When we entered Gene and Cheri Holcomb’s Libero, we were astonished at how spacious it felt. We couldn’t believe it had the identical floor plan as our Serenity. They too had the rear electric sofa bed option, which allows for two living areas. We found that it was a bit difficult to circulate around the dining table to access the cab from the coach or vice-versa. Gene and Cheri solved that problem by moving their dinette table to the back, creating an open, relaxed conversation area in the front. We quickly followed suit.
Sometimes we both need a table to do our blogging and video editing. We had two additional table bases installed in the rear of the coach. We stow the table that is not in use in the back of the closet and the legs snap into two holders on the side. A 15” cube, available at Walmart or Target, acts as an extra seat, a footstool, and a storage area for our shoes. Imagine our excitement when Manny and I found a bamboo tray that fits snugly atop the cube turning it into the perfect little cocktail table when indoors, and a stylish tray to carry food when the party is outside.
Another item we brought from the maritime world is a Wi-Fi booster called The Wirie. Campsites often claim to have Wi-Fi but the reality is that if your site isn’t right next to the office, most likely you’ll be out of luck. The Wirie takes care of that problem where it reads all the Wi-Fi signals within line of sight and lets you join any open Wi-Fi network. What we really like about the Wirie is that its router lets you set it up as a password-protected network. Another nice feature of the Wirie is that you won’t have to pay a Wi-Fi access fee for each one of your devices at camp grounds. You need only pay for one Wi-Fi access fee for the Wirie and connect all your devices to your Wirie’s Wi-Fi signal.
One of the pros of Class Bs is size, but size is also one of its cons. We constantly look for ways to optimize space and keep our home on wheels in ship shape. I used to keep my clothing rolled up and stored in the overhead cabinets. Not only did I have difficulty finding things but every time I opened the door something spilled out. The 18″ packing folders and cubes by Eagle Creek have solved this challenge and now I can fit at least 10 blouses, several sweaters, or 3-4 pair of pants in each packing folder. All socks, underwear, workout clothes, etc., are contained in Eagle Creek packing cubes. Manny and I each have one overhead cabinet and one drawer where we stow 3 folders and 4 cubes allowing us to to keep all of our clothing neat, accessible and fairly wrinkle free.
Speaking of accessibility, Manny noticed that the rear bench —usually a fixed piece of furniture— is actually the trunk’s cover. We were able to put a hinge on the lid of the bench to allow us to reach the trunk’s contents from inside the coach. Additionally, probably the most ingenious enhancement we have made is the increased storage capacity Manny achieved by making cupboards behind the back rests on the settees.
Under the seats on the settees we are also able to keep a few books, which are easier to read with the swivel LED lights we installed throughout the entire coach. Previously the lights were in a fixed position. They were also all on the same circuit. If you were in the salon or in the sleeping area all the lights had to be either on or off. Now, each swivel light has its own switch and can be turned on or off individually.
Are you into boon docking? Two 65-watt solar panels have enabled us to extend our dry camping trips. We also have two inverters, making it possible to use some appliances without the generator—which is helpful where generators are not allowed. I remember one hot summer night in a non-electric site when we were able to employ both our O2Cool fans. Although they can be operated by 6D batteries, the fans are much more efficient when using the AC. Our inverters did the trick and we felt oh so cool!
Cleaning the solar panels is a snap using our portable folding ladder. It stows inconspicuously in the stairway and is small enough to set up inside, allowing access to the roof through the skylight. You can watch the video of our folding ladder review here. Once in a while our Fantastic Fan stops working and a trip onto the roof is necessary to clean the contacts, which reinforced our decision to buy the 6 ft. folding ladder.
When we stop briefly to use the bathroom or change our clothes rather than pull the large curtains across the windshield we have a small curtain that separates the cab from the coach. We use the curtain all the time when parked as we find it also helps to retain the cool air in summer or the heat in winter inside the coach. I am amazed at the difference in temperature between the cab and the coach when we use this handy partition. Keeping our motorhome warm or cool is also enhanced by the window insulators I adapted using windshield sunshades.
The best way to keep a small space organized is when there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.
We have three wall-mounted tissue box holders, a magazine rack in the exact color as our cherry interior, and Command hooks which are attractive, removable and can be attached where screws would be inappropriate. These inexpensive items keep things off the counters and the floor, and have made our life on the road in Serena safer and all the more comfortable.
Check out our video and see some of these enhancements in more detail, so you can do them too!
Travel has always been a part of my life. My first major adventure on the road was in the early 1970s when I planned a road trip to Nova Scotia from southwest Missouri in a 1966 Volvo 1800S with two kids (just over one and almost four), mostly by writing for information. The basis of my research was a listing of state and provincial tourism agencies I found in the travel section of the local newspaper. I wrote letters to each state and province we anticipated visiting and it took several weeks for all of the information to arrive. Long distance telephoning was quite expensive and virtually everything was done by mail. I took the maps and planned routes that looked logical. The process took a lot of time but the effort was worthwhile as we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Planning a major adventure on the road today has evolved significantly over the last several decades. While the Internet has revolutionized how we plan travel, there is still an important place for some of the traditional resources. My wife and I have talked about a trip to Alaska for many years, but two years ago I started planning what an actual road trip to Alaska might look like. The conveyance is to be our 2013 Leisure Travel Vans Unity U24IB.
The resources at our disposal are almost limitless. This article is based on the process I went through in planning our own Alaska adventure that is planned for July 2015 and I will share some of the resources I found most helpful. One more word of caution: it is important to recognize that individual travel styles vary significantly. Some prefer group travel and others prefer experiencing travel adventure alone. There is no right or wrong unless you find yourself doing a trip with someone else’s travel style. Personally, my wife and I lean toward solo road adventures and the flexibility (and, yes, sometimes challenges) that the style presents so my planning is from that perspective.
No effort to plan a trip to Alaska is complete without a current copy of Milepost, billed as “Legendary Alaska trip planner and Alaska travel guide to the highways, roads, ferries, lodgings, recreation, sightseeing attractions and services along the Alaska Highway to and within Alaska, including Alberta, British Columbia, Northwest Territories and the Yukon.” That’s quite a mouthful, but in truth it is that and more. The “more” is their website – what a resource. Here’s a brief list of what you’ll find:
In the printed Milepost:
On the Milepost website:
The resources in this category are virtually limitless, but all searches should start with the official state of Alaska vacation and travel information website at www.travelalaska.com. Here you’ll find photos and videos, things to do, places to stay, tips on both travel to and within Alaska, and numerous planning helps.
Find a road or point of interest that looks interesting, just do a search on Google (or your favorite search engine) and you will find all kinds of interesting information, often posted by independent travelers who share their experiences.
There are numerous guide books on Alaska. One of my favorites is Lonely Planet’s “Alaska.” The style is casual, frank, and a bit irreverent, but it cuts through the normal fluff you find in similar guides and gives you a perspective on what you might enjoy and what you might not.
Members get free maps and guide books which can be helpful, but the roadside assistance that is part of “RV Premier” with 200 miles of free towing and assistance offer peace of mind when you are traveling not only far from home but, often, far from anywhere. Now all you need is a cell signal so you can call them.
You need to somehow keep track of small resources you come across that pertain to destinations you might like to visit. In this case, the file would be labeled Alaska. Tangent to this would be a bookmark file for Alaska on your computer. Keep articles you find in your paper file and bookmark websites you find helpful for later reference on your computer.
Listening to the tales of Alaska travel of friends and others you meet can be invaluable, especially if you share interests and perspectives. Their information can give you a feel for what to expect and may give you a reality check on any number of questions you might have. An example is our meeting, quite by chance, of another couple who own a Unity almost identical to ours. We met in the parking lot of a restaurant we were both about to go to for lunch. Over lunch together, we found that they had driven the Alcan Highway dozens of times and had a wealth of experience which they later shared with us in detail, including seven pages of hand-written notes on a legal size pad. Their notes are an invaluable resource.
Yes, there are numerous free mapping services available online but a map program on your laptop like Microsoft Streets and Trips (which was discontinued in 2014) gives the flexibility of route planning when you have no Internet access.
I don’t use GPS when planning, but when I’m on the road it is quite helpful. For instance, I can force the driving route to the route I’ve planned and let the GPS keep us on track. If you are looking for an address in an area you are unfamiliar with the GPS is very helpful. If you travel with a destination in mind for the end of the day, a GPS will give you an ETA based on real world conditions that can be most helpful in timing stops along the way. Not long ago our GPS helped us realize that staying on Hwy 1 north of San Francisco would place our target destination in Arcata near midnight and our hosts were looking for us for supper. The GPS then found a route through the mountains from Hwy 1 back to Hwy 101 that proved to be spectacular and we were in Arcata in plenty of time.
Let me give a brief overview of how I integrated these resources in planning our upcoming trip to Alaska.
As we started a serious planning process I found articles in my paper file about RV tour companies taking groups to Alaska. I looked carefully at their itineraries to see where they went and what they did, making notes of things that appeared to be of interest. A friend in Victoria, British Columbia, sent me an article on ten places to see in northern British Columbia and the Yukon and I read it carefully. I reviewed the notes from my new friend who has driven the Alcan so many times. I browsed my Milepost guide and visited milepost.com, making notes of places I wanted to be sure to include. I looked at the state of Alaska website and did several searches to learn more about some points of interest I had found. I stopped by AAA and got their tour guides for Alaska and Canada and nice maps for both.
Armed with this information and a lengthy list of points of interest, I entered the RV tour itineraries and the ten places from my friend’s article into Microsoft Streets and Trips. Using the “optimize stops” button I turned all of these random points of interest into one sequenced tour.
I copied the sequenced points of interest into Microsoft Word and made one vast itinerary which I started cutting into daily segments based on what I had found to see and do. Some days the itinerary called for little or no travel because there was a lot to see and do. Denali National Park, for instance, has several days allocated. In a few cases, the itinerary has travel days of a couple hundred miles.
The itinerary for each day identifies what there is to see and do and where it is. If we find that we are fascinated by a location, we simply look for a place to park for the night and slip the itinerary back a day since we travel without reservations. In cases where reservations are essential (perhaps a ferry that is seasonally busy), we know how to pace ourselves just by looking at the itinerary. The GPS can be helpful when a ferry is the next stop as it can give you the ETA for the ferry dock.
This may sound quite structured, but actually it is quite loose. The itinerary is thought of as a guide, not a master, and simply helps us focus on what we found that we thought would be of interest. Sometimes we find things that aren’t in any of the literature and, conversely, find things we thought would be interesting but aren’t.
The map with this article includes everything I found rolled into one grand tour. The total mileage according to Streets and Trips is 9,932 miles from Bellingham, WA and back. Since we developed the initial plan, we signed up to volunteer for three weeks with NOMADS at Birchwood Camp about 20 miles north of Anchorage so we will adjust our real world travel accordingly.
We plan to leave for our Alaska adventure on July 1 with all of our resources onboard. Obviously, we don’t have time in July and August to drive it all. A friend of mine who has driven to Alaska many times says that the first trip will only set us up to crave another!
Our new plan is to follow the itinerary to Anchorage and use weekends while we are at Birchwood Camp to explore the Kenai Peninsula. Before we leave Birchwood Camp on July 30, we will make an assessment of what we would most like to see during the month we plan to take to get home and choose the parts of our prepared itinerary that fascinate us most.
I will report on the outcome of this planning effort in September after we return home. A special part of that report will be how we packed our Unity IB with four tool boxes, a 7′ ladder, two bicycles, and my wife’s cello … and, yes, two spare tires … all stashed inside and out of the way!