Whenever I decide to go on a trip, I head straight to the library and grab travel books to help me plan. Nine times out of ten they are ridiculously helpful and have great tips when visiting the location in question. The following are my personal suggestions for when you travel to Alaska based on my experiences this past year.
- Don’t even think about just taking a cruise. Make sure you take time to see Alaska on land before heading to sea (or vice versa). We spent 9 days, 8 nights in Alaska driving around prior to getting on the cruise ship. You get a much better sense of the true Alaska (and a whole lot of freedom) when you do it on your own. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
- Give yourself at least two weeks in Alaska. It costs an awful lot to get to Alaska, and let’s be honest, when are you really coming back? (Hopefully soon!) Even with two weeks you’ll only see a fraction of this giant state. Pick one area and get a good feel of Alaska.
- Go during the shoulder seasons. We went at the end of August and while there is a greater chance of rain in August, it can rain anytime during the summer. By going near the end of the season (August/September), we missed out on large crowds as kids had already started to go back to school. It was nice to not be surrounded by huge groups of people everywhere we went.
- If you do a cruise, don’t just stay right where the boat lets you off. Venture off and see something amazing. In Haines, we rented bikes for $20 and headed to a lake about 9 miles from town. There we got to see the “real” Haines, where bald eagles, salmon and grizzlies reside. If you stay in the town, you’ll never know what you are missing in the great outdoors.
- Bear spray is really not necessary. After seeing the size of the grizzly bears in Alaska, it made us realize that the $30 we spent on bear mace would never help us if the bear decided to attack. Just be cautious when you hike/bike and make lots of noise (talking at a normal level) as to not startle the bears. They really don’t want to attack you unless you scare them, get between them and their babies or their food.
- Bring extra memory cards and extra batteries. You might not think that you’ll need them, but everywhere that you turn in Alaska is beautiful. I took 3,000 pictures in 16 days to put it into perspective. You would hate to run out of memory on your camera with a bear eating salmon in front of you. You won’t get those moments back.
- And in conjunction with the step above, stop and enjoy what is in front of you. I struggle with this quite a bit because I love taking pictures. It is easy to get stuck behind the viewfinder when sometimes you just need to put the camera down and appreciate what is in front of you. Live in the moment (after you get that perfect shot!) You’ll have much stronger memories of your experience that way.
- Spend money on the excursions and activities you want to do. I have a tendency to be a bit frugal, but there are certain experiences that you are not going to want to miss in Alaska (i.e. flightseeing around Mt. McKinley and whale watching cruises). Suck it up and spend the money. First off, you aren’t going to be disappointed. And secondly, you don’t want to come home wishing you had seen more.