Travelling solo is not only difficult for company and conversational reasons but also because of decision making. Creating a plan for yourself that only you will be responsible for is a lot of pressure to take onto your own shoulders. Having said that, being responsible for another person’s experience is a stress in itself.
It’s early December 2016 and I have about 10 days to figure out where I’m going to be from the 18th to the 24th of December. It’s the middle of winter, Christmas, the busiest week of the year and I’m moving out of my flat at the University of Birmingham after my 3 month semester exchange. Flashback to Friday night, I’ve just submitted three 4000 word essays that I’m pretty sure I’ve failed and there’s a bottle of vodka in my hand, all of the flat have gone home to be with their families and I’m playing board games with the three that returned to spend my last night in the flat with me. May I repeat, there was a bottle of vodka in my hand and my room was barely packed (remember the 4000 word essays x3?) and I was moving out the next day.
Where I was going to go was something that was decided about a week before. Tourradar was my only option, I could search tours by date and location and with my timeframe being limited and location the broadest it could be. I had a very specific time window and not a lot was fitting into it, actually all bar one was working with my time period. I was scheduled to leave my flat on the 17th of December and then be back in Leeds at my friend’s place for Christmas, as I said it was a very specific and small time window. The only tour that fit was one that I never considered or thought would be an option. It was to Lapland in Finland from the 18th to the 24th of December. It was like freakish destiny.
So if as a reader you are perceptive enough you may have noticed that it’s the 17th of December and my tour begins the 18th. Rational not last minute me would have booked a flight that got into Helsinki not 2 hours before the tour began so I could see at least some of the city but instead my flight was at 6am Sunday the 18th and I spent the next 10 hours flying from Birmingham to Frankfurt to Helsinki, oh and my accommodation the night before was free because it was at a table at the airport Costa.
SO I’ve spent a lot of time vomiting (ahem bottle of vodka) and sleeping in uncomfortable places (Costa, Frankfurt airport row of chairs) and I’ve watched a LOT of episodes of Parks and Recreation (thank you airport Wi-Fi) AND THEN I finally made it to Helsinki only to sit in a train station Burger King for 2 hours before sitting on a bus to Lapland for 12 hours. IT’S LIKE A LOT.
I arrive at the meeting point at 9pm in Helsinki, it’s probably about 1 degree, I’m wearing my new coat and a lot of thermals and I’m over travelling already but I’m excited! I stand amongst a group of people, I’m naturally awkward so I awkwardly wait for someone to notice me. An Austrian says “Hello!”, there’s a few Belgian (I think?), maybe some Swiss AND THEN LO AND BEHOLD THERE’S ANOTHER AUSTRALIAN. Here’s how it went, transcript form makes it sound just as exciting as it was:
Me: Hello everyone, I’m Chelsea and I’m from Australia!
Small girl next to me: I’m from Australia too! I’m Molly!
Me: OMG WHERE?? I’m from Sydney!
Molly: I’m from Brisbane. Are you just travelling on your own or?
Me: Yeah and I’ve just completed a semester exchange so this is like my little bit of travelling before Christmas.
Molly: I just did exchange too!
Me: No way! Where did you study??
Molly: I was in the UK at the University of Birmingham.
Me: YOU’RE JOKING. YOU’RE ACTUALLY PULLING MY LEG RIGHT NOW.
Molly: Nooo I’m not… Why where did you study?
Me: UMMM THE UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM AS WELL.
So basically we discovered that we were both Aussie, probably the only Aussies on this trip, we lived about 15 mins away from each other at our UK accommodation and we’ve probably seen each other on campus at least five times and there’s no way that this ever happens to anyone.
Molly and I very quickly became fast friends. I found out through conversation on the bus that I had no idea about anything about this trip that I was already on. I didn’t even know where we were going, all I knew was that I was going somewhere in Finland. I never received an email regarding the itinerary, the extra activities and how much they were gonna cost. I learnt it all sitting next to her on the bus as she was clearly ten times more prepared than I was.
So over the course of the next 4 days we snowmobiled, went snowshoeing, enjoyed both a reindeer and husky safari, went to Norway where she swam in the Arctic Ocean cause I was too chicken, made snowmen, cross country skied and above it all saw the Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis FIVE TIMES.
It was an experience that I will only recommend for the rest of my life. Freakish destiny is really the only way to put it. There’s no guarantee to see the lights, the group before didn’t at all. There’s no guarantee that it’s not going to be -30 degrees and instead we were coasting on -4 as the coldest with the lights almost every night. It’s incredible that I met someone like Molly, who was someone that I was so happy to share the experience with. Going to Finland started off a high for my next 2 months left in Europe and as cliche as it sounds, ugh I wouldn’t change it any other damn way.
I created a plan for myself and I owned it. I owned sleeping at the airport, not knowing anything about the itinerary, not having enough money to pay for the 300 euro activities that I should have already known about and of course not wearing waterproof shoes in shoe deep snow but who cared, I didn’t, I had extra socks. Oh and we can’t forget how I accidentally booked business class on the way back to Birmingham, no biggie.