RV Life, RV Safety, RV travel, RV travel in Alaska, RVing in Alaska, Travel Destination, Travel Safety, Travel Tips
Going RVing to Alaska is a once-in-a-lifetime journey thousands of RVers tackle each summer. My husband and I followed in their tracks this year, and like many people, we endured a few challenges unique to the North Country. Once we were back on familiar territory in the lower 48, we realized that if we had known these five things about RVing to Alaska, our trip would have gone much smoother.
Stock up on your favorite products before heading north
The vast, unpopulated North Country presented a grocery shopping challenge in small and large stores alike. Certain household products that exist everywhere in the States just don’t make it across the border. Items that make our own RV life easier, such as basic paper plates, single-ply septic-safe toilet paper and smaller sizes of dish washing soap, were nowhere to be found.
Convert cash before crossing the border
We thought we were being financially savvy by waiting until we crossed the border to convert a large chunk of our US dollars into Canadian. With just $200 Canadian dollars in our wallets, we walked into a British Columbia bank hoping for a favorable exchange rate, only to learn that the country’s banking system requires individuals to have an active account at the institution where they want to do the converting. The rest of us must convert cash at a “payday lender” with less than ideal exchange rates. Next time we’ll change our money out before heading over.
Be even more bear aware
More grizzly and black bears exist in British Columbia than anywhere else in North America. That fact slipped my mind when I left a small bag of garbage in the back of our pickup truck. Just a few scraps of double-bagged leafy greens and some fruit peels was aromatic enough to ring the dinner bell for a young black bear who climbed into the back in search of his prize. We scared him off but unfortunately he returned the next day, causing us to flee the area. The deep claw scratches on the side of our truck now serve as a permanent reminder to stay bear aware.
Get a good international cellular broadband plan
While still in the States, we called our cellular phone company to inquire about usage rates in Canada. “Oh you get voice, text and data at no extra charge” they told us. Unfortunately the representative failed to disclose that “free” international usage restricted us to 500 GB per day of data for each of our phones. In today’s world, 500 GB goes quick and each time we wanted more, we had to pay $5 for every extra 500 GB within a 24-hour period.
Pack two (new) spare tires
Many unpaved sections of the Alaska Highway are coated with razor-sharp rock aggregate that can slice open even the best 10-ply tires. Four flat tires into our journey we learned why North Country locals warn travelers to carry at least two spare tires: if you get a flat while traveling one of these stretches, then get another a few miles later (which is common), you’re out of luck. Two spares also makes sense because Alaska Highway tire shops carry a limited selection of brands and sizes. If they don’t have yours, you might be camped out a while.
Prepare for the worst, hope for the best
The Alaska Highway is mostly paved, but long stretches of gravel roads still exist. Nearly every RVer who has made the trip has suffered from a cracked windshield, broken towing equipment or worse. Even a well-prepared RVer is at risk of some kind of damage.
Despite all of these challenges, we will make this trip again some day. Because as a wise traveler once said, the real adventure is found in the journey, not the actual destination. Like everyone else whose done it, if you go to Alaska you may have your share of (mis)adventures, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from going. Just drive your rig north with caution and carry a Coach-Net roadside assistance and Hazard Protect plan that will be there for you wherever you roam.
About the Author:
Rene Agredano, a Coach-Net member since 2015, is a self-employed full-time RVer who enjoys writing, jewelry design and animal advocacy. Her adventures with a three-legged dog and husband Jim are chronicled at LiveWorkDream.com
Glenn P. ~ “We have had Coach-Net since 2011 and have used the service for tire , door, lock problems as well 2 tows of our 42 foot coach. Last night was our 2nd tow, our service provider was Cody with Allan Robinson Towing in Raleigh, NC. Our call to Coach-Net was handled professionally and well starting with making sure we were in a safe place, getting our information and arranging for a tech to call me back. This was done with follow up in a very short period of time. My tow provider called and gave me a 30 minute window for arrival and arrived with with four minutes to spare. Cody was professional and reassuring and assured me I could leave and he would call and let me know when he delivered the coach. He did as promised and told me that the coach arrived safely. We have had excellent and caring responses every time we call Coach-Net and have repeatedly recommended them and will continue to do so.”
Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA said:
I have done a lot of international traveling. The best way to get local currency is not through a bank, but from the ATM that stands outside that bank. Use your DEBIT card, not your CREDIT card. Follow the currency rates on your favorite currency app. Speak with your bank before your trip so you are aware of foreign currency withdrawal fees. You can often negotiate no-fee withdrawals. Withdraw enough at one go that if you do have a per-transaction fee, you’re not getting hit with it every few days.
Bolt a small safe box somewhere hidden in your rig so you’re not carrying large quantities of cash. Use your credit card whenever you can, to conserve your cash. Again, if you are subject to foreign transaction fees, call before you leave and negotiate with your bank. You can often have the fees waived.
I’m sure the author means “500 MB,” not 500 GB. If I had 500 GB/day I’d be watching “Gone With the Wind” in HD 😃!
When I’m in a country for more than a few days, I take my old trusty unlocked, jailbroken iPhone and simply purchase a local SIM card with prepaid data. That way there are no unpleasant surprises. I still carry my normal US phone, but I keep it turned off and check it once or twice a day since I have family who might need something. Otherwise, I use the local SIM to make calls and create a hotspot, when there is signal.
Mike Pelletier said:
Great post, thank you. We are at the early stages of planning for our Alaska RV trip, so this was helpful.
I do believe that your reference to mobile plans is 500MB and not GB. 500GB is half a Terabyte . I think that would be difficult to use a half Terabyte in a day. But the idea is spot on! Our plan was 50 mb per day with Verizon. We ate that in a heartbeat
Carol Andrews said:
We have driven to and from Alaska and never had any windshield damage. It helps to drive slow through the areas with gravel.
Dennis Schuh said:
You are very lucky. I had just crossed into Canada with my brand new rig when a vehicle stopped on the shoulder gunned it to get ahead of me and sprayed gravel everywhere. Stone chip at bottom of window grew to a large width-wide crack over a few days.
We’ve driven to Alaska seven times pulling a 32 foot trailer and have two spares for it and three spares for the truck. The one big advice I have is don’t miss an opportunity to fill up with fuel at every chance. When I got between half and three quarters full I start looking for a gas station. Many times one that was open one year is closed the next. Also I carry twenty extra gallons just in case they are out. Between Dawson BC and Tok Alaska always prepare for the worst. From Whitehorse to the Alaska border in the spring and early summer watch out for frost heaves as they can rip a trailer apart if traveling too fast.
Richard Schafer said:
Concur with getting cash from the ATM. Drove there in 2009 and planning to go again next year. Got a crack in windshield about 5 miles out of Dawson Creek, met a dump truck going fast and threw the rock. No other problems, watched road conditions and kept speed down. Most of frost heaves are marked by a flag along side the road. Best advice is to operate on top half of fuel tank and I also carried extra 10 gallon of fuel and never used it but it made a nice insurance policy. I agree that the adventure of getting there is really makes the trip. Use the Mile Post book as your guide for getting there, it is a valuable resource.
Strongly concur with the advice to get Canadian cash from an ATM, not a bank. Carry a Visa or Mastercard that doesn’t have a foreign transaction fee (such as Capital One or HSBC) and use that as much as possible. The banks and credit card companies negotiate among themselves for the best exchange rates and you will automatically benefit from that.
We bought an inexpensive Telus-brand prepaid phone in Canada that we activate only when we are there. Calls to the U.S. are expensive so we only use it to quickly check for voice mail messages every few days. The rest of the time we use it as a hotspot and do most of our communicating via email. We top it up as needed – prepaid top-up cards are widely available. Taking a step back from constant connectivity is part of the experience!
Two round trips to Alaska. We have never had any tire problems (knock wood). The only windshield problem was a small rock chip easily patched. In two years with our Jeep Wrangler, we’ve had three windshields, mostly in Arizona.
Agree with the comments about ATMs for cash. I bought a SIM card with prepaid service for my phone. Most of the time, the limited wifi at RV parks was sufficient for emails, voicemails, and texts.
The most important point to make is take your time and drive to the road conditions. Sometimes that may be 25 MPH or less. Never pass a gas pump and enjoy the scenery. We will be making our third trip next summer.
Marti Buurkarl said:
A couple of thoughts. This is a weird time of year to be posting this article. Most folks don’t go to Alaska in fall/winter. We just got back from a two month road trip there. No, there are not Walmarts on every corner, but we had no issues finding what we needed in any town of over 1,000 people. #1 is overstated. You do not need an Canadian account to convert cash. Just an ATM card. If you want to avoid flat tires and cracked windshields, drive for conditions. That will take you a long way.
As far as foreign currency Canada is the easiest. Small pocket change from ATM using a debit card from a credit union with no foreign exchange fees and refunds for ATM charges. Most expenses on credit card with no fx fee. We drove Top of the World Highway and it cost a windshield on the Jeep since I took no precautions, fixed that with a tarp after 5 miles. Had no tire problems coach or Jeep, keep speed down. Did break a couple of welds on my hitch on road through Destruction Bay, 35 is speeding on that road. Found on line postings of fuel stations that were open and had fuel, never drove by one without topping off. We had no problems buying staples, fresh veggies and fresh fish. As full timers we know we can’t always find the brand we are used too, but we do find good stuff and some stuff we now order special because we like it so much. Open mind solves many problems.
I have to wonder how many years ago this was a written. I live in Alaska and travel the highway at least twice a year. There is very little gravel remaining on the highway except where construction is occurring. I have NEVER in 45 years had a flat tire on the Alaska Highway (knock on wood)
Use a credit or debit card and you only need Canadian change for the occasional shower or candy bar. This information is so outdated as to almost be dangerous.
Hi Sally! Thank you so much for your comment and for your concern. Please rest assured that we would not post anything that would be hazardous to our readers. The article was written within the last month based on the very recent experiences from the writer. It is good to know that you have not experienced the same scenarios…thank goodness. 🙂
Ron Jones said:
To the unsigned Coach-Net responder… Your third sentence verifies that you are uninformed as to the facts since the accuracy of the content is not, in any way, a reflection of when it was written. I, too, just returned (early September 2018) from our FOURTH full-summer Alaska trip in a motorhome (a 45′ Newmar King Aire and we towed our car) with about 7,400 miles (border crossing up to border crossing back).
The highways were all paved in the 1990s. Yes, there is occasional construction where you are on relative short stretches of gravel. Slow down and move over to the right. We NEVER saw a tire problem resulting from the gravel.
No, I have never taken a spare tire with me and won’t take one on our next trip up there. There are plenty of tires up there.
I haven’t broken anything during our four trips (six “ups and backs” driving and two on the ferry – part way).
Don’t haul extra stuff with you. It’s not needed.You can buy about anything you need in Canada. It may not be the same brand but that’s also true here in the USA. The fact that the writer could not find certain items for sale is strange. Did they try Walmart? (Yes, there are Walmarts in Canada) Did they try a Canadian Superstore (a huge store with about everything)?
I recommend NOT converting any money to Canadian money. Use a credit card and you will get a good exchange rate. If you are not going to exchange any money, take an excess of small US bills. Lots of $1’s, $5’s, $10’s, and a few $20’s are best for payment in small businesses if you insist on using American money. Canadian businesses are not required to accept American money. You will get your change in Canadian money. Don’t complain about the exchange rate. It’s their country.
I’m sorry they had such a bad trip, but much of the article info is just plain wrong or seriously out of date.
Jim McCracken said:
We traveled the Alcan, across the top of the world highway and back on the Cassier. We were with a group and no one had a flat tire, no one had a cracked windshield, although some, including us had occasional chips which are easily fixed. The Milepost book is very handy. We never had a currency problem and we were on the road for 3 months. Just take your time. They are not super highways, but are in pretty good shape. TAKE PLENTY OF BOUNCE DRYER SHEETS TO KEEP THE MOSQUITOS AWAY. THEY WORK VERY WELL
Thanks for the great advice. Karoline