Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Alaska: Solo or Caravan

Dear Joe and Vicki: We intend to take our RV to Alaska this summer. The only question in our mind is whether we should travel solo or join an RV caravan. What do you suggest?

Joe: Thousands of RVers travel to Alaska on their own and do just fine. You will too! Do your homework. Research and plan your trip carefully (two DVDs and an e-book about what to expect and how to prepare for an RV journey to Alaska are available on our website .

Most importantly, allow plenty of time (six to eight weeks) to see and do all that interests you.

Our first RV trip to Alaska was accomplished on our own. We spent more than a year researching, planning and preparing for what we thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. The trip lasted three months. We took the Alaska Highway one direction and the ferry system the other. Guided by books, maps, brochures, and the advice of folks who had gone before us, we thought we had seen everything Alaska had to offer. We had a great time.

Then we signed on as “tailgunners” with an Alaskan caravan. The typical RV caravan staff consists of a wagonmaster couple and an assistant wagonmaster couple. The wagonmaster team is responsible for keeping the caravan running smoothly. The assistant wagonmaster couple, sometimes known as "tailgunners," travel behind the last RV so they are available to assist any caravan members who experience problems along the way.

The Alaskan caravan followed the same route, went to the same places, and took the same tours we did on our solo trip… plus a whole lot more! And they did it a lot more efficiently. That’s their business.

Vicki: A caravan company selects the route, puts together the itinerary, makes campground reservations and arranges interesting tours. You'll travel with the knowledge that nothing will be missed along the way. You'll also enjoy the camaraderie of fellow caravan participants and the sense of security that comes from traveling with a group.

Keep in mind, though, that group travel involves compromise, group participation and adherence to travel schedules. If you're independent-minded, accustomed to solo travel and prefer to avoid itineraries, you might want to seriously consider whether you'd be happy in a caravan.

A typical caravan day begins with a briefing by the caravan staff. They will tell you about the road conditions, scenic attractions and points of interest you can expect during the coming day's journey. A travel day, by the way, will rarely exceed 200 to 300 miles.

As the caravan progresses, you can expect to experience planned events such as river rafting, fishing trips, tours and barbecues.

When you arrive at each day’s destination you will be guided into your reserved campsite. But the day won’t be over yet. Evening activities will probably include restaurant meals, salmon bakes, pot-lucks and professional entertainment.

Some Alaska caravans either include or will make arrangements for you to load your RV onto a giant ferry, occupy a stateroom and cruise the Inside Passage on your return trip to the US/Canadian border. We happen to think that this should be a part of everyone's Alaska experience.

To learn more about RV caravans, contact the commercial caravan companies. You'll find them advertised in RV publications. Ask what you can expect to receive for your money. Compare what each company offers on similar caravans.

Once you've experienced the benefits of professional preparation, experienced guides and adventurous companions, you may find yourself joining the ranks of those for whom caravanning has become an addictive form of travel.

Either way, solo or caravan, you are in for a great adventure. Go for it!

Joe and Vicki will be presenting their seminar “Alaska, The Ultimate RV Adventure” at the Gypsy Gathering Rally in Yuma, Arizona on March 8, 2011. The rally will have a number of seminars relating to Alaska.

Joe and Vicki Kieva are the authors of a number of how-to books and e-books about RVs, RVers and RVing.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Be Prepared

Joe: Thunp! Whoooshh! It was the unmistakable sound of air making a rapid escape from a tire. My heart sank. Vicki shot me a look that said "I can't believe you did that".

It really wasn't my fault. We were on our way out of a campground. I was maneuvering through a tight right turn. Suddenly, without warning, a cleverly concealed small decorative wall attacked and tore open my right, rear outside tire.

Vicki: The good news was that we were prepared. Our preparation was developed from experience. Experience is the best teacher. It gives the test first and the lesson afterwards.

Our learning experience occurred two years ago. We had a blow-out. As usual, Murphy's Law prevailed… blown inside dual tire, 35 miles from the nearest town, Saturday of Easter weekend, no spare tire. At that time, we had no spare tire because our motorhome did not come equipped with one. The RV dealer had patiently explained that the reasons for no spare tire were: 1) "Those tires never blow out." 2) "The lug nuts are so tight you would need a 10-foot long wrench to loosen them." 3) "The tire and wheel weigh 200 pounds and the manufacturer doesn't want the liability of you getting hurt while handling one." and 4) "The roadside service truck will bring a new tire and mount it." Silly me, I thought it was because the RV manufacturer wanted to avoid the expense of a spare tire.

Anyway, because that blowout occurred on Easter weekend and our tire size (10 R 22.5) was not readily available, it took the roadside service folks about 3 hours to locate a used tire that would, hopefully, get us home. And, they had to make a 30-mile round trip to get it (we could have gotten a new tire if we had been willing to wait until Tuesday).

The used tire got us home where we replaced all of the tires. But, learning from experience, we kept one of the old tires as a spare. That was part of our preparation … carry a spare tire.

Joe: Our experience-based plan for dealing with our present tire mishap was to 1.) Locate a replacement tire. 2.) Call roadside service and ask them to pick up the replacement tire. 3.) Have roadside service mount the new tire on the motorhome. The 7-year old spare would be used only if we could not locate a replacement tire.

Did I mention that this latest blowout occurred in a campground in El Centro, California? El Centro is located in the middle of the desert, 100 miles east San Diego, 100 miles south of Palm Springs, 60 miles west of Yuma, Arizona and 7 miles north of the Mexican border. These things never seem to happen in a convenient location. A few telephone calls revealed that El Centro did not have a replacement tire in stock. We would have to use the spare and obtain a new tire somewhere down the road.

While we were waiting for roadside service to arrive we located a replacement tire at a tire shop in Chandler, Arizona. Chandler is just south of Phoenix. It would put 275 miles on our 7-year old spare tire but added only 70 miles to our overall journey.

The next morning, in Chandler, I successfully wiggled our 36-foot motorhome through a narrow alley and into a tire service area that was obviously not intended for a motorhome. This feat redeemed me, in Vicki's eyes, as a reasonably competent RV driver. She was beginning to have doubts after the wall versus tire incident. Two hours later we had two new tires on the front wheels, four matched 2-year old tires on the rear, a 2-year old spare tire in a side compartment, and a much lighter wallet. The incident had used the equivalent of a full day's travel time.

Vicki: The moral of this story is to be prepared. Be prepared by carrying a cellular telephone; it is invaluable in an emergency. Be prepared by having a spare tire; don't count on a replacement tire being available at a moment's notice. Be prepared by subscribing to an RV roadside assistance plan. One that will respond anywhere in the United States and Canada and, if unable to solve the problem on the side of the road , one that will tow your RV (no matter the distance) to a facility that can effect the repair. Be prepared by having the telephone numbers of the manufacturer of your vehicles, their chassis, engines, transmissions, and tires. Most manufacturers can direct you to the facilities that can service their products.

Joe: And, don't forget your credit card.

To read more about RVs, RVers and RVing go to Joe and Vicki's website.

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