Photo: Anakin Fox/Shutterstock

15 Conveniences Rural Alaskans Live Without

by Kaitlin Armstrong Nov 21, 2017

1. Fast food

Fast food can be hard to come by in the state’s rural areas. Those on the road system might have a McDonald’s nearby, but options are usually limited to 2-3 chains, max. If we’re not in the mood for our local drive-thru, we might drive an hour or more to get our Arby’s or Taco Bell fix. And the folks out in the bush have to save their cravings for a city trip.

2. Big box stores

Anchorage is Alaska’s retail capital, and it’s where we stock up on all our favorite goods. It’s also home to the state’s only Olive Garden, Cabela’s, and Apple Store, among others… so for Alaskans who are used to their local stores’ supply, it’s basically consumer heaven. When new retailers come to town, we can go a little nuts — think traffic jams and crowds in the hundreds.

3. Easy access to the Big City

Travelling to the Big City from time to time is a necessary affair, but it’s hardly ever a quick trip. Depending on your location, you might have to hop on a small plane or drive for hours at a time to get there. So no matter the reason for your trip, you won’t leave until you’ve picked up three-months’ worth of supplies at Costco.

4. Fresh produce

We love our Alaskan grown produce, but the growing season is short in our northern climate. During the rest of the year, fruit and veggies are pricey, and of questionable quality. It sucks, but we bite the bullet and buy the unripe fruits and rock hard avocados anyway because we haven’t got any other choice.

5. Free and 1-day shipping

It’s entirely possible that Alaskans’ obsession with retail chains is related to our love-hate relationship with online shopping. It can be a godsend — except that many outfitters refuse to ship to Alaska, and when they do, it almost always comes with an additional fee. Free shipping is a fantasy, and even with a prime membership, your items take a minimum of two days to arrive.

6. Reliable cell phone service

While cell phone coverage has gotten better, it’s far from perfect, especially in rural areas. Text messages go missing, and technology updates roll in slowly. Some areas still rely on 3G. So when a call starts to cut out, sometimes the only option is to hang up the phone, move to that one part of the house where you can usually get three bars, and try again.

7. Bargain mobile phones

Even with the spotty service, mobile phone coverage doesn’t come cheap in Alaska. Two providers dominate the market, along with a handful of local wireless companies that use their towers. And some villages are stuck with one outfitter, so if they want to stay connected they have to pay, no matter the price.

8. Endless radio stations

While radio doubles as entertainment and a communication tool in rural Alaska (hello bushlines), the airwaves only host a handful of stations. Usually, the choices are an NPR affiliate, religious talk radio, and a couple of music stations that play the same songs in an endless loop.

9. Relative anonymity

Alaska’s small towns have a strong sense of community — we’re stuck in the middle of nowhere with the same few thousand people, after all. The downside when everyone knows everybody is the inescapable rumor mill. You’re interrogated about any big life event, you can never live down that rough night at the bar, and you pray that you don’t ever find yourself in legal trouble because if you do, it’ll be printed in the local paper for the whole town to see.

10. Quick trips to the grocery store

There’s no such thing as an “in-and-out” trip to the grocery store in rural Alaska because you know half the people there. You need to budget at least 20 minutes so you can pick up all your staples AND tell your elementary school teacher what you’ve been up to, greet folks from your church, and trade gossip with your old high school classmates.

11. Reasonable travel distances

If traveling within Alaska can be a chore, leaving the state is its own beast. In order to get anywhere, you’ve first got to make a 2- to 6-hour haul to a major airport or take a flight there. And you’re nearly guaranteed to connect through Seattle, so even a simple West Coast trip might run you 24 hours and several layovers in travel time.

12. Discount travel

Even with the occasional flash airline deals, travel in our state is not cheap. A quick round trip within Alaska might start at $250 a ticket. And you can barely leave the state for less than $500. That’s why Alaskans treat airline miles like they’re worth their weight in gold.

13. Paved roads

Okay, major streets and highways are generally paved, but dirt and gravel roads are still common. And thanks to winter wear-and-tear, even major streets can be laden with potholes. Also, the winter can turn your gravel driveway into an icy death trap. Just another reason we go for those big cars and trucks.

14. Affordable cost of living

Before you blurt out that “we get paid to live here,” you have to understand this: we rely on our PFDs to offset the cost of living. That’s because on average, those costs are 30-40% higher than the rest of the U.S. And the further out you are, the crazier it gets. While gas averages $3 per gallon in major cities, it can hit $6 or more out in the bush.

15. Year round job opportunities

While tourists and the fishing season make work plentiful in the summer, we have to get creative in the winter, when jobs slow. It’s not uncommon for people to juggle two to three gigs just to make enough to pay rent (and the heating bill). While we might not be able to chase our dream job, it’s a sacrifice we make for the lifestyle we love.

Discover Matador