This is the 29th article in a continuing series about our trip through Canada to Alaska
We have said our fond farewells to 58-day caravan buddies and returned to our lives as full-time solo RVers. While members of our group continued eastward or southward from Smithers, British Columbia, Monique and I drove directly west to the nearest ocean, where we found a perfect dry camp site in Prudhomme Lake Provincial Park near the port city of Prince Rupert.
We have had an incredible adventure over the past two months. Wish you could have been with us … but, many of you have said you felt like you were. Now it’s time to get down to business. In the next edition, we’ll talk about our expenses, but today let’s talk about whether signing up for a caravan is the right choice for you.
The trick here is that what one person/couple sets as a priority, another person/couple might shun. Most obvious is regimentation. Some caravans are very structured, doing things like assigning travel partners – “Rigs 7 and 12 will leave at 8:22 traveling together.” Others give a range of times to depart and everyone makes his own arrangements, if they want any.
In our caravan, for instance, which was unstructured, three sets of two rigs traveled in pairs, staying together on the road, taking advantage of their common interests. The other 11 rigs were on their own, appreciating the opportunity to stop when and where they wanted without consulting anyone.
Which is better? It’s totally your call based on your own personality.
That said let’s list some of the plusses and minuses of caravanning, as we see it (and a disclaimer – when I say “he,” it means “he,” “she” or “the couple”):
1) A safe way to travel. The “Tailgunner” makes sure rigs are in good operating condition everyday. His main duty is to be the last RV out of the campground and the last into the next one. Along the way, he checks caravan-recommended attractions en route to insure everyone who has stopped there, if any, has gone on. When things go wrong on the road, the Tailgunner shows up to help.
2) In several cases in our caravan, other members stopped to render assistance before the Tailgunner arrived. Remember there are long stretches of uninhabited land between campgrounds. On at least three occasions, members of the group took the time to help others repair difficult mechanical problems.
3) The trip log. A book handed out by the Wagonmaster with exact directions on how to get from Point A to Point B, including fuel and food availability. This supplements “Milepost.”
4) Your trip is planned for you. No worries about which direction to go next, where to stop at night, whether an excursion is worth doing. No worry about finding room in a campground with no reservations to make. The Wagonmaster, who is in charge of the entire tour, keeps things moving and can add extra events.
5) Less chance of spending time and money on an attraction not worth it. And as a bonus, we got special seating at shows and on cruises, etc., adding to the experience.
6) Excursions: There were several bus and train rides, cruises, other excursions and shows that we would have passed on because of cost or because we thought we wouldn’t be interested. Since they were part of the tour’s cost, we did them and were glad. You know what the trip will cost and it’s paid in advance, so there are no unpleasant surprises (you still pay for fuel, groceries, eating out, souvenirs and rig maintenance).
7) Any complaints about campgrounds, attractions or members of the group can be brought to the attention of the Wagonmaster for him to act on it, as appropriate.
8) Since most travelers have limited time in which to see as much as possible, the caravan keeps things moving. You may want to stay in a town longer, but it would be at the expense of something ahead that you’ll want to see or do.
9) You can read about border crossing regulations and other need-to-know topics online or in “Milepost,” but the Wagonmaster reminds you and speaks from experience.
10) Camaraderie: We feel fortunate that the people in our caravan were compatible and congenial. A tour like we took can be grueling, so the voluntary socials provided a good opportunity to relieve some stress. We appreciated the times when we stopped for coffee or lunch on the road and were joined by others who chose the same café. One member of our group said she wanted to caravan so she had people other than her husband to talk with for two months.
11) If you’re traveling alone where most areas have no cellphone service or people nearby, so you’re incapable of contacting road service (or police), it’s an advantage to be part of a group.
And now the minuses:
1) Costs. Not only are there administrative costs and a profit that needs to be made by the tour company built into the fee, but you pay for items you might skip when traveling on your own, including full-hook-up campgrounds where available. Take into consideration the number of meals and events included, which varies by company, affects the cost.
2) Budget. If you can’t afford the upfront cost, then it makes the decision easier.
3) Having to leave and arrive by a certain time. Not being able to stay long in places that you like is a negative. When you have to leave even if you didn’t get a chance to see a place because of rain or fog can make a long drive a trip to nowhere. A planned caravan doesn’t allow you to stay waiting for good weather.
4) If you want to stay in a town longer to fish, shop or because you know someone there, it doesn’t work with the caravan’s schedule. And since distances in the Northwest are so great, it’s not like you can drive longer hours to catch up.
5) You probably won’t know your Wagonmaster until you talk with him. Some are “The General,” commanding their troops. Others are easy going with a less structured attitude (based on what we have heard from others who have been on several caravans). Whether one extreme or the other is better or somewhere in between, it depends on your preferences.
6) You won’t know the members of the group until you meet them, and then it takes a few days or longer to adjust to the different personalities.
7) Some RVers eat out every meal; others want to fix their own. Some opt for the best restaurants; others look for low-cost fare. It takes guts to say that you’d rather not eat at their selection.
Don’t think that just because we took a caravan tour and that the number of plusses is greater than the minuses that we’re indicating what you should choose. Neither is a reason to make a decision. Each aspect listed must be weighed based on your likes and dislikes – and, of course, your budget — and add to that any special needs and preferences you have. It’s your vacation!
If you decide to do it on your own, from what we have seen during our two months in these mostly uninhabited vast wilderness areas, we strongly recommend that you travel with one or more rigs in your party. Something as simple as a flat tire could cost you days without help.
As mentioned at the beginning, we will address the issue of costs and budgeting your tour in the next article.
From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.