Pitfalls of Living on an Island

Tom and I went from living on an island off the coast of Georgia – St. Simons – to living on an island off the coast of Washington State – San Juan Island.  Although we love the scenic beauty of both the islands, there are some pitfalls to living on an island.

The first of the pitfalls is the limited access.  On St. Simons there was a causeway from the mainland to the island.  We could drive on and off but there was only one way to go.  If there was accident on the road, you just had to patiently wait until it was cleared up.  On San Juan Island the access is even more limited.  You can only get here by boat or airplane.  The Washington State Ferry system is extensive and convenient.  But sometimes a ferry breaks down which changes everything.

For instance, today we wanted to go to Orcas Island.  Usually there isn’t any problem hopping on the inter-island ferry and popping over to another island for the day.  One of our rangers commutes every day from Lopez Island.  But there was a problem with one of the big ferries running from Anacortes to Friday Harbor.  As a result, the inter-island ferry was making half the Anacortes runs.  We expected to get on the ferry at 11:30 and be at Orcas Island at 12:30.  But because of the ferry problems the next ferry to Orcas was leaving at 2:30.  So we decided to go to Orcas Island some other day.  The ranger who commutes isn’t able to get home until the 8:30 p.m. ferry.  Hardly worth going home for the night.

A real house – 600 square feet – for sale with ocean view. $1.8 million!

The second of the pitfalls is the expense.  Real estate prices on islands are very high, especially if there is an ocean view.  Most ocean view homes on both islands start at a million dollars.  A very inexpensive fixer-upper home (not ocean view) will be $200,000 to $300,000.  Tom and I are glad that the National Park Service provides RV pads for free!

Groceries and eating out are another place we notice the inflated prices.  We pay about 30% more for everything.  It is easier to understand on San Juan Island, where everything is brought in by ferry.  I think the higher prices are also because both islands are tourist destinations:  everyone knows you are willing to splurge more when you are on vacation.

Shelves after 4th of July

The third and final of the pitfalls is the limited availability.  Tom and I joke that you can buy anything on the island – as long as you know where to find it and are willing to buy the item in stock.  Buying my allergy medicine (Claritin D) has been particularly annoying.  Usually I can buy it in a 15 count box and get a less-expensive generic equivalent.  Here on San Juan Island only one place sells it and they only sell packages of 10 tablets.  I can only buy one box at a time, so I am in the drugstore about once a week.  The grocery stores are often out of Dr. Pepper or Diet Coke – and we have to wait until the next shipment arrives.

We have been doing a home renovation project (more on that soon) and needed a piece of lumber.  Easy enough to do in Ohio, but where to get it here without an hour-long ferry ride?  Turns out there is a store on the island that sells lumber:  Brownes Home Center.  We have driven by Brownes many times but thought it was an interior decorating place.  Brownes is a mini Home Depot.  They had everything we needed as long as we were willing to compromise on a few details.

Living on an island is beautiful and fun – for now.  We are enjoying San Juan Island very much.  But there are some pitfalls that make me glad we get to head back to the mainland in September.

  • Kristin Burkey

    Next time you’ll know to stock up on allergy meds before you go off mainland!

    • revkaren54

      I can’t! I can only buy up to 15 at a time and I take one every day and I can only buy 30 a month – even in months with 31 days. It works great, but it is really frustrating to get the number I need. Tom says he hopes all meth manufacturers end up with killer allergies.