Some of the best Alaska travel trips come from those Alaska travelers who are actually doing the travel!
Here’s a collection of 10 Alaska vacation tips and tricks shared by our recent travelers, as well as some additional insider feedback from our staff at Alaska Tours.
Alaska Travel Tip #1: Welcome to the Land of the Midnight Sun! Alaska’s summer sun is no joke! It’s so bright, even after it has set late at night and before it rises super-early in the morning. Alaska’s summer sunlight is intense and that’s a great thing for the most part becaise it leads to long, warm days of fun and adventure. But the sun can also contribute to sleepless nights if you are a light sleeper or can’t sleep under bright conditions. If you don’t sleep like a rock, this is a tip you might want to heed. Most big hotels have blackout curtains that will keep your room dark, but some smaller, out of town places don’t. It’s easy for your sleep patterns and rest quality to get out of whack pretty quickly. We would strongly suggest bringing an eye mask.
The Alaska Railroad travels through some of Alaska’s most spectacular sightseeing stretches and destinations. While there really aren’t any bad seats on these train rides, glass-domed cars give the rider an even grander view and a sense of being surrounded by Alaska’s outdoor awesomeness. This is a special perspective on a special ride.
Alaska Travel Tip #2: If you take the Alaska Railroad, make sure to sit in a dome car! It’s so cool — you can see everything!
Alaska’s road system can lead you to some pretty amazing places, but the drive isn’t always direct. Summer is tourism season in Alaska, as well as construction season. This means driving delays can occur at all hours of the day, on popular and less-traveled roads. Also consider that Alaska’s roads often curve and wind, rise and sink, and even have some unpaved stretches. Oh, and then there are the occasional must-stop photo opportunities of mountains and wildlife along the way. That’s why it’s best to just take your time and add some wiggle room to any road trip you plan.
Alaska Travel Tip #3: Always build in some extra time if you’re driving in Alaska. It seemed like we were always stopping for something, usually photos and sights, and that made the drives take longer than we planned.
Even in the big cities, Alaskans lament the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. The pickings get even thinner in smaller towns, on some day trips and longer journeys. If you have any special dietary needs, plan accordingly. If you’re traveling with a guide or tour operator, contact the organization well before your trip to share your needs and find out what you need to do to make sure you’re fed and happy. And yes, sometimes that means buying and packing your own food the night before an adventure.
Alaska Travel Tip #4: It’s hard to find vegetarian meals in Alaska, especially out of the cities. Whenever you’re in a big town, buy snacks to make sure you always have something you can eat just in case.
The only thing consistent about Alaska’s weather is its inconsistency. Here, even a warm, sunny day can be quickly chilled by a strong breeze or a surprise storm. There’s no such thing as being over-prepared for Alaska travel, especially when it comes to packing warm clothing that will keep you comfortable.
Alaska Travel Tip #5: A friend told me to bring warm clothing including a winter hat and gloves for my summer trip to Alaska. I’m so glad I did. It can get cold really fast in Alaska even in the summer.
In Alaska, there are still businesses and areas where only cash is accepted. Fortunately, this is becoming less of an inconvenience as the internet expands and improves across Alaska. That includes restaurants and bars in smaller towns or far out along the road system, independent artists who sell their products at fairs and farmers markets, the all-important coffee stands, and even parking spots at popular hiking and camping areas. Cash is also nice to have for tipping great tour guides. If you’re short on loot, don’t sweat it – most towns and gas stations have ATMs.
Alaska Travel Tip #6: Always carry cash! You’d be surprised how many shops and restaurants didn’t take credit or debit cards.
Alaska’s wildlife is elusive, and, yes, wild. On a lucky drive along the Seward Highway, you could see a moose, bald eagle, mountain goat and a bear within an hour. Or you could go a week without seeing so much as a squirrel. If wildlife watching is part of your travel expectations, be sure to book trips with outdoors operators who will take you to the animals. That can include the big bears of Katmai or the bigger whales of Resurrection Bay. Want a wildlife guarantee? Visit the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center outside of Girdwood, and the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward.
Alaska Travel Tip #7: I expected to see wildlife everywhere in Alaska but I quickly realized that even moose are rare to come across. We got frustrated early but eventually saw all types of animals during our tours and that made the trip pretty special. But I would tell people not to come to Alaska thinking that wildlife is going to be easy to find.
Now this is a tip that even a lot of Alaskans don’t consider! On a clear day, passengers flying this route receive a glorious mountain viewing bonus with their flight, and from an altitude that few can reach.
Alaska Travel Tip #8: If you’re flying commercial between Anchorage and Fairbanks, sit on the right side of the plane on the way to Anchorage and the left side on the way to Fairbanks. You’ll have a close-up view of Denali!
Alaska’s northern lights are a vision to behold and seeing them is an experience you’ll want to cherish and share forever, especially when you snap a great photo. But as this traveler noted, capturing a high quality photo is difficult as northern lights move randomly, brighten, fade and disappear quickly. Another factor is that you’re standing in the dark. There are some northern lights apps available for those who want to use the camera on their phone, but a decent camera and doing some homework on how to take good shots is recommended.
Alaska Travel Tip #9: The northern lights are awesome but taking good photos of them is really tough! I only had the camera on my phone and got a few blurry shots but nothing that really showed how amazing they were. Thankfully we made friends with people who were using a nice camera and they shared some shots with us.
This tip is right out of the active Alaskan’s playbook. A day pack is bit larger than your usual book bag, backpack or purse, but they aren’t huge. They have lots of pockets, pouches and room for all of your important items (camera, phone, money, hotel room key, travel book, etc.) as well as clothing layers, water bottles, snacks and more. They are designed for comfort and convenience. They are perfect companions for almost all Alaska adventures – an afternoon wandering and shopping around town, a short hike or an entire day trip out of town.
Alaska Travel Tip #10: A great day pack is worth its weight in gold in Alaska! Whether we went on an all day trip or just walked around the cities, I would fill my pack with whatever I needed for that specific day.