“Whine and Geez….” How Much is Too Much When Visiting Alaska?

My cohort in travelocity, Scott McMurren, is adamant about vacations being more for parents than kids, and to a certain level I believe he’s on to something. Change of scenery, release from work-a-day grinds, experiences far from the home front’s usual schedule of activities; all that. Take road trips, for example. Our family schlepped a million miles each summer in the old VW Bus along roads certainly less traveled just so my parents could show us things like Glacier National Park and Yellowstone’s Old Faithful. How dare they? I would have been happy staying at one place the whole time.

I am, however, a firm believer in planning a trip to benefit the whole fam damily, now that I have kids of my own and happen to live in a state so vast nobody could road trip it in an entire summer even if they did as my parents and drove all night and all day and fed us sardines and crackers in between campgrounds. Alaska takes planning, careful and considerate attention to details, and a basic knowledge of the 49th state’s little conundrums, travel-wise.

The AK ontheGO.com mailbox occasionally fills up with inquiries from parents wanting insight on their upcoming trip to Alaska. Not the fault of incoming visitors but more the guide books who promise an easy, smooth trip up the Parks or down the Seward (highways).

Alaska’s roads are few in number and many in vehicles during the frenetic summer months of May-August. Everyone, it seems, needs to get somewhere right now, and woe is you if punctuality is important. We laugh here about our two seasons, Winter and Construction, neither of which is conducive to a road trip with a minimum of fuss. Our highways, too, are not the six-lane, expressways to heaven type, either. Two lanes, one each way, with little room for pull-outs or passing leave long lines of frustrated drivers as they cruise along behind an RV doing 35 for hours on end.

Our advice for the road tripping fam visiting Alaska for the first time? Take it easy, just like the Eagles sing. Try one of our itineraries from the successful 2010 season and work from that. Each trip was carefully orchestrated to accommodate a 6 year-old and each has a number of stops along the way for break time and/or photo ops, plus a wealth of contact info from the many vendors and businesses happy to work with families. Worry not, you’ll see as much Alaska as anyone, but without overextending the kids or yourself.

Expect delays. Alaskans know this, and bring a car full of games, snacks, drinks, and blankies to sustain a bored young one while the grader or roller smooths out a new road surface and a pilot car demands a wait for the next lineup. AK Dad brings the New York Times to sustain him, and I read the Milepost, a bible for road-loving folk.

Slow down. You spent a lot of money to step foot on our tundra, why not travel at something slightly under the speed of light and really show the kids a good time? Stay in Anchorage a while (it really is the best place to begin a trip with kids). Visit the Alaska Zoo, hike up to Arctic Valley, pick some berries, rent a bike and ride the 11-mile Coastal Trail, see the Alaska Botanical Garden. Then pack up the rental chariot and drive someplace else, if you wish.

Some families swear by picking one geographical section of a state they plan to visit and staying there, counting on future trips to add to the pins on the map and ensuring a full and complete vacation each time. Many guidebooks do provide this worthwhile service and it is up to we  travelers to set the necessary family limits. The point is to provide value-added experience with a minimum of freaking out, and we’re always up for that. Especially when the freaking out is on my part.

And nobody wants to see that.

Posted in General Travel Info, Logistics With Kids, Miscellaneous.