Alaska. Just mentioning the name of the state also known as "The Last Frontier" evokes images of giant glaciers, majestic mountains, and unspoiled wilderness. While many people dream of visiting or even living in Alaska, there's a lot of things that throw people for a major loop when they take the chance to live in Alaska. While a list of things no one warned you about when living in Alaska can be far larger than 10, here's a quick summary of many of the things that new Alaska residents will almost certainly run into in their first year…and many of these tips can help even with a short term visitor.
#1: It's the darkness, not the temperature, that'll get you in the winter. This is one piece of advice that some people might have heard before moving to Alaska, but if you’re like me and don’t winter and night person then it could be easy to discount this advice. The problem is, no matter how much of a night person or winter person you are in the Lower 48, it’s not the same thing in Alaska. Even with temperatures of -40° you can still put on additional layers of clothing, and over time you simply become more used to the cold.
On the other hand even if you never had seasonal mood disorder or depression related to winter and darkness, the dark is going to affect you in some way. In southern areas like Anchorage or Juneau it isn’t quite as bad, but in Fairbanks and the Interior, you’re going to have darkness related emotional and mental issues. Going months without direct sunlight sucks.
#2: Static electricity in winter. This might seem like a weird concern, but is one I learned in the dorms the hard way. In the winter it is so cold in areas like Fairbanks at the dryness make shuffling feet and carpet prime builders of static electricity. If you have metal door handles then you can expect an awful lot of shocks throughout the winter months. This is one of those odd things that you don’t think about, but these are not just small shocks. Sometimes you can build up a huge shock that can even numb your fingers, hand, or arm. Just something to be aware of, especially in Fairbanks.
#3: Just how expensive food is – including value menu fast food. If you’re from the Lower 48 then you’ll probably be stunned by just how much more expensive the food is in Alaska as opposed to anywhere else. Think about it. Food you take for granted in the Lower 48 has to be shipped to Alaska, which often means trucking or shipping before getting to an airport which then has to air carry supplies to Alaska, which then have to be shipped and trucked throughout the state, which by the way is over twice the size of Texas.
In many places one single medium or large pizza is upwards of $20, a value meal is going to be close to $10 (and there is no Dollar menu), and booze…well if you’re going to be spending a fortune anyway then you mine as well buy the good stuff.
#4: One word for drinker: Microbrews. Drinking a lot in Alaska will be expensive. There’s just no way around that. On the plus side, in the spring and summer the state has many breweries that offer a wide range of absolutely amazing beers. If you’re going to spend a lot of time in Alaska make sure to check out many of the great microbrews available seeing as how there just aren’t other places where you can find Glacier Bay Oatmeal Stout or Alaska Oatmeal Stout, among dozens of others.
#5: Very liberal gun laws. By liberal I don’t mean California, but I mean very open gun laws with very little regulation. Basically as long as you’re older than 18 and not a felon, you are allowed to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. Obviously the normal rules apply of not taking guns to schools, government buildings, or other similar restricted areas but you can assume that a large amount of the population carries concealed weapons for protection.
#6: Fairbanks vs Anchorage. They’re the two biggest cities in Alaska, but they are not alike at all. Fairbanks is located smack dab in the middle of nowhere and takes the full brunt of Alaska winter. The town is only about 50,000 in population and is distinctly Alaskan through and through. Anchorage is on the southern coast and is by far and away the largest city in all of Alaska with almost half of the state’s population residing there or in the surrounding suburbs. In Anchorage you can find many of the normal amenities you would expect from a city while you might do a little but is searching in Fairbanks if you’re looking for something less than rustic.
#7: Anchorage vs the rest of the state. You can figure out quickly if someone’s from Anchorage or not by saying “Seattle Junior.” Many old timers from other sections of Alaska don’t view Anchorage as really truly being Alaska. The nickname “Seattle Junior” is derogatory in nature and based on part of Alaska’s history as a colony when businessmen and politicians from Seattle made a lot of decisions that were good for them but bad for Alaska as a whole. Obviously many Alaskans in Anchorage resent this.
#8: It's like living in another country. This is one of the best descriptions of living in Alaska that I’ve ever known. Whether it’s learning the nuances of the indigenous peoples of Alaska (such an Inuit woman telling you “I’m making rice right now” is actually an invitation for you to join their family for the meal), to knowing the etiquette of joining a bonfire party with strangers (bring a six pack) around Fairbanks – Alaska is it’s own place. Don’t think of visiting Alaska as just another state, but as visiting another country with some similarities to the US. This makes it a lot easy to not get thrown off your game and to just go with the flow and enjoy everything that being Alaskan has to offer.