Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Taking the week off up north

A few days ago I returned from a lovely vacation in Alaska. Besides having a great time, I had one other major goal for this trip: packing lightly.

As a control freak, I am a classic over-packer. I like to be covered for every contingency. I also have trouble deciding on outfits ahead of time and so I like to have some extra clothes for flexibility. But for this trip I really wanted to pack light and I was determined not to pay an baggage fees on my flight (I get one bag per flight free with the Amex Delta Gold card).
Hiking near Eagle River Nature Center, Alaska
Packing light for a trip to Alaska is a bit more tricky than to other destinations simply because of the weather. Even at the height of summer, temperatures in Anchorage were ranging from the mid '50s to '70s, which for me means needing everything from shorts and t-shirts to jeans and sweatshirts. Layers are definitely key especially if you plan to do outdoor activities.

near Anchorage
For a seven day trip, I ended up taking: 
  • Two pairs of shoes: light hikers and tennis shoes
  • Two pairs of jeans
  • Two pairs of shorts
  • Two pairs of capris (including one pair of bike pants)
  • Six t-shirts
  • Three long-sleeve shirts
  • Two light sweatshirt zip-up hoodies
  • I had planned to take, but accidentally left my raincoat in the car. This was a key piece of clothing, not only for rain protection,but also as a third layer when it was chilly. Luckily my aunt had packed an extra raincoat so I ended up using hers, but this is a must-have.
I was so successful packing light that I almost packed too light. I wore all the clothing I took, but could have used more quick-dry outdoor clothing for all the hiking, biking and boating we did. A pair of quick-dry convertible pants (the kind with zippers that change from shorts to pants) would have been ideal. But since the only ones I found were $80-$100 and I don't know if I'd wear them much outside of that trip, I passed. And, I survived just fine without them.
Alaskan Railroad
My best buy for the trip was definitely these light North Face hikers from REI. I agonized over paying $120 for shoes and even tried ordered and returned cheaper ones of the Internet first. But in the end they were more than worth it. Not only did they keep my feet comfty and dry during hiking and biking, they also had great traction on the wet muddy trails and rocks. And since they're light hikers rather than hiking boots, I know I'll use them again in the trails around my much flatter homeland.

I still ended up taking a few things I barely used, namely my makeup and hairdryer. When you're spending most of the day exploring nature, they really aren't necessary. For toiletries, I stuck to only taking what I could fit in small bottles in a single TSA-approved quart-size bag and that worked just fine. I also took an eye mask since their daylight is much longer than ours, but I didn't use it even once because my cousin had installed blackout blinds in his spare room (thanks, cousin!).

Technically, I could have just carried on my bag and backpack, but I'm glad I checked them, I had layovers on both legs of my trip and I was glad not to have a suitcase to lug around and worry about. Plus the flights were so full, the airline was constantly asking people to check any extra bags possible.
Seward, Alaska
The trip, by the way, was amazing and highly recommended. Alaska is gorgeous and reminded me a great deal of scenic Norway (especially the fjords). We hiked up Aleyska in Girdwood (and happily took the free tram ride down), to Exit Glacier near Seward and near Eagle River. We went for a 25 mile bike ride on Anchorage's Coastal Trail, rode an Alaskan Railroad train to Seward and a boat and kayaking cruise in the Kenaj Fjord. We saw many native wildlife in their natural habitats: moose, Doll Sheep, a brown bear, eagles, puffins, a sea otter, a sea lion, Little Richard the seal, Doll porpoises and several pods of Orcas. 

We watched approximately one hour of TV the whole week and did very little shopping and I didn't miss it a bit.

It was definitely a week to remember.


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