A camper van is, of course, the best way to see Alaska! We know we’re biased, but we also know that planning a trip in a camper van can be daunting if you’ve never done it before, especially when you’re trying to plan that trip for your whole family. So this week, we’re following up on our last planning article with a few tips that will hopefully make planning your Alaska travels with kids easier and more fun.
1. Pack efficiently (& light)
Don’t bring too much stuff! Spending all your time dealing with gear isn’t anyone’s idea of a fun trip, especially if it includes your kids’ gear, too. Packing lightly and efficiently will make a huge difference in whether you feel overwhelmed by the beauty and vastness of Alaska’s landscape—or by your stuff.
Bring duffel bags or backpacks, not suitcases. We know we’re a broken record on this point, but it bears repeating. Bring soft-sided luggage because it can be squeezed into the corners of the awkwardly-shaped storage bin. Then all your stuff can be stowed away, not taking up your foot and leg room.
Pack things that can do double-duty. A rain shell will also act as a windbreaker. Pieces of clothing that can be worn individually and in layers against the cold are better than a big parka. Bring those Smartwool hiking socks that keep your feet from getting blisters while you’re hiking and still keep your feet warm when you’re not. A pair of flip-flops or slip-ons make it easier not to track dirt into the van while in camp, and can also be used as shower shoes in campground bathrooms.
Don’t take up any space in your luggage with camping equipment—we provide all of that! Bedding, pillows, kitchen items, clean up supplies, and even a full tank of water to start are all included in your rental. (We also have car seats and booster seats for rent, too!)
2. Break up long drives
Alaska is big. You can’t see the whole thing in a week! Instead, it’s best to focus on one region of the state, based on your interests and must-sees. There’s more in our last article on camper van trip planning, and while that article advises you to narrow it down because there’s just too much to see, it’s also good advice for families because drive times between far-flung towns can be too much for some kids to handle all at once.
Even with this in mind, though, you’ll still probably spend more time on the road than your family is used to. Plan for that with scheduled breaks, and ideas of what to do in between destinations. (The Milepost is great for this, btw!)
For example, if you’ve chosen to stick to the Kenai Peninsula and your driving day involves getting to Seward from Homer, you’re looking at about a 4-hour drive. There are a few towns in between, with plenty to do in each, so plan to stop for something like one of the kids’ events at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge visitor center in Soldotna. In other areas, National Park, National Forest and State Park visitor centers usually have kids’ corners where the youngest members of the family can learn about the flora and fauna they’ll see when they’re out in the park, and most towns have a popular trail or bike path you can head out on for a few minutes to stretch the legs and get a little energy out.
While you’re driving, play the license plate game. You’ll be surprised at how many vehicles you’ll see with non-Alaska license plates! You can also play the animal game—it’s possible to see moose, eagles, porcupines, Dall sheep, caribou, and even bears along the side of the road. Pick up a pamphlet at one of the visitors centers and check them off as you spot them.
Don’t forget the snacks! And they don’t have to be those stale gas-station snacks that we all gravitate toward on road trips. You have a fridge, a stove, and running water that can be operated as soon as you stop the vehicle. On a campervan road trip, snacks can be as involved as you want them to be: Cook something gourmet at a trailhead, or just grab something fresh out of the fridge at a pull-out on the highway.
3. Everyone can help set up camp
Kids can help with setting up the van when you get to camp, and breaking it down when you’re ready to leave. We’ll do an orientation with you before you leave our office, and we’ll show the whole family how to go from driving setup to table to bed—and kids can totally do this, with some parental help. It’s easiest to have two people on either side of the table when converting into a bed, so let one of the kids be the second helper. Putting the cushions on the bed is a little like putting together a puzzle—let the kids figure it out!
Popping up the tent does require a little height, so the smallest kids may not be big enough, but once it’s open, why not let the kids arrange the bedding inside? Most kids love the tent, and the novelty of sleeping on top of the car, so let them set up their own space, and the next morning, they can arrange it properly so the tent can be collapsed.
Let the kids attach the magnetic bug screens to the van windows so you can roll them down, and detach and stuff them back into the stuff sack when packing up. Kids can help stuff the bedding in the morning when you leave, they can close up the camp chairs and help you fit them into the storage bin, and they can help you stack the cushions back into their driving configuration. There’s a lot for kids to do to help get the van ready for camping and for driving.
4. Don’t forget about the table (or the USB ports)
Sometimes, the weather doesn’t cooperate. Sometimes, the kids don’t cooperate. (And sometimes, it’s both together.)
There’s usually a deck of cards or two left behind on the free shelf at the office which you’re welcome to grab, or pick up an Alaska-themed one for a souvenir, and brush up on your Go Fish skills. The table setup inside the van makes a great card table for an after-dinner game or two! It’s also great for travel board games, coloring books, those Alaska-related activity sheets available at all the visitors centers, looking through the photos you took that day, and recording your adventures in your travel journal before bed. If you’re traveling in late summer, you don’t even have to use your headlamp—you can turn on the interior lights when the sun starts to set.
And when all else fails, it might be helpful to know that there are 5 USB ports located throughout the van, so that when you can think of nothing else, the iPad or cell phone can be charged. Of course, you probably won’t have service, so make sure you download the books or games that the kids like, but either way, you’ll still be able to recharge the devices in case the same thing happens again tomorrow!
For more general information on traveling in Alaska with kids, check out akonthego.com, run by Erin Kirkland, Alaska’s go-to resource on family travel. Her website and her book, Alaska on the GO, are must-reads for adventurous families traveling in the Last Frontier. Tune into her weekly radio show on Wednesdays—you can stream it live at outnorthradio.com. (We were on the show a couple of weeks ago—it’s a fun show and an informative resource!)
For advice in 280 characters or less, join one of Travel Alaska’s Twitter chats. Every month, they discuss a different aspect of Alaska travel—like traveling with kids—with some of the state’s travel professionals and questions from the Twitterverse. Look back on some of the past ones using the hashtag #TravelAlaskaChat or join in on the next one.
You can also check out the How They Got Lost series on our blog, for examples of real trips that real families have taken in our vans! The interview-style blog posts have tips regarding planning, driving, cooking, and more!
Ready to take your own family adventure? Book Now.
Come early and save! We’re offering 10% off of May reservations if you book by Leap Day 2020! Learn more on our Specials page.
Rented a camper van last year and loved it!