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How to prepare for Alaska travel

  • Author: Scott McMurren
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published January 17, 2012

Be prepared. For a traveler, these are words to live by. Still, too many travelers hit a bump in the road and they freeze like the proverbial deer in the headlights. Ask any gate agent -- they'll tell you stories of folks who absolutely lose it at the slightest irregularity.

Alaskans, by and large, have a leg up on their brothers and sisters in the Lower 48. After all, many of us have been w-a-y out on the edge more than once, only to have plans change -- and change again -- at the last minute. I guess it's all part of the adventure, huh?

It's cold outside. That reminds me of a flight back from Hawaii that got diverted at the last minute from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Many passengers still were in their Hawaiian garb as the trundled down the air stairs to the tarmac at the Fairbanks Airport. It was about -3ºF. The purple blankets supplied by Hawaiian Airlines were in great demand. Hawaiian bought every available room in Fairbanks, but lots of us had to double up because they weren't expecting an extra 200 people. Several Hawaiian employees actually spent the night on the plane.

If there was any whining, I didn't hear it. Everyone I spoke with was willing to abide by the captain's best judgment: he could not see through the fog to land. It was a late night. After about nine hours, everyone gathered once again at the airport for the final leg of our journey. Of course, we gave the captain and the crew a big round of applause on touchdown.

A traveler's preparedness includes both physical elements and a good attitude. And the list changes depending on the purpose of your trip, and the destination.

Naturally, you must prepare beforehand for your trip. It still is possible to line up your voyage at the last minute, of course. Depending on when and where you are going, your premium could be modest or ridiculous. Just think of a last-minute trip at Christmas, for example.

Your mindfulness will pay off, if you're clued in. For example, many travelers are headed to Seattle's Garden Show, Feb. 8-12. Since they've known about it for months, they've been keen on any fare sales to Seattle, including frequent flyer deals. They know about Seattle's off-season "Seattle Super Saver" program for hotel savings. Chances are they're hooking up with their other green-thumb buddies while they're there.

The same strategy is true whether your relatives are coming up for a family reunion, or if you have a convention to attend in Orlando. In fact, companies typically outsource this type of advance scouting to travel agents, or "travel management companies." There are lots of moving parts to a company's travel plans: hotel rooms, cars, flights and such. Plans change, trips are cancelled and people change their minds. These same resources are available to individuals, but it costs extra these days, just like checked bags if you're not a "Club 49" member with Alaska Airlines.

I've burned through dozens of "packing lists" in preparation for a trip. Again, it depends on your destination, but some things you just cannot do without:

a. Noise-canceling headphones. I like the Bose headphones, but there are several models from Sony, Panasonic, etc. These are life-savers aboard the plane. It helps block out the engine noise and the quality is great when you plug into your iPod.

b. Mini-headlamp. This may seem nutty--but I've had several overhead lights go out on planes. I love the Petzl models. They're compact, but with more than enough light to read a book.

c. Bring-your-own internet. I am sick of "free" internet that is slower than dial-up. Or the connection that just doesn't work. These days, your cell phone is more likely to tap into some robust bandwidth. Whether you have an iPhone, a Blackberry or one of the other smartphones, chances are good your wireless provider has an option to "tether" your phone to your laptop. Some providers charge extra. I have a "4G" plan with GCI where it's included.

If it's not available on your phone, check with your wireless provider for a "MiFi" card, which can link up to five devices to a wireless network (laptop, tablet, iPod, phone, etc.). The MiFi card also is a great option if you're traveling overseas. Check wtih XCom Global for international connectivity. It costs about $15/day to rent.

d. Rolling carry-on bag. I've said it before: "carry-on only". It's more than a philosophy. It's a way of life. No handguns or knives. No wine. No jar of mouthwash. Going "carry-on only" is liberating. I have a rolling bag that is just under the maximum, about 20 inches wide, from Magellans. I love this online travel store -- it's a great resource. But you also can get a nice 21-inch rolling bag from Costco.

The complementary piece to the rolling bag is the backpack. And I'm a bit pickier with this, since I haul my computer and cameras. I like the "Brain Bag" from Tom Bihn Luggage in Seattle. It's well-engineered, with lots of clips, straps and pockets for keys, water bottle, book and power cords. Bihn and his crew pay special attention to extra padding for laptops. There are hundreds of backpacks out there, but I've found the traveling backpack is much different than the wilderness expedition backpack. Check around and find the right one.

e. Camera. More and more folks are using their phones as cameras -- and they are very handy. In fact, my Samsung Galaxy S II has an 8MP camera with a flash, and can shoot video. Perfect for pushing photos up to Facebook.

But the quality is better on my point-and-shoot. None of that matters if you don't have your camera handy. Currently, I'm shooting with a Panasonic point-n-shoot.

f. Clothes. There is a broad spectrum of choices when it comes to traveling clothes and accessories. As a rule, I think it's prudent to be prepared for rain, for cold and for wind. Because of that, I almost always include some thin longjohns, some gloves and a pullover hat. I still recall a trip to Mississippi in January a few years ago. I didn't bother to take a coat. "How cold can it be?" I asked my wife. Well, I've never been so cold in my life -- it was 38 degrees and raining. I had to borrow several layers from my father-in-law to get through the day, with my teeth still chattering!

g. Currency. I don't believe it's practical to travel without a credit card. Unless you're traveling with your parents, of course. But these days I also bring a debit card for quick cash, as well as some folding money. If you're traveling internationally, beware of cards that charge a three percent fee for foreign charges. Bank of America is one of the offending banks, so that rules out the Alaska Airlines Visa card when you're traveling outside the U.S. Instead, choose a card from Chase or Capital One, or any number of other institutions. Three percent can add up.

h. Security. Some parts of the world are safer than others. And that changes all the time. It's a good idea to check in advance if you're planning a trip to Yemen or Syria, for example. Hint: don't go. The. U.S. Department of State offers a comprehensive resource for each country including visa information, security concerns and health issues. The British Foreign Office also is a good resource.

i. Accessories. Again, the list is a long one: GPS unit, glow-in-the-dark alarm clock, sunscreen, bug dope, vitamins and medicine, umbrella, water purifier…you get the idea.

Everyone is going to have their "must fly" list. The take-away message is this: be prepared.

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based travel marketing consultant who has lived in Alaska for three decades, spending much of that time traveling the far-flung corners of the state. Visit his website at And follow him on Twitter at for breaking updates.

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