Advantages and Disadvantages of Living in Alaska

Alaska is a great place to call home, but living in the happiest place in the country comes at a price.  What some view as a hardship, others may view as a welcomed challenge. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Ben's Canon 001
There is still a place in the world where you can get away from it all and be at one with nature.  A place where you can live off the land, but only if you choose to do so.  A place where people will still stop to help you on the side of the road, it’s called Alaska.

There is an old saying about people moving to Alaska, they are either running from something or to something!  In many cases, this is true.  For the first time in 26 years Alaska’s population has dropped.  According to an estimate from the Alaska Department of Labor 61 fewer people are living in Alaska than there were last year.  While this is not a mass exodus it got me thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of living in Alaska.

Advantages

  • Nature:  This one has to be first on the list.  It is beautiful up here and no matter where in Alaska you live, you are always close to nature.  Many of the advantages are all related to the to nature.    Ben's Canon 066
  • Fishing:  Alaska takes fishing to a whole new level.  There are not too many places in the world where the average person can catch enough fish to feed their family for a year.  9
  • Hunting:  Another blessing from Mother Nature is access to great hunting.  Many of the best hunting areas in the Lower 48 are on private property, but Alaska is the exact opposite.  If you are new to the sport of hunting, the difficulty levels range from beginner to extreme.  The real reward is being able to feed your family wild organic game that you harvested yourself.  Ben's Canon 007 (3)
  • Taxes:  Alaska is a very tax friendly state, there are no state sales or income taxes! (Some of the cities in Alaska have a sales tax though.)
  • The PFD:  The Permanent Fund Dividend is not to be confused with a floatation device.  It is a little chunk of money that gets directly deposited into your checking account every October.  The money comes from investments made with the state’s oil revenues.  The 2014 PFD was $1884 per person (even babies), do the math if you have a large family.PFD
  • Business Friendly: If you are an entrepreneur, Alaska is a very business friendly state.  Thanks to the internet you can form a LLC, get a Alaska Business License, and an EIN number from the comfort of your home in the same amount of time that it takes to watch one episode of Northern Exposure.   There are also some truly amazing small business loan programs.  It is still the land of opportunity.
  • Sense of Community:  In towns like Seward, the small town feeling is alive and well.  I imagine there is a slight resemblance of this mentality in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley.  Despite the massive size of Alaska it is still a very small community, it is not unusual to run into someone you know at the airport.
  • Healthy Job Market:  If you are hard-working, honest, and can keep your nose clean there is a job for you in Alaska.  You might need to work a few seasonal or temporary jobs but if you are willing and able to work, come to Alaska.

    Photo courtest of ALEXsys
    Photo courtesy of ALEXsys
  • Screw The Joneses:  Who cares if your neighbor just bought a new truck!  Your 30-year-old truck is a trusted friend and you won’t be looked down upon for driving her.
  • Starting From Scratch:  Do you need to hit the reset button in your life?  Aside from a nice tropical destination, Alaska is a great place to start over.
  • The People:  You will meet the most amazing people in Alaska.  In the not too distant past, Alaska was the wild west frontier.  If you have the opportunity to sit down with someone who has lived here for 30-50+ years you will hear a few great tales.  We really enjoy spending time with our friends Yvon and Janet Van Driessche, they are long time Alaskan’s and have amazing stories.  You can visit them at their Creperie and Bed and Breakfast.

    The most amazing crepes, this side of Europe!
    The most amazing crepes, this side of Europe!
  • Healthy Living:  There are few places left in the world where you can easily fill your freezer with fish and wild game, Alaska’s proteins are some of the healthiest around.  You will not find our moose and caribou feeding on GMO crops or drinking contaminated water out of a drainage ditch.  The summer gardening season is short but robust.  Head to the hills in late summer and pick berries,  Alaskan blueberries are super high in antioxidants.  If you plant a garden and properly preserve your crops you can greatly supplement your diet with homegrown veggies.  IMAG0418
  • Help When You Need It:  Alaskans respect the roads and the weather.  If you are in the middle of nowhere and your vehicle breaks down, people will stop and help you.  Helping a stranger is a rather novel concept that tends to get lost as populations increase.

Disadvantages

  • It’s More Expensive:  Just like some advantages are nature related, a few of the disadvantages are related to money.  This is actually a subject that most people agree on!
    • Overcome this by shopping strategically.  We love shopping at Costco, on our last trip to the Lower 48 we did some price checking and there is little to no difference in prices from down there to up here at our favorite store.  You can link your Alaska Air miles account to the Safeway and GCI miles reward programs.  Make the most of your spending by strategically using and paying off your Alaska Airlines card to earn miles for your winter escape.  
  • Fuel Costs:  One would think since we produce oil in Alaska, gas and diesel would be cheaper.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.
    I was in the right place at the right time to capture this picture.
    I was in the right place at the right time to capture this picture.
    • If you live outside Anchorage, never leave town without a full tank of fuel.  If your town has a Chevron you can now use your Safeway Fuel Rewards at their gas stations.
  • Distance from the Lower 48:  This can be a tough one, especially when there is a family emergency down there.
    • Fortunately there are plenty of regular flights to the Lower 48.
  • Heating Costs:  This is a significant household expense for most people.  Places like Anchorage have the more affordable natural gas but the smaller towns and villages are fueled by the more expensive heating oil.
    • Coal and firewood are a couple of alternatives to petroleum-based fuels.  The kicker is you are usually trading time for money.  
  • Snow Removal:  Shoveling, blowing, and plowing are the traditional methods for getting snow out of your way.   Depending on how much snow your part of Alaska gets this can be physically demanding and time-consuming.
    The snow really starts to add up during the winter.
    The snow really adds up during the winter.
    • A garage and snow removal service will relieve you of this burden.  Or you could look at it as an opportunity to get some exercise.
  • Long Winters:  At higher latitudes winter starts earlier and lasts longer.  We also have reduced daylight in the winter.  The amount of daylight depends on where you live in Alaska and the geographical features of your area.  For example, in Barrow the sun will not rise above the horizon for two months and in our town of Seward the 6,000′ mountains significantly reduce our daylight.
    Seward has some great snowshoeing trails.
    Seward has some great snowshoeing trails.
    • You can choose to embrace winter or to fight winter.  Life is a lot easier if you make the most of the season.  Once you have the gear, sports such as nordic skiing and snowshoeing are free.  Utilize the extra time to have friends over for dinner or game nights.  Snow machines are a great way to explore the outdoors in the winter.  If possible, getting out of Alaska for a couple of weeks really helps.

There are many factors to the advantages and disadvantages of living in Alaska, a lot has to do with your personal lifestyle and where/how you choose to live.  Making the decision to embrace or creatively work through the challenges associated with life in the last frontier is the difference between surviving and thriving.

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