Alaska — The wildest place in America, the "Last Frontier", the land of gold and grizzlies. There's no other state quite like it, and it's a place that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.
My boyfriend and I travelled from Edmonton, Alberta in Canada all the way to Seward, Alaska in my hatchback (which also doubled as our accommodation throughout the trip). We completed the nearly 4,500 mile road trip in a whirlwind 12 days, managed to stay within our modest budget, and saw more moose and bears than I ever thought possible! It was an incredible adventure and I ultimately left part of my heart behind in this magical place. However, as with all adventures, there are a few things I learned along the way that I plan on putting to use during my next trip through Alaska. Here are five tips for the new nomads out there who are planning on making their way up to the wild north.
DRIVE THRU'S, I DON’T THINK SO!
Plan to spend time a lot of time driving through the wilderness, and little to no time driving through a McDonalds. This might seem obvious, but one important factor we overlooked before our road trip, especially given our tight timeframe, was the fact that fast food chains are not prevalent in Alaska. On most road trips, I’m used to hitting up the nearest fast food place for a quick coffee in the mornings or maybe ordering a foot-long sub to take for the drive, but this wasn’t an option throughout most of the wild North. Given that we would drive so many miles every day (trying to stick to our schedule) we had limited time for sit down restaurants (which are also far and few between) or preparing a meal roadside. In the end, we ate a lot of cheese, pickles and pepperoni – anyone call for a carpool charcuterie? The authenticity of this place is what makes it so incredible, and I wouldn’t want to change this, but looking back, it would have been great to have packed a stocked electric cooler and a french press. Bringing along as many snacks as possible is going to be your best bet when driving through Alaska.
dealing with 24 hours of sunlight
We travelled to Alaska in June, which meant 20 hours of daylight. Of course we knew this going in, but it caught us off guard on a few occasions. If you’re planning on tenting, try and find places with shade to set up. If you are sleeping in a car or van (like we did), it’s a good idea to have a plan for blacking out the windows to sleep (we used our clothes and hung them in the windows (very hobo-chic). Also, if you meet up with any locals for a night on the town, keep a casual eye on your watch. You’re on vacation, so I’m not saying you should get too uptight about it, but speaking from experience be cautious. You won’t have the darkness to help you judge when it’s time to pack it in. With daylight at 4 a.m., it’s pretty easy to keep tipping that cup. After missing the most breathtaking drive - Top of the World Highway - because I was throwing up into a chip bag, I learned the hard way not to try to keep up with the locals.
EVERYTHING'S BIGGER IN ALASKA, EVEN the POTHOLES
It’s true, the mountains, the wildlife, even the potholes are on a whole different scale in Alaska. We took my beloved Meredith, a 2010 Mazda Hatchback, with us on our adventure, and she did fine, however, the ride was slow-going at times. This was okay with me because I feel like half of the adventure is looking out the window, scouting for animals, watching the mountains pass by, and listening to some great throwbacks with your feet up on the dash -- But be prepared to endure a long, and somewhat bumpy ride. The rocky, gravel roads go on for miles, and there is a crazy amount of unattended construction equipment, especially given how few people live in this state. And if they have a tough winter, then the roads may be even more messy. The key is to make sure the car you decide to bring is going to be reliable. Then before you start out, be sure to grab gas at any opportunity, and load your map app ahead of time (there is limited Wi-Fi or cell service while on the road). Keep the delicious snacks and great tunes on the ready and most importantly, enjoy the journey because it is part of the experience.
DO ALL THE THINGS IN THE TRAVEL GUIDES, AND THEN DO MORE
I think there is this culture or attitude amongst travelers right now; we are all obsessed with finding the new place, that location that only the locals know about. We get swept up in the prestige of having discovered this hidden gem, which I can understand, because there's is nothing worse than when you finally make it to your destination, and it’s jam-packed with tourists trying to get a selfie in front if the attraction. But the good news is that Alaska doesn’t fall victim to this problem, at least from what I found so when the travel blogs, tour websites, and the guidebooks tell you to check out Denali National Park or take a boat to see icebergs calve, or enjoy fresh seafood in Seward, do it. All those things are every bit as amazing as you want them to be. And you will find that the more you experience, the more people you will meet, and those people will help you to plan more stops. Alaska is a place that captures hearts and keeps people coming back. We met so many people who knew the area inside and out, and yet they still were making time to visit the places the guidebooks talk about regularly.
preserve alaska's untouched beauty
Alaska easily became one of my favorite places after this trip. It has so much to offer its visitors! From the endless wildlife and incredible backdrops to its the down-to-earth people, it should be on everyone’s bucket lists. However, if you plan on going to see Alaska’s beauty for yourself, I urge you to respect Mother Nature. Always pack out whatever you pack in, don’t feed the wildlife, and stay on the trail. There is a reason that this State is famous for its untouched beauty...it’s because it’s untouched. It’s heartbreaking when you reach the summit of a mountain, and you find granola bar wrappers and water bottles in the bushes, or when you hear about someone being attacked by wildlife because they got too close while taking a picture. If every person who visits Alaska makes a conscious effort to preserve the nature around them, Alaska will remain just as beautiful 100 years from now.