If you know me, you’re likely aware that traveling abroad is very dear to my heart--whether that be to shoot something, for a film festival, or reconnect with friends and gain new experience. My goal is usually to travel twice a year, but sometimes I’m lucky enough to get away with leaving three or four times. Every year, I find myself checking off a list of things I want to do, and buying a home has been quite high on that list for sometime now. Although, when a travel opportunity strikes, manifesting itself on my horizon, I have an extremely difficult time saying no to the magic of another trip overseas. I have yet to regret the decision I’ve made about traveling--I’m investing in something within myself rather than a physical property. I promise, though, a house is on the horizon!
Last year, my friend Miguel, a brilliant musician, landscape photographer, and now a video enthusiast, asked me if I wanted to go on a photo/video adventure in Lapland to capture the Northern Lights. When I say these trips magically manifest on my horizon, I speak of these moments. How could I say no to a proposition like that? Lapland? Northern Lights? It was “yes” before the word even left my mouth. I haven’t known anyone personally who’s been to Lapland. How could I not think this was a sign to take another trip? Someone is asking me to go and travel with them--that’s brave if you ask me. Especially, never having traveled with him in the past. I hoped that our four years of friendship would withstand such an adventure. Longer story short-we started planning our trip.
Lapland in search of Aurora
When to go
Miguel and I went in the beginning of January and still were happy with how the weather turned out; we caught some Northern Lights and magnificent sunsets. We had about 4 hours of light, a gradual sunrise for the most part. Around 10 A.M., everything would turn pink as if using the dimmer on a light switch-- the sun and the day would get brighter. There are a few hours (or less) of this stunning bright light if the weather is sunny, and boom! all of sudden the sky is on fire--mesmerizing shades of red, purple, orange. So, pray for clear days--clouds mean significantly more darkness. From what I understand, later in the winter you’ll get more daylight and better probability of seeing the lights. It’s worth the research to investigate when the best time to see the lights is.
Go with a friend. Or even 2.
Sure, going with friend(s) is a little risky (sharing a car, room, etc. will definitely test your relationship!), but making it through these travels as a team will no doubt bond you for life--friends forever. Miguel and I had our share of fights (even some yelling), but we talked, improved, gave each other space, and at the end of our trip I felt like our friendship was stronger, and I’ve gained something valuable because of it. Every friendship has layers of emotional separation no matter how close you are. When you travel together some of those layers peel off and you can witness more of your friend's true self--good or bad. It’s magical. Because, in my opinion, discovering another human being and getting closer connection is a really beautiful thing, and at its' core, is a reason itself to travel. I think nowadays we experience it less and less as we are hiding behind our phones and computers. All in all, friends are a money saver! Finland is expensive and splitting costs with a friend will make your adventures easier to manage financially.
How to get there.
First things first. Get yourself an Airline Credit Card with lots of international partners (such as Delta or American Airlines) that will accumulate you miles. I have both, and every year I get a free trip from each of them. I use them like debit cards, one for my business and one for personal use. I put everything on them, and, oh, and what a nice feeling it is to realize you have enough miles to fly to Europe for free! It makes my year every single time. My flight to Helsinki was free apart from $70 in tax.
No worries if you don’t have that perk (but seriously consider it! You are spending money on utilities, groceries, etc. anyway. Might as well make miles on that!) There are some cheap flights if you book in advance. I would watch flights to 3-4 cities. There are plenty of apps to watch for cheap tickets (like Hopper) and I go directly on the airline website and look through their schedules. I swear I’ve seen flights to Stockholm for $350! That’s cheaper than flying to Florida.
Then, you can book a flight from wherever you end up to Lapland. They have budget airlines with lower baggage allowance and no drinks, but we paid $132 for two people flying from Helsinki to Ivalo or Kittila in Lapland. That’s a pretty good deal. Just make sure you allow yourself plenty of time in between flights so you don’t miss it!
Cities to fly into from the US: Helsinki, Stockholm, Tallinn, Oslo
Cities in Lapland to fly from Europe: Kittila, Ivalo
I recommend getting a car there if you have the budget to do so. I am sure there are bus services but if you are short on time and want to be flexible (you can really drive and stop every 5 min to take pictures when the light is nice). We paid $315 for 4 days for a compact car. I thought oh man driving in the snow we for sure need an SUV and was hesitant about a compact car. But it was a really nice and steady Volvo that handled their roads just fine. I can’t take credit for any of it because thankfully my friend is an excellent driver and since he was the only driver on the car he drove the entire time. I do recommend adding all drivers because that would’ve made things easier for us if we could both drive and I wouldn’t feel bad when he was tired but still driving, etc. We used Budget rental but you can go through any car rental service available at the airport.
Where in Lapland
I am sure there are a lot of beautiful places in Lapland but we ended up exploring areas near a town called Kittila so this would be my recommendation.
However, because our last accommodation was near Ivalo airport we flew to Ivalo airport first and then drove 3.5 hours in the dark to our first cabin that was actually closer to Kittila that has its' own airport. But at the end of the trip we didn’t like the resort or fancy, expensive glass igloos so I won’t be recommending that. You are better off flying in to Kittila and driving to the resort/hostel if you go with our recommendation. Probably only an hour or so drive.
Seven Fells Hostel is a great option if you are on a budget or just want to experience hostel life/community in Lapland. This one was fantastic, and I made a friend there--Kati was working reception when we arrived and we just started asking questions. I realized immediately that this lady is my soul sister and we’d become fast friends. She made two of the most amazing experiences in Lapland happen for us. I say it was meant to be.
We rented a cabin on their grounds through Airbnb with a mini kitchen (stove included) and it had two beds. It was perfect for two, but they can also accommodate families on the grounds. You get access to the main room where everyone hangs out, wifi there and sauna.
When we checked in, it was already dark but the sky was clear so we decided to drop our bags off and take a drive to the bridge Kati recommended that had some river water that wasn’t frozen. We took some photos there and returned to our cabin and kept taking photos there. The property is surrounded by trees so it’s already scenic. If I had a redo, I’d stay there for a few days more and explore the area. There are parks, hiking trails, and breathtaking views all nearby.
Torassieppi Reindeer Farm and Cottages was another great pick but a bit pricer. I loved the property. They have snowmobile and husky safaris, reindeer farm, snow village. Great dinners and overall amazing staff working there. We stayed in one of their Aurora Domes for two days. I highly recommend trying it as an experience but try it for a day. There are no toilets or showers in the dome so going out in the cold and walking to go use a bathroom gets old after a while. They have cabins you can rent that have everything inside the cabin.
What to do
We probably were not conventional tourists as we were chasing cinematic experiences, and came with a goal of capturing Aurora (Which Miguel did and I was so tired from traveling that I couldn’t stay awake to do it when finally it appeared one night).
Here are some of our top picks:
Rami’s Huskies- It’s a magical place, and they love their huskies! Such a lovely couple. We were just hanging out with them and taking photos and video wandering around their property. They let us warm around the fire and offered hot drinks. We didn’t actually go for a ride, but if I had to recommend a place for husky rides this will be it.
Go see a Shaman - here is his website. The experience was amazing and if you are at all spiritual you will love it. He doesn’t speak English so you’ll need to take a translator. Call him up and ask for sauna, dinner and a ritual. It’s a one of a kind experience that won’t be in any of the brochures you find on your trip.
Check out the Game Of Thrones Ice hotel. You probably only need 2 hours max there if you want to grab some hot chocolate and warm up afterwards.
You can get lists of things to do in Lapland online just try not to do too much and enjoy the scenery, drive and stop to take in amazing sunsets.
Money saving tips
Buy groceries to make light breakfasts or quick lunches. We actually bought some raw salmon and I salted it (check out this recipe or search online ) We kept it in the car or outside our cabins, it got frozen but thawed pretty fast in a warm car and we had delicious sandwiches on the road.
Stay tuned for the second part: “Baltic Trip”