September 2013. Summer was turning to autumn and new adventures awaited just around the corner. I was 19 years old and had just graduated from high school and put a whole summer of hard work behind me in order to save money. I felt free. No obligations, no school to go back to, no musts. I was eager to spread my wings and leave my nest. But I was also afraid. Afraid of not knowing what was to come. Afraid of not having plans. Afraid of not making the most of my life. Afraid of failing. But I knew that I wanted to do something, that I had to do something. Something special, something different. I wanted to see the world and start exploring it. And luckily I had my cousin and friend, the same age as I, beside me. We were on the same page, and we found support in each other. We could do this.
But, we could do… what? We had no idea. At first we just knew we wanted to do something. We talked about it a lot and since we are both interested in animals and nature, and care about those two things, we soon agreed that we could work as volunteers and combine that with some backpacking in order to explore some as well.
Now the real hard work began. We spent hours in front of the computer looking for different opportunities. It was a jungle. There are so many companies and different ways of doing this sort of thing. Sometimes I was near to just giving up and not going at all. But in the end this hard work was worth it ten times over. Finally we found an organization that seemed good, responsible, reliable and not too expensive. We applied, we got accepted, and so in a few months time we were going to Malaysia and Borneo to care for orang-utans and the rainforest. That sounded so exciting, interesting and meaningful at the same time!
After some more preparation, like vaccines, documents, flight tickets, packing and so on, we hopped on the flight to another part of the world. The first stop was Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. There we worked on a zoo with other volunteers and with the amazing and dedicated team from the organization APE Malaysia. We were mainly responsible for the care of the orang-utans but also helped with the chimpanzees that lived next door. The work included cleaning the cages and the out-door space, feeding them and enrichment work, which is playing with them, making toys out of coco-nuts, gathering banana leafs for them, hiding fruits in all sorts of things and giving it to them, and much more. Only creativity sets the limits. It was amazing to be there, so close to these incredible animals that are cute, intelligent and very much like us humans. But it was also hard to see them spend too much time in their tiny cages of cement and knowing that when we were not there the zoo keepers did not have time to do everything we did and care for them the way they actually need. But we had to see it from the positive side, that we enriched their days and made their time as good as possible under the circumstances.
After two weeks of hard but rewarding work at the zoo we went to a small river-village deep within the rainforest of Borneo. Just being there, in that environment and seeing the nature (so many shades of green) was breath-taking. Here our task was to plant trees and do maintenance work in recently planted areas to make a corridor so that the wild orang-utans can move more freely and through this increase their chances of survival. Due to the palm oil industry rainforest is cut down in order to plant palm oil trees, and this threatens the life of orang-utans among many other species. We also helped with some projects in the village, to help them support themselves without hurting their surrounding environment. And every day we went on the river and saw this amazing wildlife. Birds, crocodiles, snakes, lizards, monkeys and more. But the most special feeling was seeing wild orang-utans in their natural habitat.
After two weeks in the jungle we spent another month backpacking Malaysia and Indonesia, a very different but wonderful experience as well, with a lot of very blue oceans and very nice beaches but also great people, beautiful nature and good food.
I cannot describe how glad and grateful I am for having done this trip. This was an experience of a lifetime and a trip of many firsts. It was my first long trip (for more than two weeks) and my first trip alone (although I had my cousin with me, but alone in the sense of being without parents or anyone looking after me in the same way). It was the first time I came really close to a different culture and different ways of life. It was the first time I used a machete. It was the first time I touched (or even saw, for real) an orang-utan. It was the first time I planted a tree. It was the first time I tasted this kind of food. It was the first time I surfed. It was the first time I danced on a boat all night. It was the first time I got sick and went to a hospital in a foreign country. I learned a lot, I met new people, new cultures, I tried things. It was not always easy, but it was always rewarding. And this has only made me want more. More travels, more knowledge, more experiences, more memories, more friends, more exploring. More of everything.
Abisko is a tiny village located on the shores of one of Sweden´s largest lakes, Torne Träsk. Nestled
deep within the mountains of a National Park and easily reached by train it is one of the most
accessible places for those wishing to experience the true Swedish Lapland. The train tracks were
built specifically for the transportation of raw iron (an extremely lucrative business) which means
they are beautifully maintained no matter the weather conditions. Overnight trains run from
Stockholm twice a day and it´s only about an hour to the closest airport in Kiruna. In spite of this,
Abisko National Park is abundant with untouched nature that contains several endemic species as
well as moose, reindeer, wolf and wolverine. Due to its´ location in the valley, the village is in a so-
called rain-shadow, leading to many cold nights with clear skies and stunning Northern Lights (Aurora
Borealis) throughout the wintertime.
Where to live
As the village is small there are not many options, but the ones that do exist are definitely up to
standard. For a more budget-friendly backpacker styled hostel, AbiskoNet in the middle of the village
is the perfect match offering both privates and dorms at a reasonable price. For a small fee (€15) you
also have access to snowshoes and skis throughout your stay and at the end of the night a free
Swedish sauna will help you heat up those frozen limbs. This is my hostel of choice.
The STF Hostel is mid-range in price and boasts a gourmet restaurant and a souvenir shop as well as
the Tourist Information Center. It is located about two kilometers outside the village, however it is
also much closer to the start of the National Park and its´ tracks. The trains stop at this station too.
Finally there is also the semi-luxurious Mountain Ski Lodge behind AbiskoNet, more popular from the beginningof March when the ski season truly takes off. They offer private bungalows and have one ofthe only two bars available in “town” (the other is next to the candy outlet.)
There is one thing every single person who comes up here to the cold cold north wants to
see: the supernatural green fires dancing and jumping across the sky, playfully disappearing
every so often only to reappear minutes later behind you. No wonder my ancestors believed
in magic. You can see them from anywhere in the village on most clear nights, however the
lake is the best place when it hasn´t frozen over as the Northern Lights reflect beautifully in
the water. The Helipad behind AbiskoNet and the Ski Lodge is another great place, away
from the disturbing lights of the village.
2. If the lake has frozen over Ice-fishing is definitely something to try out. Layer yourself (like an
onion!) with warm clothing and make your way out on to the ice to drill a hole. Place yourself
on a chair, get your fishing rod ready and prepare to wait. The easiest, and safest, way to this,
is by going on one of the tours held by the tour companies in the village They will provide you
with all the necessary equipment and make sure you don´t break the ice.
Dog - Sledding
The most enchanting way of having a look around the National Park is definitely behind a
group of eager huskies. Can it get more Lapland than this? More adventurous people choose
to have a crash course in dog-sled driving before setting off behind the instructor with their
own sledge and dogs. Others choose to lean back and relax and leave the driving to the
professionals. Make sure to book early as this is definitely the most popular activity around!
Cross Country Ski
Getting the hang of this makes exploring the grounds a lot easier and faster, not to mention the fact that the exertion will keep you warm from top to toe. Just remember not to put on too much clothing, sweat freezes once you stop to pick up your camera! If you are unsure of your skiing skills or do not
feel like doing it uphill, try Snow Shoes. In the deep snow of the winter they´re essential
when going on mountain hiking trips. The short hike up towards Paddus offers breathtaking
views over the lake and mountains and is a (free!) alternative to the lift up to the Aurora sky
Although the opening hours in the wintertime are few and far apart, a visit to the Naturum
next to the Tourist Information center is definitely worth it. The exhibition here will tell you
everything you need to know about the flora and fauna of this biologically diverse area as
well as the Native Sami People and their age-old coexistence with the reindeers. Usually they
also offer screenings of locally made films treating these very subjects.
Visit The Sami Outdoor Museum
While heading for the world-famous hiking trail Kungsleden you would do yourself a favor if
you take a detour past the open air museum of an old Sami village. The structures of the
tents draw to mind those of the Native Americans´, however the people here lived in these
throughout an almost ever-present winter with temperatures down to -40C. It will blow your
mind as you walk between the buildings with your modern-day gear and heat packs to think
that once they were able to live in these very houses with only what nature had to offer.
Remember that the village is located many miles above the Arctic Circle! The temperature can drop
20 degrees within a few hours and the weather can be very difficult to predict. Make sure to always
check with reception before heading out as the weather report might have changed within the last
hour. It is also important to understand that with a bit of wind a -25C might be experienced as a -30C.
Bring many layers of warm clothing and sturdy hiking boots and if you haven´t got enough
equipment; rent it from the hostel/hotel. Heat packs for hands and feet are great for those of you
with bad circulation as these body parts tend to freeze first. Make sure to go inside to heat up
regularly throughout the day and have a general idea of the distances between the places you wish
My final tip is an important one. This is the Arctic. Please prepare to be stuck an extra day or two in
Abisko due to difficult weather conditions. The train company will not let the trains run if the
temperature drops below -35C, the reason behind this being that they can´t guarantee peoples´
survival should the train break down. If you are flying out from Stockholm to another country, add an
extra day or two to spend in the capital. If all works according to plan you get to experience
Sweden´s beautiful capital. If not, you won´t have to get stressed out over missing an expensive flight and can focus on enjoying Lapland. The same goes for those of you flying out from Narvik or Tromsö in Norway.
Please take care of yourselves and have an epic time in the Land of the Midday Moon!
I realize a lot of my stories start in airports, I guess that is because I see them as a no-man´s land. I am in transit to another place and so are the people around me. It makes actions simpler, unbound from norms, happening in a people-cocktail full of cultural differences. In this cocktail, going back a few weeks, me and my intransit body are sitting by my gate in Barcelona. Across from me is a rastafari guy with big rings, a football jersey and braided hair. He looks like the sportsfan son of an African king and has a regal posture. As I plug my earphones in to get my relax on, I see him asking an older Caucasian couple a question while pointing to a gate. What happens next shocks me. With Enya as soundtrack I witness how the couple look at this profilic stranger with disgust and get up to leave without uttering a word. The prince-like man slumped back in his seat now looking more like a warrior that just lost a battle. He stared at the floor like he was searching for the glow that just fell of him.
Seeing what seemed to be an obvious racist gesture I got a huge lump in my throat. Enya now sounded less like an angel and more like a sad screatch. I unplugged her from my ears, got up and walked over to him. "Do you mind watching my bags sir" I said, the hidden message beeing " We are not all the same, I trust you" upon wich he straightened his back and replied. "of course madam, my pleasure". I walked off inwardly cursing my first thought (what if he acually stole my bags now, I would never be able to trust another stranger ever again). But soon realized how silly I was beeing and questioned weather I would have had that thought, had my belongings been protected by a white middle aged man. Since I didn´t really need to do anyhing I walked around and had a look in some shops. When I came back I saw my bags standing right where I left them along with the smiling gentleman that had kept them safe. In that moment I was overcome with happiness because I felt my prejudices leaving. I had proved them wrong.
As I sat down, with my newfound trust, me and the man started a conversation. It turned out this kind stranger, named Fadel, was not only fluent in five languages but also had wast amounts of knowledge in all subjects we discussed. We ventured into the topic of religion and he explained he was a muslim, which he followed up with " and you do not need to be scared". "I know" I replied with a smile, upset that he felt he needed to explain himself. When I told him I was not religious but still full of beliefs he laughed and said that he respected that and me, for beeing open and honest. In the backdrop I could hear people around us whispering and feel how the older causatian coulpe stared with owl-like faces. But some gave us, the interracial strangers, proud smiles and it was clear that we made an impact. That short moment of clarity was the start of a great friendship and as Fadel boarded his plane to Somalia I walked over to mine, heading to Sweden. Soon we would be a thousand miles apart but the ideas we shared and that moment created in no-mans land will remain.
Sometimes I wish I was a boy. It feels as if the whole business of traveling would be so much easier, especially if I travel to countries where the thought of a female professional is absurd, not to mention a solo traveler. It can be tiring always having to think of choosing the upper bunk in the hostel dorm to avoid a drunken roommate "accidentally" ending up crashing into it at four o clock in the morning for a bit of "cozy time", remembering which nationalities you can smile at without it meaning you're up for everything and the ever present thought of "how do I avoid getting raped?"
Sometimes I wish I was a brunette. In fact I wish I could look like my friend of African, Mediterranean and Germanic descent. She possesses an ability to pass by unnoticed in a large percentage of the world, blending with the locals without problems. I on the other hand, with my blonde hair and fair skin, get stared and shouted at as soon as I go south of Switzerland.
Yes, being a boy of mixed ethnicity would probably make travel a lot easier. I would Couchsurf my way across the world and try living with the locals in Morocco, India and Peru without worries. My mother probably wouldn't stare at me with horror struck eyes as I express my wish to travel Central America.
When I look at what I do have however, these issues quickly fade in to the background. I'm from one of the richest countries in the world. I do not pay for my education and I can even study for my degree in four different countries if I so wish. As a young woman I have the opportunity to work and save my own money and go travel to the other side of the world. How many 22-year old girls throughout the world can say the same?
Travel has taught me to appreciate what I have and what I have been given more than anything else. Because even though at times it can be so utterly and frustratingly difficult, I also know that the mere fact that I’m able to travel this way shows how privileged I am. So I try not to take even the small things for granted. I try to stop for a few minutes every day to allow myself to just feel grateful for all that I have and for a while put everything else aside. I try not to upset myself over bagatelles. And I am a much happier, calm and healthy-minded person because of it.
Life will always keep challenging you. That is hard fact. Whatever you do to escape it, somehow
challenges show their ugly face at the most inconvenient moments. When out traveling these can
range from trying to be cleaner than when you entered as you walk out of a hostel shower that
obviously hasn´t seen soap since the last millennia, to missing your bus, which means you will miss
your plane which in turn means you will miss your connection and suddenly thousands of dollars
have been wasted and you stand there stranded in a foreign country (or worse, it happens before
you have even left your own country to go on that big adventure you´ve dreamt about!)
Sometimes they´re small and easily fixed, like going out on a hunt for earplugs when your bunkmates can´t seem to shut up before four o´clock in the morning. Sometimes they´re big and scary, like when you realize you´re in the need of hospital care when alone in a foreign country and you know the medical staff probably won´t speak any language you know. And sometimes what should have been an easy trip to the supermarket for earplugs turns into an impossible mission when you discover that the closest supermarket is outside the National Park, four hours away, and what should have been a very scary challenge becomes a piece of cake when the hospital interpreter informs you of your simple throat infection and recommends a few days’ rest.
Having said this I suppose you are now wondering why I suggest in the title of this post that you
ought to actively create challenges for yourself as well. Aren´t life´s own enough? But I would argue
that few things in life makes you grow as much as overcoming a challenge. The thing is that these
vary from person to person. I myself am guilty of looking up to people, thinking how extremely brave
they must have been to accomplish what they have done. But what if the whole time they were
acting within their comfort zone? For some it might be a steady economy and a house in suburbia
but for others perhaps the extreme conditions at Mount Everest Base Camp paints a much less
daunting picture. I assume some people would be absolutely terrified faced with the opportunity to
move to a country on the other side of the planet where they do not speak one´s mother tongue. I
was excited and nervous at the prospect of moving to New Zealand, but in the end the positive
aspects outnumbered the negative as I knew I was a far better fit for the vagabond lifestyle of a
traveler than I ever was for the model Swede in a normal day-to-day life.
Instead I challenged myself in other ways. I exposed myself to my very worst fears again and again. I
didn´t have to drag my poor claustrophobic body through tight cave systems or throw it off cliffs and
force it to live through the horrific feeling of falling. Yet I did it and what I took from it was a better
understanding of myself and what I am capable of. I might not be any less scared of entering
enclosed spaces but now I know I can do it if I have to. I also put myself in social situations I had
always shied away from earlier. I spoke to everyone. I dared to open up and let people in under my
skin even though I knew I was going to have to leave them at one point or another. I trusted
strangers. The reward was hundreds of new relationships with fantastic people that blew my mind
with their generosity and a greater understanding of the fact that the things that make you the
saddest can also make you the happiest. In the end it was all these “unnecessary” challenges that taught me the most about myself, the world and all of you with whom I share it. So never stop
challenging yourself, no matter how easy it is to stay within your own personal boundaries, and
remember that the definition is always up to you and not the society around you.
As the great Neale Donald Walsch once said:
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”
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A while ago I found an old Bucket List of mine. I absolutely love Bucket Lists, there´s just something so satisfying about drawing a line over a life´s dream knowing it has been successfully accomplished. Some of my dreams have changed over the years of course. For example “visiting every country on the planet” is no longer quite as important because even though I admit that it would be super-awesome, I would rather truly enjoy every country I visit than rush through it all just to be able to say I have been there (although if I were to become financially independent by the age of 25 I cannot say I wouldn´t at least try. Within a 20-year span or so)
I love reading other people´s Bucket Lists and draw inspiration from what they consider to be worth trying out in the short life we have been given upon this earth. Since this is InspirNation I´d like to share with you mine, the updated version, in the hopes that you will be inspired to try things you might never have considered before. Let me finish by telling you I was utterly-and-shittely scared out of my mind during the most part of the accomplished things on this list. And I´ve never had as much fun in my entire life.
ELIN´S BUCKET LIST