Sunday, September 15, 2013

How To: Take a 12 Day Alaskan Adventure for Two for Under $5,000

Alternate title: Cheapskates can have fun too!

We just got back from our incredible delayed honeymoon to Alaska!! We planned to spend 12 days exploring four different areas - Homer, Seward, Denali National Park, and Anchorage, and we managed to do it all without completely breaking the bank and coming home with vacation regret. It takes some planning, but it really wasn't that hard to do!


1 - Purchase your airline tickets and car rental together. I watched airline trends for a few weeks before purchasing our package to Anchorage from Washington, DC through Orbitz for $1,535.

This is probably Canada. I'm not sure because I wasn't going to pay United $8 just so I could look at the flight map.
2 - Ditch the hotels and hit the hostels. We probably saved around $100/night or more by booking our lodging at hostels instead of hotels - only spending around $80/night for 9 nights of our vacation. And we even "splurged" on private cabins at each one!

Cabin #1: Our cabin in Homer overlooking a horse pasture and a view of Kachemak Bay
Cabin #1: The view from the front porch
Cabin #2: Our cute Sourdough Cabin in Seward - it had cable TV and wireless internet!
Cabin #3: Just outside of Denali National Park
Cabin #3: The view from Highwater Cabin
Downsides: no private bathrooms. But we did have a private outhouse with the first cabin... it's all about being flexible, folks. And there were flushing toilets and showers at each hostel - they were just shared with other hostel-users.

3 - Go grocery shopping! I don't know about you - but I don't actually like eating out for every meal because at the end of the day I end up feeling gross. Our solution to avoiding that and saving tons of money was to go grocery shopping. After we got off the plane in Anchorage and picked up our rental car, our first stop was at Carr's (same as Safeway). We had planned out meals ahead of time - making sure to use as much non-perishable food as possible. At the grocery store we picked up a small styrofoam cooler for the perishables (milk, cheese, lunch meat, etc) along with a lot of canned and dry goods to get us through our 3 days in Homer and 3 days in Seward - and then we stopped for groceries again before heading for Denali. In our carry-on bag we packed a saucepan and pot, two plates, two bowls, two pairs of silverware, etc as well as a one-burner Coleman stove that just needed a small propane tank that we picked up at REI in Anchorage for $5. With all of that we were pretty food self-sufficient. Turns out that each hostel actually had kitchens that we could use (that wasn't always clear on the websites), so if I had to do it again I would probably leave the stove and pots and pans behind. The bowls and plates and silverware still came in handy though for when we were having lunch in a parking lot!

4 - Take the shuttles, not the tour buses in Denali. 

Now we didn't take the tour buses, so I can't actually directly compare the two - but price-wise there literally was no comparison! We bought two tickets for two days - both to the furthest point on the road, and still paid one-third less than the cost of two, one-day tour bus tickets. We really didn't feel like we missed out on anything because the shuttle bus drivers narrated the whole time and provided us with a lot of information. And we did stop every time there was a wildlife sighting and spent time watching and taking pictures - which was something I had been worried about missing out on.

We had an amazing wildlife viewing opportunities from the shuttle!
The best part about the shuttle buses is that you can get off and on wherever and whenever you want. We rode the shuttle bus all the way to the end of the road the first day, and then on the second day we got off and hiked all by ourselves through the Denali wilderness for a few hours. And when we got tired, we just flagged down a passing shuttle and hopped aboard!

Get out and hike - you don't shots like these views from the bus!

5 - Go hiking! 
This was a bit much for the deathly-afraid-of-heights, I-may-get-vertigo girl
following him up the side of this cliff.
This doesn't apply just to Denali. Hiking is free! And you get to see amazing views like this one from the top of Mt. Marathon in Seward:

Worth the view!
It doesn't have to be a strenuous hike - Alaska is a stunning place with plenty of very easy hikes. Get out there and see it, just make sure you take your bear bells!

6 - Make your own souvenirs. We bought plenty of trinkets - quite a few books plus a mug here and some jerky there, but for the most part we planned to make our own souvenirs from our photos. I've already created and ordered a photo book from Shutterfly, and I'm planning on creating other photo gifts for us and family - like mugs, magnets, blankets, etc! Sites like Shutterfly and Snapfish have really great options for creating your own, unique souvenirs.

7 - With all the money you've saved - splurge a few times! We definitely didn't feel like we were skimping on this trip. We ate out a few times for dinner, splurged on an incredible wildlife and glacier viewing tour with a prime rib and salmon dinner out of Seward, and stayed in a nice hotel (which I found a 20% off coupon for online) our last few nights in Anchorage!
Ailiak Glacier
A Sea Otter just chilling... get it? Chilling?
Humpback whale waving hello

Budget Breakdown

Airfare and Car Rental$1,537.00Booked the package through Orbitz
$255.00Homer Hostel - 3 nights
$247.20Seward Hostel - 3 nights
$253.59Denali Hostel - 3 nights
$331.52Hotel in Anchorage - 2 nights
$185.25Eating out (it adds up FAST!)
Gas$203.464 fill-ups and one top-off
$381.50Wildlife and Glacier viewing tour, Seward, AK
$240.00Shuttle buses to Kantishna in Denali
$14.00Carl Wynn Nature Center, Homer, AK
$14.00Pratt Museum, Homer, AK
$42.00Alaska Sealife Center, Seward, AK
Gifts/Souvenirs$164.30Books, mugs, jerky, and a few gifts for family
Miscellaneous$395.43Dogsitter, checked bag (1 each way), other misc

You can see we were actually under $4,500 - that's because at the last minute the airline changed our tickets and we had to leave a day earlier than we had initially planned. Had we stayed another night in Anchorage and probably ate out one more meal, we would have still been under $5,000.

I hope that helps you get over the fear of an Alaska vacation being too expensive! We're excited to save up and go back in a few years!

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