Thumbing it to Lapland
By Suzanne von Rooyen
Although more popular back in the 70s and 80s, hitch-hiking is still pursued by many backpackers throughout Europe, especially in summer. A quick search yields numerous sites dedicated to the art and practice of hitching. In Finland, hitch-hiking is less common as the relatively low car count and severe climate don’t make it all that easy, but, in the summer, hitch-hikers are a more common sight as many backpackers head north to Lapland.
Whether you arrive by plane or ferry, chances are you’re getting off in Helsinki, the capital and most populated city on the southern tip of Finland. From there it’s some 800km to the Arctic circle and another 300km into the heart of Lapland. Although there are trains and buses traversing the country, hitch-hiking is definitely the cheapest and most adventurous way of getting to the top of the world.
Hitch-hiking in Finland is legal, provided drivers stop in designated areas and do not break any laws picking up hitch-hikers such as on the side of highways (stopping for hitch-hikers is not allowed along moottoritie and some moottoriliikennetie).
Before trying to catch a ride, always make sure you’re in the right spot (bus stops are an excellent choice). For many hitch-hikers, getting out of Helsinki proves the trickiest and can take anything from 10 minutes to an hour to snag a ride. The upside is that Finns don’t expect you to pay them, no tips or gas money required. The official languages are Finnish and Swedish but most people can speak at least a little English and some even speak German, French or other European languages. But that doesn’t mean you should expect a chatty Finn. In fact, the car ride is far more likely to be a silent one. The Finns are quiet, reserved people who aren’t going to be the ones to strike up a conversation. However, if you take the initiative, Finns are friendly and happy to discuss their country and culture.
Hitch-hiking along the roads in Finland is considered pretty safe with almost no reported incidents of harm coming to hitch-hikers at the hands of Finnish drivers (or vice versa!). If you’re heading east or into Russia, pay more attention to who picks you up as there are many Russian drivers on the east-bound roads. Despite the relative safety, chances are that some suggestive remarks will be made by more gregarious drivers. That said, even girls traveling alone can experience the adventure of hitch-hiking safely in Finland.
The natural beauty of the Nordic countries is quite remarkable and Finland is no exception. The country is littered with lakes and where there isn’t water, there’s forest. The ‘everyman’s right’ law grants you the right to camp freely in the wilderness and even on private property provided you do not disturb the dwellers by camping too close to the home, damage property including crops and plantations, kill livestock (hunting and some fishing requires a licence), start unnecessary fires or stay in one place more than one night. If you are considerate towards others and the environment, camping in the Finnish wilderness can be a wonderful experience. Staying in backpacker hostels can be tricky since there aren’t many of them and they tend to be a little pricey. In Lapland, if you’re on a budget, it’s best to pitch your own tent.
In summer (June to September), hitch-hikers can travel and camp with relative ease as they head north to Lapland. Just be sure to bring bug repellent as ticks in the southern meadows and mosquitoes in Lapland can be particularly bothersome. Hitch-hiking and camping is just not possible in the winter and even from Autumn, Finnish drivers may be less likely to stop for travelers. The summer months are also peppered with music and cultural festivals from Helsinki to Sodankylä and many backpackers travel around the country from festival to festival with nothing but a tent and their thumb.
If you can’t resist the allure of the open road and want to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, then pack light, stick out your thumb and head north to Lapland for a truly unique and unforgettable experience.
About the Author
Suzanne van Rooyen is a South African freelance writer and SF author living in central Finland. She enjoys travelling and exploring strange places off the beaten track. When not writing she’s playing in the snow with her shiba inu or attempting to play guitar. Find her online here: http://suzannevanrooyen.com/