The back-to-basics way of life was perfect for Hurst as she tried to reset and focus on her values
● Lauren Hurst went from a typical young lifestyle in Washington state to roughing it in interior Alaska
● "Dry cabins" don't have running water, making them an economical and common type of home in the area
● Hurst hauls her household's water from local filling stations to her home as part of her weekly chores
Lauren Hurst wanted to get back to basics.
It wasn't long ago that the 29-year-old found herself living in Bellingham, Washington, working for a remote consulting firm, focused on "settling down" after working contract or seasonal jobs in various National Parks and Forests.
"I had spent all of my twenties moving around every year for work but always returned to Bellingham in between opportunities," she tells PEOPLE exclusively. "I attempted to create a life that satisfied the description of being 'settled' once I had a permanent role and healthy, consistent salary."
"I got a nice, downtown 2-bedroom apartment, met a guy who ended up moving in with me, and spent a lot of that income trying to create a sense of being 'anchored' to one place — through buying furniture and things to fill the space," she adds.
Hurst was living this way until she lost her job and entered a period of introspection, ultimately ending her relationship as well.
"This forced me to look around and assess if those lifestyle adjustments made me happy and whether or not society’s description of being 'settled' made me feel any more secure," she explains.
"I found that I felt weighed down by the high cost of rent, the amount of things that I needed to furnish a larger home, and I missed the natural environment that I lived in when working seasonal jobs. I decided to sell everything that wouldn’t fit in my Honda CR-V and return to the place that I fantasized about moving to whenever my job or relationship had felt rocky: Alaska."
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The move was made possible thanks, in part, to the fact that Hurst had connected with some TikTok influencers during her time working in Denali National Park in 2021.
"I had followed a number of creators on TikTok that had also been working seasonally in Alaska, including artist AnnMarie Young (@annmyoung.arts). I loved seeing other people’s experiences in Alaska and we stayed connected via social media even after I moved away," Hurst explains.
"She eventually made the permanent move to Alaska and moved into a dry cabin, so when I was considering doing the same, I messaged her with lots of questions and she ended up offering the cabin to me when she needed to relocate to another town!"
"Seeing another young woman living in a cabin alone in Alaska made it feel possible for me to do it, too. I just hope that sharing my own journey gives somebody else that same sense of empowerment," she explains.
Hurst made her move to the dry cabin, a "somewhat common" and economical form of housing found across interior Alaska, in July 2023.
"Dry cabins are often much less expensive than other forms of housing [and] for good reason — there’s no running water or plumbing," she explains.
"I wanted a chance to start over and 'find myself' without the financial stress of high rent costs pushing me back into an ill-fitting job too soon. I took some time off, sold my belongings and quickly planned the move once the cabin became available to me," Hurst says.
It took three months for her to get settled, which consisted of doing some renovating to her cabin while exploring the area and meeting new people.
"Although I loved all the free time, I was nervous about my first winter in interior Alaska. I decided that I needed to get a job to implement routine and make it through the short, cold days," she shares.
Not only did Hurst find a job in her area that allowed her to use her degree, but it also allowed her access to some of the most remote areas of the state.
"I started working in land surveying, traveling to remote villages in the state and exploring areas I otherwise would probably never get to. It was a huge adjustment to go from working fully remotely to being unemployed to then working in-person and taking bush planes to survey sites ... but it was well worth the adjustment."
Her new job allowed Hurst to return to what she was used to making while living in Washington, while her living costs had significantly decreased. She also credited the "added sense of adventure" to assuring her of her decision.
Hurst is currently experiencing her first winter in the dry cabin, many of the nuances of which are "centered around water management."
"Going into town to get water at -20 degrees isn’t terrible, but it is a chore! The Watering Hole — the station where you can fill up jugs to bring back to the cabin — is often very slick and icy," she shares.
"Something else I did not expect is that under a certain temperature, the system that keeps my car’s trunk hatch open no longer works, so getting the heavy jugs of water out of the back can be challenging since the door slowly closes instead of staying up safely. I also have to walk through the snow in the woods behind my cabin to empty out my sink bucket and that gets old," she admits. "Luckily, heat hasn’t been a problem at the cabin."
Discussing the benefits of dry cabin life, Hurst says she loves "feeling accomplished, living in a scenic area, [and] enjoying the benefits of lowering my monthly costs of living."
The lifestyle change allowed for Hurst to start "saving for retirement, saving to purchase my own cabin" and has allowed her "to afford more extracurricular activities [and] feeling a connection to a new place and unique group of people."
There are downsides, however, like "not having a hot bath, running out of water and needing to go to town to refill, and doing dishes with limited water over a sink bucket with limited capacity."
There are challenges in "not having a shower or laundry at the snap of my fingers" and admits she's even felt self-conscious when "having friends over when I have a pretty lackluster outhouse."
"I’ve gotten over this as I’ve learned most folks here are used to/very familiar with it," she adds.
Much of the bad has been outweighed for Hurst by the community she's built by sharing her experience on TikTok @explaurmore, where she has nearly 200,000 followers.
"It has been such a joy sharing dry cabin insights on TikTok. People are curious about lifestyles different from their own- and people being open about their lives online is how I came to be in this cabin, anyway," she says.
Hurst is enjoying sharing her trials and tribulations with cabin life but hopes to "share more details of my experience finding a lifestyle that allows me to feel content so that others can explore what their own version of success looks like."
In fact, Hurst says that learning how to adjust to her own vision of success has been her "biggest lesson" in this experience thus far.
"For me, moving to Alaska was all about getting uncomfortable. I wanted to push my personal limits physically, emotionally and mentally by experiencing a lifestyle that requires extra effort in an environment that’s a little rougher," she says.
"I had no idea what this adventure had in store for me, but the fact that I’ve been able to adapt to the harshness of winter in interior Alaska while starting a new job, building a new community, and incorporating a new everyday routine in a dry cabin has me feeling like I can withstand anything."
Hurst notes that in her area, "the dry cabin lifestyle isn’t that special or unique here," but she isn't looking for that kind of distinction.
"Being able to do it isn’t what makes me feel successful. What does, however, is ruthlessly pursuing curiosity, while knowing that the process will be uncomfortable, and gaining more confidence in my ability to not only land on my feet, but thrive — no matter what life throws my way."
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