Alaska never ceases to inspire—and that’s even more true when a traveler is at a crossroads in their life.
That was the case for Jaime Hammond, a commercial interior designer and hobbyist home flipper from Pennsylvania. Jaime’s first Alaska trip came in 2020, during the week of her 30th birthday, a time of personal transition for her. She had been traveling solo for 7 years, growing her confidence to explore the 49th state.
We talked with her in March of 2022, when she was preparing to visit Alaska for the fourth time in two years. It was her first trip during the Alaskan winter, though, and she was excited to experience cold-weather activities like the Fur Rendezvous festival and the start of the famous Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Q: How has Alaska changed you?
A: In almost every way!
I think I discovered myself in Alaska, and that’s helped me become the person I was meant to be.
Family, friends, and people at work say I have a different aura about me now. I tell them it’s because I discovered me! Each time I go to Alaska, I find out something new about myself. It’s been an ever-changing evolution personally.
Q: What makes Alaska special for you?
A: It’s where I find my absolute peace, where I feel the most myself, the most centered. When I’m in Alaska I don’t have anxiety or worries and don’t think about my job—everything negative and stressful just goes away.
Animals and nature are certainly part of it. I grew up loving both, and being surrounded by both is part of Alaska’s magic. I’ve been to other national parks around the country, but Alaska is so vast beyond even the national parks, and there’s still so much that hasn’t been touched.
Q: What are your favorite places and/or experiences in Alaska?
A: I just got a big smile on my face because there are a few. The biggest emotional experience I had was during my trip to Katmai National Park. I knew I’d go to Alaska and see the bears—something I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a little kid. I’d watched all these documentaries and knew it was the right time in my life to see these magnificent creatures in the wild.
The whole experience there was even more amazing than I had hoped. Just being in that environment was incredible—so raw and so beautiful—and the sounds and smells are fantastic. Then you throw in the bears, which makes it even more amazing. They really take your breath away. I had this expectation of how I would react when I saw a brown bear for the first time–and while I was super-excited, I was also surprisingly quiet and calm, because I felt so connected with the bears. It was a really unique feeling that I’d never felt before.
Another creature that blew me away: bald eagles. They’re beautiful and have this intensity in their eyes, but they’re also so soft and elegant. I love just staring at them for hours. And as I traveled more around Alaska, I kept seeing more of them. My last experience with them was in Kodiak. I was camping by myself and I was the only one at the campsite at the time. I was in bear country and a little anxious; I was running through all the steps in my head if a bear came. So I just took a few deep breaths. Then I started to hear the sound of eagles, and it eventually put me to sleep. The sound of eagles is my favorite sound now.
Q: How does the Alaska wilderness make you feel?
A: Alive! I’m not that happy living in a super-modern society, in a big city with work deadlines and unhappy clients. But all the negative stuff that is my normal life just melts away in Alaska—just being in the pure, raw wilderness. You don’t even have cell service most of the time, and you rarely run into people on trails. I come alive there. I’m more emotion-based, very in touch with my soul and inner self, and I connect with that side of myself in the wilderness, away from it all. I get that calm sense through the smells and the sounds and the scenery, and just the overall peace of being in nature by myself.
Q: What are 3 words that sum up what Alaska means to you?
A: Spiritual, majestic, raw
Q: Alaska.org’s mission is to show visitors an authentic Alaska experience. What are those qualities?
A: I think this might be different for every traveler. For me, it’s being a part of the culture. I never want to feel like I’m just there visiting.
For an authentic trip, I want to feel like I live there for that time. I talk with people who live there and just learn about their lives.
They’re so happy to share because it’s so meaningful to them. I support locals as often as I can when I shop or dine–things like visiting local breweries. My goal is to experience all of it as if I was a local.
Q: What advice would you give visitors to Alaska?
A: Talk to the local Alaskans! I have made friends that I think I will have for a lifetime. I come from Philadelphia, where people don’t say hi on the street even if you say hi to them first. Alaskans are such a different kind of people and they’ve really restored my faith in humanity. Talking to Alaskans refreshes the soul. They’re genuine people who want to help just for the sake of it. Also, you come across treasures you won’t find just by searching online. If you’re trying to immerse yourself as a local, talking to them is the first step!