Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I’m in a tricky situation with family and am looking for advice. I have lived in Alaska basically since I graduated high school and am now in my 30s. My family has only visited once. They don’t have a huge budget for travel and it’s always been easier for me to fly back to visit them in the Lower 48.
For a couple years now, they were planning on and saving for a big Alaska vacation, summer 2021. When COVID-19 hit, we put things on hold, but I could tell while I was more skeptical about it happening, they were very optimistic — in my opinion, possibly slightly delusional. They often send me links to stories about vaccines and things “opening up.”
As the summer has neared, they have expressed wishes to come up. “They” would entail two adult siblings, four children between them, and our parents, so eight people total. They want to do a fishing charter, visit a few towns outside of Anchorage, hike, see the midnight sun, eat good seafood — the usual Alaska stuff.
I just think this summer will be too soon. I worry there will be restrictions in place and they won’t have as much fun as if they waited a year. They are antsy and frankly rather pushy. My mother even said, “Even if you don’t want us to, we’ll come and just have our own trip.”
Alaska is wonderful and I love when people visit but I truly believe they’ll have a better experience if they wait until 2022. What can I say to change their minds?
First, you may not change their minds, and know that is no fault of your own or no commentary on you or your advisements; that’s simply people trying to get through the crazy COVID-19 era with some semblance of normalcy and sanity, and if this grand Alaska vacation was the light at the end of their tunnel for some time now, they may be unwilling to give it up.
What if they do come up? You may not have the experience of a day cruise with dozens of other gawking tourists who make folksy small talk as they snap pics of puffins and orcas. But you could have a private fishing charter with just your family members, which would be awesome. You might not make small talk with strangers in a cozy old-school roadhouse over domestic beers, but you could score a sweet deal on a great Airbnb and have some real quality family time.
If they come, I can say with 120% certainty that this summer will not offer up the exact experience they originally envisioned. But it could offer up some awesome adventures all the same. If last summer during 2020, was an opportunity for Alaskans to enjoy our uncrowded state, then maybe this summer is the one to ease back into tourism, and still with fewer crowds.
The best thing you can do is listen to what it is your family needs and try to offer up ideas that both meet their needs for family time on the Last Frontier while also advising caution, realism, and care.
I’m 120% behind Wanda! Why not let them come up and have their Alaska dreams, or more likely an Alaska Lite version of their dreams, come true? At the very least, it will get them off of your back about it, set the AK adventure bar low, and maybe they won’t ever want to visit you again. Oh, and pray for rain!
Who knows where we’ll be in our battle with COVID in a few months? We could all be vaccinated and (feeling) invincible. We could be in Hunkerdown 7.0 as a new terminator-strain kicks our curve into a spike steeper than Denali. We could be learning this was all a hoax to distract us from (insert favorite conspiracy theory here). Any one of these scenarios could make the decision for you all.
Like Wanda, I also anticipate the energy of this upcoming summer falling somewhere between last summer’s Alaskans-rule staycations and the usual bonkers tourist-packed madness. So, it’s probably safe to make plans along with some fallbacks, Plan Bs and mitigations, while trying to keep their expectations realistic. Like, things might be canceled, closed, limited or just weird. I know, tell that to killer whale-crazy kiddos, salmon-craving siblings and puffin-photographing parents.
Ultimately, no matter what happens, you still control your own safety and health. If you don’t want to share your home because you think they’ve packed the pandemic, find them a place to stay, tell them this is a hug-free holiday, and wear a mask when you’re around them. If you don’t want to go on a glacier cruise, flightseeing trip or zoo visit with them and assorted strangers, sit them out. And use your imagination: You’ve lived here long enough to know that one of the greatest things about our state is that it’s really, really big and you can always find breathing room for you and your family. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last year, breathing room is a pretty nice luxury to have during a pandemic.