Several months ago I received an email from a woman named Heidi Nunnemacher… and this is what it said:
My heart skipped a beat when I read in your email this morning that you are planning on touring in Finland this year. I’ve been meaning to email you for the past six months to let you know that with the help of your book, The Bicycle Touring Blueprint (along with many articles), I successfully completed my first bicycle tour in Finland last summer.
I am an American woman who became obsessed with Scandinavia, and Finland in particular, two years ago. I had also spent several years dreaming about bicycle touring. So, I combined my interests and finally made my tour happen last year. In addition to saying thanks for the resources, I’ve been meaning to tell you that I recommend Finland for solo female bicycle tourists (and probably all of Scandinavia is safer than average for the same reasons). I watched one of your live webcasts in the fall, and I remember that female safety came up, but you were not fully able to speak to that issue. I thought I’d throw in my two cents and recommend Finland as a destination where I felt reasonably safe. The main reasons are because the culture values gender equality and because of the existence of “Everyman’s Right” (meaning that I could camp on private land without feeling like the landowner would show up and bother me– sort of mind-blowing for an American!).
More than anything I want to emphasize that your resources helped me feel empowered. I had never traveled alone before, and in fact I had never taken apart/put together a bicycle before preparing for my trip (my mechanical engineer and bike enthusiast brother thought I was being an idiot). Well, I did it! Thank you for creating helpful, clear, and motivational bicycle touring resources, Darren!
After reading through Heidi’s email several times, I wrote her back and asked if she would be interested in writing a short article about bike touring in Finland… from a female’s perspective. “Surely there are other women out there looking for a safe and enjoyable place to go bicycle touring,” I thought to myself. “Maybe Heidi can share some of her thoughts, ideas and experiences from her bicycle tour in Finland with the other female readers here at BicycleTouringPro.com?”
Thanks so much for your email. I’m so happy to hear that you had a good experience bicycle touring around Finland. And that you had an overall successful bicycle tour. Do you have plans for another bicycle tour this year or at any point in the future?
And yes, you bring up a good point about women’s safety, etc. I can imagine Scandinavia being a very safe place for women to travel by themselves.
Here’s an idea: Would you be at all interested in writing a short article for BicycleTouringPro.com about your bicycle tour? And about how Scandinavia is a safe place for solo, female bicycle travelers? And then maybe we could include a few pictures from your bike tour, etc? It wouldn’t have to be long. Maybe just a few paragraphs about your bike tour, what you learned, and some tips to other women hoping to travel by bike.
What do you think? Interested? Let me know! I’d love to make that happen.
And thanks again for your email. It means so much!
Heidi wrote back to say that she would be delighted to write up a little something about her experiences cycle touring in Finland… and this is what she had to say:
I was tired and trying to sleep after a day of cycling and exploring the Kvarken archipelago, a World Heritage Site springing out of the Gulf of Bothnia. But it’s hard to sleep when true darkness never comes. Also, it’s hard to sleep when you feel like a trespasser and expect an irate farmer to charge into your campsite with a firearm and scream at you in a foreign language. And so began my solo, self-supported bicycle tour in Finland.
As it turned out, the greatest danger I faced as a woman traveling alone in Finland was the onslaught of various bloodthirsty bugs. It seemed that my “natural” herbal-based insect repellent wasn’t going to cut it. My research and intuition pointed to Finland as a safe choice for my first bicycle tour; safe, but not dull, and certainly not cliched. It seemed to be a place where I could feel confident traveling alone as a woman. This was borne out through my experience, though there were still moments, especially during those first nights, when my anxiety got the best of me.
Finland and the other Nordic countries are progressive, egalitarian societies with high levels of gender equality. They seem to be actively ironing out sexist attitudes from their social fabric with every passing generation. Finland was the first modern nation to grant women the rights to both vote and to stand for election, a full generation before American women attained suffrage. Nobody there bats an eye at a woman traveling alone. This is a precious advantage for personal safety; if you are not perceived as strange, then you are less likely to attract attention and to be viewed as vulnerable.
Finland’s population is highly competent in the English language. It currently ranks seventh in the EF English Proficiency Index, with over 60% of the population proficient in English. While it would be disingenuous to promote that annoying American adage that “everyone speaks English,” it felt true enough to contribute to my sense of safety. I often lost my way and asked for directions, having no problems with language. I was even offered help when I looked lost, which challenged the stereotype that Finns are reserved and aloof. I admit that I initially felt self-conscious about speaking English abroad, thinking that it pegged me as an uncouth American. However, I soon noticed that English functions as the lingua franca between Finns and other Europeans. This helped me feel less embarrassed, though I still had the habit of prefacing everything with, “I’m sorry I don’t speak Finnish.”
I also found a feeling of safety in the ability to camp on private land without prior permission, a law known as “Everyman’s Right” which exists in various forms throughout the Nordic countries. But first I had to confront my deeply engrained American sense of the inviolability of private property rights. I practically slept with one eye open, but my anxiety about the gun-toting farmer was unfounded. I now think that Everyman’s Right makes intuitive sense and contributed to the spontaneity and safety of my trip. Coupled with the long summer days, Everyman’s Right ensured that I could bike until I found a place in the forest or fields that felt safe, and camp there without fear of being bothered. I should note that there are some common sense limitations to Everyman’s Right, and travelers should research the country-specific rules.
Of course bad things can happen anywhere in the world, and the general safety of Finland should not tempt a woman to ignore her gut feelings. I would recommend that a female bicycle traveler have a “hotel fund” in case she needs to ensure her safety for the night. I did spend one night in a hotel in Finland after being unnerved by a man with a leer in his eye. I may have too sensitive a barometer for perceived danger, but I was grateful to be able to buy a sense of safety. I honored my gut feeling, which is perhaps the best advice.
Yes, indeed. Finland is a wonderful place for traveling by bike… for both MEN and WOMEN!
- Click here to read about my own bicycle touring adventures in Finland.
- Click here to see photos from my travels in central Finland.
- Click here to read my review of the Upitrek bike tour, which starts and ends in beautiful Kajaani, Finland.
- Click here to find out how much it costs to go on a self-supported bike tour of Finland.
- Or click here to read about a fun and informative 1-day bike tour you can participate in if you ever make it to Helsinki, Finland (the country’s capital city).