Solo Woman Vanlifer Celebrates from the Arctic Circle
A solo Alaska road trip sounds like a crazy idea to many women, but not Lisa Marquardt. The intrepid van dwelling nomad is passionate about traveling to far-flung places on the globe.
Thoroughly skilled in the art of solo travel, neither bears, wildfires, or bumpy roads could discourage her from taking the trip of a lifetime. After 96 countries, a little road trip to the Arctic Circle was as easy as van life camping gets for this 48-year old insurance executive.
An Alaska highway van camping adventure
For the first time in decades, Alaska Highway traffic has all but disappeared thanks to the pandemic. With the Canadian border closed to recreation travelers, Lisa Marquardt is glad she hit the road when she did. In 2019, she took eight weeks off from work to fulfill her dream to van camp on the Alaska Highway.
With little more than a Halo charger for her electronics, a copy of The Milepost directory, and word-of-mouth recommendations, the ardent traveler departed from Seattle. In total, she drove 10,761 miles for her unforgettable North Country excursion. Along the way, her Ford Transit minivan ferried her to classic Alaskan destinations like the Salmon Glacier in British Columbia, near Hyder, Alaska, and the scenic, affordable Alaska town of Valdez.
Many Alaska Highway RVers and road trippers obsessively plan every detail of their adventure, but Lisa did the opposite.
“I literally just went where I wanted to go,” she explained. “I had a couple of bookings the first three days of the trip and then nothing after that.”
After deciding on a few bucket list Alaska destinations like the Arctic Circle and Denali National Park, she fell in line with the northerly traffic flow of campers and followed her instincts.
Learning from locals pays off
Regular check-ins with Alaska Highway traveler groups online kept her updated on highway conditions, like persistent smoke from smoldering wildfires. Thick haze and smoky conditions often caused her to make detours from one destination to another, but all had equally stunning things to do and see.
Taking time to chat with locals led to many good tips about side trips to get off the beaten path, like a blueberry picking spot where Lisa had a close encounter with a bear.
“I was right off the highway on this little gravel road picking blueberries and found a big pile of fresh scat. I realized I didn’t have bear spray on me so I got back in my van and drove away. Within half a mile there was this black momma bear and cub,” she said.
Bears were somewhat of a concern for her while camping in remote spots. But she didn’t let her fears keep her from enjoying the destinations. As many Alaska Highway travelers discover, repeatedly encountering the same travelers headed in the same direction as you is not uncommon. Most times Lisa camped with other road-trippers she had seen before.
Like her, they were also traveling in small vehicles and she serendipitously met up with many of them at lightly used, free campsites that are off-limits to larger RVs. And since this van dwelling nomad would rather be sightseeing than hanging out at a campsite with hungry bears lurking in the woods, she was rarely alone during the trip.
Alaska highway adventures on a budget
Incredibly, the entire journey only cost her $1,350 USD in fuel (her van gets 27 miles to the gallon), and $156 in camping fees. With all the money she saved, Lisa experienced some of the Alaska Highway’s best road trip attractions, including:
- Canada Day in Barkerville, British Columbia
- The Williams Lake Stampede
- Wrangell-Elias National Park
- The Salmon Glacier in British Columbia, near Hyder, Alaska
- Telegraph Creek, British Columbia
- The Atlin Arts and Music Festival
- Kluane National Park
- Teslin National Wildlife Refuge
- The Lu-Lu Belle Boat Tour in Valdez
- Kenai Fjords
- The Russian village of Nikolaevsk
- North Pole, Alaska
- Denali National Park
- Chicken, Alaska
Solo van life on hold, for now
The majestic scenery and local flavor of the Alaska Highway left an impression. Lisa is already thinking about when she can take another solo Alaska road trip. Right now, however, the pandemic is causing her to think about upcoming adventures within the Lower 48, but not in her beloved van.
“I’m hoping to road trip later this year, and I’m considering long term AirBnB,” she says. “Many camps are closed, or reduced facilities. For example, no toilets and showers. This makes traveling in a van more difficult.”
For more details of Lisa’s journey, check out her website, HotflashPacker.com. If you’re interested in camping in Alaska, maybe even taking your own solo Alaska road trip, plan your travels with RV LIFE Trip Wizard, now included with RV LIFE Pro.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.
We did a similar trip from Albuquerque to Coldfoot via Banff and took the Alaska Highway all the way, making several side trips, slightly different from Lisa’s itinerary. We were in a SUV so were a little more cramped (maybe) than Lisa. We totaled 12,600 miles and loved every minute of the trip. Anyone considering this trip should go for it, and when you get to Chicken, ask the locals how it got its name.
Steve Colibaba says
Great post. We did our Alaska trip in 2013. Correction on the location of Salmon Glacier though…it’s in BC near Hyder, AK.
Rene Agredano says
Oh yikes Steve, thanks for that correction! I’ve been there myself, I should have caught that one!
It won’t happen this year. Even though we had enough food to cross Canada and only having to stop for gas, we were denied to go through. They need to consider that they are not the end all of countries.
Kim Kerr says
I did a solo trip (with my golden retriever) in the summer of 2018, very similar route to Lisa’s. I took 6 weeks round trip from Park City, Utah. Such an amazing adventure! I worked remotely the entire time so it was tricky to plan internet access spots but, it can be done with a bit of impromptu planning!
Ladies – if you have any interest in this trip, do it! You won’t regret it!