Alaska is EXPENSIVE!! I knew this going into the trip and decided I needed to pay extra close attention to what we were doing so that we didn’t completely blow our vacation budget!
I don’t like to break the bank on vacation, so to justify the super-expenses I try to offset with cheaper options. This is a method I often use when travelling. I spend on the important things, save wherever I can to justify the splurges and then I don’t have to feel like we’ve then missed out on something because we can’t afford it. Travel TO a location is often a fair chunk of the budget and it seems a shame to not do something while there because we’ve over spent on something unnecessary. We may never be back…so we need to take advantage while we’re there!
We stayed at the Denali Princess Lodge ($$$) and Mt McKinley Princess Lodge ($$) in the park, so I offset this with a dorm room at Bent Prop Inn and Hostel in Anchorage ($). The hostel had everything we needed at a fraction of the cost of a hotel, and the girls loved sleeping in the bunk beds. Sure, we all slept separately, but we can handle that every now and again to save some cash!
I REALLY wanted to do the glass-dome train, and I promised Calais a train-ride. We didn’t need to do the glass dome for the entire up and back, so we took the bus ($) up, the Wilderness Express Glass Dome for the most scenic part of the trip, from Denali to Talkeetna ($$$), and bus from Talkeetna to Anchorage ($). This provided a good balance, and as a bonus, the timing for each was ideal.
*side note – I may have made a slight mistake and booked the wrong bus from Talkeetna to Anchorage, so our saving turned into a slight splurge when we spent $240 on a taxi so that we didn’t miss our flight to Bethel. The taxi was still cheaper than the train!
Our rental car in Juneau was expensive, $120/day expensive (after taxes, fees and exchange)!! The town is quite spread out and I had some good advice to rent a car. To offset the rental car we stayed at the Juneau International Hostel for $12pp/night (kids are free) plus one chore each. We had our own room so no one had to deal with my kids in the night. The hostel was clean and cozy, our chores were easy, and the girls loved the bunk beds (they’re always a winner)! The downside…we had to be out of the hostel
between 9am and 5pm, however we wanted to be out exploring Juneau during those hours anyways.
I feel like I am kind of cheating on this one, but since we had 6 nights free accommodation in Bethel I had an easy time justifying the $500 for 1.5 nights on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry. It was worth it! The inside passage is beautiful and can only be appreciated from a boat. Your other option is a cruise, however I haven’t wrapped my head around that yet. Maybe one day!
We flew from Anchorage to Bethel ($500 total), and Bethel to Juneau ($1200 total). To offset these costs I booked our flights to and from Grande Prairie via points ($500 total!). This leaves our overall airline bill expensive, but not astronomical! Return flights from Grande Prairie to Anchorage alone were going to run us about $4500 total, so I’m still WAY ahead of the game!!
Food is always a bit of a save and splurge if we can get away with it. More expensive meals out are offset by eating breakfast in our accommodation and cooking meals when we’re staying somewhere with a kitchen. In Anchorage we had an expensive dinner, but went to the grocery store and packed ourselves lunch and breakfast for the following day. In Juneau we treated ourselves to King Crab and offset this by cooking dinner in the hostel the following night.
I enjoy food, and often travel to eat so this is one area where I’m okay to spend a bit more. It’s easy to still eat local by shopping at the grocery store, just pick up something different than you would at home. Or ask someone else in the store what their favourite “local” dish is, and have them help you gather ingredients. It’s a great way to connect with the location, and it saves some money.
These same principles can be applied to any destination, just figure out what’s REALLY important, what it’s going to cost, and then find some cheaper options to balance it out. It might take a bit more time, but getting to do everything you want to is worth it.
What do you think of my save and splurge Alaska budget? How do you balance your budget when you travel?
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