7/3/18

How I Visited Alaska As A Budget Traveler



When an opportunity presents itself to do Alaska on the cheap, how can you say no? (Answer: you don't.)

The beauty of Alaska has captured the imagination of countless writers and adventurers. And after seeing it, I understand perfectly.

Of course, before this year, I didn't really think it was an option for me to visit anytime in the near future.

Flights to Alaska from Chicago are typically in the $500-600 range. This is the price of a ticket to Europe or South America.

It was hard for me to justify this kind of price, especially knowing that once there I would probably have to rent a car or pay exorbitant prices for transportation. Not to mention the higher cost of gas and food.

So when one of my close friends informed me she would be working at Denali National Park this summer, I knew it was my moment.


Alaska Airlines Companion Fare

I am a huge fan of airlines credit cards -- their intro deals have gotten me many round-trip tickets to Europe. So when I read that Alaska Airlines offers a buy one, get one free deal with their credit card, I knew this was too good to pass up.

Of course, there's always a catch. In this case, you had to spend $1000 to get the deal. Luckily for me, I was already in desperate need of a new laptop so I would be spending the money anyways.

One purchase and payment later, I saw the anticipated code sitting in my account. Since I was planning on going with a friend, we each ended up paying around $250.

Plus as a bonus, I got 30,000 miles which I used towards a trip to Calgary -- home of Banff National Park -- for August. 



Transportation + Lodging

I had an advantage most people don't, in that I had a friend with a car who was already in Alaska. She was kind enough to pick us up from the airport at 4 a.m. before heading over to a reasonably priced hotel found on Booking.com. 

We decided to cover all the gas for my friend since she did us a favor by driving four hours to Anchorage from Denali.

Since she worked at the lodge in the national park, she was able to get us a room for $60 a night -- compare that to the full price of $300 a night, and we were getting a pretty sweet deal.

Horseshoe Lake, Denali National Park

Food + Activities

The most difficult area to save money was food. We managed to pack some jumbo bags of snacks in our bags, but I can say that we soon got pretty sick of trail mix and sunflower seeds. We had no way to store or cook any food, so we were forced to eat at restaurants or food trucks most of the time.

As you can imagine this added up fast. Food can be pretty pricey in Alaska, especially since we were in areas dominated by tourists like ourselves. 

Instead of telling you how to save (though hitting the grocery store is a solid option), I'll tell you that some meals are way worth it.

The ones that stick out most in my mind are a $20 spinach and mushroom quiche and fresh salad after days of eating gas station snacks and greasy Thai noodles from a food truck. Sometimes you just have to splurge.

We kept most of our activity costs to a minimum, preferring hiking and exploring the natural beauty of the area on our own.

The most expensive part of the trip was a four-hour boat ride that we took out of Seward into the Kenai Fjords National Park. 



The Resurrection Bay Tour took us first to Fox Island where we were given a delicious lunch of a salmon, beef, or vegetarian meal while a park ranger talked to us about the island.

After a little time to explore, we hopped back on the boat where the whale watching began. We probably saw a grand total of six different whales fluking and coming back up to the surface.

There were also many sitings of puffins, seals, and dolphins. It was all-in-all absolutely worth the $100 we each spent. And the chocolate chip cookie at the end was a nice touch.



This was far from being my most affordable trip, but it's hard to think of a way we could have saved more money while still getting as much enjoyment.

We were some of the few non-retirees at the lodge, to the point that most people just assumed we worked there.

I'm glad that we didn't have to wait until retirement age to have this trip of a lifetime. Thanks to some savvy tricks and some well-connected friends, we pulled off this trip on a budget.


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