In preparation for our trip I have been researching topics such as potential accommodations, activities, landmarks, and transportation methods for each destination. I figure this will give us a better idea of the daily cost, and therefore help determine how long we will want to stay in each country. It will be interesting to see the difference between the ideas I have researched and what we actually do when we are on the road!
Click the small arrow button on the top left of the map header (left of where it says “Potential Destination”) to expand out additional details about many of the locations and activities described below.
U.S. Visa/Travel: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/finland.html
During the winter months our top potential travel destinations are going to be Finland and Spain. Which place we go to first will greatly depend on airplane ticket prices from Thailand to Europe. I have noticed that there are often last minute deals on flights to Spain that are very cheap, so we may find we go to Spain first then Finland. Either way, Finland is sure to be very different from our previous destinations. When I think of Finland I picture two extremes – a relaxed, fun-loving and care-free culture combined with one full of energy to explore new adventures and think outside of the box.
Helpful Web Sites
Finland accommodations can be relatively expensive, especially when compared to Southeast Asia, which is where we will have likely spent the previous three months. The lowest cost hotels often run over $100 per night, and to do something crazy like sleep in a snow hotel (yes, literally the rooms are made of snow) will cost over $300 per night.
Hostels and AirBnB Options
A top place to spend some time while in Finland is Rovaniemi in the province known as Lapland, which is north of the Arctic Circle. I have found just a few hostels in Rovaniemi, with one currently charging around $40 per person a night for a dorm room bed and $80-150 (depending on dates booked) for a private room with twin beds, (https://hostelcafekoti.fi). Another option may be Airbnb, with entire apartments/flats going for $60-80 per night. One advantage of the hostel is breakfast is included in the room price. Both hostels and Airbnb would have a kitchen to prepare meals to save money, versus going out to eat all the time.
Work for Room & Board
Throughout the world there are ways to help a business or person in exchange for a place to stay and meals. There are multiple websites out there to help find these opportunities such as Workaway and HippoHelp. Examples of hosts I found in Finland include helping out on a husky farm and dogsled operation, helping to renovate an old building into an art center, or working on a family farm. If we do go this route it will most likely mean staying in Finland a bit longer then expected, since most hosts want you to stay and help for at least one month.
To register as a couple through Workaway costs $42, while HippoHelp is free. One post I read said that most hosts looking for help post on multiple sites like this since it is free for them, so chances are each site will have similar listings. However, after looking at both, Workaway seems to have more listings, so may be worth the membership fee.
Friends are the Greatest!
As with New Zealand and Australia, our other pricey potential destinations, we thankfully have friends in Lahti, Finland (which is in Lakeland, the largest lake district in Europe with thousands of lakes) who are willing to let us stay at their place. This in itself is the reason visiting Finland is remotely possible for us. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Reducing the cost of accommodations will allow us to have money to spend on some amazing adventures while in Finland.
According to multiple websites I have looked at, Finland has one of the top bus transportation services in Europe. It is quite extensive and you can reach just about anywhere in Finland. It is also quite affordable as compared to train. When looking at bus versus train from Lahti to Rovaniemi the bus trip would take approximately 10-11 hours and the train 12 hours, but cost half as much. So, to me, bus travel seems the way to go in Finland.
Time for some winter fun! Pete and I both grew up in the northeast (Upstate NY and Vermont) and did our fair share of winter activities growing up. But since moving to Virginia, which hardly ever gets snow that lasts more then a day or two, our exposure to winter fun has been severely limited over the past 16 plus years. The interesting thing is going to be having appropriate outdoor gear so we don’t freeze! Given the fact that we are going to be packing very light and won’t have room for winter boots and heavy coats, we hopefully will be able to borrow from our friends and/or buy some gear while there and ship it home when we leave. Crazy enough, there are websites you can rent winter gear from while in Finland, but it is pretty pricey. I also noticed many of the tour companies supply outdoor clothing as part of the ticket price.
Did Someone Say Sauna?
About an hour and twenty minutes from Helsinki, Lahti is where we will be staying with friends. While here we hope to do some ice skating, grill sausages and drink blueberry tea in a lean-to, and experience one of Finland’s most well known activities/past times, the famous sauna. It is estimated that there are over 3 million saunas in Finland, which equates to one per household. That’s a lot of saunas! We will, of course, have to do the roll-in-the-snow or jump-in-the-iced-over-lake cool down in between our sauna sessions.
Whether it is in Lahti or Rovaniemi, another must do while in Finland will be going dog sledding. There are numerous farms/companies which offer dog sledding, one of which is just north of Lahti in Heinola and costs about $64 per person for a 4km ride – https://www.koirakikka.fi.
While in Rovaniemi, one place to consider visiting is Arktikum, which is a science center and museum. Arktikum houses the University of Lapland’s Arctic Center and the Regional Museum of Lapland. There are numerous exhibitions, some permanent and others temporary, and outside along the Ounasjoki River is the Arktikum Beach Park and Garden. If we do end up going to Finland in the winter months, there is potential to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) and the Arktikum Beach Park is a great place to see them.
Seeing the Northern Lights is a highly sought after experience, and there are numerous tours available to get you away from the city lights to help you see them better. One example is a snowshoeing/Northern Lights tour, (https://www.tripadvisor.com/AttractionProductDetail-g189922-d11854361-Northern_Lights_Snowshoe_Hike_in_Rovaniemi-Rovaniemi_Lapland.html) which costs around $95 per person.
Some more extreme and adventurous ways to see the Northern Lights can be found at Apukka resort, where it is possible to see Aurora Borealis from your bed! Should we stay in the Aurora Cabin with panorama glass roof, the Aurora Wagon which is a mobile unit that can be transported to a different location, or an Ice Cabin which are literally build out of ice blocks? So many great options!
Speaking of the Northern Lights, I have to interject a funny story about me and Pete while in Alaska. We were on a trip with UnCruise traveling from Sitka to Juneau, which by the way, we highly recommend. We were told there was potential to see the Northern Lights one evening, but it would probably be around one or two in the morning. Knowing there was no way we were going to stay up that late, we asked one of the crew, Niles, to knock on our door if they in fact happened. Well, late that night we got the knock on the door from Niles, rolled out of bed, got some warmer clothes on (partly to cover our pajamas so we didn’t look too ridiculous), and grabbed the camera. We stood in the freezing cold for a few minutes to see a few small little wisps of color cross the sky. When it didn’t look like things were going to get any better, but went back to our warm bed and went back to sleep. Several hours later there was another knock on the door. Based on our impressions of the first viewing we were less then optimistic and decided to stay in our room. Big mistake. According to our fellow travelers, we totally missed out! Apparently, it was spectacular later on. Some of the seasoned crew even said it was the best showing they had every seen.
This time, I don’t care if I have to hike several miles into the woods and stay up all night every day we are there, I am going to see some Northern Lights in Finland!
A significant cultural aspect of Finland are the Sami, who are the only indigenous people of the European Union. They live in the northernmost part of Finland (as well as northern Norway, Sweden, and NE Russia). At their origin the Sami were known as hunters and gatherers, but today they are more known for their reindeer herding and husbandry. It would be great to take part in a tour with a local Sami to get a better view of their daily life and culture. Maybe we can help herd and feed some reindeer, go ice fishing, experience some traditional food, and just talk with the Sami about their way of life. Tour information can be found at http://www.visitnatives.com/finland.
Any thoughts about our ideas above, or suggestions of “must see” activities/landmarks? Please include those below!