12 PCS tips for moving to Alaska from a been-there-done-that milspouse
(Photo: U.S. Air Force, Alejandro Pena)

By Brittany Colasuanno

I was feeding our six-week-old daughter when my husband walked through the door. I was still home on maternity leave, super emotional and sleep-deprived.

“You’re home early.” It was only 1400. It was too late for him to be home for lunch, so I figured he’d gotten cut early. As soon as my husband was close enough, I could read from his face that something was off.

“I came home to tell you I got orders to Kodiak today.”

I knew Kodiak was a strong possibility due to the airframe my husband works on, but we had wanted to avoid it. We even avoided putting any OCONUS destinations such as Barbers Point, Hawaii, on my husband’s dream sheet. We didn’t want the Coast Guard to see that we’d be willing to go “overseas” and send us to Alaska instead. And so I did the only thing that seemed to come natural during those trying days as a new mom: I cried.

I cried because this was our first PCS as a family. I met my husband when he was stationed in my hometown, so I was going to be leaving everyone and everything I’d ever known. Looking back, it surprises me how upset I was. After living in Kodiak for almost eight months, I like living here.

An OCONUS move is never easy, but like any other transfer, it is only temporary. There’s a lot that goes into these moves and can be quite overwhelming, but hopefully these tips will help make your OCONUS move to Alaska much easier!

1. Turn your paperwork in early

The earlier you get this done, the better. Once you turn in your OCONUS paperwork, you’re able to receive official orders. Once you receive official orders, you can schedule movers, shipment of vehicle(s), and plan how you will travel to Alaska.

2. Book your ferry early

If you’re going to take the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System, it’s a good idea to book this well in advance. The summer months are an overwhelmingly popular time for vacationers to book trips to Alaska and the ferry fills up well in advance.

3. Get passports

If you’re driving through Canada, you will need a passport for everyone in your family. Most military installations have a travel office that can help you apply for a government-issued passport, but please be aware that these are to be used when on military orders only. There is no fee for a government passport, but it cannot be used for leisure travel. My family drove through Canada on our way to Alaska, and we just used our regular passports. For more information on what type of passport is best for you and your family visit the Passports & International Travel Website.

4. Get your pet’s affairs in order

If you plan on bringing pet’s with you on your move, you will need to obtain a health certificate from your veterinarian within 10 days of your departure. This is a requirement for driving through Canada, flying, or taking the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System. The health certificate determines if your animal is healthy and up-to-date on all shots/vaccinations.

5. Organize early

Plan your route and book hotels as early as possible. Don’t be too shy to ask for a military discount! (The majority of hotels we stayed in offered some kind of military discount.) Keep confirmation numbers and have all reservation confirmations emailed to you. If you have a pet traveling with you, make sure to call instead of reserving online. Websites such as Orbitz will say when a hotel is pet-friendly, but many of these hotels have specified rooms allocated for visitors with pets. You don’t want to arrive to a hotel and have no room available for you because there all the pet-friendly rooms are full.

6. Look into an international data plan

As soon as you cross the border into Canada, you will no longer have US cell phone service. My husband and I spoke with our cell phone provider and paid for an international data plan for the days we knew we’d be in Canada. This was a lifesaver for those long days in the car. Also, like most people, it was easier for us to use the GPS on our phones.

7. Print driving directions prior to trip

When I did this, my husband told me I was wasting paper. . . but you never know when you’ll lose service. You will drive through some very remote parts of Canada, especially once you get on the Alcan. Although we’d paid for international data, the Alcan is so remote there is not much service there. Having a hard copy of our only map when driving through British Columbia and the Yukon was vital.

8. Buy weather gear before you move

Prices are so much more expensive in Alaska. I really didn’t believe this until I saw it for myself. We live on Kodiak Island, so our options are limited which makes these items that much more expensive. Buy these items and have them shipped with your household goods if you don’t have the room in your car. While Kodiak doesn’t normally receive the amount of snow the rest of the state does, I was told by others to purchase snow tires in the lower 48 prior to moving as well.

9. Sell or get rid of items you do not use

Storage is super expensive here and if you’re in military housing, you may not have a basement to use as storage.

10. Prepare for weird hours of daylight

When we arrived in Alaska in last July, the sun was setting around midnight. On the winter solstice, we barely had five hours of sunlight. The summers help make up for the long winters, so make the most of them. Vitamin D pills or lights help add what you’re missing during the long winters.

11. Make the most out of your trip

More likely than not, you probably won’t be traveling to Alaska many other times in your life. Make the most out of this trip. My daughter was only six-months-old, so we rushed our trip to Alaska. When we move back to the lower 48, we plan on making the most out of the trip. Sight-see, enjoy the local food, and bring a camera. The scenery is breathtaking. We saw moose, bear, deer, rams, and buffalo just from the roadside.

12. Realize that your time here is temporary

Whether you wanted to be stationed in Alaska or did not, make the best out of the situation. Alaska is unlike anywhere else in the United States. Fish for salmon, try the local king crab, hike, and check out the glaciers if you can.