Last month I was on my first trip to Alaska – a round trip cruise from Seattle stopping in Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan. One of the more memorable things a guide told us is that there are only three ways to get to Juneau – by air, by sea, and by birth canal. I sought out and met people who arrived all three ways. Spending a week in such a different environment reminded me how important it is to be out in the world engaging with all kinds of people.

What’s on their bucket lists

The majority of people I talked to about my plans had either already been – in several cases more than once – or wanted to go or knew someone who had recently been. Alaska experienced record tourism numbers in 2016, then beat those numbers by 4% in 2017. More than 1.9 million people visited Alaska in 2017, with more than one million arriving by ship. It’s easy to see why it’s on so many bucket lists. Asking what’s on someone’s bucket list is one of my favorite questions.

Pride of place

Locals like to talk about how big Alaska is, especially to Texans. Alaska is bigger than Texas, California, and Montana combined, and at 3.3 million acres, Glacier Bay National Monument is bigger than the state of Connecticut. Denali, (for some time known as Mount McKinley), is the highest mountain peak in North America. It’s this pride of place that endears people from around the world to Alaska.

Where your target market is

There were two groups of people I encountered regularly while docked: one was the significant number of retired Floridians spending their summer in Alaska. Many of these people work in the travel industry, driving tour buses, selling tickets, and greeting ships as they docked. The other was millennials who came to Alaska for social and environmental work. The young woman from Houston who gave the visitor talk at the bear refuge moved to Alaska with her fiancé, who specializes in taking at-risk youth into nature. A young Englishman moved there with his European wife, who is a tree specialist developing programs to save the forest. It was a good reminder that a target audience is in more places doing more things than we sometimes know.

What drives decisions – and their economics

It’s impossible to forget that where gold reigned, oil is now king. Alaska’s economy, state budget, and well-being are all tied to the price of oil. Where we might wake up each morning to check the weather, people in Alaska are waking up to check the going rate of a barrel of oil. Oil is a major component of every decision in Alaska, and it drives the economy. Be respectful but be sure to ask about their economics.

Honoring history and tradition

Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan are home to the indigenous Tlingit. Their culture, dress, music, and appreciation of nature and the environment are still alive and honored today. Alaskans are proud of their history, which is largely dominated by the gold rush. Russia sold Alaska to the US in 1867 for $7.2 million, which was initially referred to as “Seward’s Folly.” Secretary of State William Seward agreed to the purchase, but critics were reluctant to believe that anything could come of what was known only as a northern ice box, not realizing how much gold would be discovered. Asking people about their favorite traditions is another one of my favorite questions, especially around holiday time.

Travel is a great way to be reminded of the rich diversity available to us. Regardless of where we are, when we experience new cultures to learn from, we are enriched.