Finland has a hidden beauty and you have to dig a little bit deeper for it
Marko Korkeakoski is a Finnish university teacher, which is according to him the best job for travelling, because of the long summer breaks. He has visited 109 countries so far and spent on the travels more than half of a year many times. Altogether Marko has been travelling for more than twenty years. How did the world and travelling change during that time? And why you should visit Finland?
You have travelled to 109 countries so far, which one have impressed you the most and why?
This is a tough question in many ways because there are so many different things I like about the countries I've been in. USA is close to my heart even though I'm politically quite far, but I'm nature lover and photographer, and they have a lot of great spots for hiking and photos. But in any country is something unique going on and for some reason, I like weird and distant, beautiful places, like Easter Island.
You have visited a lot of countries. Do you prefer a slow travelling or ticking off visited places on the map?
I like slow travelling, but when I calculated my first six months trip, I found out that I spend like 1,8 nights in one spot. But I don't like flights, and I try to do all my travels overland by bus, train or renting a car, and in a way I guess that's slow travelling.
You work as a university teacher. How can such work be combined with travel?
This job is perfect for travelling because of the long summer breaks. In Finland, we get 12 weeks a year (8 weeks in the summer holiday) paid holidays. I used to travel basically almost every summer. The day my work finished, I was already on the way somewhere, and I came back on the very last day and went straight to work. Another thing is that Finnish universities allowed me to take 6 months off and come back to work after that. At least in the past, I don't know how they would feel about it nowadays.
What do trips abroad give you?
A sort of curiosity and it is a kind of adventure to get to know new places and new people. And of course, you need to be careful, but people are mostly good and positive everywhere you go.
Do you enjoy any adventure on the road, or do you prefer the path of comfort?
Adventures are always nice, but nowadays I plan my trips a little bit more in advance, and I like to have a little bit more comfort, a bed and nicer food. In the past, I saved money by trying to sleep on the bus and for example, when I travelled to South America, I planned only where and when I should start in Arizona. Then I knew that I would go to Mexico and six months later I had a plane ticket from Buenos Aires in Argentina. I knew that there would be certain places that I wanted to go like Machu Picchu, but I did not plan anything. I just knew how much time I have, and my plan was kind of constantly evolving and changing, and I guess that is probably adventure.
During your travels, do you see that the world is changing?
I can see my own world is changing quite a bit. Also, I revisited places after quite a while even though my plan is not to go to the same places again. Many times things have changed for better, but some changes are for worse.
The Finns are said to be closed. Do you think it's just a stereotype?
For me, it is kind of difficult to say, because I think that most of my friends are foreigners who live in Finland, but I can see it and feel it especially when I come back from Latin America, where people are very friendly and talkative. The first weeks after the return are like: What is going on here? People are very cold and distant. On the other hand, Finland has a very interesting culture, and being kind of shy and closed is definitely part of it. But I think it is changing. Young people are different. Also, I think that tourists don't see it, because they tend to go to those places where they are exposed to younger people and other travellers. So they get to see a little bit different side of Finnish culture.
Compared to other countries in Europe, Finns are doing very well financially, so travelling is probably not a problem for them. For many Czechs, for example, a trip to Finland is super expensive even with canned food in a backpack. Do you think you need a lot of money to travel?
It depends on what you want to do. I think that you can travel with a low budget for quite a while. I've been travelling for three times six and a half month, and even though I was travelling in places which were way cheaper than Finland, I still planned everything with a relatively low budget, because it makes it a little bit more fun. You do not care about going to the hostel with other twelve people. But as I get older, there are certain requirements like no more noodles in a hostel, and I value the good night sleep.
It is often dark and cold in the north. Is travelling a cure for you during this period?
I always struggle because of the lack of light. I noticed that I need like two weeks off during this darkest time, right after Christmas, and if I can travel, I usually do it. Because then you know that you can do it, you can wait for the summer and more light.
Many people say that aurora borealis is the most beautiful thing they have ever seen. But this is your daily bread. Do you agree with it?
You know, this is tough, because I used to live in Rovaniemi for three and a half years. It was relatively easy to see it, and I don't remember getting super excited about it, but then I left Rovaniemi in 2007 and more then ten years later I went there again, and then it felt more magical for me. I found out that I get more excited when I see others going crazy about that. That makes me happy.
Do you think many tourists are visiting Finland?
I think Finland has been a hidden place for tourists. I know many people from different countries, and they said: "Oh you know, I went to Norway, Sweden and Denmark, but I did not make it to Finland this time." It is becoming bigger, but I think it is nothing compared to Sweden and Norway. We do not have things like Stockholm, or fjords and mountains of Norway. But we have something more hidden, and you have to dig a little bit deeper, and you will find it. It is not that you see a very dramatic picture and you definitely have to go there like in Norway, but it is something that people appreciate after they come here.
Many people feel that it is necessary to go beyond the borders of their country to travel, and they basically do not know their homeland. How are you doing with the knowledge of Finland?
I agree with that. For me, Finland is a nice country, and I have many places I have not been to, but I have to say I know Finland relatively well and I travelled my country as well. But it is more like weekend getaways and short trips, which is not comparable to travelling abroad.
Haven't you considered working while travelling?
Not really, because when I started travelling I was eighteen and these new tools have just developed. My first six months of travel took place in 2007, and people had laptops, but nobody was really talking about being a digital nomad. Later it has been easier, and I had taught a summer course when I was travelling in South Africa. But I prefer to do the travelling as travelling and working as working, sort of keeping them separate.
Do you rely only on your keen senses, or do you use some application/map?
This has changed a little bit. I have travelled for more than twenty years, and there was not so much data available or the internet. I was relying a lot on Lonely Planet guide books, I had one or several books that I carried, and once I was finished with one country, I left it behind. Then it started evolving – the internet, the smartphones came along and nowadays I have not used a Lonely Planet for years.
You have already heard about the Adventurer project, an application for adventurers. What do you think about this concept, does it have the potential for you and, for example, in your opinion, also for other travellers and adventurers?
I feel that this app is important, and I think I would enjoy it. I like hiking, and sometimes those hiking places, treks and maps are hard to find. Another thing is that this kind of community part is important. When I was travelling in Pamir Highway in Central Asia, I had to hire a jeep, because there is no public transport. It is quite expensive (500 dollars) to do it as a single traveller, so I wrote to a discussion board, that I have a jeep reserved and if anybody would join me and share the cost and Israeli couple joined me. And these are those kinds of things, where you need a place to communicate and if there are enough people, you will probably find those who might be travelling at the same time.