Last week, I was at the Seattle airport getting ready to fly back to Alaska. As I was standing at the lottery ticket vending machine by the N gates, a man lined up behind me and waited for me to finish.
Since I was buying about 20 tickets and only two had come out, I apologized to the man and explained that I lived in Alaska (where we don’t have a state lottery), so I buy tickets when I go to Seattle so I can scratch them off at home and mail in the winners.
He laughs and says, “Oh, you’re from Alaska?” and I braced myself because I was expecting the standard conversation. “Oh, I hear it’s beautiful up there. You know, my dog’s grandma lived in Anchorage during the 90s. Is it true the sun never comes up in winter?”
Normally I wouldn’t have minded, but I’d been getting those questions multiple times a day for my entire trip. Much to my surprise, he asked a question I didn’t expect.
“My wife and I are looking at a house up there but we have no idea how to do it, logistically speaking. We’ve lived near Tacoma for 15 years and we have an awful lot of stuff. How do most people do it?” he asked me.
I smiled, paused for a second, then replied, “how much do you have? I could talk about that for hours.” He pulled out his boarding pass and, as it turns out, he was sitting next to me for the Seattle to Ketchikan leg of the flight.
We both laughed and were amazed at the sheer coincidence of this meeting. I told him I needed to stop by Wendy’s and go to the bathroom, but I’d tell him all about it on the flight. Here’s what I told him about moving to Alaska.
I’ll assume that you’ve already chosen what city and in what house you’re going to live. If you’re a married man and your wife has her heart set on a certain place, it’ll be better for you to just go with it. Trust me, I’ve lived here for 30 years.
The main thing you’ll want to focus on after you’ve made that decision is how to bring your stuff up to Alaska with you.
You could hire a moving company in your current town to take all your stuff up to Alaska but because that might not be feasible depending on where you live, I’m going to focus on how to move to Alaska without hiring movers.
How Much Should I Bring With Me?
Once you’ve decided to move to Alaska and you (hopefully!) have housing and a job lined up, the first question you’ll want to ask yourself is “how much of my stuff is going to make the move with me?”
The reason that this is question number one is that your response will lead you to the answer to the second question, which is “how do I get there?”
There are plenty of furniture stores in Alaska, although prices will be slightly higher because the price for everything in Alaska from food to furniture and everything else reflects the cost of shipping.
If you’re moving into a smaller house or apartment, you probably won’t need a lot of furniture. There are thrift stores all over the place to get you what you need to live comfortably so unless it’s an antique or has sentimental value, it might be best to leave it behind.
It does depend a little bit on where you’re planning to move (i.e., a large city like Anchorage vs a small town like Petersburg) but in general, you should be able to replace anything that doesn’t have sentimental value up here, either through Amazon or locally.
One thing you definitely shouldn’t bring is a television set. First, the screen’s probably going to break in shipping. Second, Amazon ships TVs to Alaska for the same price or less than you’d find in a store. My bedroom TV came from Amazon, in fact.
How Are You (and Your Stuff!) Going to Alaska?
There are three options for getting to most places up here: plane, boat, or vehicle. If you’re moving somewhere in Southeast Alaska, a vehicle will have to be combined with a boat, typically an Alaska Marine Highway ferry.
If you’re taking a plane, you’ll want a minimum amount of luggage. Alaska Airlines (the only carrier to serve Southeast most of the year) charges $30 for the first 50-pound bag, $40 for the second bag, and $100 for each additional bag.
New residents who want to bring a lot of stuff with them might be better served by renting a U-Haul and driving it up. For this, you have two options: you can take an Alaska Marine Highway ferry from Seattle or you can drive through Canada.
If you’re going to Southeast Alaska, the ferry from Bellingham is probably the better option. It’s expensive but once you factor in the cost of gas driving through Canada and the mileage fee charged by U-Haul, it’s probably cheaper.
If you’re going to Anchorage, Fairbanks, or another part of the state’s interior, you can do either one. The road system from Skagway does connect with the main road system but it also involves driving through Canada to get there.
Do You Need a Shipping Company?
If you’re buying a larger home in Alaska and you want to keep your old furniture, you have a lot of irreplaceable antiques, or there’s another reason you’d like to bring up a lot of stuff, there is another option.
Alaska Marine Lines (AML) and Samson operate docks in Seattle where goods can be loaded onto a barge that is sent north through the Inside Passage and into Alaska. This is also how most grocery stores in Southeast Alaska get their products.
This can be a very expensive option unless things have changed in the past few years. I remember a friend of mine moved from Sitka to Juneau and wanted to bring everything with him. He had to pay for the entire storage trailer, regardless of how full he filled it.
You probably don’t need everything you’ve ever owned since birth. That said, if you have a lot of stuff that you really want to keep, you can’t put a price on sentimental value or family heirlooms.
Should You Bring Your Car?
The next thing to consider is whether you want to bring your car with you to Alaska or sell it and buy a new one up here.
If you love your car and don’t want to part with it, you can load it on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry in Bellingham or drive it up through Canada either to Skagway (and put it on an AMHS ferry there) or to a destination in the interior (Anchorage, Fairbanks, etc).
However, the most important consideration to make here is how good your car’s brakes and traction are. Alaskan winters are filled with ice and snow, which can lead to problems with older cars or those that have bad tires.
The main issue is going to be the cost. A friend of mine who lives near Seattle was curious how much it would cost for him to take his 2007 Ford Focus on an AMHS ferry from Bellingham to Skagway. He was shocked to find out it was around $1,700.
Other Things to Keep In Mind
This probably goes without saying but you’ll want to make sure you have a decent amount of money saved up before you arrive. Wages are higher in Alaska but unfortunately, so is the cost of living (mainly due to the price of shipping goods here).
I’ve known a lot of people who moved up here without a lot of savings and later told me they ate mostly microwaved ramen for a few weeks after moving here until they got their first paycheck.
If you choose to drive up through Canada, I highly recommend adding an extra day or two to your expected travel time. Flat tires, weather conditions, and all sorts of other things can cause unexpected delays. It’ll also give you more time to enjoy the scenery!
Finally, AMHS travelers from Bellingham to Southeast will want to pay extra for the cabin. It’s worth it to have a bed instead of sleeping on the floor of a lounge, believe me. Also, bring snacks, because the expensive cafeteria isn’t open 24 hours.
Summary and Final Thoughts
In general, because of the cost of shipping and the risk of damage involved, it’s better to move to Alaska with only the important and irreplaceable things and then replace everything else with either new or used items after you’ve arrived.
There are a few exceptions, however. If you’re moving to a smaller town in Southeast Alaska like Wrangell or Gustavus, your options for buying things locally will be rather limited.
In that case, you could choose to bring everything you have, take your car on the ferry to Juneau and load it up with furniture, or order everything from Amazon.
Above all, the logistics of moving to Alaska are a lot like actually living here in that anything can happen at any time and you should be prepared for anything.
No matter how you decide to move to Alaska, as long as you keep these tips in mind, you’ll be in for an exciting adventure. We can’t wait to see you here soon!