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Our Alaska Trip Part XXX The Cost of Our Trip

August 12, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 11 Comments  
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This is the 30th article in a continuing series about our trip through Canada to Alaska

NOTE:  This was scheduled to run a few days ago.  It’s probably the article many of you have been awaiting …

We have kept daily tabs on the cost of our 58-day caravan tour through western Canada into and around Alaska and back.  The tough part now is to find a way to make our spending relevant to everyone else.  But, let’s give it a try …

Tour Company:   Our only set expense was the money we sent to Adventure Caravans to participate.  You might want to take the same trip or a shorter one if you decide to caravan, and you may, after comparing features, decide on another tour company.  There are too many alternatives to cost it out in a logical way.  Add to that each year the cost of enrollment will probably be different. 

If you break it down into cost per day to caravan, that also has variables, e.g., what events and meals are included.  If the trip you select offers the cheapest cost, you will probably be getting a less enjoyable tour.  And since the Alaska trip is not something you will be doing often, you want to get the most out of your visit.

On the cheapie side, you may decide to do it on your own [see Part XXIX].  Staying in Canadian provincial parks or on pull-outs available almost everywhere will save you lots of money over the caravan’s full-hookup choices.

This isn’t meant to dodge the issue.  You need to look at the various tour companies’ routes and features, pare the choices down to the ones that make sense to you, and then compare cost.  [wish I could find a quick resource on the net, but gotta get off this borrowed computer]  From our research, the caravan rates are very competitive, taking into account the different features.

Fuel:  The next biggest single expense for us was fuel.  We traveled 6,171 miles at a cost of $2,373 (we get 10.5 mpg in our diesel GMC with a 22-gallon tank).   Price of fuel varied from about $3.56 a gallon to a high of $8 a gallon (twice in very remote areas, so we only got enough to get us to the next station).  Most of the time it was between $3.87 and $4.00 per gallon. 

We pulled our 10,000-pound Bigfoot trailer, plus, the bed of our truck is our garage, which lowers our fuel mileage.  On several occasions, when going to local attractions, we rode with others.  The back seat of our truck is used for storage, so we couldn’t return the favor. 

Oh, and for all these expenses except caravan enrollment fee keep in mind you would be paying for many of these costs of traveling anyway.  Our RV park camping fee and some means were included in the upfront tour fee.  On your own you might pay less, but it would still cost you some money.

Groceries, excursions and incidentals:  These will vary greatly to fit your personal preferences.  Monique is an excellent frugal gourmet cook (who buys better quality meat, organic produce, etc.) so we ate at restaurants only 19 times in 57 days – probably the fewest times of anyone else on the tour.  Five of those were at fast food places.  Most of the others were with other couples or all the members of the group.  Add to that stops for coffee, pastries and snacks, and our total was $600.  You’ll be spending money for those no matter where you are on the road.

Our most important advice for Canada/Alaska visitors is participate in all the organized side trips, excursions, cruises, flights, shows and cultural opportunities that fit into your finances and time budgets, especially the cruises.  The scenery and wildlife are worth the visit, but it goes to another dimension on these.  You’ve come a long way – go for all the gusto you can.

Examples of costs if going on your own:  A day cruise at the Kenai Fjords (an absolute MUST! to see humpback whales, orcas, puffins, sea lions and much more) $155 per person.  A train ride to see a gold mine replica and pan for gold, about $139 p/p (but you’re guaranteed to find gold flakes and maybe a nugget).  The 184-mile round-trip tour-guided bus ride into Denali National Park, priceless!

Groceries are expensive in the Far Northwest but cheaper than eating out.  Our tab was just under $1,000 or about $18 per day.  That included shopping for a few pot lucks and taking snacks to the socials occasionally, a voluntary part of being on the caravan.

Incidentals [NOTE to grandchildren:  Don’t expect much!]  We are not shoppers.  We bought a few t-shirts, a cap and some pins and hiking stick medallions to help us remember our journey, but not much.  Also in this category is laundry, car washes, etc., and the biggest part of “incidentals,” side trips and excursions not included in the tour cost. 

I whitewater rafted once (a thrill), we rode the gondola up a mountain in Banff, I played golf at Top of the World Golf Club, we paid for a cruise to Seldovia (a highlight), and we forked over a few bucks for museums.  We bought a handmade wooden table for $60.  Total cost of Incidentals & Excursions:  just over $1,000.  Some of the things we did not buy that our fellow travels did were: jewelry, expensive apparel, fishing license (although I bought and never used a rod & reel), extra tours including flights, and extra fishing trips. 

You’d probably be spending some money on these things in Alaska, Arkansas or Arizona, so it’s not as bad as it sounds.  And, again, we – as full-time RVers without a house — are far more fiscally conservative than most of our travelmates. 

Repairs:  An additional expense you can expect on a trip like this is repairs and damages.  A bottle of wine and a bottle of balsamic vinegar broke early in the trip on a road heave, and the remote for a radio was crushed when a recliner landed on it, but that’s the extent of our damage.  At least half of our group is getting windshields replaced this week, but several of those dings happened before we left the Lower 48 and others were on good roads.  It happens!

There were several mechanical problems encountered by members of the group, many of which could have just as easily happened on interstates.  We’re talking here of well over 110,000 miles compiled by the caravan as a whole.  That’s lots of opportunities for problems.

Finally, there were pre-trip costs.  Everyone needed a CB radio for the caravan.  We all had to replace any “questionable” tires, as our mechanic phrased it, and most bought spare fuel filters.  Some paid to jerryrig protection on the front of their trucks, towed or coaches, which were cost-savings rather than expenses.   We invested in an expensive lens for my camera, but there will be more about that in an upcoming article.

Was all this worth it?  Looking at it one way, it depends on how you value your money, what are your priorities in life.  For us — and remember we’re conservative with money — this trip was life at its best.  For us, the overwhelming answer is:  “Yes, it was worth it!”

From the “Never-Bored RVers.” We’ll see you on down the road.

NOTE:  We are staying at provincial parks, often far from towns, so WiFi is a rarity.  We’ll have more soon.

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11 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XXX The Cost of Our Trip”

  1. Jerry X Shea on August 13th, 2010 6:46 pm

    Our costs. We took a trip for 4 months from the time we crossed into Alberta until we came out into Washington. Gas would have been the same if we did it in 30 days.
    Between parking for free, State Parks for $10 a night and RV campgrounds, we had an average cost of about $22.50 a night. For 4 months that was $2,700 (one month would have only been $675). The one that caught us off guard was the cost of food. With the exception of buying a hot mocha in the am and a Subway sandwich (which is not $5 but $7) whenever we could, we only went out to eat 6 times on the whole trip (oh come on now, it’s called a motorHOME trip, not a hotel resort trip). When you have to pay $22 for an uncooked chicken, $3.75 for one avacado and $6.50 for a dozen eggs you suddenly realize you have miss calculated your food cost “big time.” Oh yes, did I mention you can buy a 12 piece bucket of KFC for only $29.99? You get the idea. When you plan your trip, what you spend on food in the lower 48, just go times 4 and you will have your food costs.

  2. Lee Ensminger on August 13th, 2010 8:03 pm

    We made an extensive trip in the summer of 2007, driving from Ohio to Montana, then up to the beginning of the Alaskan Highway, driving the entire length, going through the interior to Fairbanks, then to Denali, Anchorage, Homer, Seward, the Kenai Peninsula, other places I won’t mention, put the motorhome abord the Alaskan Ferry System in Whittier, going ashore in Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Ketchikan before being put ashore in Bellingham, WA.

    Camping costs: $
    Food: $$
    Fuel: $$$
    Whale watching and glacier exploring tours various places: $$$$
    Ferry: $8,000.00+
    Seeing the beauty and majesty that is Alaska: PRICELESS!!!

    We’re currently planning our next trip there. And we can’t wait to go back!

  3. Lynne Schlumpf on August 14th, 2010 4:29 am

    First would like to say thanks so much for your triplog. For those who want an experience they will never ever forget and who love to ride in the front of every rollercoaster (like me), there is another way to experience the beautiful North. Travel up through Wyoming and Montana and cross the border at Lethbridge during the last two weeks of February. The border guards are friendly and not stressed. Stop all along the way and stay in hotels in places like Dawson Creek, Lake Watson, Fort Nelson(call ahead here because oil workers swarm there in winter). Stop and talk to everyone. They are relaxed and friendly and so many great stories you’ll hear. The wildlife you see in the winter is so much more plentiful and the mountain views would make a grown man cry. Spend the last week of February at the Fur Rendevous (Let’s Rondy!) watching the world championship dog races right downtown 4th street. Ride a ferris wheel in the dead of winter. See huge dogs pull in the world championship dog weight pull. See the start of the Iditarod in the first week of March right downtown. Drive north through the jaw-dropping Denali national park with guaranteed views of Denali. Thought it was great during summer? It pales in comparison. See the Ice Castle carving championship in Fairbanks, the outhouse races in Chatanika. Drive north to Circle late at night to see Northern lights few ever see. Then drive back down the Alaska Highway, knowing you’ve shared in the lives if alaskans in a way few people in RVs ever get to see. It cost us about $1,100.00 to drive one way, eat, and stay in hotels. It is something that will remain with me for a lifetime.

  4. Lynne Schlumpf on August 14th, 2010 4:36 am

    Forgot to mention we did it in a Dodge Durango 4wd. Any 4wd will do. Studded snowtires not necessary but would be even better. Canadians know how to keep the roads plowed.

  5. Dan Kapa on August 14th, 2010 7:09 am

    i just bought a used “alaskan” truck camper(circa 1965) and am fantasizing about a road trip. this info is great and i would like some more ideas about joining a caravan. i am 63 y.o. and would appreciate the company since i am a newbie. chime in about anything you think i should know or learn.
    sincerely, dan

  6. Stan Zawrotny on August 14th, 2010 10:29 am

    Your expenses were quite similar to ours. We also ate most meals in our trailer and didn’t buy a lot of gifts for the grandkids. We took the Denali tour and the Kenai Fjords cruise (both priceless).

    Here is a rundown of our expenses for a somewhat shorter stay (includes Alaska and Canada).

    Fuel 2720 (10.5 mpg)
    Campgrounds 540 (19 nights, $25.00 – $41.41)
    Dining out 218
    Food 396
    Gifts 165
    Admissions/tours 743
    Misc 252

    Hope this helps others with their planning/budgeting.

  7. Rebecca on August 14th, 2010 7:06 pm

    I have a 41′ diesel pusher. Is this too big for travel through Alaska? I need a driver!!
    I might have to do it by cruise but I would rather do it by RV.

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  9. Dr. Yaroslaw Sereda on October 26th, 2010 9:30 pm

    We recently purchased a 1979 Dodge camper van and Alaska is our destination in mid-June 2011 for 2 months. There have been many comments in touring Alaska via Alberta, we live in Saskatchewan. My question and not mentioned by anyone is : what about gas stations? close or far apart. We we told to have several full gas containers on hand. Comments appreciated.
    Thanks

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