Sunday, July 12, 2015

Cheap Alaska?


I know, I know, I haven't blogged in forever. Mostly because I got overwhelmed with how much blogging there was to do that I just kept putting it off.


I just came back from an amazing trip in Alaska and it got me thinking about some travel tips that I feel like might have been very useful for me in the planning stages. This started with me thinking about how expensive Alaska is and how much more money we ended up spending, but then reflecting on it all and realizing that we did it the cheapest way possible.

I'll break expenses/necessities down to four categories: Food, Lodgings, Travel, & Tourism. To give you an idea of our itinerary, we landed in Anchorage and traveled up to Denali National Park for three nights and then down to Seward/Kenai National Park for three nights.

Exit Glacier from the Harding Icefield at Kenai Fjords National Park

FOOD We saved a decent amount of money by having a lot of our food with us before we left. I packed it all in my bag and brought with me instant oatmeal, instant coffee, trail mix, cliff bars, and a variety of just-add-water backpacking meals. This ended up not being enough. With all of the walking, hiking, and general burning of calories, we were snacking hardcore every day. We ended up buying a variety of chips and stuff on the go as well as treating ourselves to two or three meals out, bringing our food costs to probably around $75 per person (not including alcohol). 

When I think about that, I balk at the fact that we probably spent around that much (considering that for *two* people, my grocery budget is around $100/week), but I could easily see how someone might easily spend two or three times that amount. Preparing in advance and having a lot of our meals already planned helped a lot

We ended up also spending a fair amount of money on beer, but being as I was celebrating Dana's birthday, I didn't want to give that up. Plus, the beer in Alaska were pretty good! 

On top of Mount Healy in Denali National Park

LODGINGS We camped almost the entire time. Aside from one night in a hostel that probably could have even been avoided, we spent every night in the tent. I can't stress enough how imperative this was to our trip and how it added to our experience of Alaska. I am an outdoors lover and camping is enjoyable to me in general, so I couldn't be more excited to sleep on the floor snuggled in my sleeping bag. Because we chose this method, I believe we only spent around $100 for the both of us for accommodations our entire stay. 

I also understand that camping just simply would not be a feasible option for someone else. I can speak to the readily available hostels that were in the vicinity of the places we were in, all of them decently priced. The one we stayed at in Seward was clean and in a good location, with discounts on tours and the like. We ended up staying here because we were stubborn and refused to camp at the tent camp site by the water with a hideous view of RV's. While it was only $10/night, the disdain of staring at a bunch of campers blocking the beautiful view of the teal green water and mountains fueled us to spend and extra $15 to have a bed and a shower for the night. We ended up staying at that RV parking lot camp ground the following night with no other options, and it wasn't as bad as we anticipated. 

We stayed at Riley Creek campground at Denali, and while we were assuming to move on to another campground after the first night, we were pleasantly surprised by the privacy and general beauty of the campground that we decided to spend our entire stay there. It's a family-friendly campground with tons of space for RV's and drive-on sites, but the walk-on sites are nicely secluded from the hustle and bustle, and everyone was quite quiet and respectful. We scored a site by the creek and listened to the sound of rushing water as we went to sleep for only $14/night.

The last camp ground was by far my favorite. It was about a 15 minute walk from Exit Glacier visitor center and has beautiful, secluded sites for free. That's right-- free. There were I think 15 walk-on sites that were first come first serve and we snagged one of the spots right by the glacier run-off river. Heaven!

Harding Icefield at Kenai Fjords National Park

TRAVEL We spent the most money on getting from place to place, but we did it, I believe, in the cheapest manner possible. After finding out it was going to cost us close to $2000 to rent the car for the week (not including insurance!) we decided to take busses and shuttles everywhere. While at times it was semi-stressful, it was WORTH it. 

While we didn't get a chance to just stop by a certain spot if we thought it was pretty or pull over to a section of the road and set up camp right there (as you can), we were gifted with a wealth of information from the bus drivers. We learned so much about the wildlife, wilderness, and Alaskan culture that our solo drives would have never had taught us. We took The Park Connection the entire way-- from Anchorage to Denali, from Denali to Seward, and then from Seward back to Anchorage. All said and done, we spent around $300 per person on travel. The coach was super reliable and comfortable with bathrooms, and the drivers were even kind enough to veer off a little bit to drop us off at spots that were helpful and convenient for us. 

Aialik Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park

TOURISM Alaska flourishes off of tourism, and for good reason. The land has so much to offer its visitors that sometimes it's difficult, if not impossible to explore it without the guidance of an expert. You can do kayaking tours, ice climbing glacier tours, wildlife tours, walks with park rangers, etc. 

We took two tours and they were some of the highlights of our trip. The first one was partially a necessity. At Denali National Park, private cars can only drive up to about 15 miles into the park. The next 75 plus miles are restricted, with access only allowed by the rangers, specially granted permission of some campers and wild life photographers, and tour busses. You *could* walk or bike out without needing special permission, but we didn't have the time or equipment luxury. We chose the tour that took us to Eielson Visitor Center (mile 66) and back, which lasted about 6 hours on the bus. Our guide was excellent, informative, and generous with his stops to allow us time to view wild life. If you go to Denali and you don't take one of these tours, I feel like you might be missing half of the park. 

The second tour we took was with Kenai Fjords Tours and it was simply incredible. Not only did we view spectacular marine wildlife (including 19 humpback whales!), we got to see a unique perspective of the fjords and saw many glaciers, including an intimate visit with the Aialik glacier. We took the 6 hour tour which included lunch (they even accommodated our vegetarian needs!) and topped off the day with warm, fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. Our captain was brilliant, and her narration made me feel like I was in a nature documentary.

Including the 10% discount we received for the fjords cruise, we spent about $180 on tourism.

Humpback whale tale in the Kenai Fjords National Park

When it was all said and done, I spent around $100/day in Alaska. For the all of the experiences, views, laughs, hikes, knowledge, and fun that I had, I feel like that's pretty good. If I were to do it again, I'd probably drink less beer and try and catch the Seward Bus Line to save a few bucks, but I really can't complain. I had a trip of a life time with one of my dearest friends, and I couldn't be happier for biting the bullet and doing it.

Now... to apply for jobs and start packing for our upcoming move to Seattle(!!!)!

Dana and me by Exit glacier along the Harding Icefield trail

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