Ready to head up north to the Last Frontier? Leaving it all to move to Alaska seemed like the only solution for the problems Army life and military service had given us. So in 2016 we sold a lot of our stuff, packed the station wagon and hit the road for a place we thought we could be free from all that.
Since moving to Alaska in 2016 we’ve learned a few things about what it takes to not just live but also thrive here. But there are a few things you should know before you head to the most wild place in America. Here’s the scoop.
1. Heading outside is a way of life.
While not every single Alaskan spends their time playing outside, the great outdoors is the heartbeat of Alaska. No matter how you shake it, getting outside is just a part of the culture, with annual schedules revolving not just around fishing and hunting seasons, but also snowfall, ground thaw, warming temperatures in the summer, subzero temperatures in the winter and any chance you can get to snag those delicious Alaska mountain blueberries.
2. Everything revolves around the light — and that can be hard.
Ever celebrated winter or summer Solstice? Neither had we before we moved to Alaska. Winter Solstice marks the darkest day of the year, with only about five hours and 30 minutes of daylight in Anchorage, and a day we celebrate the impending return of the sun. Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, has about 19 hours, 30 minutes of daylight, but never truly gets dark as the twilight lingers overnight. Alaskans celebrate “the midnight sun” with parties all night and late-night hikes.
But loving the light means that you have to put up with the darkness. For many people, that can be very difficult. The darkness makes us very sleepy, and we note each January that we have to put in extra effort to feel good by purposefully heading outside.. We think the seasons of light make it worth it, but we also know the darkness isn’t for everybody.
3. Groceries are more expensive.
Since Alaska produces almost none of its own food — there’s one dairy farm in the state, for example — everything is shipped up the “outside.” And since getting it here isn’t cheap, everything also has a higher price tag.
We’ve all seen those photos of $40 watermelons. Those are prices in the “bush,” or very rural areas of the state, where things must be transported even farther. But prices are still high even in large population centers. Just for perspective, here’s some price differences we’ve noticed between here and where we moved from in Clarksville, Tennessee.
Gallon of Milk:
Clarksville, Tennessee – $1.50
Anchorage, Alaska – $3.50
Sweet potatoes (per lbs.):
Clarksville, Tennessee – $.80
Anchorage, Alaska – $1.70
Loaf of bread:
Clarksville, Tennessee: $1
Anchorage, Alaska: $2.50
Those are just three items that are a little more expensive, but you can bet those costs add up.
4. Everything is bigger in Alaska
They say everything is bigger in Texas — but everything is even bigger in Alaska. Thanks to the long summer sun, the vegetables are the biggest you’ll find anywhere (seriously, they’re record breaking). Denali, formally known as Mount McKinley, is the largest mountain in North America. We joke that mosquitoes are the state bird, not just because they are plentiful, but also because they are huge.
Everything is also very spread out, and driving from one population center to another can take many hours. In fact, most of the state isn’t even on the road system, and getting there requires either a boat of a plane.
5. You really do get paid to move to Alaska.
Ok, it’s not quite as simple as that. It’s more like you get paid once you live here as a resident. Alaska state law grants residents a yearly payout known as the Permanent Dividend Fund (PFD). To qualify for it, Alaskans must maintain certain residency requirements and have first been a resident for a full calendar year. While the PFD fluctuates annually and is a hotly debated political issue, it’s recently been about $1,000 per person, including children. When you combine that with other savings such as no state income tax, living here can bring in some extra cash.
6. You might spend all of that extra cash trying to leave.
While you might not want to leave, sometimes you’ll have to if you want to visit family and friends or go on business trips. And that comes at a significant cost. Plane tickets out of Alaska are easily hundreds of dollars even one way. For example, round trip tickets for four people from Anchorage to Los Angeles, a relatively low-cost trip, recently cost us about $2,000. Yes, just to Los Angeles.
7. Once you live here for a year, you’ll never want to live anywhere else.
We believe that once you get through your first full winter and successfully experience both the dark and the light, you’ll never want to live anywhere else. Sure, there are folks who leave and relocate elsewhere. But guess what? They often eventually come back. There’s just something about these mountains, air, wide spaces, friendly people, sea and sky that gets you. You’re going to want to stay.