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Taking A Chalkboard Around The World
Taking A Chalkboard Around The World
A trip around the world has always been on my bucket list. I still can’t believe that Jeff and I finally did it. We’ve just returned home to our sunny island home of Phuket, Thailand and finally have a moment to look back on our amazing journey around the world.
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Before we started this trip, I knew that we wouldn’t have the space in our luggage for souvenirs as we were going to nearly 30 different countries. Even though we have been told we packed light, I can assure you that our bags were anything but light. This inspired me to think a little outside the box for souvenir ideas.
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My favorite part about traveling is looking back on my photos long after the trip. It is a great way to put you right back to where you were and bring back memories you had long forgotten about. I wanted to do something fun and different with my photos. So I thought, “Why not bring a chalkboard?” I decided to have a photo taken of myself  holding a chalkboard with the name of the country I was in. I wanted a way to visually see each country while having a reminder of myself in that place during that time. Even if I may have been up all night, had not showered in days or was only in a country for a few hours, I wanted to remember all of it.
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Now, 28 images later, I have a fun collection of pictures that for me, sums up our 159 day, 32,281 mile trip around the world!
Taking A Chalkboard Around The World
CANADA:
Even though Canada isn’t too far from my home county, it was still really exciting to go visit! Two days in Vancouver and I was in love! Canada is a great country and Vancouver is a beautiful city!
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Chalkboard around the world
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ENGLAND:
Since we only had two rainy days in London, and as it was my first time to England I knew I wanted the cliché photo with a red phone booth!

 

Chalkboard around the world

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BELGIUM:
Brussels was a beautiful city and I was surprised at how modern of a city it was. We had one of our favorite meals of the entire trip in Brussels, an absolutely amazing beef stew. This photo was taken at the bus station before we boarded to Amsterdam.
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Chalkboard around the world
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ISRAEL:
With so much history in Israel, I had a hard time deciding where would be best to take a photo here. While we were driving with a guide through the desert we went to this cliff where you could see a beautiful monastery in the hillside. I thought that this would be a great reflection of this historical importance of Israel.

 

Chalkboard around the world
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IRELAND:
Green! I knew I wanted this photo to be green, but I struck it rich when we just happened to get some sunshine since it was gloomy and raining during most of our stay. Ireland may have been our first stop, but it was also one of our favorites. Read our “Complete Guide to Ireland” for our best recommendations!
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Chalkboard around the world

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MOROCCO:
Oh Morocco! We were here for just a few hours while stopping during a cruise we took early in the year. I had always imaged Morocco as a colorful place, however Casablanca was not what I imaged. This is at the Hassan II Mosque which is the 7th largest mosque in the world.

 

Chalkboard around the world

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AUSTRIA:
Innsbruck, Austria is a beautiful little ski town nestled in the mountains. We were lucky enough to stay with some wonderful friends here for 2 weeks!
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Chalkboard around the world

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SPAIN:
We were lucky enough to be in Barcelona on my birthday in January! Once again, this was a quick stop during our cruise so I can’t wait to get back to explore more!
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Chalkboard around the world

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CZECH REPUBLIC:
We met some great friends in Prague and had an amazing time exploring this beautiful old city. While Europe has some of the best beer in the world, I’d bet most of it can be found in Prague, and at a cheap price too!
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Chalkboard around the world

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EGYPT:
Egypt just may have been my favorite place on this trip! Not only did I fulfill a childhood dream of visiting the pyramids, but we also got to spend great time with some new friends!
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Chalkboard around the world

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HUNGARY:
Budapest is one of the most enchanting cities in Europe. It is a great city where history meets a modern twist. I would live here in a heartbeat! This was the first time we have used AirBNB and found ourselves in this old apartment complex trying to find which apartment was ours!

 

Chalkboard around the world

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UNITED ARAB EMIRATES:
Even though we spent most of our time in Dubai, we were still able to get out and see the beautiful desert! Jeff and I were both really impressed with Dubai and can’t wait to get back to explore more.

 

Chalkboard around the world

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ESTONIA:
Tallinn, Estonia is a quant little old city and has so much culture and lots to see. We were only here for one night but enjoyed walking around the old town watching the snow fall.
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Chalkboard around the world

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FINLAND:
Finland is also on the top of my favorite places we’ve been to this year! Helsinki is a great design oriented town that is hip and embraces its rich history, although I had to take this photo while up in Lapland exploring the arctic circle and seeing snow fall for the first time in my life!
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Chalkboard around the world
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ITALY:
We went to many places in Italy, but it was in Venice during Carnival that I wanted to take this photo. Carnival was such a unique and beautiful way to explore all that Venice has to offer.
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Chalkboard around the world
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NORTHERN IRELAND:
While in Dublin, we decided why not take the 3 hour drive with some friends up to Northern Ireland to see the Giant’s Causeway and while we got there right after sunset we were able to catch some light for this photo!
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Chalkboard around the world
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GERMANY:
Germany has always been on the top of my list of places to visit in Europe and this year it finally happened! Although we only had 2 days in Berlin, it was great to learn more about Germany’s vast history and how the city has transformed to a modern city with tons of artistic expression.
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Chalkboard around the world
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HOLLAND:
I didn’t know if I should write Holland or The Netherlands but in the end it didn’t matter since we had such a great time in Amsterdam exploring the canals!

 

Chalkboard around the world

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PORTUGAL:
This photo is in Lisbon near the port while it was pouring rain. We had to be quick since the rain just kept washing the chalk off the board, but it made for a fun experience!
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Chalkboard around the world

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TURKEY:
Although Istanbul has so much history and culture, it was this pop of color while walking around that caught my eye. I wanted to show a different side to such an old city.
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Chalkboard around the world

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SWEDEN:
Since we spent an entire night at the airport in Stockholm we though it would be fun to take photos in the nearly abandoned airport at 2 in the morning.

 

Chalkboard around the world

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VATICAN:
The Vatican is such a beautiful place and it was very surreal to see all the paintings and murals in the museum, but it was here that meant the most to me. It really is amazing to stand here and thing about all the people that come here to see the pope.
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Chalkboard around the world

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MALDIVES:
Holy blue ocean! The Maldives are such a beautiful place. There are 1,190 different islands so it is hard to pick just one. We stayed in Maafushi which is a local island, but as you can see we still had a resort like beach to spend our time.
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Chalkboard around the world
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FRANCE:
Paris is a place that every girl longs to go to at least once in her life and I was no exception, I absolutely fell in love with Paris. We had an amazing 5 days here with a good friend who was kind enough to show us around this memorizing city. I can’t wait to get back and eat some more macaroons!

Chalkboard around the world

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SINGAPORE:
While it was not my first time in Singapore, it was great to be back and see how much this city has grown. Singapore is a beautiful city which great people and beautiful architecture.
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Thailand
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THAILAND:
Phuket will always be a second home to me and it is where we began and ended our around the world trip. Living here has really opened my eyes and taking this photo was really important. This photo was taken in a little lagoon in Koh Phi Phi Ley near where the majestic beach from the movie The Beach was filmed. You can see another hidden beach in the background that we could swim to. Taking a long tail boat out to this preserved island and spending the day snorkeling and soaking up the sun is my favorite thing to do in Thailand.
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MEXICO:
Growing up, my family always spent at least once if not twice a year in Mexico. This year I was fortunate enough to get the change to travel to a new place in Baja called Loreto. It is a great little fishing town located right on the Sea of Cortez.
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SRI LANKA:
Sri Lanka is a beautiful island nation located just southeast of India and visiting was a great treat for me. There are many elephants, beautiful landscapes and beaches. If you ever get the chance to visit this beautiful country, take it!
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Bio Photo Marina 150x150 My First Time: Taking a Cruise Marina Dominguez is the co-founder of Latitude 34 Travel Blog as well as a photographer and documentary film maker.

As a maturing women, Marina has dedicated her life to travel and new experiences. After working a 9-5 cubical lifestyle, Marina sold everything she owned, left her job and begun a new life with her boyfriend and travel companion, Jeff Johns. Together they relocated to Phuket, Thailand and founded Latitude 34 in which they seek to share their alternative lifestyle with the world. 

Marina is a Visual Journalism graduate of Brooks Institute of Photography where she studied photography, videography and ultimately caught the travel bug. Through creating several international documentaries, Marina realized there was more to the world than work and wanted something more. 

Top 10 Places To Visit in 2015

Top 10 Places To Visit in 2015

Need some help deciding where to travel to this year? We have put together a list of the top 10 places to visit in 2015 to help you out! So whether you want to go camping in a magical jungle or spend time in a thriving city, there is somewhere for everyone and we hope that you will experience some of these beautiful places if you haven’t already!

10. San Francisco, USA Belgrade, Serbia Matagalpa, Nicaragua Maafushi, Maldives Haida Gwaii, Canada Cape Town, South Africa Myanmar Helsinki, Finland Iceland Havana, Cuba

 


 

Photo Credits: 1. Jaume Escofet, 2. www.turnerfitch.com, 4. Staffan Scherz, 6. Sam Beebe, 8. Thomas Frost Jensen, 9. lab604 | All images have been altered


 

Bio Photo Marina 150x150 UPDATED: Taking A Chalkboard Around The World (PHOTOS)Marina Dominguez is the co-founder of Latitude 34 Travel Blog as well as a photographer and documentary film maker.

As a maturing women, Marina has dedicated her life to travel and new experiences. After working a 9-5 cubical lifestyle, Marina sold everything she owned, left her job and begun a new life with her best friend and travel companion, Jeff Johns. Together they relocated to Phuket, Thailand and founded Latitude 34 in which they seek to share their alternative lifestyle with the world.

Marina is a Visual Journalism graduate of Brooks Institute of Photography where she studied photography, videography and ultimately caught the travel bug. Through creating several international documentaries, Marina realized there was more to the world than work and wanted something more.

Klaus K Hotel Helsinki

Hotel Review: Klaus K Design Hotel, Helsinki

 

Hotels should all have one thing in common; a safe and comfortable place to sleep, but we can all really appreciate a hotel that takes this to a new level. The Klaus K hotel in Helsinki, Finland has really mastered this task. After 4 months of continuous travel it is easy to say that every hotel starts to feel the same, but walking into the Klaus K hotel really did take our breath away.

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“I want whomever designed this room to design my future home.” – Marina

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The second you enter the lobby you can tell there is something special about this hotel. It is warm, inviting and simply put, beautiful. If you’re checking in on a Friday or Saturday, you are welcomed with an invitation to have a complimentary glass of Champaign once you have settled in. The lobby and “living room” are beautifully designed and it is hard to resist sitting down for a drink.

 

Klaus K Hotel Helsinki

 

The second we walked into our room, we felt like we were finally home. The room was designed to feel warm and unique. The first thing I said when I walked in was, “I want whomever designed this room to design my future home.” The furniture looked like each piece was hand picked from a luxury flea market; it was perfect. The room was also set up like a studio apartment instead of like a hotel. There were books and wine glasses laid out as if we were in someones home. In the bathroom, not only did they have some of the best soaps and conditioners that I’ve ever used, but the toilet paper had a piece of twine tied around it with such care. To me it is all of these little things that make a place feel like home and I really appreciate a hotel that focuses on the little things in life. The bed in the room was by far the most comfortable hotel bed I have ever slept in. It had a wonderful down comforter and the softest sheets. After a long day of sightseeing it is just what you need.

 

Klaus K Hotel HelsinkiHotel breakfasts are always important to us since we need our energy to explore wherever we are. The breakfast at the Klaus K was simply exceptional. The food was very healthy while absolutely delicious. The breakfast was as fresh, light and gourmet all at the same time. The coffee was delicious and there were even brownies and cookies for the sugar lovers. About twice a month, the Klaus K Hotel hosts their Fashion Brunch where designers come set up a “pop up shop” with the latest fashion and beauty care. They even have a brunch dedicated to male fashion. It is a great time to enjoy brunch and get a good feel of Helsinki design culture.

 

Internet at the Klaus K hotel is set up very well. There is free internet offered, however if you are finding it to be quite slow, you can upgrade for 9 euros a day for faster internet.

The Klaus K is the first design hotel in Finland. As the capital city, Helsinki is known for their design district and if you have ever been you know just how much this city loves design. Even walking down the streets you can feel that everything was carefully designed and created to be beautiful and functional. The Klaus K Hotel couldn’t fit in more perfectly and they really have created a hotel that will make you feel like you are home in a new city.

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Klaus K Hotel Helsinki

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The addition of an amazing Italian restaurant, superior design elements throughout, the feeling of home and the genuine love of design and hospitality of everyone at Klaus K made us never want to leave, a true home away from home, no matter how far away you are. The Klaus K is located right in the heart of Helsinki and is an easy walk from both the train station, east ferry terminal, design district and the main esplanade. Rooms start at 150 euros.

 

 

mdd 5 Tips for Booking the Right CruiseMarina Dominguez is the co-founder of Latitude 34 Travel Blog as well as a photographer and documentary film maker.

As a maturing women, Marina has dedicated her life to travel and new experiences. After working a 9-5 cubical lifestyle, Marina sold everything she owned, left her job and begun a new life with her boyfriend and travel companion, Jeff Johns. Together they relocated to Phuket, Thailand and founded Latitude 34 in which they seek to share their alternative lifestyle with the world. 

Marina is a Visual Journalism graduate of Brooks Institute of Photography where she studied photography, videography and ultimately caught the travel bug. Through creating several international documentaries, Marina realized there was more to the world than work and wanted something more. 

 

 

Airline Review: Finnair

Airline Review: Finnair

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For anyone who knows us or who has read the blog recently, you’ll know how in love we are with Finland and why we think it truly is Europe’s best kept secret – so who said coming and going can’t be just as fun?

Rarely we do have very positive experiences with an airline, and I mean rarely. Thats not to say that every flight we take is a nightmare, but the vast majority of flights do their job in moving us from point A to point B in one piece, or worse case, there is a delay, luggage issue or some other unforeseen problem. Flying from Helsinki to Prague earlier this year we headed to the Helsinki Airport early one morning anticipating an average flight experience, however from the second we entered the airport we knew something about Finnair was different.

FYI: Finnair operates daily shuttles from right outside the Helsinki Central Railway Station that will drop you off right at your terminal. For only a few euros it was a perfect option for us and easier than we imagined.

To start off everyone was exceedingly friendly, and not in a forced way and not overly polite, just downright friendly, and this lasted from the moment we checked in, to the counter staff, Finnair lounge staff, flight crew and stewards, everyone was nothing but helpful, bright and a joy to be around – quite unseen in aviation today.

We ended up arriving to the airport early enough to justify visiting the Finnair lounge for a couple hours before our flight, which ended up being an excellent choice. Complete with free, fast wifi, a complete and impressive breakfast spread, chairs, couches and tables of every size, and most importantly peace and quiet. The lounge is topped off with its own flight schedule with up to the minute flight details, which kept our stress level down and allowed us to relax in the lounge until right before we walked onto the plane.

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“…they have truly found a loyal customer for life and we will always look for Finnair as our first option, we just hope it means we are flying back to Finland.”

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Walking down the walkway to enter the plane we were honestly not expecting much, as we were simply on a short haul flight from Helsinki to Prague. We were lucky enough to have been kindly moved from economy seating to business class, which was totally unnecessary, but again, the kindness of the staff was everywhere. We were close to the first ones on the plane and thrilled with the seemingly extra leg room and comfortable chairs. The business class wasn’t over the top like on some airlines, after all it was a small plane, but to say we were uncomfortable would be a complete lie, it was actually the most comfortable and roomy I had ever been on a flight.

Our flight was on time leaving, arrived early and it was without a doubt the smoothest flight experience we have ever had. No luggage issues, we carried on our bags no issue, no delays, hiccups or anything else to speak of.

Ironically, a few weeks later we needed to fly again and after such a wonderful experience on Finnair the first time we chose it again. This time we did not sit in first class and were shocked to find the economy seats JUST as spacious and comfortable as those in first. I have never been on a flight on any airline (and we’ve flown on 27 already in 2014!) that had as comfortable an economy seating as Finnair did, they have truly found a loyal customer for life and we will always look for Finnair as our first option, and we can only hope we are flying back to Finland – the kindness and hospitality are truly endless.

But don’t take our work for it! Check out this awesome video that Finnair shot recently when they launched their new route from Helsinki to China, I think it helps to illustrate how exactly they go the extra mile in their service and their smiles. With all the stress of travel, when you board an airplane it really is all the little things that make the difference in your flying experience, and step after step Finnair seemed to be right there, with an easy, friendly or fun way to make our journey a little brighter.

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Photo provided via Flickr by takoyaki 77

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jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

32,281 Miles, Zero Regrets

32,281 Miles, Zero Regrets

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Going on a trip around the world has always been a fantasy for me, and while I have been lucky enough to see much of the world through my travels, Marina and I were thrilled to finally plan an entire trip around the world, starting and ending in Phuket, Thailand, our adopted home. We would start by heading back to the states via South Korea and then, over the course of five months, make our way across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and into Asia before returning to Thailand, a complete trip around the world.

We packed up our two little carry on suitcases, filled to the brim, and jetted off for the the most intense, longest and adventurous plan yet. Five months later we are hours away from our return to Thailand and looking back over an amazing five months on the road. While we have months of writing ahead of us and are beyond excited to share all of our experiences with you, good and bad, here is a look at some of the numbers from our trip, the statistics behind a trip around the world, from the grandiose to the minute.

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32,281 Miles, Zero Regrets

32, 281 Miles

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Since leaving Phuket on December 4, we have traveled a shocking 32,281 miles (51,951 km). The circumference of the world around the equator is just 25,000 miles which means we meandered a bit during our travels. Starting from Washington, DC in January, we jumped to Ireland and then spent the next two months circling Europe in no sensical way whatsoever. But what can we say, there is so much of Europe to see that we couldn’t help but head in every direction possible! From the southern point of Spain in the Mediterranean to the Arctic Circle in Northern Finland, we experienced all extremes and everything in between. The distance we’ve traveled would have been enough to walk the entire Great Wall of China over four times, or to drive from New York to Los Angeles over eleven times.

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32,281 Miles, Zero Regrets

159 Days

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A lot can happen in 159 days, and boy has it flown by. While we started our journey in Phuket, we were quickly hit with the fact that it was the middle of winter most other places in the world. We were first hit with the cold in Ireland, where the damp and gloomy climate chilled us to the bones, thank goodness for friends with warm fireplaces and electric blankets! Marina saw snow fall for the first time in her entire life in the north of Finland, and we even camped in the middle of the Lappish wilderness after ice swimming and fishing. During the last 159 days we have traveled by plane, car, boat, bicycle, ferry, bus and by foot over bridges, through tunnels, fields, cities, deserts and deep, dark woods. A lot can happen in 159 days, and it will take us months to process all we have been through.

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32,281 Miles, Zero Regrets

27 Countries

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Since we departed on our adventure we have stepped foot in 27 countries all over the world and when we arrived in Singapore, our last stop, Marina stepped on her 34th country, ironically enough. Through the rainy days we spent in London to the delicious food of Rome, magic in Venice, falling in love with Paris, wilderness in Finland, mysteries in Cairo and decadence in Dubai, we have tried to take in as much as we can and take pictures of everything else along the way. It was amazing to experience countries like Finland and enchanting cities like Budapest, which we had never dreamed of visiting and ended up falling in love with as well as fulfilling life long dreams of visiting the Great Pyramids in Egypt and experiencing Carnivale in Venice, Italy. While 27 countries is quite a lot, it is shockingly only just above 12% of the countries on Earth, so we’ve got our work cut out for us going forward!

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32,281 Miles, Zero Regrets

18 Airlines

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While we’ve heard of people making it around the world without the use of a single airplane, we didn’t have years to spend and while we took ferries, busses and trains to many locations, we turned to flight to take us most of the way. It is hard to travel the world without hearing horror stories of low cost budget airlines creating nightmare travel situations for many travelers, so we were prepped for the worst. We’ve always loved Asian airlines, and started off the trip aboard Asiana, a Korean airline which has never disappointed us. Through the US, we traveled on the American staples of American Airlines, United and Continental and through Europe we held our breath and tried out budget airlines Ryan Air, Easy Jet and Wizz Air, none of which proved as awful as we planned (although I did show up to the Dublin airport wearing four pairs of pants before boarding a Ryan Air flight). 18 airlines means 18 different baggage policies, 18 different weight restrictions and 18 different in flight meals (if you can call them that). Off the top of our heads our favorite was definitely Finnair, which provided us with a first class experience in economy, as they do every traveler, a welcome relief in the ever dwindling world of in-flight comforts.

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32,281 Miles, Zero Regrets

12 Friends

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One of the greatest gifts that travel has given us are friendships all over the world and while it is hard to be away from good friends at home, there is nothing better than seeing a familiar smiling face in an unknown city. To put it simply, we never would have been able to accomplish a trip of this magnitude without the unending kindness and support of our friends and family living all over the globe from Ireland to Israel. We’ve had friends give us their own beds, plan entire walking tours, lend us everything they had, cook meals and open up their homes and hearts to us, something we can only ever try to repay as long as we live. The wonderful thing about traveling friends is that many have been shown the same kindness while on the road and know how much it means to find a comfortable couch to sleep on or to have the use of free wifi or a washing machine after long weeks on the road. We could never have done this trip without our friends and will be eternally grateful.

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32,281 Miles, Zero Regrets

4 Continents

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The world is a big place, a giant place, filled with the vast deserts of Africa, the bustling cities of Europe, the history of Asia and the excitement of the Americas. Through Asia, North America, Europe and Africa we were lucky enough to witness humanity on the grandest of scales, from the small street side cafe’s in Paris to the kindness of the locals in Estonia to the strangers we met in Egypt and the amazing family we got to spend Passover with in Israel, one of the highlights of our journey. Through four continents we were able to see life lived endless ways, life from many angles, life from many directions, life from many perspectives. Being able to be in someone’s shoes and see the world as they do is a blessing in itself, but to be able and experience this in vastly different parts of the world was truly amazing.

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32,281 Miles, Zero Regrets

0 Regrets

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Through it all we have remained strong and took on each new day with the best of our abilities. We have laughed, cried, bled and changed through it all. Exhausted as we may be, we take none of it for granted and tried to dive as deep as we could into each culture. Connecting the dots of the humanity around us is one of the greatest blessings we could have ever been given and the more we travel the more the dots of the world around us are connected. Meeting strangers who become best friends, tasting a bizarre food for the first time and falling in love with it and proving our pre conceived notions of an entire people or culture wrong is what makes travel worth it and more addictive than any drug imaginable.

And so thus concludes our journey around the world, which will surely be one of the most memorable experiences of our entire lives. An adventure which has taught us endless life lessons we are excited to pass down to those who come after us, to learn from the mistakes we have made the the triumphs we have experienced. We haven’t experienced it all, but we have experienced a lot. We haven’t seen it all, but we have seen enough to know there is a whole lot more life to be lived and a whole lot of mistakes left to make, which we are only looking forward to learning from.

So head out there, get lost, meet strangers, try everything, say yes, smile, and travel like you mean it – the world will take care of you.

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

Exploring Helsinki with Finland's Best Tour Guide
The main square in Helsinki has boasts one of the most iconic buildings in all of Finland.

Exploring Helsinki with Finland’s Best Tour Guide

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Ok, let’s be honest for a second, taking a walking tour isn’t the first thing on our list when we arrive to many cities. We often like to explore a bit on our own, get lost and snap some pictures at our own pace, but while on a trip to Helsinki recently we decided to go on a city tour and man are we glad we did. We weren’t sure what to expect, but ended the day sure we had just explored Helsinki with Finland’s best tour guide, and we think you’ll agree if you are ever lucky enough to explore the city with Maria Hanninen.

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Exploring Helsinki with Finland's Best Tour Guide
Helsinki has a strong Russian influence and it can be seen in many of the churches and government buildings.

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We met Maria outside of our hotel in the middle of Helsinki city center and were immediately taken by her high spirits, bubbly personality and passion for the city. She was so excited to take us exploring that her excited wore off on us and we were instantly ready to head off into the city with her. She had so much that she wanted to show us but took the time to explain that she was there for us and would allow us to dictate the pace and places we most wanted. As we strolled the quaint streets of Helsinki’s design and fashion district she was constantly explaining the smallest of details to us and their importance to the city. This design shop had the best Finnish designer furniture, this fashion shop sported the most popular gifts among Finns, and so it went. We were simply caught up in a whirlwind of history, culture, current events and Maria’s general passion for the country she is proud to call home.

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“Maria made our day memorable, fascinating, educational and most importantly, personalized. Maria showed us a side of Helsinki we never would have seen…”

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Jumping on the tram, we made our way outside of the city center and into the more residential part of town. We toured a local market, tasted traditional fruits and meats, talked to locals, visited churches, explored parks and took in all we could during our morning with Maria. She explained each neighborhood, statue, street sign and cafe and how they all played a part in the local history and culture of Helsinki.

Maria works for a great company, Tours By Locals, which has really revolutionized the way tour guiding is done. You can read all about the different tours she offers on her Helsinki tour guiding page, read others reviews and chose the tour that suits you best. The best part of our day with Maria is that we felt comfortable with her and instantly felt like friends, I honestly felt like we had known her for years. I think being comfortable with a tour guide is one of the most important elements while exploring a new city as you feel open to ask any questions, and once you get to know each other, the a good guide will be able to know what you are interested in and show it to you before you even know where you are headed, which is exactly what Maria did. I told her that we were photo nerds but also wanted to learn as much about Finnish history as we could.

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Exploring Helsinki with Finland's Best Tour Guide
The neighborhood of Arabia mandated that art be present in all strictures in the entire neighborhood, well worth a visit!

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As a tourist exploring a new city, the small details can make a world of difference. One of the coolest parts of our day with Maria was wandering into the University of Helsinki library and learning a bit about both the building and the Finnish education system, both of which were very interesting and something we never, ever, would have found out on our own. I’m not going to lie, since we visited the university Marina and I have had more than a couple conversations about going back to school in Helsinki haha.

Knowing this, she seamlessly walked us down the most picturesque streets while pausing to show us tiny details with huge historical significance, which really made our tour meaningful and interesting. While we only had a morning with Maria she took the time to really find out what we wanted to explore on our own and gave us all the information needed to do it solo and only focus on the sites which we should really do with a guide. This was so helpful to us, as we knew exactly what to do on our own and how to do it, while maximizing our time with her.

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Exploring Helsinki with Finland's Best Tour Guide
A local street performer making beautiful music using simply glass bottles filled with water.

 

Finland is one of the most amazing places we have ever visited, and Helsinki, one of our favorite cities, a place we could easily see ourselves living in the future. Maria made our day memorable, fascinating, educational and most importantly, personalized. Maria showed us a side of Helsinki we never would have seen, pointed out details we never would have known and proved to us that hiring a guide to really get to know a new city really is the way to go. And while we don’t expect to always get a guide as good as Maria in the future, we will definitely think twice about only exploring on our own in the future and cross our fingers we get back to Helsinki in the future to spend another day with Maria.

Maria is available for half day, full day, multi day tours and everything in between. You can read about her Helsinki and Finland tours here as well as contact her about any other tours you can think of.

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Exploring Helsinki with Finland's Best Tour Guide
Inside the famous Rock church, one of the most unique in the world.

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

Suomenlinna, Finland

Visit Finland, But Don’t Miss Suomenlinna (PHOTOS)

 

If you are lucky enough to visit Finland, you will undoubtedly leave a few days to explore Helsinki, which has endless museums, restaurants, beautiful neighborhoods, amazing design districts and the like, but just off the coast of Helsinki lays the cities most visited attraction, the sea fortress of Suomenlinna.

Suomenlinna, Finland

Constructed in 1748 while under Swedish rule, the fortress was meant to stop the Russian expansion into Finland. Unfortunately, Finland would fall to Russia in 1808, however the island became part of the new Finland in 1917 following the Russian Revolution. The island itself still plays home to 900 local residents and many active Navy members as well as a few restaurants, a visitors center, hostel, art gallery and brewery.

Known for being a beautiful picnic spot during the summer, Suomenlinna offers a year round escape from Helsinki which seems worlds away while strolling through the quiet and picturesque historic walkways around the main island. Since the 1980’s Suomenlinna has been known as an upscale avant-garde community with many artists in residence, summer art camps for children and a popular summer theater, regularly sold out.

Interestingly enough, there is also a penile rehabilitation program on the island where prisoners who have pledged non violence are allowed to work in a volunteer program to get them back on their feet – who would have thought? I prison system built to help people?

The ferry leaves from Market Square in the middle of Helsinki for Suomenlinna regularly, up to four times and hour during the summer season and takes 15-20 minutes, a gorgeous ride we actually wished was a bit longer!

One of the most picturesque areas of Helsinki to be sure, a trip to the old sea fortress of Suomenlinna is a must whether you visit in the winter or summer months, and while we loved out winter stroll around the island, we cannot wait to get back to Finland and explore the island again during the summer.

Remember, this article is part of our “Finland Fridays” series to make sure to hashtag any questions or comments with #FinlandFridays34

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

Suomenlinna, Finland

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

 

Suomenlinna, Finland

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

VIDEO: Husky Safari in Lapland

VIDEO: Husky Safari in Lapland

 

I always grew up dreaming about going on a safari, I mean what kid doesn’t? But who would have thought I we would have ended up trying our hand at a husky safari in Finland as our first attempt at the animal adventure activity? Lapland is a huge area of land in the north of Scandinavia, and the Finnish Lapland area is some of the most pristine and magical we have ever seen. We found the tiny town of Salla to be one of the most charming little towns we have ever visited which made finding the Salla Reindeer Park a piece of cake, as it is right on the main road into Salla.

Once at the park, there are tons of activities to choose from including a husky safari, reindeer safari, reindeer racing, snowshoeing, wilderness camping and ice fishing. While we wanted to try everything, we first chose to hang out with the huskies for a morning and take beautiful ride deep into the snowy wilderness. The first thing we were told by our guide was that we were simply not dressed warmly enough, which we thought might be the case. While we had brought snow pants, gloves, hats, etc, it can get so cold in Salla, that the reindeer park has prepared themselves for under dressed tourists and offers complete snowsuits, gloves and snow boots so no one will spend the day being cold.

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Sufficiently suited up we marched outside and met our team of dogs, the most friendly pack of dogs we have ever come across. These dogs, siberian huskies, absolutely live to be outside and to run. The dogs sleep in the snow and are quite happy at temperatures of -40 celsius. Eager to get going, we took the reigns, jump on our sled and prepared to venture into the woods. The snow was coming down softly and the morning light was streaming through the trees, it was one of the most memorable mornings we had experienced in years. Marina jumped in the sled and I took the lead standing in the back, foot ready to step on the break if the dogs got a little too excited.

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 “Out away from the buildings, we raced along snow covered paths, the crisp morning air hitting our giggling faces…”

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Out away from the buildings, we raced along snow covered paths, the crisp morning air hitting our giggling faces. The falling snow muted the normal sounds and we were left with the panting of the dogs, our laughs and not much else, it was truly magical. After about 30 minutes we made our way to a clearing in the woods where we took a small break, built a fire and ate sausages, Finnish pastries and fresh coffee and hot chocolate.

The dogs, eight in total, rested in the snow, taking bites out of the powder when thirsty (a method I used quite frequently myself). The lead dogs, were the eldest of the bunch, and a pair of the pups were the offspring of one of the older dogs who lead us, a true family affair!

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VIDEO: Husky Safari in Lapland

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After our wintery meal, we packed up and headed out again, this time Marina taking the lead and myself sitting in the sled. Out through open fields, up into the mountains, through tunnels, over streams and finally back to the camp, the trip took a total of around two hours but felt like a lifetime, in the best way possible. Be the time we finished our husky safari it was not even lunch time although we had already had one of the more memorable and fun experiences of our whole trip.

The dogs were amazingly friendly, the guides knowledgable and passionate about not only the dogs but also Finland, the food delicious and the experience nothing but magical. We would go on a husky safari again in an instant, which we can as we were presented with a signed and stamped husky safari drivers license when we arrived back at the camp.

Husky safari trips at Salla Reindeer Park are either one or two hours long and start at 73 euro. The longer safaris include food and drinks.

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VIDEO: Husky Safari in Lapland

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

Why Finland is Europe's Best Kept Secret

Why Finland is Europe’s Best Kept Secret

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In September of last year, Marina and I happened to meet a friendly older couple at our friends pub in Phuket, Thailand where we were were living. Upon finding out they lived in Finland, we were immediately fascinated by the country and their excitement and love for Finland rubbed right off on us. Within six months we had planned a winter holiday to both the north and the south of the country, a trip that would take us to the far northern city of Salla in Lapland and down to the metropolitan capital of Helsinki in the south. After a year in Thailand, we were thrilled to explore the wintery adventures that Finland had in store for us and by mid March of this year we were on a plane to Helsinki where we would soon found out why Finland is Europe’s best kept secret.

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Why Finland is Europe's Best Kept Secret

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Over the next few months we will be introducing our new series “Finland Fridays” which will feature a new article, review, video or photo gallery each week highlighting a different part of our amazing Finland experience. From a husky safari to reindeer racing, the vibrant design district of Helsinki, walking tours of Suomenlinna, to world class restaurants, ice swimming above the Arctic Circle and taking snowmobiles to the Russian border, Finland Fridays will showoff the best of Finland through our eyes and show you why we believe Finland is Europe’s best kept secret and a country we are now completely in love with.

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“We immediately felt like we were in a dream, placed in a snow globe, living in a postcard…”

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Now, I have to be honest and say that not only did I not have Finland on my must visit list, I didn’t even know a single person who had ever visited the country when we started planning our trip. All of Scandinavia was a mystery to me and we were excited to explore the country, we really had no idea what to expect. We started our trip by flying directly to Kuusamo, Finland, just below the Arctic Circle and then driving north two more hours to the absolutely stunning little town of Salla, with a population of just over 4,000 people – and more than 15,000 reindeer. We immediately felt like we were in a dream, placed in a snow globe, living in a postcard.

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From the moment we arrived at the Sallatunturin Tuvat hotel, we were met by the warmest staff and an unbelievable Lappish meal at their cozy restaurant. We chose to stay in one of their cabins, which truly redefined our image of a cabin in the woods, complete with all the amenities of home, plus a traditional Finnish sauna of course. Finland offered us all that we love about Europe, the amazing architecture, phenomenal food, fascinating history and local charm while avoiding the typical downfalls of bigger European and remaining one of the cleanest, safest and most beautiful countries we have ever visited. By far the best part about Finland are the people, whom are the most welcoming, polite, cheerful and passionate people we have ever met.

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Why Finland is Europe's Best Kept Secret

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During the next ten days we took a husky safari, rode snowmobiles, went ice fishing, got our reindeer drivers license, took an overnight train to Helsinki, explored the design district, ate some of the most amazing food we have found yet and absolutely fell in love with a country and people we knew nothing about. Traveling is about exploring, learning, experiencing and getting to know the world around you, the places you only hear about and meeting people you will never forget.

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So sit back and join us for the next few months as we introduce you to our new favorite country and let us show you why Finland is Europe’s best kept secret. Check back each and every week for Finland Friday’s, follow us on twitter at @lat34travel and hashtag any comments or questions with #finlandfridays34, we can’t wait to show you all that Finland has to offer and cannot wait to visit Finland in the summer months to see the other side of this amazing country.

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Why Finland is Europe's Best Kept Secret

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

Ice Swimming above the Arctic Circle

VIDEO: Ice Swimming above the Arctic Circle

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It’s not every day that you get to jump into a mostly frozen lake between Northern Finland and Russia, but when you do, you better be ready to jump in. And so goes the story of how Marina and I ended up doing just that. While on a trip to Finland a few weeks ago, we found ourselves well above the arctic circle, in the Lapland region in a small town named Salla. Neither of us had ever been anywhere so magical, we felt like we were in a snow globe the entire time.

While we enjoyed some of the most amazing snow activities during our time in Salla, easily the most extreme experience was ice swimming. We knew a couple days ahead of time that we would be partaking but sincerely did not know exactly what we were in for. As we drove through the heavy snowfall and deep into the Finnish woods, we came upon a small wooden building with a single lamp outside, perched on the side of a massive lake. What we were in for was one of the most invigorating evenings we’d had in awhile.

The Finns have a passion for their saunas, as each house is built firstly around the sauna, and in the winter months they pair this traditional activity with its extreme opposite, ice swimming. Quickly jumping from the icy cold waters to the pipping hot (167F) sauna, we were shocked by how alive, invigorated and healthy the whole experience made us feel.

While many Finns do this up to twice a week during the winter months, and many children are raised doing variations (ie. rolling in snow if there is no lake), we might not be up for going ice swimming weekly, but much to our surprise we both would be very open to ice swimming again and there could be no better place than Salla, Finland.

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

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