What I Learned From Enduring Winter in Europe - This American Girl



When I headed to the North Pole in the dead of winter, I didn’t really know what I was doing.


Tallinn Estonia


I didn’t know the landscape, the history, the language, or the culture. In fact, I didn’t even really want to go.


Tallinn Estonia


And I imagine many of you were probably wondering, why on earth would I leave the tropical paradise of Costa Rica for Europe in the winter?




I suppose I wanted to try out an experiment. I wanted to see if I could let go of the ego of the backpacking beach bum. I wanted to see what I would discover if I did.


St Anton am Arlberg


I already knew that I felt freedom riding on chicken buses alone, swimming in the crystalline ocean with no one around for miles, and living simply without the need for things like clothes or shoes.


St Anton am Arlberg


But I wanted to discover a new kind of freedom, freedom from the things I once denied myself, and the things I once judged. Freedom from what I thought I liked and who I thought I was. Freedom from everything I felt attached to.


This American Girl


I wanted to immerse myself into an uncomfortable situation, to once again expand myself as a human being.


Lapland Finland


All of the signs pointed me to Europe in the winter. All of the signs told me that this was an opportunity for healing.


So I did everything differently. Everything.


Tallinn Estonia


I swapped my 46 liter back pack for an enormous rolling suitcase. I wore layers upon layers of thermal clothing.


How to Survive Winter in Lapland - 018


I went ice skating, ice fishing, and ice swimming.


How to Survive Winter in Lapland - 024


I went on dogs sleds, on reindeer safaris, and on snowmobiles.


St Anton am Arlberg


I went skiing and snow shoeing in the mountains and partied in bars in the afternoon with my boots still on.


Lapland Finland


I ate things I never would have normally eaten, from bread and pastries to cured meats and beer to smoked fish and reindeer. I allowed myself to be sponsored by tourism boards and consequently slept in five star hotels and spent all of my waking hours working.


Cologne Carnival


I listened to people, all kinds of people, and practiced non-judgment. Whether they were billionaire Swiss hoteliers telling me to get sponsored by Walmart or Austrians telling me that schnapps and pork are healthy or Turkish bathroom attendants telling me that America is evil or blog readers telling me that I overanalyze everything.


salla Lapland


I went places that were easy to love and places where I struggled. I met people who were easy to love and people who triggered me in ways I didn’t realize possible.


This American Girl


Though I genuinely worked on finding a way to enjoy and appreciate any and every kind of person and experience.




Adapting to my environment and the people in it, I watched myself become more conservative. I watched myself lose my tan and gain a belly. I watched myself try to please sponsors more than I took care of myself. I watched myself communicate less with nature and spirits and more with egos.


How to Survive Winter in Lapland - 006


But I also learned that I don’t mind the cold so long as I’m playing in nature. That snow is beautiful as long as you have proper clothing. That there are many more ways to be healthy and live in harmony with the Earth, than by living by the ocean and eating raw vegan.


South Tyrol


I learned, even more than before, that money doesn’t really exist and that I can travel any way I want with or without it. I learned that if I don’t want to, I don’t have to be a backpacker anymore.


Salla Lapland


What I realized, was that I needed to come here and let go of the ego I had created, in order to heal my “past life.”

My life before travel.




Feeling overworked, constantly doing marketing, wondering if it was all so shallow, being a gourmand instead of a health nut, wearing black cashmere and leather boots, finding pleasure in food instead of fitness, and longing for romance more than independence, I was enacting a role from my past.




This trip has been about going into my shadow, and learning to accept it. Learning to love myself even when I’m not taking good care of myself physically, even when I’m not practicing yoga asana, even when I’m not honoring the moon cycles, even when I’m not kissing trees and flowers, even when I’m not dancing like a wild thing, even when I’m not living like a vagabond, even when I’m not roughing it on overnight buses in developing countries, even when I’m allowing myself “comfort” and “luxury.”




Because sometimes we need distance from what we love to remember why we love it.


Lapland Finland


Sometimes we need to go somewhere foreign, to remember where we belong. Sometimes we need to indulge in so many things that don’t actually feed us, in order to remember what really does.




Sometimes we need to relinquish some of our freedom in order to remember that we always have it.




At the end of this journey, I find myself longing to return to the same freedom I discovered when I first landed in the jungle of Costa Rica. The freedom of mobility, the freedom of simple living, and most of all, the freedom of only expressing that which comes from the most authentic place in my heart.




Thank you for enduring the long cold winter with me.

Warmer days ahead.


Where did I go and what did I do on this winter journey through Europe? Read all of my stories here.


Love it? Share it!