Whitney and I have wanted to take a road trip to Alaska and explore the state for several years now. In fact, for our very first travel physical therapy assignments, we almost accepted 6 month contracts in Anchorage, but ended up staying closer to home instead. The problem always was that it’s very far away from where Whitney and I are from in Virginia, and also it’s a very expensive state. Early in our travel therapy careers, our primary focus was saving as much money as possible, which for us meant taking moderately paying contracts in very low cost of living areas and doing our best to take back to back contracts. Alaska just didn’t fit the bill at the time.
Fortunately for us now, we’re in a much better financial position, have reached financial independence, and are much more interested in once in a lifetime experiences than finances. We’ve embraced the semi-retirement lifestyle to the fullest over the last few years. That’s exactly why we spent last summer thoroughly exploring Hawaii despite the cost. To add to the allure of visiting Alaska, it was also the only state in the country that we hadn’t visited, plus it contained 8 of the 12 remaining US National Parks we had yet to visit. When the prospect of working part time travel contracts in Alaska for the summer came up this year, the choice was obvious. The opportunity was even in Anchorage, which is exactly where we wanted to be!
Some people might choose to fly to Alaska if they were going to work there for the summer. But for us, the road trip to and from Alaska was half the adventure! To most, a 4,500+ mile drive is daunting, but to us it’s exciting and not really that big of a deal anymore after our road trips in 2020 and 2021. In 2020 we drove 12,000 miles all over the country in 8 weeks while visiting 26 states and 31 National Parks. In 2021 we drove 7,200 miles in 6 weeks taking a different route, visiting even more states and National Parks. Both of those trips were amazing, and overall in our opinions, even better than our 5 month trip to Asia in 2018 and our 4 month trip to Europe in 2019. We’re no strangers to long trips, and we really enjoy road trips where we have ultimate freedom and flexibility.
We left Virginia on May 2nd and returned home on September 7th, so the total trip ended up being just over 4 months.
For the drive up we were in a slight hurry due to needing to be in Anchorage to start work on May 16th, but we still stopped in some great spots and saw some amazing sights. A couple of the most notable stops were Liard Hot Springs in British Columbia and Kluane National Park in Yukon, Canada. Kluane National Park was one of the most beautiful places we’d ever seen, and I took the opportunity to propose to Whitney there! Luckily she said yes, otherwise the rest of the trip would have been a little awkward.
In total we drove 4,680 miles in 13 days to get to Anchorage. Several hundreds of those miles were in the snow while driving through Alberta and British Columbia, which was quite treacherous at times in the van. We knew snow in May was a possibility but really weren’t prepared for heavy snow. Fortunately, we made it safely.
While in Alaska, we took full advantage of our time there. We were both only working two days per week in the clinic, plus about two days per week on the websites (which is very flexible), so we had more time than usual for adventures and exploring. We managed to visit just about everywhere that was accessible by road from Anchorage, along with many bush plane rides to areas that weren’t accessible. In total, we drove about 5,200 miles around the state on various trips and adventures. Although it was very costly and difficult to plan, we also made it to all 8 of the US National Parks in Alaska during the 3 months we were there, several of which are only accessible by plane or boat. Alaska is hands down the most beautiful place we’ve ever visited, with opportunities for endless outdoor adventures. If it wasn’t for the cold and dark winters, we’d probably move there. Another major highlight of our time in Alaska was getting to meet up with and talk to all of the other travel therapists there. We hosted a meetup in Anchorage and spent many weekends going on trips with other travelers. In total we met more than 30 current and aspiring travel therapists all over the state!
On the drive back home, we had extra time to go slow and see more of Canada. We took a different route back and stopped in several of the Canadian Provincial Capitals including Calgary, Regina, and Winnipeg. We also saw a lot of wildlife along the much less trafficked Cassiar Highway in British Columbia. By far the biggest highlight of the trip home though was our 5 days spent at Banff, Jasper, and Yoho National Parks in Canada. It’s very difficult to rank National Parks since they’re all so unique, but Banff is almost certainly the most beautiful out of the 60+ US and Canadian National Parks we’ve visited. If you’ve never been, be sure to add it to your bucket list!
In 2020, we tried to visit Isle Royale in National Park in Michigan, but the ferries were not running due to Covid. This road trip back home was the perfect opportunity to stop there again to finally get to see the island and also cross off our 60th US National Park. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans. Our ferry was cancelled due to rough waters on Lake Superior, and due to having some other plans already booked in the following days, we weren’t able to go. This was a major bummer especially considering this was the second time we’ve driven through Michigan specifically to go to that park. It was still an amazing drive home though. It total we drove about 5,390 miles to get back to Virginia, including all of our stops along the way.
This trip was epic, but it was VERY expensive! I remember thinking that Hawaii last year was crazy, but Alaska made Hawaii look affordable. A few big reasons for that were: gas prices, limited short term housing in Anchorage, and the costly National Parks which were only accessible by plane and/or boat tour. Food costs were also much higher in Alaska than we’re used to which added up each week.
Here’s what my expenses ended up looking like for this trip (keeping in mind these are just my expenses, with many of the costs split between Whitney and me):
- We put in a lot of time and effort trying to find affordable short term housing in Anchorage. The options were very limited, and some were outrageously expensive (a couple people that we contacted wanted over $3,000/month for a one bedroom or studio). The places that weren’t as expensive already had dozens of inquiries when we contacted them. After a lot of hassle, we found a place that was actually pretty reasonable for what it was, but was significantly more than we hoped to pay. We paid $2,500/month for a 4 bedroom, furnished house (all utilities included) in a good location in South Anchorage, that was walking distance to the clinic for me. We didn’t need a place that big, but we had very limited options that would work for us, and we were on a time crunch to find housing, so that’s what we settled on. In addition to our month to month housing costs in Anchorage, several of our weekend trips in Alaska required us to book hotels or Airbnbs which added extra expenses. On the drives to and from Alaska, we did our best to utilize free hotel nights from credit card rewards, combined with spending a couple of nights at a time in our van, usually at free campsites and occasionally at paid campgrounds. That saved us significantly on lodging costs for the road trips.
- I didn’t track every one of my food and drink purchases to the dollar this time due to the hassle involved, but did a pretty good job of keeping track of total daily purchases. Food and drink, especially when eating out, in Alaska was costly. We didn’t do as good of a job as we should have, both for our wallets and our waistlines, with eating meals at home. Much of this was due to always being busy with work and exploring, but we could have done better. This is an approximate total for my food/drink costs.
- We picked a pretty bad time to be driving about 15,000 miles. Gas prices in Alaska were over $5/gallon the whole time were there, and some of the prices while driving through rural Canada were even higher than that. At one point, we paid the equivalent of $6.30/gallon in rural Yukon, Canada! Gas mileage in the van isn’t bad overall, but not great either. We usually average about 24 miles per gallon in the van between city and highway driving. We were able to use airline miles to book a flight to Juneau for a weekend trip that saved us money there. Most of the small plane rides that we took were included in the cost of going to the National Parks for tours, so I included those below instead of here.
- This is where costs really got out of hand in Alaska. When I saw how much it cost to get to some of the National Parks in Alaska, I really considered skipping them. We’ve had a goal of visiting all of the US National Parks for a long time now though, so skipping them would only mean having to go back on a separate trip in the future which didn’t make sense. A goal is a goal, and we really wanted to experience these amazing National Parks. The most expensive National Park was Katmai, which cost us over $1,000/each just for a day trip! The two remote National Parks in the north ended up costing us almost $1,800/each to go to when including getting there, spending the weekend, and the flight tour. Those are prices I would have never dreamed of paying anywhere besides Alaska. In addition to the National Parks, we did quite a bit of fishing both on the rivers and once going out on the ocean in a rented boat. Between the gear, fishing license, boat rental, and fish processing, that all ended up being pretty costly. We also did some less expensive activities like kayaking and a guided glacier hike, plus a ton of hiking which was pretty much the only free activity.
Total Spent on the Trip: Approximately $17,430 (~$136/day)*
*Keep in mind that these expenses are just for my half of the trip and do not include Whitney’s half or what she spent along the way!
Even though it was expensive, this trip truly was a trip of a lifetime. The drives to and from Alaska were both awesome; Alaska itself is full of endless, breathtaking beauty; and we got to see everything that was a must on our list while there.
We’ve now been to all 50 states, and 59 of the 63 US National Parks. We drove almost 15,000 miles in total and got to see most of the places in Canada that we wanted to visit along the way. We hiked hundreds of miles including a couple of the hardest hikes we’ve ever done (Alaska hikes are no joke!). We caught our first Alaskan Salmon fresh out of the river, along with several delicious Halibut and Rockfish from the ocean. We also made tons of new friends along the way!
Choosing to start traveling as new grad PTs is truly one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. The trips we’ve taken and experiences we’ve had, all while achieving financial independence and building a business, would have never been possible any other way!
Would you take a travel contract in Alaska?? Let us know in the comments!!