Wondering where to plan your next summer vacation? Look no further than our very own 49th state, Alaska! I had the pleasure of visiting Alaska in June and completely fell in love with the lifestyle, history, and epic views. I’ll be writing up a 48-hour itinerary for Juneau, Alaska in a few weeks. In the meantime, check out this article I wrote for CBS on all the reasons why you should visit, here
. Local tour guide and fellow travel blogger Matt Koller gave me an insiders guide to this incredible city as well as an exclusive interview.
Read the full interview I had with Matt Koller below:
Merissa Principe: What brought you to Alaska?
Matt Koller: This is probably the number one question I get working as a guide in Alaska–people always want to know what life is like here, and more importantly, why I chose to come! The answer is always “the same thing that brought you here”–a sense of adventure, and a desire to see one of the most storied, beautiful parts of our country. While I’ve decided to spend a summer here and most people visit for a day or two, the yearning to learn about the Last Frontier is the same thing that brought us all up here.
Merissa Principe: What was your preconceived notion of Alaska before you moved there? How has it changed since living there?
Matt Koller: I worked in Denali two summers ago, which is much further inland than Juneau. The interior maintains a rugged sense of individualism; the “homesteading” culture is alive and well in rural Alaska. I expected much of the same when moving to Juneau, but was pleasantly surprised to find a community of artists, naturalists, and entrepreneurs…there is much more of a balance between being “outsdoorsy” and traditional cultural pursuits than in the other parts of Alaska I’ve visited.
Merissa Principe: Why should more American’s visit Alaska?
Matt Koller: Alaska is known as the Last Frontier, and while many Alaskans who’ve lived here for their entire lives have certainly seen it become overly commercialized in the past 20-40 years, it still maintains a sense of wilderness not often found in the rest of the United States. Alaskans regularly deal with inclement weather, wild animals, and the inconveniences of being off-the-grid of the 21st-century commercial supply-chain, and think nothing of it. It’s part of the way of life here, which is why so many people love it. Americans would benefit from a taste of what our country was like a hundred years ago–removed from the conveniences of modern life.
MP: In your opinion, what makes summer’s so special there?
MK: Alaska is far north, and in the summer gets 18-24 hours of daylight (depending on where you find yourself in this enormous state.) After a long, dark winter, summer is the time to play–no matter what the weather is. People come out of hibernation, and engage in every outdoor activity you can think of, from sailing & kayaking to biking & mountain climbing, summer is a time to be active. Even if you don’t spend your winters here, the energy is infectious and compels you to do more with your day.
MP: What’s your favorite Alaskan made memory thus far?
MK: My favorite Alaskan memory would have to be seeing a pod of Killer Whales in the wild. The legend surrounding their intelligence and emotion makes them an animal that humans revere, and they’re far too well-known for their ability to perform tricks at SeaWorld. Finding a family off the coast of Juneau, in their natural habitat, was an overwhelming experience.
MP: Name one thing you love about being a tour guide…
MK: I love the opportunity to spend every day educating people about the world around them. I only have their attention for a few hours, but sometimes that’s all it takes to get them excited about looking, feeling, and smelling the earth. I’m not looking to change lives in an instant, but the opportunity to inspire them to learn more about the environment and how we interact with it is a special job to have.
MP: Where’s your next trip?
MK: I’m currently applying to be a vehicle operator at McMurdo Station in Antarctica–a job I’ve been describing as half-bellhop, half tour guide. So assuming everything goes as planned, my next trip will be exploring a continent few people have the chance to visit!
About Matt Koller
Matt Koller is a writer and photographer currently living in Juneau, Alaska. He enjoys crafting narrative nonfiction pieces and taking pictures of the world around him.
In his free time, you can find him skiing, hiking, road-tripping, socializing, travel-planning, or just reading a book at the beach.
You can read about his adventures on www.verse-america.com, and follow his journey on Instagram at mkolle01.
Photo was taken on Northstar Trekking Glacier Hike by Merissa Principe
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