DNA Travel Journal: Finland Edition

As the jolt of the plane touching down went through my body, it hit me. I was here, finally, with purpose. My DNA travel journey had begun, it was no longer a dream. 

I never choose to sit in the window seat, but at that moment as a wave of emotion came over me I was thankful to have that small bit of privacy. This wasn’t just any old DNA test inspired trip. As an adoptee, this was the start of discovering the story of “me”.

Why did it take me 39 years to embark on what might be my biggest adventure yet?

If you haven’t yet, now would be a good time to hop on over to my post that talks about the experience and challenges of being adopted in a world where DNA testing and DNA travel are growing in popularity. Don’t worry, you can come on back to keep reading this post when you’re done.

Me, a woman, standing in front of snow covered pine trees with sun peeking behind them. The ground is covered in snow and I am wearing a puffy green knee length winter jacket and big gray winter hat. Text: Travel Journal DNA Tourism Finland Edition

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My DNA Travel Story

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am adventurous in all aspects of my life. I am goal-oriented and I don’t let barriers keep me from chasing after my goals. I quit my job and completely changed careers in my mid-thirties. I always figure things out and land on my feet.

But there was always this one thing. The thing I wouldn’t or couldn’t tackle for some reason. 

And so this year, in honor of my 40th (yikes!) birthday, I set out to finally face that one thing – me. 

Coronavirus might have other plans for me, but my intention is to travel to three places from my DNA results in an effort to connect with myself and my roots. I’m not trying to meet long lost family members, just discover cultures that are part of me.

Each step along the way in my DNA travel journey, I’ll be sharing a journal entry with my thoughts and reflections on the destination and what I’ve discovered about myself through that destination.

Dear Diary, Finland felt like home.

Had the place to myself while hiking on a frozen lake at sunrise in Levi, Finland.

I’ve traveled a lot of places, and admittedly fall in love with nearly every place I visit. Maybe I am looking for some deeper connection to Finland, given the reason I’m here, but it feels like home.

I came here solo, knowing I would need time to reflect and think and go wherever felt right in the moment. I wanted to be gentle on myself as I begin to tear back the bandaid that I’ve been wearing for 39 years. 

As I’ve thought about this first leg of my DNA travel experience, I’ve mentally sorted things into “the moments” and “the culture.” These two aspects of this DNA travel experience were equally important and impactful.

The Moments That Mattered

When I catalog my travel experiences in my mind, they end up being a series of moments. Moments that mattered. When I close my eyes and think about my time in Finland, there are those special moments that made me feel like I was home.

A quiet moment in the sun just before the first snowmobiles of the day drove past me.

The silent conversation with exaggerated hand gestures I shared with a pastry shoppe owner when ordering Karjalanpiirakka (a traditional rice pastry) in Helsinki. His knowing smile as he watched me take my first bite of buttery goodness.

The shock in my own, and my instructor’s, voice when we both discovered I’m naturally talented as a cross-country skier. An introductory lesson turned out to be several playful kilometers through the forest together.

Sharing laughs and squeals with complete strangers as we dipped in the icy cold sea water between sessions in the public sauna.

The thrill of riding a snowmobile through the Arctic countryside at night in search of the Northern Lights and not even being mad that they weren’t visible that night.

Seeing the animated wine shop owner’s eyes widen when he realized I was from Minnesota. He pointed to the framed Minnesota Vikings football jersey on the wall and proceeded to generously pour me a tasting.

Each of these moments that matter were simple exchanges, but ones I’ll hold with me for a long time.

The Culture

I won’t pretend that I can learn a culture in one week. If I have any Finnish readers, I welcome your thoughts and insights. From my brief glimpse, here are the things about Finland’s culture that most resonated with me. 

Pro Tip: Curious to learn more about Finland? Here are 15 books that are set in Finland!

Exploring Korouoma Canyon and its frozen waterfalls near Rovaniemi, Finland.

Outdoors All Year Round

Up until a few years ago, I was a serial complainer about cold weather. During winter, I would lock myself inside and scurry from building to building when I had to be outside. But, then I went winter hiking in Norway and my whole perspective shifted. Suddenly I was an outdoor adventurer all year round. Snow, ice, heat, rain – I’ll take it all.

From icy dips in the sea between rounds in the sauna to hiking across frozen lakes among the Arctic fells and a whole lot in between, Finnish people get outside no matter the weather. 

Casual Vibes

If I could wear workout and hiking gear for the rest of my life, I’d be a happy girl . My idea of dressing up is wearing “fancy” leggings and cute flats or trendy sneakers.

As I wandered the streets of Helsinki, I was struck by how casual the vibe was. Throughout much of Europe, I’ve felt underdressed. But not here. I was able to move about the city with ease and comfort, blending in with the day to day flow in my oh-so-casual clothes. 

Löyly public sauna on the seaside in Helsinki, Finland.

Sauna Culture

Nearly every single place I stayed in Finland had an in-room sauna (one of my only splurge expenses). Let me tell you, cold weather is not so bad when you have a sauna to come home to. 

But saunas aren’t just an at-home thing, there’s loads of public saunas too. And they aren’t just about relaxation, public saunas are a social affair best enjoyed with a boozy drink in hand. Clearly, these are my people.

So, why do I care about sauna culture? I love that this type of calming, self-care is part of mainstream culture in Finland. It is good for you, but also social. 

Function Over Form

One of the quirky things about the culture that really resonated with me is the design aesthetic. The design of furniture and buildings appear to be very simple and artistic, but their designs are actually centered around being functional. Every single aspect of design seemed to serve a legitimate purpose. Every curve and angle has a function. They tend to choose function over form, and I love that.

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A local explained to me that historically, and especially in the Arctic, Finnish people have lived a life of scarcity. As a result, they tend to have a get-on-with-it mentality in the face of setbacks and make do with whatever supplies are available. 

This was particularly evident during my Airbnb Experiences cooking class in Helsinki. The chef explained to me that while there is a recipe for the traditional salmon soup, you sort of just made due with whatever ingredients were available at the time. It’s art over science.  

Another example of resilience is this hilarious video comparing how Canadians (similar to Minnesotans) and Finnish people deal with bear encounters on their property.

My Finland DNA Travel Journey: The Epilogue

I can’t point to one particular thing about myself that I can say “that is the Finnish part of me.” It was something much less tangible than that.

Going into this DNA tourism experience, I was skeptical. I mean, I’ve traveled my whole life, would I really discover the story of “me” in the places in my DNA test results? For any adoptee or person hoping to discover a deeper understanding of themselves, just go. My biggest regret is that I waited to begin this journey until I was nearly forty. Listen to your heart to know when the time is right for you.

And when you go, I’ll be here waiting to hear whatever you are ready to share about the story of “you”.

Ready to plan a winter adventure in Finland? Read more about the best places to visit in Finnish Lapland, the unique and wonderful winter activities in Rovaniemi, and the unforgettable outdoorsy things to do in Levi Finland in winter.

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Me, a woman, standing in front of snow covered pine trees with sun peeking behind them. The ground is covered in snow and I am wearing a puffy green knee length winter jacket and big gray winter hat. Text: Travel Journal DNA Tourism Finland Edition
Me walking away from the camera across a groomed snow covered frozen lake. The sun is just rising and hitting the tall pine trees to my left. I'm wearing a green knee length puffy winter coat, a red backpack and gray winter hat. The sky is blue with clouds. Text: DNA travel discovering my story Finland edition.

2 thoughts on “DNA Travel Journal: Finland Edition

  1. This Big Wild World says:

    Thanks so much, Josy! I really do think you’d love this part of the world, particularly the sauna culture. It’s the best way to end a long day of winter adventures. I can’t wait to get back to Japan soon to enjoy some onsens 🙂

  2. Josy A says:

    I am so happy to read this Susan! I’d seen the gorgeous photos on instagram, but I was wondering how you felt to learn about the Finnish part of you. It really does sound like you fit in.

    You know I am not Finnish at all, but I have a feeling I would live it there too – especially the sauna culture (although Japanese onsen culture is my favourite, any warm bathing experience after being cold is the best!!)

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