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Social distancing, no hotels: If the virus is bringing down your travel plans, maybe an RV trip is the cure

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: July 25
  • Published July 25

The coronavirus has changed the way we travel, that’s for sure. Almost all international travel is paused for now.

More planes are flying between Alaska and the Lower 48, but the experience is different: Masks are required. Last week, Delta Air Lines President Ed Bastian said, “You cannot board a Delta plane unless you have a mask on. If you board the plane and you insist on not wearing your mask, we will insist that you don’t fly Delta into the future. We already have over 100 people we’ve put on that list.”

All of the public health guidance says to keep your “bubble” small to just a few people. Then there’s the social distancing of six feet or more. All of these changes make this summer the perfect RV summer.

Many Alaskans have caught the RV bug, both for traveling here and Outside. Some like the all-in-one setup like the traditional Winnebago, while others like to pull a trailer.

Jeanne Devon and her husband, David Luntz, have an 18-foot R-Pod trailer that they pull behind their Toyota 4Runner. They just finished a trip up the Dalton Highway to Atigun Pass.

David Luntz and Jeanne Devon haul an R-Pod trailer across Alaska’s northernmost roads. (Photo courtesy Jeanne Devon)

“The road was great,” said Devon. “We spent three days traveling up from Delta and four days camping near the Dietrich River, north of Coldfoot.”

In addition to the chairs, some firewood, a few spare tires and a French bulldog named Helga, Devon and Luntz have an attachment that fits onto the door of the trailer to make a sort of screened-in porch.

“People are getting more screen time than normal, these days,” said Devon. “So it’s good for the soul and good for the psyche to unplug.”

In addition to the Dalton Highway, they’ve traveled the Taylor Highway to Eagle and the Top of the World Highway to Dawson City. Next on the list: the Dempster Highway north from Dawson City to the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories.

Ron and Sharon Zandeman-Zeman just upgraded to a 22-foot Sprinter/Winnebago model, which they park in Oregon during the summer.

“You really need two RVs,” said Ron Zandeman-Zeman, adding: “A small one for Alaska and another one for Outside.”

“At the end of September, we like to drive down and see the kids in Utah, then go to Yosemite and other points in California,” he said. “We’ve got a bike rack now and we want to see more of the USA.”

Recently, when his kids were visiting, the Zandeman-Zemans rented an RV to drive north. “We camped at Kesugi, in Denali State Park, then made our way up to Fairbanks. We had campfires every night — it was just great,” Ron Zandeman-Zeman said.

Go North RV Rentals has an Alaska resident special: 50% off the base rate. Operations manager Joe Jedwabnik said they have about 335 rental units in their fleet, with about 70 in the state. The firm offers both truck campers and all-in-one RVs, built for Alaska roads.

There are extra protocols for renting during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I can’t afford for any of my employees to be sick,” Jedwabnik said.

When a rental unit comes in, there’s a two-hour ozone treatment followed by a disinfectant fogger. Then the housekeeping crew can start their work getting it ready for the next renter.

The last big trip that Mike and Adelle Lohse embarked on was an around-the-world adventure with their two girls. The girls are bigger now (15 and 17) — and all those flights are on hold. So the Lohses reached out to a Bay Area RV dealer to rent a 22-foot Sprinter RV by Coachman.

Madeline, Adelle and Carrie Lohse (and Miko, the husky pup) enjoy a camp breakfast in the RV. (Photo by Mike Lohse)

“Our route was up to Wyoming for one week, to Idaho for the second week and back to Wyoming for the third week,” Mike Lohse said.

“It was really sweet,” Lohse said. “We took a long drive up to Lake Tahoe for the first night in an RV park. You’re all self-contained. There’s no late-night tent setup and no bathroom to walk to.

“The girls slept above the cab and we slept in the queen-size bed in back,” he said.

It took them a couple of days to get to a small town in Wyoming where Mike’s relatives have a ranch. The Lohses also brought along their dog for the adventure.

“My sister is a soil science professor at Idaho State, so she ran the girls through a water/soil ecology camp for the week,” he said.

Madeline Lohse strikes a pose atop her “land yacht” in Wyoming. (Photo by Mike Lohse)

During the second week, both parents had to work remotely. So they drove to Mike Lohse’s sister’s place in Idaho for faster internet while the girls examined their soil and water samples in the lab.

The third week was a return to Wyoming — this time to Yellowstone for some hiking and sightseeing. “It’s fun having the house on our back. We were able to stop and make a snack en route … or to take the dog for a walk,” Lohse said.

“We have a retro RV,” said Marion Owen of Kodiak. “It has no slideouts, but a big Ford engine,” she said.

“We got it for a good price and it came with 100 pounds of Tupperware,” she said.

She and her husband, Marty, have spent the last few years customizing the rig to suit them. “We adjusted to the compact space because both of us are used to being on a boat. So this is a land yacht,” she said.

During the summer, the Owens offer wildlife tours on their actual yacht, the Sea Breeze. They usually fly south in January and return near the end of March.

“We love having our restaurant, our bathroom and bedroom with us,” Marion Owen said. “We find cheap flights to meet up with the RV. And we tow a little Honda behind us, along with some bicycles and a big Alaska flag.”

The Owens travel mostly in the southwestern U.S. “When we find a place we like we may stay two days — or a week, hiking our little hearts out,” Marion Owen said. “There are a ton of guide books with tips on where to go: county parks, state parks and national parks.”

So whether it’s here in Alaska or the Lower 48, you still have to keep your bubble small and maintain social distancing. And that’s a good recipe for a perfect RV summer.

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