Life was wearing us down.
My husband’s job as a soldier in the U.S. Army regularly included 14-hour workdays and long family separations. Almost 11 years in the military had brought the kind of emotional and mental baggage going to war often includes. As my husband’s health deteriorated, it became rapidly clear that what we needed was a lifestyle change, and not just any change — a really, really big change.
We wanted to find somewhere we could have a truly fresh start while focusing on our health and wellbeing. We needed a place where getting outside is a cultural priority. We needed to move somewhere we could feel far away from the busy, daily grind while still staying connected to modern society.
We needed to go to Alaska.
Without ever visiting the state, we bought a house sight unseen, sold most of our furniture and belongings, stuffed whatever would fit into our station wagon, and set off on an almost 5,000 mile road trip across the U.S., through Canada and up to America’s last frontier.
Leaving it all for Alaska is the best decision we’ve ever made. Could it be right for you, too? Here are seven reasons it just might be.
1. The Outdoors Are Not an Afterthought
Hitting a hiking trail or clocking time in the wilderness isn’t something you have to squeeze into your schedule in Alaska. It’s just a part of who modern Alaskans are. In the summer, the long hours of daylight leave plenty of time after work to play outside. And the winter cold doesn’t get anyone down — Alaskans have just learned to dress for it.
In one year we’ve learned to ski, snowboard, hike, backpack, snowmachine (the Alaskan term for snowmobiling) and more. We still have all the normal American obligations like working or attending school full-time. But being “outdoorsy” is now an integral part of our everyday lives.
2. You'll No Longer Need a Chill Pill
Ever notice how tense and hectic the world around you seems? Alaska isn’t like that. Instead, we experience what I call “Alaskan time.” The pace of life is slower and more individualized. Meetings and events start whenever the people here feel like making them happen, but it is rarely at the time originally advertised. It’s not that people here are tardy, it’s just that they are more laid back than people in other places; they're less rigid. As a new Alaskan, that gives you two choices: stress out, or breathe deeply and embrace the more relaxed attitude.
That shift in everyday expectations has made a big difference for our family. Why be in a hurry? Enjoy the people, things and nature around you. That is the Alaskan way.
3. Get Small Town Charm with Big City Benefits
Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, has almost 300,000 people, making it about a third the size of San Francisco. Anchorage has great food, art and culture, but without the high prices and incessant traffic of other major cities.
4. The Summers Are Amazing
With almost 24 hours of daylight, it doesn’t get more magical than an Alaskan summer. A sunny summer day in Anchorage hovers around a temperate 70 degrees, just right for exploring the nearly 300 miles of trails in or near the city. Whatever your sport of choice — fishing, backpacking, kayaking, mountain biking, paddle boarding, hang gliding and more — summer in Alaska is perfect for it.
5. This Is the Land of Career Opportunities
Oil and fishing are two industries that might come immediately to mind when you think of Alaska, but those aren’t the only careers the state has to offer. Healthcare, transportation and military construction are all growth areas, as is the state’s continued reliance on tourism. Those who don’t want to live in Alaska love to visit, and as residents we benefit from that interest.
6. You Get Paid to Live Here (Seriously)
The rumors you’ve heard about “free money” for people who live in Alaska are at least partially true. After a full calendar year in the state, residents qualify for the annual “permanent fund dividend” (PFD): a rebate from the state that is currently up to $1,000 per person, including kids. Add that cash to the money you'll save without a state income tax and low local taxes, and you’re looking at more money leftover to spend on all the outdoor toys you’re going to want to buy for your Alaska adventures.
7. Life Here Is Truly Wild
Moose are a normal sight even in downtown Anchorage, while trails near the city regularly close for bear activity. Catching a peek of the Aurora Borealis (more commonly known as the “Northern Lights") dancing across the sky is a normal winter occurrence. And a 15 minute drive from my front door in what looks like a typical American subdivision will get me completely off the grid.
Those factors were part of what made us want to give Alaska a try. It might seem a little wild for the rest of the U.S. — what we call the “lower 48” — but it’s a way of life in Alaska, and it’s completely amazing. I highly recommend you give it a try.