real talk | life in alaska

Oct 26, 2014

This week officially marks our two years in Alaska!! Kind of crazy for this military family that is used to moving just about every 18 months or less. But I am glad that we have been in one place long enough to explore, have a baby, and get ready to have another one. We have just about a year left and we really intend on living it up. Four kids in tow. But I will admit I wasn't always that enthusiastic about this place. If you have ever read this post, the undertone is quite negative. Which going back and reading now is kind of awful. With that post I get a couple emails a week asking me about life in Alaska. I almost always reply to those emails with "I may not be the best person to ask". Chris on the other hand is a good person to ask on this subject since he has immersed himself in all things the last frontier. So I thought I would try and check in from that previous post. Inquiring minds...this ones for you!
When we first moved up to Alaska I wasn't exactly in a good place. I was in what I thought was the first trimester from hell (this baby is laughing at Avalon's efforts) I hadn't eaten a morsel of  real food in months. I just got out of a car with two toddlers for twelve days, winding roads, and cold temps my body has never felt before. Needless to say I wasn't exactly a Georgia peach....get it...Georgia peach...we just drove from Georgia to Alaska. Never mind. Anyway, I took a look around and saw feet of snow, my bones felt like ice, and it was dark much of the day. It was like a shock to my system. As we got settled in I pretty much refused to do anything. I didn't feel like going outside. I didn't feel like shoveling snow. I didn't feel like defrosting my car 15-20 minutes before I left my house. While Chris was more like the abominable snowman. Just outside all the time. Going from place to place exploring on his downtime. It wasn't until after I had Avalon that I really snapped out of it. The snow was melting, the temps were rising, the sun was staying out longer and longer. And then summer arrived and I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life. Alaska transforms into the most amazing place. People are out everywhere, hiking, biking, fishing, camping, hunting. I loved it. This was also the time we really started to explore places outside of Anchorage. We tried to eat at almost every restaurant downtown. It was like Chris knew he had to pack everything into that first summer because Kelsey was about to go back into hibernation mode. When summer came to an end we decided to do something a little different for our next winter. We decided to invest in the gear we needed to have fun in the winter with three small kids. I think that is the biggest mistake we made when we found out we were going to be stationed here, we bought stuff in the lower 48. You don't know what you need in Alaska until you are here. Locals will give you the ins and outs of the good brands, where to buy things, what not to waste your money on. We had to find these people, and we did. Chris has more friends at AMH  and REI than people I have in my phone book. It has really helped us be able to continue to explore all year around. Last winter was not so bad. Well except for the horrible melting and freezing craziness that was going on for months. But we still tried to get outside everyday. 
To answer some questions, yes things are more expensive in general up here. For example, Target and Toys R Us, prices will be higher. There are so many times I will find something in those stores and whip out my phone to see how much it is online and sure enough it is less. So instead I will go home and order online for in-store pick up, or Target stuff I will order with my redcard and have it shipped free to my front door. Also Amazon is a huge place to order things cheaper. Alaska has no sales tax, which is nice, but I find prices higher on most things. GROCERIES- probably the number one question I get asked about, milk at the commissary right now is $5.19. Safe to say this family who goes through 2 gallons of milk a week, not including Almond milk does not buy milk at the commissary. Instead I go to Target or Fred Meyer. I think we grocery shop at 5 different stores because we find better prices. We also try and shop at the smaller locally owned places. The Natural Pantry downtown, New Sagaya City Market, both of these places have good prices on some things, but great sales on produce as well. We are also feeding a family of five, almost six. So if it is just you and your wife moving to Alaska it may not be sticker shock for you. For us, it was. 
Toddlers in Alaska. Another huge question I get, what is there to do with kids in the winter. Well, if your kids are anything like mine, they want you to spend 30-45 minutes to get them all in their snow gear so they can run around in the cold for 30 minutes and come inside. When Chris is home he can get them to stay out for longer when they go sledding or skiing. But when it is just me with three kids it is a little tougher. So yes we have to find things to do. I can say Anchorage does not have a ton of indoor things for kids during the winter. You have a couple indoor play places, the museum, library, indoor soccer fields, and that is about it. Trust me once you have gone to Bouncing Bears seven times in the first two months of winter, you are left scratching your head until the weekend. But, it is doable. Your kids acclimate to the cold right along with you. They still go out for recess at school until the temps drop below 10 degrees. So again, invest in the right gear for them so they stay toasty and warm. 
Other things to take into consideration are tire costs, you switch them over twice a year. Studded or non-studded will be your choice. Do you need a 4 wheel drive car to live in Alaska, NO. My Pilot was not 4wd and I made it two years just fine. I had studless tires as well. Did I slip and slide...sure. But I never got stuck. Now I have a minivan, also not 4wd, but I have winter tires. Also windshield repair, just add that into your yearly expense. In Alaska they do not use salt on the roads, it attracts moose, and when it melts the runoff could get into the streams, and lakes. So they put down gravel, little flying rocks just looking to crack your windshield. We have replaced two so far. My advice would be to not fix it right away, wait until breakup. 

Also housing, another huge question. Housing prices are much higher up here. When we lived in Georgia, or even Arizona we had the same square footage, and three bedrooms with huge backyards. When we moved to Alaska our first house was three bedrooms, same amount of space, no back yard (house was on the side of a hill). That house was more than double what we paid in those two states. Then add in your heating bill and you are looking at crazy numbers. Now we were renting, so obviously much higher monthly. Many military families end up buying. Again, is it doable, absolutely. 
Moral of the story is, I am a warm weather lover at heart. I grew up in Las Vegas, triple digit heat is what I like. Before living in Alaska I probably went skiing twice in my life. I was the kid that would go down the hill once and then head back to the lodge for some hot chocolate. It has taken me awhile to embrace Alaska. But living here is a once in a life time opportunity. Chris is from Philly, and spent much of his teen years in Maine. He will even tell you that the winters are much different from anywhere else. If you are looking for a more "city" vibe I would stick to Anchorage. You get the best of both worlds. There are many of your main stream stores, Nordstrom, Target, Sephora, Bass Pro Shop, REI, Costco. You don't have that in the other small towns in Alaska. So I feel fortunate we got stationed here and not Ft. Wainwright in Fairbanks. Having lived in Vegas, Seattle, Arizona, and Georgia (frequent trips to Atlanta), I can say Anchorage has some of the best food I have ever eaten. Not just crab and salmon (which fresh salmon is a whole different ball game) but pizza, greek food, sushi, burgers. There are so many hidden gems here. With everything when you move here, you have to be willing to find these places. Get out, spend a little money along the way. This may not apply for people looking to permanently make a home here. But for military families where you probably didn't have a choice in moving to Alaska. Don't do what I did and waste anytime feeling sorry for yourself. So many places offer military discounts, slope days for military families, and so much more. Really get out there and embrace all that Alaska has to offer.

This isn't all to say that I still don't have my days where I just want an In N Out Burger and a stop at Homegoods, neither of which we have. But I will live. I may still kick and scream every time I have to shovel my car out of my driveway for the hundredth time. I may get a little aggravated when I am 45 minutes late to picking Ace up because someone hit a moose. Or when I find a really great piece of clothing online and they DON'T SHIP TO ALASKA! But I wouldn't change being stationed here. When we leave I know there are so many things I will miss, and I won't be able to find somewhere else. So my advice is to really do your research. Ask a lot of questions. Be open minded. Get ready for a change. But change is good, so embrace it! Most of all get some bear spray, a bear gun, some mosquito repellent and have some damn fun!


*Obviously this is only my experience in Alaska, please don't send me hate mail if you disagree. You can see more of our adventures at the Alaskan Adventures page at the top of the screen. If you have questions I can always try and answer them, or hopefully point you in the right direction. 

19 comments:

  1. I loved reading this!!! You guys. Out there. The Last Frontier. ;)

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  2. I think you have a great, honest, perspective of what it's like. And it seems to me you guys really do make the best of it. I'm excited to see where you guys will end up next though!

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  3. I love that you make the most of where you are, most people don't do that.

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  4. This is so spot on. It is always interesting for me to hear people's opinions about living here versus somewhere else in the US. Many times I don't think they characterize Alaska quite right, but your descriptions are so accurate!

    I'm glad you learned to love it and sad you will be leaving. But it will also be really fun to follow along with you in the next place you live, since I've only ever lived here!

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    1. Ahh! I am so glad you agree, seeing as how you were raised here!! We really have come to enjoy Alaska, and I know if Chris had it his way he would never leave. He is very much trying to convince me to look at houses here...so you know....we have somewhere to come back to. haha :) Plus we will always have a special connection here since two of our baby's will be born here!!

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  5. I don't know what it is with men and Alaska, but Alex has been all about moving to Alaska since I've known him. And then it only got worse after he started watching The Last Frontier. I have to admit it would be a fun adventure, but I'm just not sure if I would be cut out for it forever. I'm a triple digit weather lover too - born in Phoenix and voted for New Mexico the whole time that we were figuring out where to go next after Brooklyn. The natural beauty and small towns appeal to me, but I just don't know if I could survive the Winters there. And life seems hard there, like New York City was hard all the time, every where you went because of the crowds and having a two year old and you were just exhausted by the end of the day. It seemed like everything was working against you all day long. I would be afraid it would be similar there, without the crowds, with having to shovel snow, etc. It might be something he talks me into eventually, but right now I'm like 'let's just vacation there first.'

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  6. I really enjoyed reading this post! I have not yet been able to visit Alaska to see my family who live there but I see pictures and talk to them. I shared this post as a feature on the TGIF Hop starting tomorrow.

    Kaitlyn

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  7. We are relocating to Anchorage in June and I've been doing a lot of research. I am enjoying reading your blog- it has been helpful.

    I was trying to figure out if Amazon prime had free shipping- and it looks like free standard shipping? Of course their prices aren't always the best.

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    1. Thank you Amy! And no Amazon Prime does not offer free shipping, you pay have to pay for standard, but it ships incredibly fast. Not many companies offer free shipping up here, even if you use a promo code :(

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  8. I stumbled across your blog after a friend pointed you out to me and I just have to say...we are living parallel lives. The only difference is that we are stationed in Hawaii. People go APESHIT when I tell them that life here has been anything but a fairytale and SHOCKINGLY! I don't lay on the beach all day sipping mai-tais. Much like I'm sure you don't spend your days training for the Iditarod. I am so happy I stumbled across your space. We PCS this summer and I am counting the days. We are making the most of our last 6 months (well, the most of what you can do when your husband is deploying several times...side eye..), but I cannot wait to follow along with your adventure! XO

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  9. I'm so glad I found this blog. We head to JBER in June with two kids, a dog, and a kid on the way. My husband is excited, but I am terrified. Hope I can muster the optimism you have found.

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    1. I know exactly how you feel! Your are coming at a beautiful time of year though, so you will see what summer is like (which I love). The first winter is always the hardest!

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  10. This is such a great post! I'm Canadian. eh. My hubby has been with the RCMp for 23 years and we have done our share of transferring around the province of BC, which you will have driven though to get to Alaska. Actually, you will have driven through Dease Lake, where we were posted for 2 years and during which time we bought a trapline right on the BC-Yukon border. So, we spend several months a year living on our trapline and roughing it without electricity or running water at -40C. I get the cold and have come to embrace it. It's invigorating having to run to the outhouse first thing in the morning with your jammies on and a coat thrown quickly over top. Can you say "Brrr!" But we love it! Enjoy the rest of your time in the north. I'm pretty are you will look back on it with lots of fond memories, as will your munchkins. -Sue

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    1. We are definitely trying to soak up everything we can, as our time in Alaska dwindles down!

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  11. love this post! gosh I am alaskan born and raised and your photos are making me home sick!

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  12. I'm seriously thinking about moving there. I have a friend with 320 acres so will build my own house on their property. Coming from Vegas also I really found your stuff very helpful. Thank you and wish you and your family all the best.

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  13. I read your previous post and was starting to feel sad for you, however I see that things are turning around. Glad to see Alaska is growing on you! Moving to Alaska can be a shock and certainly more of an adjustment when you're "placed" in Alaska rather than choosing whole heartedly to move to Alaska.

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  14. We are moving to Anchorage on the 12th of August, can you tell me about some of the gems you've found along the way. I also have four children. My youngest is 10 years old. We love to eat out as well. We want to go in to this with the best attitude as possible. You knowledge would be greatly appreciated.

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    1. You will truly grow to love Alaska! You might get a glimpse of the end of summer by the time you get up there, but you will hopefully ease into a super quick fall, and then right into winter. I posted about all of our favorite things we did in the "alaska adventures" tab on my sidebar. We did a lot of hiking and outdoor exploring. I also posted about some of my favorites places to grab a bite to eat! If you have questions feel free to email me, but most things can be searched for on my blog :)

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