Roadtrips are my favourite way of travelling. It gives you complete independence and flexibility, you can go wherever you want, stop whenever you want, really discover a place, admire the sceneries – plus I love driving. Finland is a country of magnificent landscapes that make any drive scenic and stunning, also, outside of the couple of major cities transport can be an issue. Renting a car can be pricey but is a great way to discover the beauty of Finland – in your own pace and according to your own preference. Because the true magic of roadtrips are the unplanned stops.
Basic tip: Wherever you rent – get.the.right.car. If you’re planning on a roadtrip through Finland you’re likely to drive off-road, whether you plan to or not. Even if roads look like “bigger roads” on your map – they’re likely to not be, often even without actual pavement. You’d rather pay a bit more to have a car that can take it than risk being stuck in the middle of nowhere. Because this will happen (and you don’t want a cute little citycar to be stuck):
Don’t let winter scare you off. If you don’t drive like an idiot and have the right winter gear, you’ll be fine. I once moved in winter and driving a van in a snowstorm on icy roads wasn’t exactly my favourite activity ever, but that’s not usually the case. Finnish roads are well maintained, even in deep winter. Rental cars come not only with winter tires but with spiked tires by default – “you will need them driving in this climate”. Driving on pavement can be a bit noisy, but when on icy and snowy road, the metal spiked add extra grip to your vehicle – essential for safe driving in Finnish winter.
WHERE TO RENT
Sixt – great customer service and affordable prices, a safe car just right for your needs and pick up either in the centre or by the airport in Helsinki, or at various branches throughout the country.
Easyrent – if you’re really on a budget – rental without any further ado starting from very, very low prices. I don’t recommend these cars for longer trips as they’re likely to fall apart beneath you (not kidding) but if you only need to get from A to B without any off-road driving, take a look.
WHERE TO GO
Probably the most crucial topic, but I believe this is a topic for a whole other blog post (as I will continue on my quest to roadtrip), so I will give you my personal top 3 tips for a week long roadtrip:
Saimaa Lakeland area: the area around Mikkeli and Savonlinna consists basically of lakes and islands and is certainly amongst Finlands most beautiful regions. Both in winter and summer worth visiting – in summer for camping, island hopping, swimming, kayaking and in the winter for snow shoe hiking, ice-skating on the frozen lakes (gorgeous!) and ice-fishing. Wherever you go, the journey is your destination.
Rovaniemi – Kilpisjärvi: not the most conventional choice for a roadtrip, probably, but it was one of my favourite ones back in Summer 2012. We took a plane to Rovaniemi, got our rental car and drove off. Long, empty roads, stunning landscapes and Finnish wilderness, absolutely wonderful. Kilpisjärvi is the little northern tip of Finland where you can visit the spot of the border to both Norway and Sweden, the mountain scenery there is unique for Finland.
The Western archipelago – admittedly also a great route for bikers or solely kayaking, but visiting the Southwestern part of Finland by car is also a very liberating and beautiful thing to do. The seaside archipelago is one of my top places to go back and visit. Naantali and Turku (Finlands former Capital) are worth stopping by as well, some of the countries more noteworthy cities.
HOW TO GET TO PLACES
In Finland I’m usually fine with the GPS navigation from Google maps, which I can use for free within my mobile phone service provider. During my little roadtrip in Norway last year, I tested the trial version of CoPilot GPS that I really liked and would also purchase for future trips, really reliable offline navigation. Highly recommended from my end if you don’t have a GPS system or don’t want to rent one.
(I’m always happy to have a good ol’ map with me (you know, those printed on paper). If technology fails on you.)
GOOD TO KNOW WHEN DRIVING
- Lights in vehicles are switched on by default – common in the Nordics.
- Speed limits are 50km/h in built-up areas, 80-100km/h on highways and up to 120km/h on motorways. The wide empty roads might be inviting to hit the gas pedal harder here and there, but you’ll find speed cameras all around – so watch out.
- Beware of wildlife – not kidding! The further North you’ll head, the more likely you are to encounter cute little reindeer on your way and they don’t give a fuck about traffic rules.
WHAT TO BRING
No matter the distance, there’s always a bunch of things I bring. Some are even essentials similar to what I take with me on flights – travelling right?
- Travel mug – I do like to sip on my coffee while driving, it’s an ideal placebo to keep me awake but simply I just like coffee. To make it last longer, I have spent hours researching the perfect travel mug: keep it hot, don’t spill, easy to clean. My winner is the Emsa coffee mug that keeps my drink warm for up to four impressive hours
- 3,5mm audio extension cable – usually not the biggest fan of radio, having my own roadtrip music is an absolute necessity for me. “Modern” cars come with the possibility to plug in your own device, heaven! If not, throw in a bunch of your favourite CDs or go oldschool and burn a few CDs with your favourite playlists (Find mine here: a toxic mixture of 90s trash, hair metal and other sing-a-long-rocksongs, plus a few randoms. Guaranteed to put every relationship to the test.)
- Mobile phone usb car charger: Especially when using your phone for music and/or navigating, you’ll run out of battery like, now. I got mine inexpensively from Tiger.
- For us people with bad vision: Make sure to have your glasses on hand! Especially when driving longer distances and/or during the night, I’d rather give my eyes a break and skip the contact lenses. As for bright, sunny days: sunglasses are a must!
Have fun on the road! Where would you like to go?