Things to Consider Before Moving to Alaska: Part 1
It sounds like such a romantic idea: Moving to Alaska. The fresh air. The beautiful scenery. A chance to feel closer to nature and get some killer Instagram pictures (ha . . . but seriously). The envious and shocked responses from friends and family. But let's face it -- the Last Frontier is called that for a reason. Not many people can hack it out there, or even want to try. But for those who do, the rewards are rich and you'll be part of a very select group of people who can say that they have lived in the Frozen North.
Before Daniel and I made the leap of deciding that this hard(er) life was for us, there were some key things to consider. And not small things, either. Yes, there's the consideration that we won't be able to get DoorDash . . . but I'm talking about things that make you look deep inside yourself and question whether or not you're made of the right stuff. Luckily for us, the answer was yes.
Run through this check list and see if moving to Alaska might be something you're cut out for.
Since we all abide by C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me) whether we like it or not, this is a very real consideration. How are you going to make money to support yourself or your family while living in Alaska? This is the first hangup in many people's plans, and unfortunately it's normally the one that puts a halt on the whole thing.
Luckily, thanks to how connected everything is and how, in a very real way, COVID-19 has shown many employers that it is indeed possible for people to work remotely, you might have a higher chance of pursuing a remote work situation. This is somewhat the case with our situation; I started a new position during the middle of the pandemic, so my first chunk of time with the company was spent working from my dining table and proving that I could do my job effectively through video conferences. When we decided to seriously consider making the move to Alaska, I broached the subject with company leadership and they agreed that I could continue my role remotely. If you're not someone who feels the need to work in a conventional office with coworkers, then maybe this is a conversation that would be worth having with your company as well. Who knows -- they might just say yes. Want some tips from the experts? Harvard Business Review has an article to give you some guideance.
If remote work isn't for you and you don't feel tied to a particular career path, then one benefit of Alaska is the number of seasonal and on-demand jobs that you can find. If you have a knack for the outdoors (and hopefully you do if you're considering a move to Alaska), you can look into seasonal Alaska jobs. Some examples might including working at a national park, local resort, fishing lodge, cruise line, and many, many more options. Check out some current listings at Cool Works, an awesome site dedicated to helping you find jobs in awesome places.
So you've scrolled through a dozen Instagram pages about Alaska, read up on weather reports, and checked some other blogs about living in Alaska, and you're pretty sure you're ready to take the plunge.
But there's just one thing . . . you've never been to Alaska. OR you've only been there during the summer months. If you haven't been outdoors in Alaska during the winter months, then you're going to be in for a BIG surprise. On my last trip up there, I was traveling with our then-two-year-old daughter to link up with my husband who was on a photography trip to see our dog musher friends. (Check out the post here for some pro tips about traveling with a two-year-old to Alaska.) It was February, and Emelia-Rose and I landed at the Fairbanks International Airport at just after midnight. Prior to leaving the airport, I had to stop and dig out Emelia's snowsuit, winter boots, beanie, and gloves . . . just to get her into the car. Because it was -20 degrees Fahrenheit. This isn't like the ski trips you've taken to Breckenridge or that one time there was an ice storm in your city. This kind of cold makes it nearly impossible to breathe because your lungs don't want the air you're trying to inhale. It's shocking and brutal. Top that off with the limited amount of daylight you have during the winter (in December the sun rises at about 11AM and sets at about 6PM), and the combination can prove to be a lot for most people to handle.
Maybe you're thinking that the summers will more than make up for it, and you're not necessarily wrong -- the days are long and beautiful, the temperatures are pretty moderate, and the scenery is out of this world. But along with the plus sides come a few more considerations. First, the mosquitos. You have never experienced mosquitos like they have in Alaska during the summer. They are BIG, they are VICIOUS, and they are EVERYWHERE. If you struggle with a few skeeters during a backyard BBQ in the Lower 48, then these Alaska mosquitos might be enough to push you over the edge.
Next up is that glorious sunshine. In June, you can expect the sun to rise at 3AM and set at 12:45AM. Yes, you read that right. You'll have about two hours and fifteen minutes of darkness, and even that isn't truly pitch dark. This drastic swing of day and night between the seasons is one of the factors of Alaska that many people find most challenging. Unless you live there for a long time, it's hard to ever truly get used to the day/night changes because it happens quickly and constantly. BUT what this does mean is that you have ample time to get out and explore the gorgeous Alaska wilderness without being worried about fading daylight. When I was there in June, we went on a hike that ended at about 1AM and it was such a unique experience. For photographers, the "Golden Hour" in Alaska is the stuff dreams are made of -- even during the winter, when pretty much all daylight hours are considered prime Golden Hour.
Daniel and I, for better or worse, are already used to having to hack it by ourselves. With Daniel being a transplant away from all of his English friends and family and me not really having a family unit to speak of and very few close friends, all of whom are scattered across the country (yes, break out the world's tiniest violin for us), a close (geographically) support system hasn't been something we've ever had. We've dealt with debilitating life changes with only each other to rely on. (Stay tuned for more on that. Losing our home to water damage and not having income for nearly 12 months with a newborn child was really something).
That sob story aside, what I'm really getting at is are you cut out for life away from your friends and family? If shit hits the fan, are you comfortable relying solely on yourselves? If you aren't self sufficient as an individual or you're in a relationship that has some chinks in the armor, trust me . . . Alaska life ain't for you. It's amazing how any shortcomings or issues you have will be magnified exponentially by solitude and unforgiving conditions. A saving grace of Alaska is that most everyone is in that same boat, and you'll find more camaraderie amongst this band of wild misfits and lost children than you'd likely ever experience in the Lower 48. There's something that joins a community together when you realize that no one else is coming to save you; you turn to each other and build a strong bond of community and support.
For those who find beauty in solitude, peace in emptiness, and growth in hardship, then damn, better start packing those boxes -- 'cause you best be getting on up to Alaska.
It can cost upwards of $1K for a plane ticket and 18+ hours of travel to get from Alaska to the East Coast of the Lower 48 . . . and that's if you're already close to a large airport like Fairbanks or Anchorage. If you want to drive instead, it's a 40-hour drive to get from Fairbanks to Seattle . . . without counting any stops. Our drive from Virginia Beach, VA to Fairbanks, AK is going to be 71 hours long. 71. Dear god.
Let that sink in. Alaska is big and it is FAR away. Here's one more fun fact: Alaska and Russia are only 55 miles apart as the crow flies. Yes, really. Google Maps that shit.
If you're the type of person who adores long road trips, think flying is fun, and isn't bothered about going home for every holiday, then no worries! If you live for seeing all of your cousins for each and every one of their birthdays, well . . . might want to stop and think before packing your bags for a great big Alaska adventure.
The conditions, lack of the support you might be used to, and the distance from what you've considered "normal" can all add up to mean some very trying times mentally. When you imagine being in the middle of winter only getting a few hours of actual sunlight, the temperatures are touching -40 degrees Fahrenheit, and the snow is piled up 12' high outside your door . . . how do you feel? Do you get a sense of claustrophobia, or do you feel like putting on your boots, shoveling snow, then curling up by the fire with a cup of tea?
The emptiness and harshness of Alaska can make or break your mental state. For those who are seeking catharsis and escape, the wild north can be the salve you've been searching for. But if you're unsure of yourself or the commitment you're willing to bring to the table, the North can be a brutal force that will never bend.
Oh hey, you made it to the end! This might have sounded like a nice big ball of doom and gloom and dissuasion from considering moving to Alaska, but it's actually the opposite. If you're made of the right stuff for the Last Frontier, you read through this entire post and weren't afraid. You got to each part and it just reaffirmed your desire for a different way of life and you are currently Googling local real estate agents to list your Lower 48 house.
If that's the case, then congratulations! Now that we've established you're made of the right stuff, let's get down to some things you'll need to plan for during your move and when selecting where to live in Alaska.