I’m 23 & This Is How Much I Spent On My Trip To Finland With A Friend

Welcome to Travel Diaries, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week's travel diary: A 23-year-old between jobs spends a snowy week in Finland, making time for a day trip in Estonia. 
For questions, feedback, or if you're interested in tracking your travel expenses during an upcoming trip email us at traveldiary@refinery29.com.
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Age: 23
Occupation: Just left a job in Customer Experience, and am starting a job after this trip in Marketing Operations.
Salary: Previous salary was $48,000 plus a couple thousand in overtime. My new salary will be $80,000, but I didn’t take the new salary into account when trip planning!
Travel Companion: My good friend, G. We went to college together, and this is our first time traveling together.
Travel Companion Salary: $60,000
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Trip Location: Finland (with a day excursion to Tallinn, Estonia)
Trip Length: 1 Week
Annual # Of Vacation Days: 15 daysCompanion’s # of Vacation Days: 20 days
Transportation
Cost: My roundtrip flight from New York (JFK) to Helsinki (HEL) — direct in both directions — cost $494.47, but I redeemed 37,845 Chase points, so I only paid $21.40 for the flight. I spent an additional $27.64 for each flight to select my seat in advance. This meant I got to claim the aisle seat (my favorite — I like to be able to get up whenever I want) and ensure G. and I were sitting together. $55.28
G. and I planned two additional excursions that we booked transportation for in advance. We booked ferry tickets from Helsinki, Finland to Tallinn, Estonia — my roundtrip ticket cost me $35.16 — and train tickets from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, in Finnish Lapland. The roundtrip train ticket, which included a sleeper car on the way there, cost me $194.46. I’m grateful that G. is just as much of a planner as I am, because it would have been hard to coordinate so many pieces of our trip if we didn’t nail down the details in advance! $229.62
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Total: $284.90
Accommodations
Costs: We booked a total of three Airbnbs for our trip. The first, in Helsinki, for two nights, cost $212.95, and G. paid for that one. The second Airbnb we booked was for two nights in Rovaniemi. I paid for that one, and it cost me $290.61. We booked one additional Airbnb for our last night in Helsinki before our flight home, which cost $91.44. G. covered that one! 
Total: $290.61
Miscellaneous pre-vacation spending:
I asked for a new pair of winter boots for Christmas, knowing that I’d put them to good use on this trip ($0). I also stocked up on some snacks — RX bars, sweet and spicy pecans, fruit & nut bites, and dried split pea snacks — to avoid spending money on overpriced snacks at airports and tourist traps. I was very pleased when packing to find that I didn’t need to buy any travel-sized toiletries! $16.44
I also made a reservation at a sauna for both G. and me prior to the trip. I booked a two-hour pass at the Löyly Sauna for each of us, which is a sauna in Helsinki located right on the Baltic. It has good reviews, and because it’s right on the water, you can jump in the (freezing cold) water in-between time in the sauna. I paid for both our passes. ($41.52)
Total: $57.96

Day One

3:30 p.m. — This trip falls between ending one job and starting another one, and today was my last day at my current job. I brought my suitcase to work with me, and after saying goodbye to my coworkers, I head to the subway to make my way to JFK. I have an unlimited monthly Metrocard, so I don't have to purchase a ticket.
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4:15 p.m. — I transfer from the subway to the AirTrain, and have to put $7.75 on my Metrocard, because my unlimited pass doesn’t cover the AirTrain. It used to only cost $5! I wonder when the price went up, but take comfort in the fact that it’s still way cheaper than taking a car to the airport. $7.75
5:15 p.m. — I meet G. at a bar near our gate! We’re plenty early, so I have a glass of wine and we talk to some other people at the bar who are going to Helsinki too, comparing travel plans. G. pays for my glass of wine.
7:00 p.m. — We board our flight and take off. I’m glad that we paid for our seats in advance so that G. and I are sitting together! Once we’re in the air, we both get our pre-selected vegetarian meals, a complimentary glass of red wine, and then conk out. 
Daily Total: $7.75

Day Two

8:00 a.m. (Finland time) — The flight attendants turn on the lights and wake us up with breakfast and coffee. I was hoping to get a little more sleep, but have a glass of orange juice and watch the new Charlie’s Angels film until we land.
10:30 a.m. — Once we’re through customs, we make our way to the railway station at the airport to catch the train into the center and buy tickets before boarding the train. $4.45
11:30 a.m. — When we arrive at the city center, we decide to buy a day pass for public transit. Normally I prefer to walk everywhere in a new city, but we still have our luggage, and the pass is pretty cheap. We decide we’ll use it for the day and see if it feels worth the cost. My stomach is growling and energy levels are fading fast, so we head to find breakfast. $8.69
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11:45 a.m. — After a quick tram ride, we arrive at a cute café that I had found when doing research leading up to our trip called Andante. It’s definitely very Instagrammable! I get an oat milk matcha latte and a bowl of yogurt and granola. The matcha is subpar, but the food is delicious. I don’t know what it is about European yogurt, but it’s leaps and bounds better than American yogurt. G. and I compare lists of things that we want to do while we’re here — we both have a couple of museums that we want to go to and places we want to eat at — and make a plan for the rest of the day. First and foremost, G. wants a nap, and then we’ll head out to do some sight-seeing. $12.38
1:00 p.m. — We check into our Airbnb, and are amazed by how utterly adorable the space is. The decorations are so cute! After taking a few pics for our Instagram stories (sorry not sorry!), we settle in a bit. G. lies down for a nap and I go for a walk to get some fresh air and fight off the jet lag. I wake G. up a couple of hours later and we get ready to do some adventuring. I have one of the bars that I packed as a snack as we head out the door and to the bus.
4:00 p.m. — We visit Temppeliaukion Church, also known as the Rock Church, which is unlike any other church I’ve seen before. It’s built directly into solid rock and there’s an amazing skylight ring in the ceiling! I would imagine that this would be an incredible place to listen to music, too. I pay for both G’s ticket and mine since I have exact change. $6.50
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4:30 p.m. — After the church, we take the tram over to the Finnish Museum of Photography. Clearly the day pass for public transit was worth it! I’m not a student anymore but flash my student ID and get a half-price ticket. The museum is small but has some beautiful photographs. We wander around for a bit and then agree that we need food and decide on a spot for an early dinner. $5.43
5:30 p.m. — There are lots of local dishes that we’re interested in trying, but tonight we’re jet-lagged and craving something healthy and relatively familiar. We go to a café around the corner from our Airbnb called Green Hippo Café, and I order a bowl with lots of veggies, hummus, and sweet potatoes ($13.03). After dinner, we stop by the grocery store to get some essentials — I buy two apples, a lemon for my tea, and a yogurt ($2.56), and marvel at how little it costs. $15.59
7:30 p.m. — After lounging for a little bit at our Airbnb and planning out our next couple of days, G. and I head to a bar to get a drink with the people we met at the airport yesterday (which feels like weeks ago!). It’s a quick walk from our Airbnb, and the bar — Liberty or Death — has fun cocktails. I’m exhausted, so stick with a one-drink limit, but enjoy a yummy cocktail made with homemade raspberry liqueur. We all chat for about an hour, and then G. and I to call it a night. $14.12
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9:30 p.m. — Today felt at least two days long! I have a cup of tea, shower, and am fast asleep around 9:30 p.m. I always make a point to keep myself awake on the first day without any naps because I’m convinced it helps me get a better first-night's sleep and adjust to the local time!
Daily Total: $67.08

Day Three

7:15 a.m. — My alarm goes off because G. and I want to go for a run this morning. I slept so well last night! The bed at our Airbnb is really comfy. It’s a little harder to drag G. out of bed, but by 7:30 a.m. or so, we’re out the door for a short and rainy run. We go for four miles along the water. Objectively speaking, the weather is somewhat miserable, but we laugh at how goofy we look with our hoods up and enjoy the views along the water.
9:15 a.m. — We shower, make tea, and get ready for the day. We’re taking the ferry to Tallinn, Estonia today and can’t be late for the boat! Neither of us knows very much about Tallinn, but it’s just a two-hour boat ride from Helsinki and a friend had recommended it as a day trip. I’ve read that the city is very walkable, so our only real plan is to have lunch when we get there and then wander around the old part of the city for the afternoon. 
I don’t have time for breakfast, but I have an apple and throw my yogurt and a bar in my bag to eat on the boat. I make sure to pack some other snacks for the day too, just in case. I’m feeling very prepared for this trip so far! Our transit day passes last for 24 hours from the time we bought them, so they’re still valid this morning, and we take the tram to the ferry terminal.
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10:30 a.m. — This boat is huge! I’ve never been on a cruise before, and this boat is quite literally a cruise ship. We settle into seats on the main floor, and after eating the breakfast I packed, I take a quick nap. I spend the rest of the boat ride reading my book (The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai) and wandering around the ship. There are a couple of cafés on board and a megastore that resembles a big Duty Free shop at the airport. I was hoping for better views, but the visibility is pretty low, so I can’t see much out the windows.
12:30 p.m. — The rain has stopped by the time we reach Tallinn! G. picks a restaurant called Rataskaveu 16 for lunch, and once we get off the boat, we head straight there. We stop along the way a few times to take pictures of the cute cobblestone streets in Tallinn’s old city. Everything is so colorful! Growling stomachs persist, though, and we’re happy to arrive at the restaurant. I order a tea, a bowl of carrot ginger soup and an Estonian cheese plate to split with G. They also bring us complementary homemade bread! We devour it all — everything is delicious. Our waitress is also the sweetest person ever and leaves notes on my tea saucer and our check. G. and I split the bill evenly and both leave a tip for the waitress since she was so lovely, but since G.’s meal was more expensive than mine she tells me that she’ll get me back later. $19.55
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2:30 p.m. — Tallinn is such a beautiful city to walk around! We spend the afternoon walking around the winding streets, ogling the architecture, and taking in the main squares, and churches. Everything feels very medieval — the streets are cobblestone and the buildings are very colorful (lots of yellows and pale pinks). I end up taking lots of pictures of intricate doors! We don’t really do any formal “activities,” but poke into lots of little tourist gift shops and walk around lots. The main attraction that we see is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which is a beautiful orthodox cathedral. I think that it is its most beautiful from the outside — I love the rounded domes. Amidst our wandering, G. finds an ATM and pays me back five euros for her church entry fee yesterday as well as the difference in our lunch check. 
4:30 p.m. — We’re a bit peckish after all our walking around, so we stop at a cute little mulled wine stand in the city square for a cup of mulled wine. G. gets some mini pancakes with raspberry jam — they’re called “Minipannkoogid” — and shares a couple with me. $3.79
6:00 p.m. — Our boat back to Helsinki leaves at 7:00 p.m., and we stop at a grocery store on the way to the Port building. I buy some carrots and celery, an orange, and a pack of crackers and hummus, and have one of the snacks that I packed this morning while we wait for the boat. $5.16
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7:30 p.m. — We’re just about first in line to board the boat so we get good seats by a window, and settle in to eat our dinners, which are comically similar. G. and I both also write in our journals, do some planning for tomorrow (there’s an island that G. wants to visit to learn more about Finnish culture and a cute café nearby that we both read about), and have some mindless social media time. 
9:30 p.m. — Once the boat docks, we take a tram back to our Airbnb. The tram is so full that we don’t bother worrying about buying another day pass yet. We make tea when we get back and have some snacks. Then it’s time for bed after reading a bit more of my book!
Daily Total: $23.50

Day Four 

8:15 a.m. — G. has to go for a longer run for her half marathon training, so I head out on my own for a slower, shorter run. I run an out-and-back along the waterfront again to ensure I don’t get lost. It’s about a half-mile from the Airbnb to the waterfront, and from there, there’s a path that I follow. Whenever I’m in a city that has a harbor or a river, I usually use that as my running route since the visual landmarks are easier to track! It’s grey and drizzling again this morning, so the views aren’t great, but there are some statues and boats along the way that keep it interesting enough. I got my period this morning, so I take it easy and run between 3.5 and 4 miles. I’m glad I brought sufficient tampons and pads so that I don’t have to worry about hunting down period products in another country.
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10:00 a.m. — We’ve showered and packed up our things and pop out to grab breakfast before we have to check out of our Airbnb. We go to Levain Bakery, which a friend of mine recommended very highly, and everything looks delicious. I get a green tea and their signature toast with the seasonal topping, which is mascarpone, crushed hazelnuts, and honey. I also get a small cinnamon roll for G. and me to share, because it just looks too good to pass up! While we wait for our food, I take photos of G. in her new sweater that she bought yesterday at one of the many tourist shops featuring Estonian crafts in Tallinn, and we decide we’re each other’s Instagram Boyfriends for the trip. Everything is insanely yummy and we leave happily full. $14.88
11:15 a.m. — We check out of our Airbnb and head to the central train station. We’re taking an overnight train up to Northern Finland tonight and want to put our bags in the storage lockers so that we don’t have to lug them around all day. Both our bags fit in the locker, which costs six euros for the day, but I don’t have many coins on me so G. pays five euros and I pay one ($1.08). We also stop to get another day pass so that we can use the trams and busses today ($8.69). $9.77
11:45 a.m. — Our next stop is an art museum called the Amos Rex. I use my student ID for a ticket again to save a little cash. The main exhibit is really cool, featuring work by artists between the ages of 15 and 23! Some of the art makes me think of my sister, so I take photos to send to her when I have wifi later. G. and I wander around separately and meet up at the end. $5.43
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1:00 p.m. — Our next stop is an island called Seurasaari, where there’s an open-air museum. We take the bus there, and then explore the old buildings on the island, which are from the 18th-20th century. It’s supposed to resemble an old village, and the wooden buildings are really fun to look at. We read about all the uses for the different buildings and get a good walk in, too. The majority of the buildings have something to do with the church — my favorite is a boathouse for the ginormous canoe-esque boats that entire towns would fit in to row across the water to go to church. I also love that there’s a stable that has an upstairs where those who ride their horses to church can change out of their riding clothes into something more formal. It’s definitely more of an attraction in the summer, but we decide we’re still glad we came!
2:45 p.m. — We’re both getting hungry, and make our way to the next stop on our list, which is a little café on the water called Café Regatta. It’s very rustic and charming, and a bit kitschy, inside. I get a cinnamon hot chocolate with marshmallows and a tuna pastry that looks sort of like an empanada, and we snuggle into a corner table. We sit for about an hour and have a fascinating conversation about personality types and enneagrams. For any enneagram nerds like me, G. is an 8 and I am a 2-wing-3. We love comparing and contrasting our habits and tendencies! $8.36
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4:00 p.m. — We have a little more time until we need to be at the train station, so we take the tram back to the city center and do a little more sightseeing. We visit the square in front of the Helsinki Cathedral and then walk over to the waterfront, where there’s a cute little food stall indoor market called Vanha Kauppahalli. I buy four postcards in the market to send to friends and family ($6.50), and then we decide on going to get a glass of wine. I have a coffee shop/wine bar starred on my Google Maps — El Fant — that does natural wine and is just around the corner. I get a glass of Merlot ($8.73). $15.23
5:45 p.m. — We make a quick pit stop at the grocery store before we go to our train. I get an apple ($0.74) and then buy a sandwich when we get to the train station ($6.73). We pick up our bags and make it to our train in plenty of time! The sleeper car is amusingly tiny, but it feels like a fun adventure. We sit in the dining car and eat our sandwiches before settling into our room and getting cozy. I write postcards, listen to a podcast episode, and fall asleep around 10:00 p.m. $7.47
Daily Total: $61.32

Day Five

7:30 a.m. — I can’t say I had the best night’s sleep of my life, but I’m amazed that I actually managed to sleep! We arrive in Rovaniemi, Finland at 7:30 a.m. and there’s snow everywhere. We’re freaking out (in a good way) about the winter wonderland that we’d been so looking forward to. Our Airbnb host is letting us check in early so we walk for about 20 minutes through the snow to get there and settle into the apartment, which is just outside the city center. I’m excited about this Airbnb because it was both affordable and has a sauna in the bathroom. 
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9:30 a.m. — G. wants to do a bit of work and take a nap, but I’m getting a bit restless. I make myself a packet of oatmeal that I grabbed from my office kitchen on Friday and have one of the dried fruit and nut chews too, and then pack my bag and walk to a café in town. On the way, I stop and buy stamps for G. and me, because we have some postcards we want to send ($11.20). I wander around the town, which is pretty nondescript since the city was destroyed by the Germans in WW2 and lost just about all of its historic charm. There are mostly just hotels, outdoor gear stores, and restaurants now, all housed in concrete buildings. I end up at Coffee House Rovaniemi, where I buy a tea ($3.80) and hunker down with my postcards and a podcast episode that G. recommended — the enneagram episode of the Chatty Broads podcast. By the time I finish writing postcards and jot down some notes in my journal about my enneagram type, it’s almost time to meet G, for lunch. I do a quick loop around the town and drop my postcards in the mailbox. Though the city isn’t very exciting to look at, it’s tiny enough that I can get around without needing my map. I will say, I’m lucky that I have a pretty good sense of direction and memory which makes navigating in new places relatively easy for me. $15.00
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12:15 p.m. — G. and I meet at a vegetarian café, Woodss, that I found in the town center. We both have a hankering for something healthy! I order a falafel salad bowl and a strawberry basil kombucha. We chat more about enneagram types now that I’ve listened to the podcast episode that she recommended, and then head out to go catch the bus to “Santa’s Village,” a tourist attraction just outside of Rovaniemi that we know will be a little kitschy, but still want to see. It means officially crossing into the arctic circle, which we’re pretty psyched about. $19.32
1:00 p.m. — We buy round-trip tickets when we get on ($7.60) and note the times that we can catch the bus back to the city. When we arrive at Santa’s Village, I’m struck by just how much of a tourist attraction it is. There are lots of little buildings — it is meant to look like Santa’s Village, after all — and a small route for reindeer sleigh rides. We walk around in the snow, decide we’re opposed to the reindeer rides (the reindeer look too sad), and buy some more postcards ($5.94). We document our entry into the Arctic Circle, which is the geographic region where the sun does not set on the day of summer solstice and does not rise on the day of the winter solstice. It’s marked by a big lantern. G. and I find a table at a café in the village to write postcards. G. gets a beer, and I get a hot chocolate. She pays for my hot chocolate. $13.54
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3:15 p.m. — We head back to Rovaniemi from Santa’s Village and stop at the grocery store. I buy an orange, some veggies, tomato sauce, hummus, crackers, a yogurt, and some hand warmers. We’re doing an “Airbnb experience” excursion tonight that includes a short hike through the woods, dinner in a lake-side hut, and looking for the northern lights, and I need the hand warmers to make four hours outdoors in 20-degree weather bearable! We also plan to cook dinner tomorrow night and have a couple of snacks/breakfasts in the meantime. I’m a big fan of Airbnb over hotels for the freedom a kitchen gives you when it comes to meals. $14.73
6:00 p.m. — After some downtime at our Airbnb to make a snack, do some FaceTiming with our respective families, and get dressed in all our warm layers, the Airbnb guide picks us up at our apartment. There are two other girls joining us on the excursion, and we head about 15 km out of the city. The goal is to see the northern lights, but it’s snowing, so our chances aren’t looking good. We hike into the woods and our guide makes a fire in a hut by the lake. The whole evening is pretty magical, even though we don’t see the lights. We have tea, Finnish blueberry juice, vegetarian sausages, and a blueberry loaf for dessert. The wilderness is so peaceful, and we are so happy to be by a campfire. Since we can’t see the lights, our guide also takes us to the top of the ski mountain in Rovaniemi and we do a little bit of sledding! By the time he drops us off at our Airbnb around 10:00 p.m., I’m pooped. I call my dad, make tea, read some of my book, and head to bed. $88.20 
Daily Total: $150.79

Day Six

9:00 a.m. — Today was the first (and only) morning that G. and I got to sleep in, and the slower start felt lovely. We go for a (chilly) run and I’m reminded how grateful I am to be on vacation with someone who doesn’t make me feel crazy for wanting to exercise. We make a loop in a relatively residential neighborhood, but I’m mostly in awe of all of the snow… I’d guess there are at least two feet of snow! After our run, we shower and get ready. I make my other oatmeal packet for breakfast, have a cup of tea, and the orange I bought yesterday.
11:00 a.m. — We walk to a museum called Arktikum, not far from our Airbnb, which is focused on the history of the region and the environment in the Arctic. I’m fascinated by all of the exhibits and totally lose track of time. I’m not normally a big science person, but I love learning about how climate change is impacting the Arctic, the tribes of indigenous people that live in that part of the world, and Finland’s history with World War II (I had no idea that Finland had conflict with both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany during the war). G. is waiting for me by the entrance when I emerge. $9.76
1:00 p.m. — After the museum, we walk into town to get lunch. We choose a casual café/restaurant called Cafe & Bar 21 that has salmon on the menu because we're both in the mood for fish. I get a salad with smoked salmon and goat cheese and have a “Forest Latte” while I wait for my food. What is a forest latte, you ask? It’s made with spruce powder and oat milk (no coffee involved), and is supposed to be full of antioxidants and good for your immune system. It’s a little bit earthy and not too sweet, and I’m a fan! We write postcards while we wait for our food, and are both big fans of our lunches. $16.26
2:30 p.m. — We walk a ways to a ski rental facility and rent cross country skis for the afternoon. I did some cross country skiing as a kid, but I am by no means an expert. We ski for an hour and a half or so and marvel at all the snow. G. and I are the bizarre humans that were excited by a Finland vacation in February! I fall twice and laugh hysterically at how silly I look in my pile of skis and poles on the ground. The sun is starting to set when we start walking back towards town. $16.26
4:30 p.m. — We stop at the Marimekko store, which is the big name Finnish design brand, so that I can buy a little mug for myself to commemorate the vacation ($21.14). We pop into a couple more souvenir shops in the city’s main shopping center, where she buys some souvenirs for her friends and family too. I buy one more postcard — I send a lot of postcards when I travel — and five stamps ($9.75). We stop into the grocery store one last time so that we can both buy reindeer jerky for our dads. I also grab a bar of chocolate for myself and a bottle of kombucha. All three combined cost me ($15.10). $45.99
6:00 p.m. — We make ourselves an early pasta dinner and I finish off some of my snacks while we cook. After dinner, we take advantage of the little sauna in our Airbnb — if only saunas were this common in the US! 
9:00 p.m. — There’s a river that runs through Rovaniemi that’s about a 10-minute walk from our Airbnb, so we bundle up and walk down to the river to see if the northern lights will make an appearance. They don’t, but we see some beautiful constellations and a couple of shooting stars! We head back to our Airbnb around 10, pack, and go to sleep.
Daily Total: $88.27

Day Seven

4:30 a.m. — Alarm goes off super early because we have a 5:55 a.m. train back to Helsinki. I make myself a cup of tea and we walk about 25 minutes to the train station. After boarding the train, we learn that our train is really delayed — at least a two-hour delay — because they need a new driver. We don’t pull out of the station until after 8:00 a.m. Ugh.
12:00 p.m. — We were supposed to be nearly back to Helsinki, but because of the delay, we’re not due in until 4:15 now. I venture down to the restaurant car since our original plan was to eat when we got to Helsinki, so we didn’t pack lunch. I get a broccoli feta quiche, a bottle of water (there’s nowhere to refill my water bottle on the train!), and hot chocolate as a treat to make up for this crazy delay. I spend the train ride journaling, napping, and spending way too much time on social media since there’s good wifi. I also file for reimbursement for the train ticket because trains with delays longer than an hour are eligible. (At the time of submitting this diary, I’m still waiting for my refund to be processed, but based on the information on the train company’s site, I can expect about a 50% refund for my ticket ($18.87), plus reimbursement for my meal on the train ($13.63), for a total refund of about $32.50.) $13.63
4:15 p.m. — When we finally arrive in Helsinki, we purchase our last transit pass for the trip and pay a little more for it so that it includes our ride to the airport tomorrow ($11.89). We take the tram to our last Airbnb, which isn’t anything special but was super cheap and in the same area as our last Helsinki Airbnb, change, and leave for the Löyly Sauna. It’s right on the water, so you can go from the sauna to taking a quick dip into the Baltic. I made a reservation in advance (noted in pre-vacation expenses), and moved our reservation back to 5:30 p.m. on the train because of the delay. We have two hours at the sauna, and I go back and forth between the sauna and the freezing cold water (it’s 36 degrees Fahrenheit!). I could get used to this whole sauna thing. $11.89
8:00 p.m. — G. and I made a dinner reservation for a nicer meal on our last night at a restaurant called The Cock. We take the bus from the sauna towards the restaurant and are very ready for a glass of wine when we arrive. Our waiter is great — he’s from Wisconsin and moved here with his Finnish girlfriend — and everything on the menu looks delicious. I get two glasses of wine, split a plate of oysters with G., order a yummy tuna and rice bowl for dinner, and share a cheese plate with G. for dessert. The waiter splits our bill based on what we order and I leave a tip because the waiter was so wonderful. In my experience, tips aren’t common or expected in Europe, so it’s more of a gesture than anything. We get back to our Airbnb around 10 and head to bed. $77.65
Daily Total: $103.17

Day Eight

7:00 a.m. — I go out for a quick run, shower, and pack! Once I’m mostly ready, I head to a café nearby for a last Finnish treat. G. stays back at the Airbnb and has a quiet morning. At Kaffa Roastery, I order a matcha latte and a korvapuusti (a Finnish cinnamon roll that’s a little less sweet and not covered in frosting) and settle into the cozy café with my book ($9.76). On my way back to the Airbnb, I grab a couple of clementines, a yogurt, and carrots, and pick up an apple for G. ($4.25). $14.01
10:00 a.m. — I have my yogurt, and G. and I take the tram and then another train to get to the airport. I debate buying a sandwich for the flight once we’re through security but decide I have plenty of snacks. Our flight takes off around 1:00 p.m. Helsinki time, and we’re due in NYC around 2:30 p.m.
3:00 p.m. (NYC Time) — After we land at JFK and go through customs, G. and I head to the subway. I pay $7.75 for my AirTrain ticket, give G. a big hug to celebrate a successful trip, and hop on the subway home. $7.75
Daily Total: $21.76
How did you prepare for this trip?
G. and I used a shared Google Doc to organize ourselves for the trip. It started out as a place to collect our ideas of things we wanted to do, and then we built it out into a loose itinerary. I relied mostly on Instagram tags and travel blogs for recommendations of things to do and places to eat, and collected a few ad hoc recommendations from friends, too, though not many of my friends have been to Helsinki.
If flight, when did you book? Do you think you got a good deal?
We booked our flights about three months in advance. I was pretty happy with a roundtrip, direct flight for under $500! G. kept a closer eye on fluctuating flight prices than I did, but I wasn’t quite as concerned with the total price of the flight since I knew I would be able to cover the majority with credit card points.
Did you use credit card points/miles to pay for parts of this trip? If so, please explain further:
My roundtrip flight from New York (JFK) to Helsinki cost $494.47, but I redeemed 37,845 Chase points, so I only paid $21.40 for the flight. The majority of the points used were from my sign up bonus for my Chase Sapphire card.
Do you have credit card debt as a result of booking this vacation? If so, how much?
Nope! I saved money to cover the costs of this trip, and I am a stickler for paying off my credit card bill in full every month.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
If I had to pick a favorite activity — which is hard!! — I think I’d have to say the sauna in Helsinki or cross country skiing in Rovaniemi. The views from the sauna at sunset were beautiful, and it felt so luxurious to lounge in a sauna at the end of our trip. I also loved having the opportunity to spend time in the snow in Rovaniemi, since winter in New York City isn’t very picturesque. Both activities cost less than 20 euros, which was a big plus!
What was the best meal or food you ate while you were there?
This is silly, but I loved the blueberry juice we had on our Airbnb excursion. If you go to Finland, try blueberry juice! They had it on our FinnAir flights too. The most memorable meal for me was the meal we had on our last night — it was a treat to splurge on a nicer dinner to celebrate the end of our trip!
Is there a tourist trap you wish you had avoided?
Santa’s Village was a bit too touristy for my taste. I didn’t love seeing the reindeer all cooped up as a tourist attraction — they looked pretty miserable, which made me sad.
What advice would you give someone who is traveling to the same location?
If you’re traveling to Scandinavia in the winter, pack warmly! Most days, I wore a long sleeve shirt, a big sweater, and my winter coat. I wasn’t always my most fashionable on the trip, but because I was warm enough, I was able to enjoy my time there more! Definitely worth paying attention to the weather report.
Is there anything about your trip you would do differently in retrospect?
We were hoping to see the Northern Lights, but should have gone further north into the Arctic Circle than Rovaniemi to better our chances. It wasn’t in the budget for this trip, but if (when!) I go back, I’ll want to spend the extra money to make it further north and stay at one of those glass igloo hotels.
Would you stay at your Airbnb again?
I’d definitely recommend staying at Airbnbs in Helsinki — I found them to be more affordable than hotel options, with the added bonus of better locations and more character. Our first Airbnb was my favorite, and would absolutely recommend it to anyone traveling to Helsinki!
Is there anything you wished you had time to do, but didn’t?
In both Helsinki and Tallinn, I felt like we had time to sufficiently explore the city centers. If I had had an extra day in each place, I would have wanted to explore neighborhoods just outside of the city centers that I’d heard good things about. For Helsinki, I would have loved to explore the Kallio district, where there were some wine bars, cafés, and bakeries that I’d heard great things about. For Tallinn, I would have wanted to see the Kalamaja District, where there’s a well known “Creative City” that I’d like to explore!
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