It's one little letter that makes a big difference. The Alaska Backpackers Inn is a hostel, not a hotel. Assistant property manager Shannon Lusk is happy to explain the difference to visitors, and often does. But if a visiting vacationer arrives expecting upscale lodging, the mural featuring three creepy heads facing the parking lot might be a giveaway.
"We're not a hotel by any means. You won't find a small soap on your pillow," Lusk said.
For travelers expecting more quirk than comfort, the hostel at the east end of downtown Anchorage has much more art to discover inside. The halls, floors and rooms are covered with murals and messages from people around the world who have made Eagle Street a stop on their journey.
Lusk says the Inn first opened in 2006 and has expanded recently to include an annex building. A night in a shared room starts at $25, and a private suite is about $100. Use of the art supplies, however, is on the house. A handwritten note in the hallway asks guests to "help decorate." The rules are simple: Keep it related to Alaska or travel and don't include anything vulgar or profane.
From the looks of it, few pass up the opportunity to contribute. Images and words cover much of the building's interior. From inspirational quotes and religious messages to intricate landscapes to clever one-liners, it would take more than one visit to take it all in.
Georgia Ayers, who runs the front desk, says the messages and art are a pleasant reminder of the guests who have passed through the Inn from locations worldwide. "You get a lot of people from a lot of countries. So many cultures," she said. Ayers herself is from Bulgaria.
Lusk says the creative freedom is rarely abused. "It's pretty rare that we have to paint over things that are offensive," she said. When it happens, it's usually just gross humor. A bunk-bed room on the second floor is a blank canvas now. Staff had to extensively repaint over black-marker tagging.
Guests are far more likely to see a playful image or read something dreamy. "If during the night you miss the sun, you will not notice the stars," read one entry along the stairwell.
Lusk finds new things to read every time she walks the halls, and those little exchangers among strangers are precisely the point. "The mission is to allow people to leave their mark, to show where they've traveled."
"It's like a guest book all over the place," she said.