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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Wowk


You don't go to Helsinki to see, you go to Helsinki to do. This was a liberating revelation.

Instead of ticking the boxes on seeing *this* place or *that* attraction, you're free to step in stride with the Finnish lifestyle, and do, well, just about anything you please. By all means, peruse the stalls of Old Market Hall, brewpub-hop around downtown, and take the ferry to Suomenlinna's UNESCO World Heritage Site, but to "do" Helsinki like a local? Head to Paloheina to do some XC skiing in the winter–and prepare to be passed on the tracks if you are a beginner like me. There is NO time for snapping selfies on these trails, folks. Been there, huffed at. And to relax like a Finn, you'd better be down to sauna. While sweating in a steam room (followed by jumping in an icy body of water) with total strangers may be your cup of tea, I'll play the "I ran out of time" card on that one.

What I made time for instead was exploring. My Dad and I adopted a tram philosophy: when in doubt, get out. If we were uncertain whether we had reached our intended destination, we got out. If we picked the right stop? Great. If we didn't? We are able bodied enough to walk the short distance towards it, and humble enough to trace our steps if we missed it. And if we had no destination in mind, which happened on our rainiest day, we rode the tram until we felt the urge to disembark–and our inkling landed us on the shores of a frozen Gulf of Finland, where we grabbed a seat in a cozy cafe, ordered some hot chocolate, and were treated to a display of kite surfers dancing across the frozen gulf–except here, instead of boards, they used skis. It was spectacular serendipity.

This philosophy, of course, applies to other travel moments. Despite the (humble) amount of traveling I've done, I still get that heart-flapping buzz right before I purchase a flight. The chorus of "you should be saving your money" or "you're being impulsive" voices chime in too, but I've learned to recognize them as fear and silence them quickly.

When in doubt, get out.

Go see the world; keep expanding your perspective; make the foreign familiar–or at least, dip beneath the surface to see what others haven't or won't. Eighty hours in Helsinki wasn't enough time to make lifelong friends with locals. But it did remind me that not every (travel) love affair has to last forever; a short bout of freedom is sometimes just the levity I need.

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