Last Spring, Gabby and I decided to pack our things (once again) and head off to yet another employment adventure. This time we decided to move to Skagway, Alaska for a sumer job that would last for only 5 months. After checking out Coolworks.com, and filling out a few applications, we were both hired by a Brewery/Restaurant in the busy cruise ship port-of-call town. We had almost no idea what to expect. Here’s what we learned!
1. Skagway, Alaska is summer camp for adults.
We were shocked to realize that nearly everyone in town was our age, everyone was from everywhere, and there were no boring people in sight. We fell in love instantly. According to the most recent census the population of Skagway is about 900, but in the summertime there are over 2,000 seasonal workers who flock here for summer jobs. There’s tons of work in Skagway, all you have to do is apply. You can work for restaurants, bars, tour operators, the train, the hotel, the bus companies, or any of the various retail locations in town. Skagway is set up just the way it was when it was built in 1898. Broadway is lined with restored period era buildings, complete with false fronts, and there are wooden boardwalks along the main streets. It’s a town rich with history, which it celebrates and holds close.
Skagway has 5 bars in town, each with their own unique attributes; one of them even stays open until 5am, and reopens for breakfast at 8. Also, Marijuana is legal and (Updated: 3/2017) available at the local dispensary! There’s live music to hear on almost any given night all summer long from local bands and open mic, to Karaoke for the brave.
2. Get hired and move in!
When we arrived, we quickly learned that the most difficult thing about getting to Skagway was finding a place to live once you got there. The entire town is only 4 blocks wide by 22 blocks long; and it’s fully enclosed by mountains and ocean. There just aren’t enough houses for all of the people. Therefore, most summer jobs offer housing. The easiest way to get housing in Skagway is to get hired for the summer sometime around February or March and move in around April/May; that way they don’t run out of space before you get hired.
3 . End Dates
Every seasonal contract comes with something very important written on it, your end date. Having a summer job with an end date allows you the freedom of knowing exactly when you’re going to be done working. You can make plans to travel to your next destination, or back home, or to your next job easily. It also prevents you from getting burnt out since you can clearly see your end date in sight.
The community in Skagway is unlike any I’ve ever seen anywhere. Most people here are only here for the summer, although many who come here once end up coming back year-after-year. Very few live here year-round, yet there are more and more young people deciding to stay for the winter each year. People take care of each other and form close relationships, yet still respect each other’s privacy. You can be whoever you want to be here, there’s little judgment, and there’s a friend for everyone. Besides, we’re all a bunch of weirdos anyway.
5. Tourist Money
Even if you don’t particularly enjoy having your town overrun with tourists each day, they bring something very important off the ships and into town with them, money, And you’re going to get that money. The tourists keep this town alive, and when it comes down to it, they’re the reason we come here. Their money goes into our paychecks, and they’ve got a lot to spend. We wouldn’t come here if it wasn’t worth our time and money to get here every year. Servers, bartenders, bus drivers, and tour guides also stand to rake in lots of tips in addition to their hourly wage. (As a side note, servers and bartenders must also be paid no less than the AK state minimum wage) In short, the money is good.
6. No need for a car.
When the entire town is 22 blocks long by 4 blocks wide, there’s rarely any need for a car. That’s not to say that people don’t bring their cars here, it’s always nice to drive somewhere across town and get there within 3 minutes, but you can easily get by with a bike. Some of those people with cars are willing to let you borrow theirs if you needed it, and if they’re asked politely. We leave ours safely down south for the whole summer.
7. Hiking/ Outdoor Activities
Skagway is heaven for anyone who loves the outdoors. There are seemingly endless hiking trails including the 33-mile Chilkoot trail used by thousands of prospectors during the Klondike gold rush. Apart from hiking there’s also camping, backpacking, mountain biking, kayaking, fishing, rock climbing, cliff jumping, and an 18-hole disc-golf course. Not to mention, you’re only 13 miles from the Yukon. If you’re not an outdoorsy type, you might just be before Fall.
8. Tours and Excursions
Skagway is a cruise ship port-of-call, so there’s a lot of tours and excursions here for those cruisers. The fun thing is, that as a local, you can do them too! There’s river rafting, dog sled tours, gold panning, zip lining, horseback riding, fishing tours, a brothel tour, and so many more. And since the new legislation, there’s even a marijuana grow tour! If you happen to work for one of these tour operators, you might even get to do a lot of these for free.
9. Long Days
By the summer solstice, the sun sets in Skagway, AK around 10:30PM and rises around 3AM. The sky never even fully darkens in-between. These long days allow you to fit so much more into your daily schedule. Sure, it takes a little getting used to. It’s a little weird at first to wake up to the sun at 4:30AM and to go to bed when it’s still light outside. But soon you’ll see how much you benefit from having 6 extra hours of light each day. When it gets dark around 8:00, your brain tells you it’s time to go home. Here in Skagway, it stays light until much later so it’s always easy to stay out and do things.
10. Friends for life
You’re going to make a lot of friends in Skagway. You’re going to work, live, and play with a lot of the same people day in and day out. You’re going to develop strong bonds with people that you can’t even explain to your friends “down south.” Then, when September comes, you wipe your tears, say goodbye, and send them off. Then, maybe you get to see them next summer, or maybe you make plans to meet them somewhere else in the world. Either way, you’re going to make new friends for life here, you can’t even avoid it.
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What’s stopping you? Have you ever worked a seasonal job? What were your experiences like?