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Alaska Travel Guide

10 Things You Really Need to Know Before Heading to Alaska

From where to get your seafood to where cell phone service dies.

Alaska’s a wild state so it’s best to be as prepared as possible before visiting. Here’s everything you need to know before you leave for your Alaska vacation.

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It Can Be Cold (Even in the Middle of Summer)

While some places in Alaska’s interior can hit the high 80s during the summer, odds are you won’t be wearing shorts and t-shirts most of the time. On rainy overcast days or along coastal regions, the temperature rarely cracks 70 degrees. Combine that with a little bit of wind (quite common near the water or in the mountains), and it can be downright chilly. Be prepared with plenty of warm layers including hats and gloves (yes, even if you’re traveling in the summer).

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Seafood Is Plentiful, but Still Expensive

Alaska is renowned for its natural resources, and some might imagine you can get fish and other delicacies for quite cheap because of it. But the majority of Alaska’s commercially harvested fish is exported. The seafood that remains in the state is mostly marketed to visitors (locals are perfectly happy to go out and catch their own) and priced accordingly. If enjoying Alaska’s seafood is a critical part of your trip, consider booking a day with a charter fisherman and catching your own.

INSIDER TIPIf you’re in a coastal community, spend some time wandering the docks and asking if anyone is selling seafood off their commercial vessel. Shrimp, crab, and even fish are sometimes sold right off the boat. It’s cheaper and it can’t get any fresher.


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Wild Game Cannot Be Purchased or Ordered

While seafood is attainable to all visitors, Alaska’s wild game is not so easily sampled as specific laws forbid the commercial sale of wild game. The closest you can get is domesticated reindeer. There’s no good way around this restriction, although a rising farm-to-table movement means an increasing number of restaurants are offering exotic Alaska raised meats such as Yak. Your best bet is to make some friends around the campfire and hope to be offered a sample of moose.

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Campers, Backpackers, and Hikers Should Always Filter Untreated Water

Alaska has a reputation as a pristine landscape with massive swathes of land untouched by humanity. And while that’s true of many parts of the state, just as many of the areas visitors hike and camp see a good amount of foot traffic. No matter how clean and pristine your water source may seem, always filter untreated water before drinking it. It may be more time-consuming, but nothing short circuits a trip faster than a nasty case of Giardia.

INSIDER TIPFor longer backcountry trips, consider investing in a water filter. If you’re going for just a night or two, water purifying iodine tablets are much cheaper, easier to pack, and will do the necessary job.


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Outside of City Centers, Cell Phone Service Isn't Always Reliable

Cell phone service is taken for granted these days, but this isn’t always the case in Alaska,  where remote stretches of highway or treks into the mountains will often take you out of service areas. Make sure you have physical back-ups of directions and itinerary numbers before you leave.

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Be Prepared to Travel by Small Bush Plane or Boat

Most of Alaska’s hidden gems are off the main road system, and many of the small communities and towns don’t have runways big enough for large domestic airplanes. Small bush planes or Alaska state ferries are the best ways to reach these out of the way places. Be aware that ferry service doesn’t run every day and some may feel squeamish about boarding a tiny plane and soaring over the mountains. If you fall into this category, plan ahead and use the ferry system to the best of your advantage.

INSIDER TIPThe Alaska State Ferry offers northbound service from Bellingham, Washington. A day-and-a-half ferry ride to Ketchikan and subsequent stops throughout southeast Alaska is a trip unto itself.


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Bring Motion Sickness Medication If You’ll Be on the Water

For those who haven’t spent much time on the ocean, it can be tough to know how your body will react to rough water. Chances are the oceans of Alaska won’t be as smooth as the lake at Grandma and Grandpa’s cabin. If you have any doubt, bring Dramamine or a similar product. This goes especially for those that will be charter fishing. Fishing boats are smaller and more susceptible to rocking waves.

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Don't Expect to See Everything

While documentaries and nature specials have done a great job of promoting Alaska’s scenery and wildlife, sometimes they generate unrealistic expectations. It’s easy to forget how many hours, days, and even months videographers sat in those places slapping mosquitoes and enduring rain to get worthy footage. Weather, uncooperative animals, and other factors will likely prevent you from seeing everything on your checklist. Don’t let this get you down. The challenge and payoff will make the wildlife and views you are lucky enough to experience all the more special.

INSIDER TIPStay in cabins, campgrounds, and more remote accommodations when possible. An early morning or after dinner stroll through the woods gives you another chance to sight the wildlife you really want to see.


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Buy Your Fishing License Online Ahead of Time

Filling out an out-of-state fishing license online is easy through the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. Don’t make this more complicated than it needs to be by waiting until you arrive. Even if you aren’t sure you’ll fish, it’s worth the investment and will save you the time of waiting in line and filling one out by hand at a convenience store.

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Don't Try to See the Whole State in One Visit

Alaska is huge, and the biggest attractions are spread out. For example, a flight from Juneau to Anchorage is almost two hours, and Denali is another four-hour drive north. Don’t stretch yourself too thin and try to see everything at once. If you do, you’ll find yourself spending most of your time boarding airplanes, boats, and buses and less time enjoying the scenery and looking for animals. If you can afford to, give each region its own personal trip for the best experience.

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