Things I Wish I Had Known Before Moving to Alaska – Revised and Updated

The post: Things I Wish I Had Known Before Moving to Alaska is, by far, the post that receives the most hits. With almost 300 comments from people around the world, a lot of people are curious about life in Alaska!

Since it has been 4 years since I originally wrote that post, I thought it could use a little updating. Most of the content and key points remains the same, but I did update several things here and there.

Hiking near Whittier, AK


It is still true. . . .when my husband (boyfriend at the time) suggested moving to Alaska. I was thinking, “okay, no big deal.” I was ready to get out of the Midwest anyway and we didn’t plan on staying beyond a year. Plus it wouldn’t be that different, right?

It has now been 9 years since I moved to The Last Frontier. All of the things I listed in these two posts: Things I Wish I Had Known Before Moving to Alaska and Part II are still very true. Alaska is very unique and like any place it has its pros and cons. I have spent the entire time living in Anchorage, so some of the things I have listed are specific to this area. I get a lot of questions regarding other parts of the state, but I honestly can’t speak on life in the Interior or Southeast in particular.

Hiking near Hope, AK

1. High cost of living

It is still very expensive to live here. Not only is the cost of housing and food more expensive, but things such as car maintenance, haircuts, dining out, and car insurance also have a higher price tag. I grew up in a small town in the Midwest, where things were much cheaper. Currently our family of 3 (two adults + 1 toddler) spends almost $1000 on food each month. (This does not include dining out.) I do buy a lot of produce and some higher-end products, but I also use coupons, buy things on sale, and meal plan.

2. Anchorage is not a walking-friendly city

Unless you live downtown, there probably won’t be many places accessible by foot from your neighborhood.  Anchorage is spread out and the city was not designed for foot traffic. Over the years, new pathways have been added, which eliminates having to walk along busy, high-traffic roads, but it still doesn’t compare to other big cities. There are several trails throughout the city that people use for biking, walking, and running. In addition, most neighborhoods do have a local neighborhood elementary school within walking distance where kids can go and play on the playground.


3. Dog-friendly city

People here love their dogs. It seems like everyone has a dog. There are two dog parks in Anchorage where you can take your dog off-leash. It is common to see people biking with their dog, running, and even skiing with their dog. (It’s called “skijoring.”)


4. Function over Fashion.

It is true, Anchorage was labeled as the worst-dressed city in America. In the Last Frontier, is all about function over fashion here. Why would you own a pair of heels since there is snow on the ground six months out of the year?

People need all the layers they can get in the winter, so there’s no showing skin in the winter. And in the summer, it is all about fishing, hiking, camping, and exploring, which doesn’t warrant fashionable apparel.

Popular brands in Alaska: Dansko, Carhartt, Bogs, XtraTuf, and Skhoop.


5. Fitness

It is easy to get outside during the summer here as the temperature rarely gets over 70*F, which means it is perfect for exercising in. You can go for a mid-day hike in the summer without sweating buckets, or you can go at midnight since the sun is still shining.

Since the winters are long and cold, a lot of people hibernate all winter long. Yet at the same time, a lot of people do get outside and do something. Skiing, by far, is the most popular winter sport with downhill skiing, classic cross country skiing, skate skiing, or back country skiing. There are also a lot of people who bike year round, and will buy fat tire bikes or studded tires for their bikes in order to bike during the winter on the icy and snowy surfaces. Some people will ice skate on the local ponds here in town, and a lot of us still run year-round.


6. Endless summer sunshine

Alaska is the Land of the Midnight Sun. During the months of May, June, and July especially, the daylight is nearly endless. In Anchorage, our sun sets for about 5 hours, but during those hours the sky is still dusky. While that has its advantages, it also can be annoying. As a kid, the endless summer sunshine is great because it is summer break from school, but as a working adult, it can be hard to go to bed at a decent hour. I’ve heard many stories of people tending their garden until midnight without realizing what time it is. And don’t think about enjoying a campfire under the stars–it won’t happen. You can’t see stars at night during the summer since it is still light out.

7. People are either very helpful or want to be left alone

There are a lot of people here who would give you the shirt off their back and come and help you in a heart beat. They know what it takes to survive here. Especially outside city limits, the resources can be limited and there is a lot of wilderness out there, so we need each other to survive in many ways.

However, there are also those people who came to Alaska to get away from everyone else. For whatever reason, they knew they could come to Alaska and escape–and rightly so because Alaska is the largest state in the US and one of the least populated. At the same time, this means these people don’t want anything to do with you. There are people who have the mentality of “give me my land, my gun, and leave me alone.”

(My husband pretending he one of those people.)

DSC_0085(From this post)

8. Alaska feels like its own country

In many aspects, when I first moved to Alaska, I felt like I had moved to a new country. I vividly remember driving around town and feeling so out of place. You are thousands of miles away from the rest of the United States and people have their own way of life here. Of course it is still the United States (US), we still abide by the same national laws, we still pay taxes, the road signs look the same, and it operates like other US cities, but it definitely has a different feel than any other US city I’ve been to.

9. Definition of “The South”

When people say “The South” here in Alaska, they are not referring to southern states of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, etc. “The South” refers to any of the 48 contiguous states. And if you say you are “going outside,” it means you are going outside the state of Alaska for a trip.

10. Airline tickets are expensive

It never occurred to me how expensive it would be to fly out of state. Tickets start at about $600 to other major US cities, obviously depending upon where you are going. Even though Seattle is a “quick” 3 hour flight, you will likely have to transfer to a second–and sometimes a third plane-to get to your final destination. Oftentimes you will spend the majority of the day traveling to your destination. For example, if I fly from Anchorage back home to Minneapolis, I plan on 10-12 hours of travel. If you want the cheapest fare, expect to fly red-eye flights out of Alaska and return back home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.


11. You get paid to live here

Yes, it is true the state government gives each person (who has lived here for one complete calendar year–January 1 – December 31) receives a PFD-no, not a personal flotation device, but a Permanent Fund Dividend. This last year it was about $1000. That is per person, so if you have a family of 5, 6, 7 that really adds up. (Click here to read more about the PFD.)

Also check out these posts:  Things I Wish I Had Known Before Moving to Alaska, Part II and Should I Move to Alaska?

Feel free to comment below with questions or other comments about living in Alaska. I do my best to give my unbiased advice since I know a lot of people wonder what it is like to live in Alaska.

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