Traveling Outside the "Lower 48"

US Passport

I have touched briefly on many of the wonderful places to camp throughout this wonderful country of ours, but many RVers also like to experience the wonders of Mexico, Canada, and Alaska.

In most cases, you can take your RV and enjoy the scenery in Mexico and Canada without very much prior planning. However, there are a few things that you need to know—ahead of time.

First, you need to be aware that the re-entry requirements into the ďlower 48Ē have been tightened up. Before you leave the United States, be sure that you have in your possession a valid passport—a firm requirement as of January 2008. If you donít think about this ahead of time, you will find that it is very easy to leave the US, but not as easy to get back in.

You can get a passport at any US Federal building in most major cities, but the process usually takes several weeks and requires you to bring specifically sized passport photos with you, as well as a birth certificate. And, yes, there is a charge for applying for and receiving a passport. (As of early 2007, this charge is $67.)

Traveling to Mexico

Mexican Flag waving

A favorite travel spot for many RVers is to head south of the border into Mexico to soak up the warm temperatures, to enjoy the lower cost of living, to explore some of the scenic areas, and, for many travelers, to receive low cost dental care, get eye glasses, low cost liquor (in limited varieties) or to obtain prescription drugs (without a prescription) for often half as much as in the United States. Be aware, though, that the selection of drugs in Mexico has been severely reduced since 2005, since the US drug companies have cut off the sale of many generic varieties to foreign interests.

Mexico places almost no restrictions on you and your RV entering the country. But beware of some important pitfalls.

Please be very aware that your US insurance is NOT good in Mexico! Before you ever enter the country, be certain that you have obtained Mexican insurance from an approved Mexican insurance agency. Your local AAA office can direct you to an approved agency—and there are usually several such agencies in US towns that are adjacent to the border. You can buy insurance for a day, week, month, or even a year. It is also possible for you to obtain insurance only for those days that you will actually be traveling in Mexico. So, it is possible for you to go south of the border, stay at a nice RV park for a month or two and then return to the US— paying only for your travel days. If you take your toad, it also must be covered by Mexican insurance.

Many RVers are also not aware that you need a Mexican visa if you intend to stay in the country for more than 7 days (with a few exceptions, such as the upper part of Sonora State). The visas are easy to obtain and only cost about $20. Most of the time, the authorities never check for a visa— but you donít want to find out what happens if you donít have one.

Next, you need to be very aware of the fact that Mexican authorities do not tolerate, even a little bit, your possession of firearms or ammunition, or illegal drugs. Even one little bullet (without a gun) can land you in a Mexican slammer—the last place that you want to be). Never, never, even think of carrying a gun or ammunition into Mexico. Many of the RV parks near the border offer the RVers a service where you can put your weapons securely under lock and key, and then retrieve them after your return from Mexico. Usually there is a small charge for this service.

During your travels you will likely be stopped at a road block at more than one place—where a 17-year old kid packing an AK-47 assault rifle will search through every nook and cranny of your motorhome or 5er. Be prepared for such stops, and be prepared to spend a while if you undergo a thorough search. Such is a time is when you must be patient and suffer in silence— a loud mouth or belligerent behavior will get you into real trouble.

Oh yes, one more thing, on your trip back from Mexico, donít bring any Mexican fruits or vegetables back with you. California, for one, will confiscate any such produce. You also will not be able to bring back uncooked potatoes or eggs. As strange as it seems, you cannot bring back any pork products—even those bought in the US and still in a sealed grocery store wrapper. You would be wise to inquire at the US border and get a listing of those items that you may not bring back when you re-enter the United States.

Some RV campgrounds and RV-related clubs schedule regular caravans into Mexico from nearby US campgrounds, where you travel with other RVs and are led by an experienced RVer. Many RVers, afraid to travel to Mexico by themselves, find the comfort and safety of a group caravan to be a less stressful way of experiencing Mexico in their RV.

pic of Mexican sunset

Traveling to Canada

Canada Flag waving

In the summer time, the Canadian provinces have some of the most stunning scenery in the northern hemisphere. Sometime during your RV wanderings, take the time to experience the beauty of Canada.

Before you take your RV or toad into Canada, you need to contact your insurance company and get a small card that tells Canadian authorities that your insurance is valid in Canada. This card usually does not cost you anything, but you must ask for it and have it in your possession before you enter Canada.

You also must be aware that Canada has strict gun laws—for both entry and exit. It is best that you donít try to take any guns across the border. There are ways to get a permit, but unless you are a regular Canadian traveler, it is probably not worth your effort.

British Columbia has strict rules for motorhomes towing toads, including weight restrictions and a requirement to have an auxiliary brake system and a break-away system. If your toad weighs more than 4,400 lbs., it must have an auxiliary brake system and must be equipped with a break-away system.

You can expect to be stopped and your setup checked while you are in BC. If you are not in compliance, you will be directed to disconnect your toad and drive it separately.

British Columbia has a strict limit on the amount of alcohol that you can legally bring into the Provence. The limit is one liter of alcohol per person—period. Yup, for you dyed-in-the-wool box wine drinkers, one box puts you over the limit and subjects you to both the seizure of your over-the-limit alcohol, as well as sometimes a rather hefty fine (based on the amount of your overage).

pic of BC mountain

Traveling to Alaska

Alaska Flag waving

Traveling to Alaska is one of the favorite dreams of most RVers. The lure of the unknown and unspoiled scenery makes almost all of us want to experience the immensity and remoteness of Alaska.

Forget the horror stories that you might have heard in the past about the Alaskan highway. Contrary to popular rumors, the Alaskan highway is now paved all the way, and is getting better each year.

There are only two seasons in Alaska, Winter and Construction, so be prepared for some stretches of gravel and occasional delays. And if you slow down, enjoy the scenery, and slow down even more and edge toward the shoulder of the road when traffic approaches from the opposite direction, you will most likely escape without a cracked windshield— but that is never guaranteed.

There are plenty of fuel stops, grocery stores and RV parks along the way. Before you even think of going to Alaska, however, I urge you to get a copy of The Milepost, a book that tells you about almost every mile of the highway, the scenery to watch for, nearby attractions, and even expected road conditions. This book is your bible for traveling the Alaska highway.

A good suggestion for trip planning is to buy last years edition—the contents donít change that much from year to year, and the cost of last yearís book is usually about half of the current yearís book.

Alaska is not a land that should be whizzed through and seen in even a week or two. If you really want to experience the wonders of Alaska, you should plan a three or four-month trip—leaving the US sometime around May 15th and returning sometime before October 15th.

Many people feel more secure in being part of an organized caravan, where experienced RVers travel with you, and most of your meals and side trips are included in the cost of the caravan. However, many people donít like having to adhere to a strict time table and travel itinerary. Most of the Alaskan RV caravans schedule tours of about six weeks in duration. For many people, the expense of an organized caravan is well worth the peace of mind. However, for some of the more adventurous RV folks, here is another way to plan your trip. If you are totally unfamiliar with what to see and do in Alaska, get a brochure from one or more of the tour companies that have Alaska RV caravans—see where they go and what they do. Then read your copy of The Milepost and plan your own excursion.

You owe it to yourself and your companion to experience the wonders of Alaska at least once in your lifetime. And, for many of you, your first time will not be your last time.

pic of Mt. McKinley (Denali)
Denali (Mt. McKinley)

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