Things are ramping up here at the Phillips household. Our Alaska trip begins in just a few days, and we are busily trying to get everything in order before we go. With the trip so close at hand, I thought I would talk a little about the driving for the trip, and how we did some of the planning.
Mark drew up the map for this trip way back in January. That’s something to remember if you ever plan to travel somewhere that’s this far away. We have been actively planning for six months, and passively planning for two years. We booked our hotels, our rental car, and our tours well in advance. With a trip this long, it is very important to be completely prepared. You wouldn’t want to miss out on anything you really wanted to do because you didn’t book it beforehand. This is the busy season in most tourist destinations. Take heed.
When we first started traveling together, Mark and I had slightly different styles. I liked to have a pretty good idea where I was going each day, and what I was going to do when I got there. I liked to have hotels booked before 3pm, so I knew where I was sleeping that night. Mark, on the other hand, would drive until he got tired, and then try to find someplace to stay without putting any thought into it beforehand. He would walk up to hotel desks at 7 or 8pm and ask if they had any availability. This did not work for me, and I would stress out later in the evening when we couldn’t find a room for the night.
After our very first trip together, we figured out how to fix it. We would plan out our drives, knowing roughly what area we wanted to be in each night, and what we would do on a given day. In busy areas, like large cities or popular tourist destinations, we booked our hotels several days in advance, and we knew what days we had to be in certain places based on the days we booked those hotels. On other days, when we had a looser schedule, we would see where we were in the afternoon and book a hotel somewhere ahead of us before 5pm. This way, we were only locked into things that we really wanted to do, and we only had a few rigidly scheduled days.
When Ripley came along, we found out that we needed to schedule things a bit more, because not all hotels will take pets. These days, we schedule our drives around where we can find a La Quinta or a Motel 6, because they allow dogs. We still don’t usually schedule things out down to the hours and minutes, but we certainly did for this trip.
For the Alaska Trip 2015, we scheduled everything and booked hotels for every night. There are six of us this time, and two of us are canines. With the small availability of hotels in some regions, and the popularity of our destinations, we didn’t have much of a choice. Without further ado, here’s a listing of our planned drives for each day.
|Day #||Departing from…||Arriving in…|
|1||Denton, TX||Amarillo, TX|
|2||Amarillo, TX||Moab, UT|
|3||Moab, UT||Butte, MT|
|4||Butte, MT||Airdrie, AB|
|5||Airdrie, AB||Dawson Creek, BC|
|6||Dawson Creek, BC||Fort Nelson, BC|
|7||Fort Nelson, BC||Watson Lake, YT|
|8||Watson Lake, YT||Whitehorse, YT|
|9||Whitehorse, YT||Dawson, YT|
|10||Dawson, YT||Fairbanks, AK|
|11||Fairbanks, AK||Denali National Park, AK|
|12||Denali National Park, AK||Denali National Park, AK|
|13||Denali National Park, AK||Seward, AK|
|14||Seward, AK||Seward, AK|
|15||Seward, AK||Valdez, AK|
|16||Valdez, AK||Tok, AK|
|17||Tok, AK||Haines Junction, YT|
|18||Haines Junction, YT||Watson Lake, YT|
|19||Watson Lake, YT||Stewart, BC|
|20||Steward, BC||Prince George, BC|
|21||Prince George, BC||Hope, BC|
|22||Hope, BC||Caldwell, ID|
|23||Caldwell, ID||Cheyenne, WY|
|24||Cheyenne, WY||Denton, TX|
I didn’t post the mileage or the hours and minutes for each day, because for the most part it is meaningless data. Suffice it to say that the longest days are at the beginning and the end, and the shorter days are in the middle, where the pretty views will be. Our very longest day is the last, and it is around 821 miles. We are only staying in the same place for more than one night in Seward, AK and Denali National Park.
We have plans to see a total of five national parks on our drive: one we’ve seen before, one in Canada, and three in Alaska. On the evening of Day 2, we’re taking my parents to Arches National Park, which is just outside Moab. They’ve never been, but Mark, Ripley, and I went in 2014. On Day 4, we are visiting Banff National Park. If you’ve never seen Banff, take a minute to look up a few pictures. Banff is considered one of the most beautiful places in the world. On Days 11 and 12, we are going to Denali National Park. On Day 14, we are taking a boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park. And finally, on Day 15, we are visting Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
If that sounds like a lot of national parks to you, you probably wouldn’t enjoy travelling with Mark and me. We planned our days specifically around these places, because we wanted to see them. That is the easiest way to figure out when and where you need to stay on your trip. Decide on the places you want to see, and then figure out how far it is from one to the other and what you can see in between. Sometimes you can find interesting things you weren’t even expecting just by looking around on your map.
We moved our days around a little at the beginning, and again when we were booking hotels. The timing needed a little adjustment, we found something else we wanted to see, or we could book a cheaper hotel elsewhere. Since we did all of this ahead of time, we didn’t have to worry about availability or being locked into an early decision. We really looked at everything for this drive. We know of a bridge we want to see, and a section of unpaved road we want to explore. We know who is going to babysit our dogs when we need it. I’m sure we haven’t caught everything, but I feel like we are as prepared as we can be without being over-prepared, if you know what I mean.
For now, we are planning to switch drivers every four hours. We will change more frequently if we need to. When we change drivers, the people sitting in the two front seats will switch to the back, and the people in the back will switch to the front. I will have to revisit this post when we finish our drive, to tell you how well our plans worked out. Were our days too long or too short? Did we plan to drive for too long? Not long enough? Was it too painful to switch seats every four hours, or was it a relief to sit somewhere else for a while?
Only time will tell how all of this will work out. Mark and I have only traveled with each other up to this point, and adding other people may change things slightly. I know that for us alone, this would be a perfect trip. I can only hope that my parents enjoy it as much as I know we will.