Friday, June 27, 2014

How to plan a trip to Alaska (or anywhere else)

Ok...  I've had close to a dozen emails from folks over the past month or so
asking me how I planned and prepared for this trip so since it's a slow day
and I don't have a lot of pictures to post I thought that I'd tackle that question.

First...  from my perspective - going to Alaska is no different than going to
any other of the 48 states.   It's really no big deal.
It really isn't.

Just like my sailing buddy Hayden always says:
"the hardest part is leaving the dock"

If the thought of driving more than 500 miles from home intimidates you...  
well then - I can understand your apprehension.

If you've already been touring the lower 48 however... then its no big deal.
Just a bit further.
And more scenic.
and more remote.

Going to Alaska is really no different than going to Colorado.
You just need more time.
The rest is just fluff to make people think that they've
 accomplished something amazing.

If you know how to find stuff searching google then you can plan a trip.

For my trip planning - the first consideration always has to be my job.
Towards that end is the need for internet connectivity.

So first step was a bunch of google searches to find out who were the telecom
providers in Canada, looking at their coverage maps, what kind of service did they
offer, and what was the technology used.   (GSM vs CDMA)

Once I knew what I could realistically expect - and where - I was able to tailor
a route that would give me as much coverage as possible.

If you are not working - then this first step is unnecessary.

To develop an itinerary I first needed to find out just what was there to see up here.
So...  the easiest thing is to find out where all the touristy places are.  
Where do most of the tourists go?

To do this I ran google searches like "RV Trips to Alaska" etc.
I bookmarked all the interesting web sites for later reference.
Keeping all of your internet bookmarks organized is a big help.
I created folders by Province/State to keep it from getting out of hand.

I was able to look up the caravan companies (the ones that take 15+ RV's in one big group
to Alaska for a fee) and see what their itineraries look like.

Yup.. guys make a living taking dozens of people on Alaskan RV tours.
I honestly don't get that but different strokes I guess.

I looked at the cruise line Alaska itineraries.  
Where did they go when the cruise portion was over?

In the process of doing this I was able to come up with a rough list of the places that
I wanted to see and visit.
I would google each of these places and used all the relevant sources
of info such as chambers of commerce, trip advisor, blogs, etc to get
a list of what is there to see and do in each location.

Now, when we are on the road and pull into a town, I've already got
a list of at least 5 or 6 thing to do or see in each place and I'm ready to hit the
ground running.

Then it becomes a matter of stringing all these places together into an itinerary with
overnight stops.

I tried to find at least 3 or 4 possible places to stop each nite.  
This provides flexibility.  
I prefer to do all this homework before we ever leave home.  
That way when we are on the road I'm not spending my time doing the research 
looking for places to stay.
Instead,  I'm spending my time enjoying the fruits of my prior research.

I find campgrounds a couple of ways.

I start with the AllStays App for iPad and iPhone.
It lists thousands of public and private campgrounds.

Ones that look promising - I use RV Park Reviews to get an idea
of what others say about it.  When I see a really good - or bad - comment about
a place I see how many other reviews has the person made.   The person might be a competitor
trying to make the place look bad.  Or the owner trying to make it look good.

If there is a website for the campground I look at that too.

Now our taste is campgrounds is different than most RV'ers - we generally prefer less
services and more seclusion - like you would find in National Forest Campgrounds,
and provincial parks, but that's ok...  the process is still the same.

When I find one that looks promising, I put it on the list for further research.

Then I take those on that list and try to find pictures or blogs about them.

I will google the name of the campground and then click on "images" when google
returns the results.   I scroll over those images looking for ones that have a URL (web address)
such as  or

I know that those type addresses would be blog addresses 
and theres a high probability that they
stayed at the campground that I am interested in and posted a photo.
I might find out more relevant info on the blog.

Also - many times it turns out its a blog of folks going where I am going and
now I have another good source.  I can read their posts for more info.

I read many blogs like mine over the past two years.

Many times I'll use google street view to see what the area looks like.
Is it hard to get into with a 53' long rig?
It's amazing how many places are covered by street view.

Doing this research of campgrounds has served us extremely well in the past.
We are almost always very happy with our overnight choices.

I now have a rough idea of the route that I want to take,  places that I want to see
along that route, and many potential places that we can stay that would meet our
particular campground criteria.

Next I make a rough schedule.
I use iCal on my Mac.
You could use outlook Schedule on a windows machine, or any
other calendar program.
I do this simply because we do not have unlimited time.  We are not full-time
RVers and have other commitments.  If I was a free range chicken just wandering
around full time the schedule would be unnecessary.

To put together our schedule I enlisted the aid of google maps.
I created daily trips trying to keep the driving time around 4 hrs.
Stringing together places that I want to visit, matching it up with campgrounds,
matching it up with internet availability, making sure that there would be places 
that I could dump tanks every week or so...
slowly I was able to put together a day by day itinerary.

The places that have a lot to do - I allow more time.
3 or 4 days perhaps.

Then each week I throw in an "extra day"
This last point is important.   It allows flexibility.

When I was done with my planning I had a day by day schedule that listed
drive times, distances, several places to stay, and things to do.

If we change the schedule, all i had to do was drag all the places around to reorganize.

On a trip as big as Alaska, there is so much to see and do that having a schedule
to refer to at least allowed me to see everything that I wanted.

It would be real easy to stay in many places along the way and all of a sudden
you would run out of time and be scrambling trying to figure out where to go next.

All of those places were also programmed into my Garmin GPS using
Garmin Base Camp.  When I left home I had all the ground work complete
and was able to concentrate on having a good time.

So.... that's a real short synopsis of how I put this trip together over 18 months or so.
Was all the work required?   
Hell no.   
If you want you can just jump into the truck and hit the road.
I believe you will still have a great time.
The secret is just to get out there and do it.

I do believe however that the more thought and planning that goes into the front end
results in a smoother and more fulfilling trip on the back end.

If you require full hookups and pull thru spaces...
If you complain if the camp roads are not paved..
If you insist that the campground grass be mowed...
If you don't like getting lots of dirt on your rig, and chips in your paint...

Then its not for you.

But if you like some mud on your boots and
the smell of a camp fire in your clothes...

If the thought of driving a road where a car only passes by going the other way
 every 10, 15, 20 minutes or so...

Then this just might be for you.

There are plenty of places to get fuel.
You don't need a truckload of spare tire and spare parts.
The road is fine.
The scenery is breathtaking.
The wildlife is everywhere.
The days are long.

Plan or don't plan.

Just do it.

I hope that this helps.


  1. Greg did a great job of planning and I had the opportunity to travel with him.

    He is correct plan it and do it before it is too late.

    Safe travels all.

  2. I like how you plan!

  3. I always wondered how you did it. Eighteen Maybe you need another career, you'd be good at planning trips for people.

  4. Hi Greg, thanks for the tips! Keep having fun!


We love to hear from you... Please leave us a comment and let us know you are reading. If there is something that you'd like to hear about please let us know. Thanks for visiting!