Dream of Finland

Every once in awhile, this beautiful thing happens.

You arrive somewhere — whether by boat, or horseback, or bus, or snowshoe — and it feels like you've stepped into a memory. I know it sounds strange — bear with me — but it's the sensation of finding yourself standing before something, and it pulls on your heart, and it aches in your chest, and it makes your throat heavy, and for some reason you don't really understand, you think to yourself,
Ah, it's here. I finally found this place.

What I'm trying to say is that for the first time in awhile, that happened today.

I sat in the snow, I took off my gloves, I let my snowshoes splay behind me, I listened to the echoing stillness of the summit of a mountain in the Finnish Arctic; the very same mountain I'd ached to someday see since I was 12 years old and saw flitting images of it on the pages of National Geographic magazines.

I think I've dreamed of this place long before I ever arrived. 

For awhile now, I've been in the Arctic.

Specifically in Lapland, Finland; far north of the Arctic Circle. I'm the photography guide for an expedition team, which is a group of aspiring photographers and travelers that I've grown immensely close with as we've endured some of the harshest weather conditions I've ever personally experienced, as well as the travel misadventures that comes with exploring a place so unpredictable and ever-changing. When I arrived in Helsinki in early January to greet everyone, I knew immediately on that first night that there was something very different and very special about this group of people. (To sum it up: on our first night together, we sat around a water pitcher in a dim airport hotel and talked and laughed for three hours straight). I felt something was different.

Our experiences in the Arctic only made my initial intuition about this smattering of people only come to fruition. Long hours spent in our trusty little green van as we plunged hundreds of miles north of the Arctic Circle only emphasized the crucial need for laughter, optimism, and joy in a place such as the midwinter Arctic. As we settled into our cabins and turned them into our cozy expedition bases — filled with the smell of cardamom buns baking in the oven, or heated by the deep flames from the fireplace overtaking the chill on our skin— we fell into routines that have quickly become dear to me. Such as:

  • Waking in the morning to a breakfast being made by my incredible co-leader and chef, Kylie Chenn; whether cinnamon buns made from scratch, Finnish crepes stuffed with fresh lingonberries, or homemade braided breads spiced with cardamom

  • The chaotic 30-minute process of putting on every small yet crucial bit of gear we'd need to just step outside for any amount of time

  • Climbing the nearest high hill to see the sun come up, hover like a heavy orange bruise over the pink horizon, and then set less than one hour later

  • Afternoons around the campfire under a forest roof of dense pine trees, sipping instant coffee from a dixie cup and swapping stories as we warm our numb fingers and toes

  • Playing a guessing game of, "what's the temperature right now?" (Spoiler: it dropped down to 40*F in one region)

And each evening closed with tea and photo critiques under the warm lights and log beams of our cabin, a sauna in the backroom, and a 2-course meal made completely from scratch by Kylie, which we'd sit around the table and dine on, laughing and musing and asking question after question, as we waited for the magnificent Northern Lights to make their way into the enormous black sky... which never happened, despite long hours in the middle of night spent standing desperately in frigid open clearings of tundra with our necks craned upwards at empty, gray clouds.

This is, however, until our final night in the Arctic; AKA, the night as I write this, curled up on a couch in our remote cabin on the edge of a dark lake, and a ribbon of mauve and emerald colors above.

I was literally so overwhelmingly excited when our spotter said that they had appeared that I ran out of the cabin into the -30*F cold wearing just a light jacket and my yoga pants and untied boots but camera in tow. All the hours of practice and drill we went through to get our gear on as fast as possible flew out the window, and it couldn't have been more perfect.

And the Northern Lights danced, just as I remembered they did. They shimmered, just as I remembered. They rippled, they exploded, they rained, they burst, they rose, the soared. Just as I remembered.

And yes, we screamed. And we danced. And we hugged each other. 

And I cried.

I cried a whole, whole lot.

And that's how it went here.

Every day, with a new adventure, new reason for laughter. We snowshoed through frozen forests and across brilliant tundras, in places that felt more like another world than anywhere else on Earth. We lost count of the herds of wild reindeer we passed time and time again. We broke bread with locals, we said yes to every opportunity, we asked questions. We found ourselves immersed in moments so genuine and authentic that it was hard for me to believe that we were this lucky, lucky enough. We ice fished. We cuddled baby sled dogs. We ate more soups than I can even count, with names I can pronounce. My mouth was consistently dry from talking and lecturing and talking even more. And we succeeded. We came home each day, frozen and rosy-cheeked and flustered with excitement and that sweet exhaustion, smelling of campfire smoke and lingonberries.

Let me note here that the trip isn't over yet; just our time in the Arctic is coming to a close. Tomorrow we go back to Helsinki to board a boat heading into the frigid, dark Baltic to take us to the shores of Estonia, but as this next journey hangs over my head, and the fire in the fireplace is burning out and the cabin is settling in for the long night, I can't stop thinking about these moments in Finland.

All these bits and pieces, all the moments of absolute joy, seemed to all come together today as I sat in the snow with my gloves off, and my snowshoes splayed, and the epic silence around me. While finally seeing the Northern Lights tonight was a gift beyond anything I could ever put into words, it was this morning on that mountain that brought it all together; that moment when I felt an onrush of memories of myself years ago, looking at the photographs of this one particular frozen mountain in the high Arctic of Finland. This place, those images, that seemed to stay in the back of my mind and had been, perhaps, driving me, even if only slightly, to where I sat today. On that very mountain. The one I'd been working towards. The one I'd spent years waiting to discover.

The one I walked onto and recognized from my dreams.

more photos in the days to come.

if you're interested in joining an expedition with me, visit www.Acanela.com

Budgeting for a Trip & How to Save

Allow me to shout something from the rooftops for a moment:

Traveling does not have to be expensive.
Traveling does not have to be expensive.
Traveling does not have to be expensive.

All the glamorous photos of luxury safaris in Zimbabwe or hotel rooms overlooking the Siene are trying to sell you the idea that in order to travel, you need to have a pretty hefty wallet. We all know this, and more often than not, it's the #1 reason why people come to the conclusion that they "can't travel," or at least won't be able to for years (and a solid savings account) to come. While, yes, some places in the world will be more expensive to travel than others - there's just no way around that - I promise you that there are ways to bend and break the rules so that you can affordably travel and still be able to have all the amazing experiences you want.

How to Come Up With a Budget

Activities

After you have purchased your guidebook (or have spent a fair amount of time researching your destination on the internet), you should come up with a solid list of things you want to do, and then take your time gathering a vague idea of how much each activity is going to cost. If you want to go backpacking in the Andes of Peru, with some flitting through the pages of your guidebook or quick googling, you should be able to see how expensive permits are to backpack there. If you want to go bungee-jumping and abseiling and rock climbing in New Zealand, find a couple tour operators or guides to gather general quotes on how much those activities cost.

This does not mean that you have to know everything you want to do before you get to your destination. For long-term trips or people who like to wing it, it just isn't realistic. But it's a good idea to have a vague idea of how much "fun stuff" generally costs so you don't find yourself over-saving or without enough. If you find on a budget tour operator's website that most activities in Laos are between $40 and $100, bring an extra $300 for activities that may spring up while you're over there on a 2-3 week trip.

Trekking in South America is a highlight for most backpackers, but most national parks require a certain entrance/park fee that should be considered in a budget

Trekking in South America is a highlight for most backpackers, but most national parks require a certain entrance/park fee that should be considered in a budget

Transportation

If you're traveling in Africa or Asia or some parts of South America, public transport generally won't cost you more than $50 on long-haul bus or train rides, but if you're planning on taking trains consistently through Europe or buses through New Zealand, those will most likely be a high expense. Use websites such as www.EurRail.com to get estimates on how much it costs to take trains to and from your destinations, and do Google searches regarding buses to get an idea of how much you should save for the typical distances you plan to go. And if you are renting a car, get a quote online, and ask your rental company what they recommend you budget for gas (depending on the length of your trip).

Insider Tip: Several countries in Europe, such as Switzerland, offer discounted train passes for students, or people under certain ages, or people traveling on their trains consistently. Check out your guidebook to see if any information is available on discounts.

Long bus rides, especially public ones, can be arduous but offer spectacular views

Long bus rides, especially public ones, can be arduous but offer spectacular views

Accommodations

Some hostels and/or campsites are $2 are night.
Others are $40, at their cheapest.
Sometimes CouchSurfing may be the best and most budget-friendly option. Often times, the prices of hostels and campsites depend exclusively on where in the world they are, and what time of year you're planning on being there (such as, getting a dorm bed in a hostel in Rio is usually about $12 a night, but during Carnival, prices for the same bed can skyrocket up to $100 or higher; be aware of what's going on when planning your budget and if you should expect dramatic changes in prices). To estimate how much you should save for accommodation, use any number of hostel/campsite searching websites to get an idea of how much hostels typically cost where and when you're going. That way, you can generate an average number, and use that number for however-many-nights you're going to be traveling. That will give you a generous allotted budget for accommodation expenses.

For your estimations:
www.HostelWorld.com
www.HostelBookers.com
www.Hostels.com

Budget accommodation outside Tzaneen, South Africa

Budget accommodation outside Tzaneen, South Africa

Food

You can eat out at restaurants for all three meals a day and have it cost you a total of $9 if you're traveling in India. You can struggle to find a breakfast sandwich for under $15 if you're traveling in Switzerland. Unfortunately, food expenses are very similar to accommodation expenses in that they depend almost entirely on where in the world you are. That's why I say, ditch the breakfast sandwich. Eating on the road, no matter where you are, can be affordable as long as you know how to eat budget-friendly. While you may easily get away with a $10-a-day food budget in India, you're going to have to get more creative in most other places in the worth; especially pricier nations in Europe (I'm looking at you, Scandinavia and Switzerland), or the US and Australia.

Do not fret.

Most hostels offer kitchenettes that usually contain a stove, fridge, and maybe even an oven at the bare minimum. An extremely affordable way to eat cheaply on the road is by buying your own food and cooking your own meals. You can stretch a $3 bag of pasta and $4 bag of marinara sauce over the course of 3 dinners, and you can transform a $2 loaf of bread and a $5 jar of peanut butter and jelly into a week's worth of lunches. A box of granola bars, a $1 container of instant coffee, and a bag of bananas are a week's breakfast and snacks. Visit your destination's supermarkets or farmers markets, pick up whatever is delicious and cheap, and prepare your own meals. In most towns, no matter where in the world, you will be able to find some kind of general foods store that will sell anything from fruit to vegetables to bulk bags of rice, pasta, beans, and bread. While it may be cumbersome to carry a big bag of rice in your backpack as you move from location to location, buy smaller quantities of these staples, or leave behind whatever you can't carry with you (some other hungry backpacker will be eternally grateful to find leftover bags of fruit or beans in the hostel kitchen's cupboard). No matter what, buying and preparing your own meals will cut down on food costs significantly, and will leave you with the ability to proudly say that you're living off of a total of $10-$20 a day in Paris. This way, too, you'll have more money budgeted for the occasional special meal, where you can really enjoy the local cuisine and indulge yourself in a nice meal or night out trying the local bar scene without feeling like you're bleeding out of your wallet.

Dinner in Romania: canned beans, lentils, pasta, and marinara sauce = $2.50 per serving

Dinner in Romania: canned beans, lentils, pasta, and marinara sauce = $2.50 per serving

Breakfast in Croatia: bread, banana, peanut butter = $.70 cents per serving

Breakfast in Croatia: bread, banana, peanut butter = $.70 cents per serving

Extras (visas, gear)

Many countries will require foreign travelers to buy visas in order to enter, and while some visas cost $30, others can go up to $100 or more. Be sure you add in visa expenses into your budget, or even the purchase of a passport if you haven't applied for one yet).

Additionally, consider everything you may have to buy for the trip:

Do you need a backpack?
Boots and/or shoes?
Do you have all the clothes and toiletries necessary?
What about camping supplies if you're going camping?

Consider these as well so the price of preparation doesn't catch you off guard.

Once you have all of these numbers, add them up, and there is your budget. Congrats! Throw in your plane tickets, and maybe an extra hundreds dollars or so for additional expenses (it's better to be over-prepared than under, I am a firm believer in this), and pat yourself on the back.

Not so scary, right? 

But How Do I Save?

The number one thing I recommend for people when trying to save for a trip is just to cut the junk out. The "junk" being everything not absolutely necessary.

  • Perhaps this means forgoing your daily $2 cup of coffee. (That $2 is a night in a hostel in Kathmandu).

  • Or not going out to eat once (or several) times a week. (That $20 meal is a bus ride from Uganda to Nairobi).

  • If you really want to see stark changes, sell your tv and just use Netflix - or even get rid of Netflix. That costs money, too. (or do what I do and just use a family member's plan... sorry not sorry)

  • Get rid of all the clothing you don't wear, unnecessary household trinkets, unopened gifts in the back of your closet, and sell them all at a garage sale or on eBay.

  • Ride your bike or take public transportation instead of wasting gas in your car on local errands.

  • Forego the expensive foodstuffs you may like to splurge on at the grocery store, such as fancy new products or $7 kale chips. Stick to cheap produce and staple items. You'll be surprised at how much you save by only buying and eating what's absolutely necessary.

  • On top of selling the clothes you don't wear, avoid buying anything new and unnecessary. Saving for traveling is about considering how that money could be used elsewhere. (I mean, I know that sweater is only $30, but $30 is almost four days in Tanzania; think on a global, end-goal scale).

  • Open a savings account specifically for travel savings so you don't tamper/drain it.

  • Prepare at home your own weekly lunches so you're not tempted to buy sandwiches while at work or school. Same goes for coffee: invest in a thermos and brew your own stuff.

  • When you do go out to the bars or a restaurant, really save drinks for special occasions. And when you do, stick to just one or two of whatever is cheap. When you feel yourself wanting to go for that third $12 cocktail, say no and instead deposit that $12 into your travel fund. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

  • Lastly, get a part-time job. Even working a few hours here and there as a waiter or dog-walker or babysitter adds up. Of course this just is not feasible for many people as they may already be working full-time or too much, but if you find yourself lazing around on weekends or having wide-open days during the week, get busy. You'll be surprised at how quickly your travel goals approach.

With all these in mind, I'm not saying it's not important to be comfortable and enjoy the interim between trips. If all you do is sit in your house eating peanut butter sandwiches because you're afraid of spending money and it's impacting you negatively, then that's simply not worth it. But by eliminating trivialities and focusing on the end goal (that $100 pair of jeans is the equivalent of a week of backpacking up volcanos in Guatemala), then you should find yourself feeling excited and empowered by the money that's pouring back into your pockets; money that will leave you with incredible experiences soon enough.

Now. I'll see you on those volcanoes.