It seems fitting that the most prevalent color in the Northern Lights is green. As nature’s greatest light show plays across upturned faces it serves as a gentle reminder as we let that we need to be aware of the impacts of our holiday on the fragile Arctic landscape.
But the green can also be misleading; it’s not just the environment that’s fragile here. Home to traditional cultures slowly being eroded by the modern world, whether our travels support or exploit Sami communities should also be of real concern. Responsible Travel’s two minute guide to Northern Lights Watching offers some handy tips and advice:
Seeing the Northern Lights has become one of those horribly-named bucket list things to do, and consequently makes a tempting last-minute escape or spontaneous surprise. But the lights, the landscape and the people who call it home deserve your planning time; research responsible tour operators which work sensitively with local people and be aware the best accommodations and activities book up quickly. Make sure your experience is more than a series of coach trips. Not only will you have a much more memorable time, but a much better impact, too.
Serenity in Norway. Photo courtesy of Natalia Davidovich via Shutterstock.
Forgo Faking It
Often marginalized and at risk of cultural erosion as modern life seeps its way into Europe’s northern reaches, the Sami populations of Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden are becoming more dependent on tourism as a vital source of additional income. Sharing their unique ways of life, knowledge and deep connection with the Arctic landscape with visitors is a key way to keep this culture alive; however, as demand for holidays to the Arctic regions increases, so does the opportunity for exploitation.
Attractions often have non-Sami staff dressed up in Sami clothing, and ‘Crossing the Arctic Circle,’ a popular ceremony for travelers touted as an authentic Sami ritual that has no significance in traditional culture.
So what can we do? Choose a tour operator that uses local Sami guides. Not only will they be able to lead you through the beautiful Arctic landscape, but through culture as well, telling genuine stories and tales deeply rooted in the landscape and the lights. Alternatively, staying with a Sami family offers unique insight into local life while directly benefiting their community.
Traditional Sami handicraft, Duodji, abounds in these regions, with artists still active in Sapmi carrying on traditional skills passed down through generations. Look out for the colorful ‘Saami Duodji’ label, which marks out authentic crafts from mass-produced, cheap reproductions.
Savor The Silence
While snowmobiles and 4x4s are essential to everyday life in the Arctic, traveling here also offers a chance to find peace within the silence of the snow. Forgo unnecessary noise and take to snow-shoes or cross-country skis to discover the winter world with a local guide – a slower, more environmentally-friendly form of travel which gives more time to let your surroundings sink in.
Husky sledding provides added adrenaline, and longer trips often include overnight stays in wilderness cabins, away from other tourists and with pristine conditions in which to see the Northern Lights. Moreover, you’ll have a chance to look after your own team of dogs for a traditional Arctic life.
Husky sledding. Photo courtesy of Sirko Hartmann via Shutterstock.
It’s Not All About The Aurora
Remember, there are no guarantees that nature’s greatest light show will dance across the skies. Even if you time your trip perfectly, it’s more important to plan an enriching, once-in-a-lifetime holiday which immerses you into real Arctic life: snow-shoeing or reindeer sledding with local guides during the daytime, meals full of delicious, seasonal local food; berries, elk, wood grouse, hazel hen, and evenings spent listening to traditional folk tales. Let the lights be the icing on your very own icy, Arctic cake.
The Northern Lights. Photo courtesy of V. Belov via Shutterstock.