By Taryn Williams, FBX Children's Museum, Summer 2020
Living in a city as expensive as Fairbanks on ~$1,200 a month has proven to have its challenges (especially when there are so many delicious Thai restaurants and coffee huts to tempt you!) and can be one of the most intimidating parts of becoming a VISTA - even more so for Summer Associates who don’t have as much time to adjust. Throughout the last six weeks, however, I have found it to be an entertaining challenge, as it has allowed me to experience the city differently than I otherwise would have. I have found different ways to live within my budget while also trying new things and visiting unique places and have realized that $1,200 can get you far if you know what is important to you.
$800: Rent - already the largest line in anyone’s budget, rent in Fairbanks has proven to be no different. Though an apartment usually costs well more than the monthly stipend itself, renting a room has its perks. For $800, I found a room that is within walking distance from downtown (and my site), a kitchen that is well-enough stocked with utensils and dishware, and a private bath attached to my room. Coming to Fairbanks in a time of COVID-19 and quarantine means that I am spending more time at home than I otherwise would, so I know I am getting my money’s worth here.
$200: Grocery Shopping - the downside of living in a small city without a car is that my options are somewhat limited. Though I was excited to see that the store within walking distance is a Co-Op that boasts many vegetarian and environmentally-friendly items, it also means that my spending is higher than it would otherwise need to be. When I was moving in, I made a trip to the large chain grocery store to buy things like pasta and rice, and have been using the Co-Op to get perishables based on what I’m cooking each week. Each trip to the Co-Op costs me about $30 (I can only take what I can carry!) and - when I’m primarily shopping sales - I average about four days of meals from each trip. In the end, I have spent around $200 there each month.
$100: Restaurants and Coffee Huts - my favorite category to budget for and the one that motivates me to limit spending elsewhere, eating out is always a top priority for me. Seeing the multitude of Thai restaurants upon my arrival, I knew that my “Fairbanks Bucket List” would include trying several of those and - despite not being a coffee drinker - I have ended up at Sunrise several times in the early mornings (and, more often, in the hot evenings for a $2 cone). Between a biweekly Thai dinner, a few stops at the coffee hut, and an occasional crepe, I have come in just around $100 each month.
$60: Cell Phone Bill - an unfortunate necessity in life these days, kept a bit lower with the 10% discount GCI gave me for being a VISTA (small wins add up!) The money is automatically charged as soon as I get paid and I don’t spend much of my time thinking about it.
$40: Miscellaneous - As hard as I tried to plan ahead, there is inevitably always something you end up needing (a Lyft home during a Fairbanks-famous sudden torrential downpour, a pack of band-aids after accidentally scratching yourself on the walk home, or a tube of toothpaste because, well, personal hygiene) and it’s always safe to leave room for this. Between personal hygiene needs and the occasional transportation, I have spent almost exactly $40 on these necessities each month.
My budget in Fairbanks isn’t perfect - ideally I could have found lower rent or tried to find a room closer to another grocery store - but I’m only here for ten weeks and I’m doing what I can to make the best of it. I have a comfortable roof over my head and enough money for my favorite things (Thai food), and I have been able to live a relatively comfortable life on the (admittedly tight) living allowance.
Vicki wrapped up her service year on July 6, 2020. She served Love INC of the Tanana Valley well as their Development & Communications coordinator. She helped develop a fundraising model, managed social media, started up First Friday events, and assisted in event planning for Agape & Kids Fest. Fairbanks get to keep Vicki a bit longer as she will now be employed at Love INC, no longer as a VISTA but as their Development & Communications manager.
Vicki, thank you for your service to our community. Our program appreciates your input, hard work and dedication. We can't wait to see what you do next for our wonderful community.
By Aisha Pereira, Restore Inc. '20-21
So you’ve accepted a position with AmeriCorps VISTA of Fairbanks. Congrats!
Now you’ve got to decide how to get to your service assignment… all the way in Alaska! Seems crazy. Maybe it is, a little.
For many people, it’s more prudent to fly, but others may have a vehicle they don’t want to leave behind. In my case, I love road trips and have two fur-covered companions in tow. I accepted a position in Fairbanks, Alaska more than 5000 miles away from where I lived with only two months to make it there.
It seemed next to impossible, but the adventure was well worth all the stress of planning. The best piece of advice I was given and feel obligated to pass along to anyone interested in making this trek is to buy the guide book called the Milepost! This guide is amazing - it gives you info on literally everything that you will encounter between the lower 48 and Alaska, from maps to lists of amenities, where to get gas, food, lodging and so much more.
Driving from Maine across the entire country (and Canada) to Alaska was one of the best experiences of my life. I met tons of interesting people and saw some of the most awe inspiring sights. I highly recommend Badlands National Park and Mt. Rushmore.
If you’re like me with family and friends spread across the country, take advantage of the opportunity and turn your road trip into a chance to see all your long-lost friends and family.
Not only does this help with your hotel costs, it gives you a chance to see their neighborhoods from local eyes. I budgeted for 2 weeks to make the entire 5000 mile journey (it can be done in less if needed) and I certainly didn’t take the shortest route possible. I planned out which areas I knew someone or parks that I was hoping to explore. The shortest route would have taken me through Canada nearly the whole way. According to other travelers, that drive is boring and not recommended for winter travel.
I discovered that the best route (especially during winter) would be to drive all the way across the country to Seattle and then travel up through British Columbia. I was honestly thrilled at this idea because I had never been to the west coast and always wanted to drive across the country and now I finally had that opportunity.
Another major aspect of my trip that gave me immense joy was the fact that I was completely free to change my plans as I went.
The only deadlines I had were to be in Seattle by a certain date and to get to Alaska before my start date. I budgeted to get there about a week before I needed to start work. This worked out ideally because at the beginning of my trip, I decided to skip a stop, affording me an extra day along the way. I was able to stay two nights and explore Badlands National Park, as well as enjoy a whole day in the middle of my trip that I didn’t need to be on the road. I was able to recharge, repack and relax. The next part of my journey wasn’t as easy going as the start but it was still highly enjoyable.
One last piece of advice I would give is that you allow yourself extra time!
Not only do you want to enjoy this trip in all its glory but there are a multitude of things that could happen that could push back even the most well planned and prepared traveler. I budgeted for three days to drive from Seattle, Washington to Fairbanks, Alaska. I was very lucky to have another driver join me for this stretch of the trip and it still took us an additional day to make the full trip. The first leg of our trip went well but we pushed ourselves hard and drove a little too long. We ended the night by driving through some of the most magnificent looking mountains in the dead of night. After a day of driving, we were exhausted; the roads were winding, steep and covered in a thick layer of ice. We made it safely but it was worrying. From there, we decided to shorten the amount of driving time for each day and make it a little easier.
The final section of this journey included some of the most breathtaking scenery and wildlife. Not only were we driving through mountain ranges like nothing I had seen before but we were amazed to see herds of bison along the road, mountain goats on the cliffs, as well as countless moose and caribou in different areas along the way.
If you’re considering this drive, I highly recommend that you stop at Liard Hot Springs. I passed by on a snowy day and didn’t think we would end up going in but figured it was a decent place for a stop and to walk the dogs. When we got to the springs, it was so clear and beautiful I couldn't resist and ended up just jumping in. It was definitely one of the highlights of the entire trip and so refreshing and relaxing during a long day of driving.
All in all, my road trip was an exhilarating, empowering and life changing experience. I recommend it to anyone that has the means to do it, whether it’s the entire cross country trip or just driving the Alcan through Canada.
Do your research. Make sure you have emergency plans and supplies, because you never know what could go wrong. But if you’re undecided on whether to drive or fly, I want you to know that it is absolutely possible to drive to Alaska and I hope my experience might provide you the confidence to give it a try.