Leonard and Cherry Stokes

Editor’s Note: The following release offers a first-hand look at a retired couple’s RV journey to Alaska with Fantasy RV Tours, which inspired them to become master wagon masters for the Las Vegas-based RV travel company.

The lure of travel is on the bucket list of many, if not all, retirees. Basking on the white beaches of Florida, exploring Alaska’s wild frontiers, experiencing different cultures and festivals, tasting foods from different regions, learning about history and meeting real people from every walk of life. The question is – how do they afford to do this?
Meet recreational vehicle (RV) owners Leonard and Cherry Stokes of Columbia, S.C. — a perfect example of what the roads to retirement have meant for many. Leonard retired as a mechanical engineer who constructed nuclear power stations and then became a traveling diesel engine diagnostics trainer and Cherry is a retired elementary school teacher who later worked as an early childhood educator at a local community college. Both wanted more from their retirement, and seeking their dreams in their fifth wheel trailer, aching for an experience on a grander scale, they signed up for a Fantasy RV Tour to Alaska.
Even for experienced, well-seasoned RVers, planning a journey to Alaska is a large undertaking. Thankfully, there are experienced wagon masters and tour companies who specialize in helping fellow RVers make this (and other adventures) possible. Wagon master, a term used since 1645, has been defined by Miriam Webster as: ‘a person hired to be in charge of one or more wagons in a caravan’. Today, wagon master is a term used in the RV industry, loosely describing an individual (or more likely a couple) responsible for an organized group traveling on an RV tour also known as a caravan.
The Stokes’ chose to travel with wagon masters from Fantasy RV Tours to explore Alaska, which led to their newest calling to become wagon masters themselves. Ever since that maiden voyage, Leonard and Cherry have been leading organized RV tours to Alaska, the Canadian Maritime Provinces, along both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts and to many world-renowned festivals across the United States, including the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, Mardi Gras and the Kentucky Derby.
They have no regrets and have not stopped to look back. “Watching our guests on tour is a lot like Christmas morning.  The exploration of new destinations and cultures — it’s like opening those anticipated gifts under the tree,” says Cherry. “It’s a phenomenal experience to spend quality time with people as they discover this wonderful world.”
The road to retirement for the 59 travel ambassador couples who work with Fantasy RV Tours is not all glorious travel. “This is a lot of responsibility — rewarding and joy filled, but it’s no walk in the park either,” says Nel Filliger, founder and CEO of Fantasy RV Tours. “We are so fortunate to have ambassador couples who have completed training, are skilled to lead and manage tours, and at the same time enjoy this wonderful RV lifestyle.”  
After Basic Training and CPR certification, the travel ambassadors are required to attend advanced training courses at least every other year and maintain their certifications.
With more than 50 RV caravans and rallies that creatively cover North American history, culture, cuisine, wildlife and nature, the wagon masters enjoy sharing their knowledge and experiences on one or two tours each year and make enough money to cover most of their travel costs.
Is the wagon master job worth it? According to Stacey Rabung, operations manager at Fantasy, it definitely can be. “If you value wonderful times, exploring new places, and sharing your experiences – then yes, you’ll be rich with memories and new friends as a travel ambassadors,” she said.
Caravan travel, like wagon masters, has been around for many years. Today, there is a much more independent and rewarding nature to this travel style. Guests are provided with turn by turn travel instructions with interesting venues to enjoy between destinations. The wagon master travels early and the tail gunner will follow the planned route a few hours behind, so that guests can enjoy a leisurely day of travel and exploration knowing their campsite is secured and waiting for their arrival. Should they experience any difficulties on the road, help is not far behind.  Once in camp, the wagon masters often plan and organize various activities.
Wagon masters take on the responsibility for groups of people who are driving large vehicles in unfamiliar territories and who are often out of their personal comfort zones.  These individuals make sure that campgrounds and venues are ready to accommodate the group, that tour buses are on schedule, that restaurants and catered meals are ready and most of all that the guests are having a good time. Before the tour, they often spend weeks making preparations and communicating with their group, and when the tour ends, they must balance their budgets and submit their reports.
Although this job may not be for everyone, it is a rewarding example of fulfilling the dreams of travel, experience, culture and friendship – all the experiences enjoyed by the guests who travel.  And these experiences and responsibilities help keep these ambitious characters active, alert and moving down the road.