Trickster Trips van, you’re roaming Alaska, and the combination is pretty sweet. 

I smiled a lot that weekend. 

If you go: 

  • Trickster Trips rates vary depending upon length of stay, but in general start at $160/night and go up to $1400/week. 
  • Polychrome, “Poly” is the only 4WD of the three vans, and can be rented all year. “Sue” is an automatic transmission, and requires outside cooking. 
  • The company can provide campers with all gear, or guests can bring their own. 
  • Drivers must be 26 and provide proof of insurance. 
  • Guests must appreciate the Zen of vintage Volkswagen vans <—–I made this up, but I think it bodes well for potential camping families to understand that it won’t be like an RV. This is camping. And it rocks.




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