Let's be honest: This wasn't meant to be a budget trip by any means, as we did a few very special (and pricy) things and went to one of Europe's least travelled corners. Yet, the cost of food, accommodation and transport was very managable. I know we could easily have gotten away with half the cost if we had stuck to mainland Finland and with hostels and couchsurfing, but that's not how we roll. This is how we roll:
Our travel style:
As my girlfriend and I are currently travelling full time, working and studying on the road, I've decided to start publishing our expenses. Our travel style can be described as lower mid-range, I guess - We often stay in a place a few weeks and rent apartments, and don't do a lot of touristy stuff or travelling around. Sometimes we end up in a hostel, sometimes in a 4/5 star hotel - both rarely for more than a night or two. Most of the time, we stay in cheap guesthouses, 3 star hotels or rent via airbnb.
We try to travel in a sustainable way and avoid flights, but when the question is between a $5, 10 hour chicken bus and a $40, 50 minute flight, the flight wins. We do a lot of walking, hiking and cycling, but we also don't worry about taking a taxi once in a while when public transportation is a pain.
We love exploring local markets and supermarkets and cooking ourselves, but we love all kinds of food - cheap street foods as well as a nice restaurant every now and then. We don't really go out to drink and party, but like a drink, especially a good wine (ok, that's mostly me). When available, we love to take cooking classes wherever we are. We might skip typical tourist attractions in favour of more pricy, unique trips.
We flew into Helsinki and spent a week there. From Helsinki, we went on a 3 day excursion to St Petersburg, Russia by ferry - this included 2 nights on the ferry and 2 nights in town. I'm including St Petersburg and related expenses in this, as it really was a side trip from Finland and we wouldn't have spent much more in an extra few days in Finland in comparison. Upon arriving back in Helsinki, we took a train to Turku. We spent 5 nights in Turku and then went off to a special adventure at nearby Kylmäpihlaja lighthouse island. After that, we travelled back to Turku and spent the night near the ferry terminal to catch the morning ferry to Mariehamn, Åland, where we spent a week before taking an onward ferry to Stockholm.
In Helsinki, Turku and Mariehamn, we rented apartments via airbnb. In Helsinki, this was a large studio with giant balcony right in the city centre. In Turku, a one bedroom apartment in the old Swedish part of town. In Mariehamn, we had a giant 80 square metre, 2 bedroom flat with our own sauna and a balcony with forest view to ourselves (this was mostly because we decided to go last minute and there wasn't much available in town, plus Åland is the most expensive part of Finland).
Our most expensive night, at 160€ (around $180 considering the poor Euro rate, or £120) was spent at the Kylmäpihlaja lighthouse - which is only fair as it's a tiny island in the middle of nowhere and staying at the lighthouse is the main attraction. The cheapest nights were those spent in Helsinki, where the fantastic Finnish design studio cost just 36€ a night (that's £26 or $40) - cheaper than the apartment we stayed at in St Petersburg, if only slighly. Our two nights on the ferry in St Petersburg cost 60€ each, for staying in a cozy cabin - for statistics' sake, I divided these by 50% for travel and accommodation.
On average, our accommodation was £35 a night, or £17.50/$26 per person. That's about the same as the price of a bunk bed in most Helsinki hotels.
|Aland water calves :)|
Ferries in this part of the world are dirt cheap and amazing value, as they make all of their money from duty free sales (the Swedish call them "drinking ships"). You can go cheaper by just hanging out on the deck, but 60€ per person bought us our on cabin for the overnight trip to St Petersburg. The 7 hour trip from Turku to Mariehamn and Mariehamn to Stockholm was just $20, also including our own cabin and bathroom. The views from these ferries are absolutely priceless!
Eating out is pricy and food is often disappointing in Finland (unless you are really ready to blow the bank, I'm talking $60 onwards per person, and that will be for a Viking style meat feast full of creatures of the forest which we would rather not sample). In Aland, there were few restaurants to choose from, anyway. I can therefore count the times we ate out in Finland - once for brunch at a vegan cafe, once for pho at a Vietnamese cafe in Turku, once at a traditional Finnish buffet place in Helsinki, one sushi lunch in Helsinki, dinner at the lighthouse island (because that's the only way to get food there ;)) as well as lunch in Aland after cycling for 30 km. There were plenty of coffee and pastry breaks, though. We also ate on the Mariehamn to Stockholm ferry, where the 20€ dinner buffet will provide you with a fantastic Scandinavian feast, including pricy seafood and unlimited wine and beer (for 2 hours).
Alcohol in Finland is not cheap, but it's fun to buy, even only if it means you need to go to the "Alko" (the state run shop that is licensed to sell everything but the weakest beers and ciders). They kept giving us free chewing gums and sweets whenever they checked our ID - as an apology for bothering us even though we're over 18. Wine prices were actually slightly lower than in the UK, with a bigger choice :) Beers were a bit more expensive, but not outrageously so.
Eating out in St Petersburg was dirt cheap (and because of the EU sanctions, there wasn't much choice available). However, outrageous prices for the food on the ferry to go there and return to Finland meant that the 3 1/2 day side trip to Russia cost the same in terms of food as our days in Finland.
On average, food cost us just £6 or $9 per person and day, including drinks and amazing Finnish coffee. Not bad at all, although I wished vegetables were a bit cheaper up there.
Activities & other costs
The great thing about travelling in the Nordic countries is that the best things are completely free! I spent a lot of time running along the Baltic shoreline in Helsinki, we visited two museums, one castle (total entry fee 22€ each) and cute islands and didn't really pay for any special tours. The boat trips were definitely the highlight of our trip! There is one exception: We both have a bit of an obsession with the Moomins, so even if it's made for kids, we had to go and visit Moomin World near Turku, which is a tourist trap with a whopping $40 entry fee for adults. It was great fun, though, and definitely worth the money if you ask me - I'd rather pay for this again than visit any other theme park. We also rented bicycles to cylce around Aland for 2 days, at a cost of 10€ a day.
Apart from the ferries, our favourite activity was probably using the sauna that was part of our apartment in Mariehamn! It totally made up the high cost of the apartment.
What I haven't considered as part of our travel costs is the... ahem... shopping. We did buy some overpriced Finnish design items in Helsinki, as well as some cute trinkets at Moomin World - I swear, we don't usually shop like this! We also sent a bucket load of post cards as many places we visited had unique stamps, postal stamps and post offices (Moomin World, Aland, the country life museum in Turku) - sending postcards from unique locations seems to be popular in Finland!
Total: Our total daily travel cost for Finland was £53.56 per person and day. That's currently 75€ or $82, definitely much less than a similar trip would have cost in the UK or Ireland, and also less than we spent on our trip to the US east cost earlier this year. At lot of it is due to the fact the Finland uses the Euro, whose value is currently ridiculously low. We weren't really aware of this until we arrived in Stockholm, where suddenly everything seemed to be double the price.
If you want 3 weeks in Finland full of adventure and sightseeing, you can easily spend double. Backpacking, on the other hand, you would probably only be able to shave 30 % off this budget, unless you prepare all your meals in the hostel kitchen.
Overall, I felt Finland was amazingly good value - accommodation, food, transport and service were of a great standard and we never felt like we were being overcharged. It will never be a budget destination, but it certainly is the best value country in Northern Europe.