John Muir, the co-founder of the Sierra Club, was said to have written in his journal:
“You should never go to Alaska as a young man because you’ll never be satisfied with any other place as long as you live.”
This quote offers you a hint of the wonders you’ll experience when you move to The Last Frontier. But in addition to the incredible sights and unforgettable experiences you’ll enjoy, you’ll also discover that Alaska is probably unlike any place you’ve ever lived before.
So in the spirit of welcoming you to the state, we also want to share a few things you should know to help you make a seamless transition to your new home.
#1: Roaming Bears Are a Real Thing
So are moose encounters and bald eagle flybys.
In other words, the expression “getting close with nature” takes on a whole new meaning when you live in Alaska. In addition to living with the largest population of grizzly bears in the United States, you’ll also get treated to seasonal whale watching as well as regular sightings of bison, caribou, mountain goats, wolves and Dall sheep.
While the old counsel, “they’re more afraid of you than you are of them,” will serve you in most situations, it wouldn’t hurt to brush up on bear safety before you move. You know—just in case.
#2: The Cost of Living Is High
Alaska owes much of its natural beauty to its isolation, but it comes at a cost. Almost everything has to be shipped into Alaska, which drives costs up, especially where groceries are concerned. In fact, the cost of living in Alaska is about 28% higher than the national average.
To give you a sense of a few of the costs in Anchorage:
- A dozen eggs costs around $4.50
- A 2-liter of Coke is around $2.50
- Basic lunch with a drink in runs about $15
- Rent for 1-2 people can run you anywhere from $700-$1500 depending on the size of your apartment and its location
That being said, Alaskans rank #1 in the U.S. in terms of satisfaction with their standard of living. Additionally, long-term residents have their own strategies for keeping their bills down, including fishing for food, shopping at farmer’s markets and utilizing Costco’s three locations in the state for bulk buys.
There’s also one other benefit to living in Alaska that softens the blow of the high cost of living.
#3: It’s True, You Get Paid to Live Here
Once you’ve lived in Alaska for a full year—and intend to stay indefinitely—you’ll be eligible for the annual Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD). Although it changes every year, the PFD payout in 2018 was $1,600.
The fund was originally created to set aside a share of oil revenues for the benefit of current and future generations of Alaskans. PFD day is a big deal in the state. Although many Alaskans admit to spending it almost immediately, maybe you’ll be the rare resident who sets your PFD aside for a rainy day. The only way to know for sure is to make your move to Alaska!
#4: Where You’re Going, You Don’t Need Road
Although Alaska is more than twice the size of the state of Texas, its highway system is nearly the smallest in the U.S. A whopping 75% of Alaska is inaccessible by car, including its state capitol. As a result, you’ll need either a plane or a boat to explore the entire state.
As you consider where you want to live and work, keep in mind that getting between cities can be a challenge. Make sure you take full advantage of the Alaska Marine Highway, the ferry service operated by the state. Its “blue canoes” (as the ferry boats are known) run along a 3,500nm route that services 33 ports. These boats will be your lifeline as you explore your new home. You can also take advantage of air taxis and the Alaska railroad to get you where you need to go.
#5: Mark Your Calendar for the Alaska State Fair
If you grew up in the U.S., your State Fair was either a ho-hum happenstance or the most highly-anticipated event of the year. Alaska’s falls solidly into the latter camp.
The Alaska State Fair hosts over 300,000 people every year. Considering the state population was tallied at just over 700,000 in the last census, you can see how seriously Alaskans take this annual event.
When you attend, you’ll enjoy live music (Three Dog Night and the Goo Goo Dolls played the 2018 fair), crafts from all over the state and delicacies including Rolling Donuts’ Cinnamon Sugar Donuts and the fair-famous Talkeetna Spinach Bread. You can also explore livestock exhibits, check out the cabbage and pumpkin weigh-off, join the peanut gallery surrounding the beard contest—and more.
As a new Alaskan, this will be a don’t-miss event, so make sure to mark off some time around Labor Day weekend to attend.
#6: And Don’t Forget Fur Rondy!
Alaska is also home to the premier winter festival, the Fur Rendezvous, also known as Fur Rondy or just plain “Rondy.” This event gives Alaskans the excuse to bust out their warmest fur hats, jackets and boots to celebrate Anchorage’s winter spirit.
The first Fur Rondy was held in 1935 and today features events like the Running of the Reindeer, which echoes Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls, but with a much lower likelihood of getting gored. You’ll also enjoy the state Snow Sculpture Championship, outhouse races and the fair’s Cornhole Championships.
Don’t forget to snag yourself a coveted Fur Rondy pin, designed every year by a different local artist. Older pins have become collector’s items worth thousands of dollars, so make sure to snag yours early.
#7. There’s an Incredible Amount of Native Heritage to Explore
If you want to truly understand Alaska as a whole, take the time to explore its Native heritage. Alaska is home to 227 federally-recognized indigenous tribes. Start your journey at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, where you can explore the culture of Alaska’s diverse First Nations inhabitants. You’ll also find events planned around Native American Heritage month in November, including events sponsored by the Sealaska Heritage Institute.
Finally, don’t miss the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, which celebrates skills prized by Native cultures for thousands of years, such as the Four Man Carry and the Eskimo Stick Pull. You’ll also enjoy traditional song and dance throughout the events, as well as the opportunity to explore extraordinary Native crafts and art.
#8: You Might Want to Buy a Light Therapy Box
Although many of Alaska’s festivals and events celebrate its seasons, you’ll want to prepare yourself for the dramatic swing in daylight that accompanies them. Although you’ll enjoy 24-hour sunlight during the summer months, the utter darkness of the deep winter has been known to wear on even the toughest Alaskans.
If you’re at all prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), you may want to purchase a light therapy box. (We’re not kidding!) Exposure for around 30 minutes can help alleviate some of the more common depression symptoms you might experience during the Alaskan winters.
#9: Don’t Come for the Fashion
Anchorage took the crown in Travel + Leisure for the worst-dressed city in the US—and it’s no surprise. Alaskans dress for the weather. No one bats an eye over wearing hiking boots to a fancy restaurant. In other words, there’s no need to spend your money on a fashionable wardrobe before moving to Alaska.
However, you might want to invest in some good performance gear. A Carhartt winter jacket will keep you warm—and help you fit right in. So will a pair of XTRATUF boots (created in Alaska!) or a classic camo rain suit.
The bottom line: Dress for comfort and you’ll find good company in Alaska.
#10: The Dating Scene Is Alive and Well
With so little attention paid to keeping up with the latest fashion trends in Alaska, you might wonder about the dating scene, especially if you’re moving without a significant other. Women will be happy to know that the state still boasts the highest ratio of men to women in the U.S. However, that ratio has pulled closer to even in recent years.
Like anywhere else, Alaskans use their share of dating apps to meet new people. However, the best way to find love in Alaska is to take advantage of all the state has to offer.
In other words, do what you love to do. You’ll likely meet someone along the way.
And if you need a little liquid courage to make it happen, we have good news for you.
#11: You’ll Find Craft Beer a-Plenty
The explosion of the craft brewing scene in the continental U.S. hasn’t passed Alaska by. You’ll find craft breweries and brewpubs popping up all around the state. Some of our favorites include:
- Anchorage Brewing Company in Anchorage
- Alaskan Brewing Company in Juno
- Arkose Brewery in Palmer
- Baranof Island Brewing Company in Sitka (don’t miss the Sitka Spruce Tip Ale in the spring!)
- HooDoo Brewing Company in Fairbanks
- Midnight Sun Brewing Company in Anchorage
And if a beer isn’t your style, we still have good news for you: Anchorage has more espresso stands per capita than any other city in the U.S. In other words, your caffeine fix is almost always just around the corner.
The Only Way to Really Know Is to Go
Moving to Alaska is a singular experience. Although we’ve shared the top 11 things we think you need to know, your moving experience will ultimately be your own. And at the end of the day, the only way to really know what Alaska is like is to go.