Want a career change — but just for a few months? Try a seasonal job in Alaska. Now’s the time to start planning ahead for next year!
When I was 19, someone told me about a seasonal position open as a fly fishing and hiking guide in Alaska. As a college student living in Montana, I had hiked a handful of times, but did not consider myself a hiker. I had never even picked up a fly fishing rod.
But I packed up a few months of clothes, jumped on an airplane to a small Alaskan island, and started my seasonal journey. Since then, I’ve spent every summer on that island, working in a variety of roles. The skills I’ve learned through my seasonal work have translated to every position I’ve had on the off-season back in the Lower 48.
My time in Alaska catered to my inner traveler as well as my passion to further my career. I was able to see life in Alaska as a pseudo-local and was immersed in the culture in a way that a visitor wouldn’t be able to. Working seasonally is just an extreme form of traveling. Instead of arriving at your destination as a tourist, you arrive as a local. Seasonal workers are immersed in the culture and have the rare experience of travelling to a place and understanding what it’s like to live there; at least for a portion of the year.
If you’re ready for a summer adventure, here’s how get a seasonal job during the tourist season in Alaska.
Finding a job in Alaska
Before heading to the Last Frontier, narrow your search decide where you want to go, what you want to do, and how long you want to be there. Cool Works is the most popular seasonal job search website to discover which types of jobs are available.
You typically don’t need experience for most of the seasonal positions you’ll find — which is great if you’re looking for a career change or to get a taste of a new industry. These seasonal employers have excellent training programs and are accustomed to hiring those without experience. But remember to start looking ahead of time: seasonal jobs go fast and travelling expenses to get there get more expensive the longer you wait.
Be sure to do your research before landing on a destination or field of work. Certain areas of Alaska are expensive to get to or have harsh weather conditions; and some jobs require licenses and long hours. Be clear with your employer about how long you’ll be able to stay if it doesn’t coincide with the tourist season, which typically runs from the beginning of May to the end of September.
If you can’t stay for the entire season it’s not a deal breaker — seasonal work is popular for college students who need to show up late or leave early to accommodate class schedules. You’ll be able to submit applications and do interviews over the phone, and you’ll know for sure if you have a job before you start the moving process.
Once you land the job you want, it’s time to plan your trek.
Getting to Alaska
Getting to Alaska can be tricky. Some areas of Alaska don’t have many options on how to get there, but flying is usually the cheapest route. Book ahead of time, use as many discounts as you can, and avoid hotels. A small number of airlines fly to certain cities in Alaska, so you might run into long layovers or a slew of connecting flights. Try not to check any luggage, and be prepared to sleep in the airport if you get stuck between flights.
If you’ll be living in an area where you’ll need a vehicle you might want to consider the ferry system or making the drive. The Alaska Marine Highway travels to many Alaskan cities, and during certain months the car’s driver rides free. Again, book early! Vehicle spots are booked fast, especially once the tourist season starts.
If you ride the ferry, be prepared to go without phone or internet access unless you want to pay a fortune on your phone bill. The captain will warn against having your phone on at all during the trip to avoid international charges.
Another way to save money: don’t reserve a cabin. Many passengers stay in a tent in the ship’s solarium where you can sleep under the stars and keep a couple hundred dollars in your pocket. Just be sure to bring a lot of warm clothing and blankets.
If you plan on driving, map out your route and build in opportunities to stop and visit some other areas on your way. Remember to update your passport if needed — you’ll will be driving through Canada to get there. To avoid costly hotel rooms bring a tent, or sleep in your car.
For the seasonal worker in Alaska, the adventure definitely begins with the journey to get there.
Living in Alaska as a seasonal employee
Living in Alaska can be a costly experience, and renting a place can easily break your bank. Some positions offer housing as a part of their employment package. You pay to live there, of course, but the cost is low and the housing is usually on site.
When applying for jobs look to see if they offer housing. If they do you can also save money by not bringing your car on the trip as you’ll be living and working in the same spot. Another option is renting a place with a few of your fellow seasonal workers. Your boss should be able to help you get their names and contact information.
Spend your time submerging yourself in the culture. Alaska is beautiful, rich in Inuit culture, and caters to outdoors enthusiasts. Spend time eating fresh seafood, visiting museums, hiking, taking pictures, making friends with locals, fishing and enjoying the wildlife.
Many excursion companies offer discounts to seasonal workers so take advantage of those opportunities on your days off. If your company runs trips for tourists, you may be able to experience some of them for free as an employee.
You will only be able to visit Alaska for the first time once, so soak in as much of it as you can from your fresh perspective. The season goes by quickly, so live it up while you’re there.
Leaving Alaska — and planning your next working adventure
If you’re planning on going back home for the off-season, start making reservations a few months in advance. Let your employer and landlord know ahead of time when you are leaving so they can plan accordingly. If you’re planning on working seasonally for the winter, go back to the job hunt and think about jobs or locations that cater to winter months such as ski resorts or tourist areas closer to the equator. If you had a good season, your employee might ask you to come back and do another season with them. Some companies offer a raise for every year a seasonal worker comes back. Or maybe you’d like to visit a different area of Alaska next season; your employer can give you recommendations on where to go or who to talk to.
Before you get on the ferry/plane/car to your next destination, consider bringing home some fresh fish, locally made jam, or handmade trinkets for yourself and family. Take even more photos, hug the friends you’ve made, and look forward to your next phase and new perspective after working seasonally.
Chelsy Ranard (@Chelsy5) is a writer from Montana who is now living in Boise, Idaho. She worked seasonally in Alaska from 2010 to 2014 guiding, managing, and marketing tours in a variety of capacities.
Photo used with permission by Marc Edward Tiamzon.