Bike Tour in Hanko
Without a doubt, I thoroughly enjoyed my recent trip to Finland. However, I’ve been sitting here in front of my computer for a total of eight hours over the past two days trying to write more about that trip and the only thing I have is two pages of the most absurd gibberish and dribble I’ve ever put together.

Here’s an actual sample…

And so, after a good lunch in Turku, I sat on a bench near a nice river and sat there wondering how to find the other hidden things to make my stay even better.

What horrendous garbage!

While I have plenty to say about the time I spent in the small coastal town of Hanko, on the island of Kimito, in the old Finnish capital of Turku and in the inland city of Tampere, I am having great difficulty putting these experiences into coherent sentences and paragraphs. Heck, at this point, I don’t even know if I could put together a coherent two-word phrase.

Why am I finding it so challenging to write about Finland?

After exactly forty-two seconds of deep thought on the matter, I reached the conclusion that it all has to do with the fact that Finland lacks the must-see attractions, the ‘wow’ activities and the life-changing highlights that we often seek out when we choose a destination to visit.

It is infinitely harder to describe to you why I enjoyed my time in Finland so much when the list of experiences I had in that country looks so simple when written down.

And hence the gibberish.

But just because these activities look so simple, and possibly unexciting at first glance, doesn’t mean that they too cannot change ones life or at least help create a travel experience that stands out as something quite special.

I Have a Question For You

Do you think that, as travelers, we believe that a destination must have ‘something’ in order to make it a destination worth visiting? And by ‘something’ I mean a major sight or event or even just a short paragraph in your guidebook that tells you that such-and-such a destination is ‘definitely worth a 2-3 day visit’.

How else do we decide where to spend our time while traveling? We certainly don’t stop too often in the towns, cities and villages that don’t appear to offer much after we do some online research. But we must be careful if we do this, because there are destinations out there that will indeed change your life, or at least have a significant impact, even if they are rarely classified as ‘must-see’ by anyone else.

Such places include, among millions of others, Hanko and Turku and Tampere and Kimito Island. While you won’t find a two-page list of seemingly amazing highlights when reading about these destinations, if you dare to visit anyway, what you will be able to do is…

  • witness pristine nature, to spend an afternoon rowing a canoe around a stunning lake while surrounded by scenery that makes you realize just how beautiful this planet truly is
  • ride a bicycle everywhere you go, along forest paths and along quiet lakeside roads, all while exploring friendly, cozy communities that welcome you to their tiny weekend festival as if you had lived there all your life
  • stand on empty beaches as you inhale the therapeutic sea breeze and feel your head become infinitely clearer than it has been for a very long time
  • dine on such delicious local dishes, all prepared with the freshest of ingredients and served with the widest of smiles

Eating Muikku in Tampere

Aura River, Turku

  • finish the day with a trip to a smoke sauna in the woods where you chat with the locals in the 81.5 C heat and then join them outside for a quick swim in the 15 C water of the nearby lake
  • interact with some amazing people who live in a small island community that is so impressively dedicated to improving the lives of it’s residents as well as to offering such unique and memorable experiences to all visitors
  • purchase fresh fruit from a roadside stall right in front of the farm, where you simply take what you want and leave the money in a jar (not many places left in the world that work on the honor system!)
  • travel around an archipelago by ferry, talking with the captain throughout the journey as he gives you a first-hand account of life in this remote island region
  • stroll along beautiful rivers, wander through local markets and visit interesting museums that you wouldn’t ordinarily visit
  • find yourself invited to and genuinely welcomed at the opening of a new art exhibit even though you’re in jeans and a t-shirt and everyone else is in suits or evening gowns
  • meet an endless stream of locals who will go out of their way to ensure your visit to their hometown is as perfect as possible

Night Out in Turku

Lake in Tampere

I’m not sure what you think of the above activities. Maybe you find them to be interesting, maybe not. For me, these are the activities that contributed to the success of my trip to Finland, and even thinking about them right now makes me quite nostalgic (and the trip only finished two weeks ago!).

So, now that you see how I spent my time during that trip, I say, look beyond the ‘must-see highlights’ that we so often seek out. Go out into the world and visit countries, cities, towns, islands and villages that don’t get as much attention, that don’t have the huge write-ups telling you that you must see this destination before you die.

That’s how I ended up in Finland and that’s how I plan to organize many of my future trips as well.

*Before I go, I’d like to thank the following for making my time in Finland so memorable:

Pekka and Liisa from Hiking Travel (great people, great kayak tour in Tampere)
Michel from E.A.T. Tampere Tours (excellent biking/sauna excursion around Tampere)
Ville and his team at the incredible Dream Hostel in Tampere
The staff of Laivahostel Borea in Turku (located on an old cruise ship)
Hotel B8 in Hanko (an old police station turned into a hotel)
Alan’s Cafe (as good as it gets – food, atmosphere, hospitality!)
Saija Huhtiniemi for showing me around Turku
Leena Immonen for the bicycle tour of Hanko
Joakim from Sun Fun Ferry (based out of Hanko)
Daniel from Wilson Charter (ferry company based out of Rosala)
Every single person I met on beautiful Kimito Island!

Do you only seek out destinations that offer must-see sights or attractions? Or do you look for places that are not necessarily ‘must-see’?