Views to Drive For
Do the words ‘vacation in Alaska’ evoke an image of a fine white cruise ship sailing silently past
glaciers and icebergs? Do you imagine yourself standing on deck, binoculars firmly in place, trying to spot the odd beluga whale or polar bear? If you do then you are not alone my friend. Travel companies over the years have built a formidable reputation around Alaska as a cruise destination. But after a road trip through parts of the state, I must say that that branding has happened at the expense of another truly wonderful mode of transport – the RV or motor home. “But wait”, you say, “RVing sounds difficult.” “What are Alaskan roads like? How can I drive there? Surely, I’ll get lost!” We had many of the same apprehensions at the start of our journey into the centre of Alaska so read on for how it all turned out.
How can I drive an RV?
We flew into Anchorage and rented our RV from there. It was 29 feet long and basically when we saw our RV we gulped knowing that we were all graduating into the big boys club. Size, however, is deceptive. Thanks to power-steering and automatic transmission driving an RV is so embarrassingly easy that you really don’t get any bragging rights. No gear shifts, no muscle testing tackles with the steering wheel and no neck Twizzler reverses either. When you want to back up just send one of your co-passengers to guide you. And when you want to go forward, well, just do it! But the only way you’re getting your hands on the big baby is if you have an international driver’s license which you should take with you from India.
What are Alaska’s roads like?
In the summer, they are mostly splendid and if you go there in mid-May like we did, just before the
peak season starts, the roads are also empty. This combination makes it a great driving experience. And since this is Alaska the views are to drive for. A personal favourite of ours is now the Seward Highway – it takes you south from Anchorage into the Kenai Peninsula and is flanked in the first 50 miles by the waters of the Cook Inlet and the Chugach Mountains. Remember those car scenes in old films? You’d know the car is stock still while the scenery in the background keeps changing to give the appearance of movement? Driving on some of these roads can feel like that because the vistas remain fantastic for miles on end.
How many can stay in an RV?
Legally the number of people in the RV should be equal to the number of seat belts in it. Period. Practically, you don’t want to be packed in like sardines. So it really depends on what you’re comfortable with. We were five adults in a 29 foot RV meant for six and while it was impossible to do anything without bumping into one another, at night we all had separate spots and slept comfortably.
What is the inside of the RV like?
If you live in an RV for a few days you will not be complaining about how small your house feels (if it does). There is more room there than you can imagine and at the end of our trip the RV fan club had grown by five. Life and space are in fact what you make of it. The RV has a kitchenette complete with stove, oven, sink, fridge and some counter space. It also has a shower area, a separate toilet, a “master bedroom”, a dining table that turns into a bed at night, a bunk bed above the driver’s seat and several other nooks that are a marvel of space management. Ironically if you want privacy you have to escape into the outdoors – where for miles on end you can potentially meet noone.
Where do I park for the night?
There are RV parks all along Alaska’s highways and most of them have excellent bathrooms and a
laundry room. You can save many of your RV’s own resources and plug into the public ones for a small fee per night. During peak summer you have to call and make bookings in advance but in May most parks are still empty so you can simply drive right in, find a spot you like and park. If the manager has left for the day then settle your bills in the morning. Of course you could just as well park anywhere that catches your fancy – by the side of a stream, or on the base of the Chugach mountains or anywhere really but you need to have a full battery and water tank to support such a move.
Is it expensive?
RVing is not expensive but it is not cheap either. What I mean is that the advantage it offers over staying at hotels is reaped if you have a big group in the RV and you do it for a longer duration of time. Economies of scale sort of thing. We did it over 12 days and saved a lot of money on hotel stays and food because we cooked many of our meals. But you are still paying a daily rental fee, mileage charges, fuel costs, RV park rentals and a one-time house-keeping fee. It can add up but it is oh so much fun!
We drove along some of Alaska’s best highways like the Seward, Sterling, Glenn, Richardson and
Parks highway and its safe to say that pretty much all of them offered spectacular views – some just more consistently than others. I don’t know the joys of a cruise ship but I’ll bet a million bucks on the thrills of RVing in Alaska.