At the time of writing, I have been roaming this earth for upwards of 29 years. And since I can EVER remember… one of my biggest bucket list items was to see the ever-elusive Northern Lights. I could spend HOURS on social media scrolling through pictures of these green and purple dancing lights. What causes them? What makes them “dance”? Where can I see this phenomenon?! These are questions that have haunted me for quite some time. That’s why when I booked a one-way ticket to Europe for a solo winter escapade… I knew it was time. I HAD to chase the Northern Lights.
From my understanding, there are multiple ways of going about this chase. The further north you are, the more likely your chances to spot them. It needs to be a clear night, seeing as they don’t show through clouds. And they don’t make an appearance all year round. They typically start to show anytime from September to April. And the biggest factor of them all? Absolutely nobody can predict when the lights will show up. You don’t have an ounce of control when it comes to this search.
MISTAKE #1 – NOT ACCEPTING THAT YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
While in Europe the best chance you have to see the Northern Lights is by visiting northern Norway, Finland, Russia, or Sweden. The lights also dance in Iceland and Greenland. Two weeks into my solo adventure, I decided that Finland was the place that I wanted to see this majestic wonder of nature. I didn’t pick Finland strictly for the lights. I picked it for its gorgeous glass hotels and thick snow that blankets the ground. So that I could ride reindeer and meet Santa Claus! But that was my first mistake – not accepting that I had no control. The lights appeared as they pleased.
MISTAKE #2 – OVERPLANNING
I OVER-planned my trip to Finland. Seriously, I spent eight-hours one day going back and forth on where exactly I would be seeing these lights. To put this in perspective – I am currently sitting in Vienna’s Airport hopping on a flight to Naples, strictly because I had a pizza craving. My flight is set to board in twenty-minutes, and I don’t really have a place to stay yet. I think I’ll be staying in Naples for two nights before heading to Rome. But I don’t have a way to get to Rome. And I have no plans in Rome. And this is how this trip has gone thus far. BUT here I was… sitting in Tallinn, spending eight-hours trying to get every single detail of my Finland Northern Lights escapade right. And that was only my second mistake.
MISTAKE #3 – IGNORING MY GUT FEELING
I had decided that I would make my way up north to the very small town of Ivalo, in the Finish Lapland area. I had absolutely no reason for going to Ivalo accept that I knew it was VERY far north, and as I said earlier, I had heard the further north you go… the better your chance! I ignored my gut feeling NOT to go… hello, doesn’t my gut know that I have been dying to see the Northern Lights since I can remember? I shelled out entirely too much money on a flight from Helsinki to Ivalo to spend only one night. I arrived in the early morning and made my way via bus to my remote hotel. There was absolutely NOTHING to do. Seriously… there wasn’t even a restaurant close to the hotel. But that’s okay… because I was only there to see the Northern Lights!
MISTAKE #4 – DECLINING WINE
I spent ALL day in bed. Napping and hyping myself up to stay up all night and stare in wonder at the Lights. I had Googled over and over – “How to take pictures of the Northern Lights with a Canon”….“What app to download to take pictures of Northern Lights with iPhone”. This was the moment I had been waiting for! The only time I got out of bed was to shower and eat dinner before my tour guide came to pick me up at 8 pm. I had rushed through dinner like a madwoman and even declined wine so that I could be clear-headed for my tour. And just like that – nature had declined to deliver. At 740pm I got a text… “Weather conditions aren’t good. Canceling the tour. Will you be here tomorrow?”
MISTAKE #5 – SPECIFICALLY MAKING PLANS TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
NO, I WILL NOT BE HERE TOMORROW! Mistake number five – making plans specifically to see the Northern Lights. Don’t do this! Do not ignore your gut instinct to make plans that you don’t even want to make to see something that isn’t even sure to make an appearance. Trust me, the lights won’t make plans for you! You aren’t in a committed relationship. They owe you absolutely nothing. So don’t go breaking your back for them!
The following morning I hung my head in defeat. I hopped on a bus that would take me five hours south to Rovaniemi; still a town in what is considered Finish Lapland. All of the mistakes that I made from the previous night, I learned from and did not repeat. I still booked a Northern Lights tour, but this time I did it last minute. Everything else was planned first, and I did not plan this part of my trip around seeing the lights alone. I received an email from my tour-guide “Hey, conditions aren’t good. We won’t be going out tonight”. But instead of letting it defeat me, I cozied up next to a fire in Santa Claus’s Village and ate the most delicious salmon, while drinking wine. I relished the fact that I was in Lapland – one of the most beautiful (even without snow) and romantic places on this earth. I was having the time of my life.
And that is when I got the follow-up email… “Hey Kylee, clouds have parted. Potential to see lights. You in?”
WHAT I LEARNED
There are ways to be smart about planning a trip to chase the Northern Lights. But don’t let it be the only thing you’re planning to do. Pick somewhere you want to go. Plan other activities. Know that no matter how much you plan and how great the weather is… it’s still nature. Things will still happen that are out of our control.
Oh and the most important thing – book a tour with someone who CARES. There are tours that do not cancel, even if they know that it’s cloudy and you won’t be able to see the Northern Lights. And they don’t refund you. Then there are the tours that are more expensive, but honest. They aren’t in it for the money. They are in it to see the people’s faces light up when they see the Northern Lights for the first time. And take awesome pictures for you. That is the kind of tour to go on.
My tour guide was named Alex from All About Lapland. I would recommend him 100% and if I am ever back in Finish Lapland, he will be the first person I contact. Plus, he’s the one who took all of these amazing photos!
And even with all that drama… seeing the Northern Lights was a dream come true.