Sometimes, life events drive you to make major life changes. In my case, there were two: My girlfriend of three years left me for a plumber she met on MySpace, and I graduated from college and needed to start my professional life.
After the breakup, anything far from my home state of Indiana sounded great. When I saw an online opening for a newspaper reporter job with the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska, I figured I had nothing to lose.
And in fact, I gained-and learned-a lot.
But moving 3,000 miles from home is a pretty major undertaking. So is moving back to the Lower 48, as I did after three years. In case one day you, too, decide to pick up and move far from everything you’ve ever known, here’s what I learned.
Get a job before you move
At some point, we all dream about making a fresh start somewhere else, but it just seems unrealistic-often because we don’t have the money to make it happen.
Here’s a tip: Don’t move across the country without a job.
Luckily for me, the News-Miner offered me a job and a $2,000 reimbursement for moving expenses. (Even if your new employer won’t reimburse your moving costs, you can deduct moving expenses from your taxes.) But it wasn’t just the paychecks that made the transition financially easier.
Interviewing with the paper over the course of a couple of months also meant I knew people before I stepped off the plane, and they were willing to help me get started in town. For example, Bob, the paper’s sports editor, let me crash on his couch my first week in Fairbanks. That saved me some cash and made me feel a lot more at home in a faraway land. Thanks, Bob!
Say goodbye to (most of) your worldly possessions
That $2,000 reimbursement sounds generous until you realize how expensive it is to ship stuff-especially to Alaska. Any time you move, you should purge as much as possible. Here are my hard-earned moving tips:
Furniture: I ended up selling my cheap furniture from college and found a fully furnished place in Fairbanks. Even if you’re doing a long-distance move but can’t find a furnished place, you’ll be better off getting new furniture. And when I say “new,” I mean new to you-it can be (gently) used. You don’t want to spend too much, in case things don’t work out.
Car: It can cost $3,000 or more to ship a car to Alaska. My Buick Century was not about to make the drive, so I sold it before I left the Lower 48. If your car is in good enough condition to drive to your new location, that can be a good way to transport a few extra things yourself and even enjoy a road trip. Try to calculate how much gas, hotels, and restaurants will eat into your budget, though.
Smaller items: The U.S. Postal Service will ship boxes up to 70 pounds, and it doesn’t charge extra for shipping to Alaska, unlike FedEx and UPS. That meant it was relatively cheap to ship most of my clothes and other personal items.
Don’t count on finding a place to live until you’re there
I had hoped to have my own place ready before I got off the plane, but that was easier said than done. Before I left, I found several apartment listings online-but as soon as I told the prospective landlord that I was still in Indiana, they lost interest in me.
This actually was a blessing. Just five days after I arrived, I was able to find a really nice basement apartment that was much cheaper than most of the listings I had seen online.
If you can, it’s best to find something in person-either after you move or, if you can, by visiting ahead of time.
Be prepared for culture shock
Alaska may be part of the United States, but it can feel like a completely alien culture. Remember that show “Northern Exposure,” whose primary point seemed to be that Alaska was weirdly different? Several of my co-workers had run the Iditarod, and it wasn’t unheard of for my boss to take the day off to go bear hunting (and then bring in bear sausage for the office). Whether you’re moving to Alaska or Arizona, don’t forget that there’s some adjustment that comes with moving across to a faraway place. Some places way more than others.
Moving back is no picnic, either
After three years, I grew tired of the “Game of Thrones” winters and the summers of 24-hour sunlight. Plus, the Alaskan dating scene doesn’t favor men. And so I started to search for ways back to the good ol’ continental U.S.
But in some ways, moving back was more difficult. Some examples:
Getting a job: The thing about jobs is that they’re all about supply and demand. I didn’t have much trouble finding a job in Alaska. But when I wanted to move back to the Lower 48, I was up against a lot more competition-and in for a lengthy job search. It took me a year and a half to land a new job-in Northwest Arkansas, which was hardly my dream locale, but at least I was employed and back on the other side of The Wall.
Picking the right time to move: The Alaska Highway is roughly 1,700 miles long. It’s only two lanes in most spots and covered in snow throughout the winter. You can easily drive 50 miles without seeing anything but caribou, except at night when it’s pitch black.
Driving this road is tough during the summer. Taking it on during the winter is almost suicidal, but that’s exactly what I did. Should I have planned better? Probably.
If you’re planning a long-distance move by car, take the weather into account. Anywhere in the northern or western United States could be hit with a blizzard that adds days to your trip (and God help you if you get caught in the mountains during a snowstorm). Even if you’re planning on flying, you can save a chunk of change if you schedule your move during a “dead zone” when fewer people are traveling.
So would I recommend moving to Alaska? Absolutely. For some people at least.