Traveling into the Arctic Circle to Abisko, Sweden

Traveling Into The Arctic Circle To Abisko, Sweden

I didn’t mean to disappear like that last week, especially after blogging so consistently every week since September, but I got sick. And this happens so infrequently that when I do get sick, my body must think it needs to make up for all the years in between where I wasn’t sick and really stick it to me. I won’t give you details except to say that thanks to a week of misery, I’ve finally hit my goal weight – silver lining!

Now that I’m back and feeling more like myself, I can get into one of the craziest trips we’ve ever taken. Not ripping the heart out of a cobra and swallowing it while it’s still beating crazy or anything like that, but crazy as in traveling 18 hours one-way to spend less than two and a half days freezing our tails off 150 miles inside the Arctic Circle.

That’s right, you guys – I went somewhere cold. Somewhere so cold my eyelashes kept freezing together, and anytime we left the warmth of our cabin for more than a few hours, our guides would periodically check us for frostbite. I’m sure you’re all just dying to know where this exotic destination exists so that you can hop on a plane right away, right?!

For this year’s winter season trip, we decided to hit Abisko National Park way, way up in the frigid, barren Swedish Lapland.

Traveling Into The Arctic Circle To Abisko, Sweden Traveling Into The Arctic Circle To Abisko, Sweden

Traveling Into The Arctic Circle To Abisko, Sweden

Traveling Into The Arctic Circle To Abisko, Sweden

We started planning for this trip back in November because, well, Abisko just isn’t the easiest place in the world to get to, and traveling during the February half-term break when everyone else is, too, adds an extra level of difficulty to the task.

Only two airlines fly into Kiruna, the closest city airport to Abisko, and we took the cheapest of these (Norwegian Air), but our tickets were by no means cheap, and we only had one choice for when to go – way too freaking early on a Sunday morning. I got up at 3:45am which is about 4 hours at least before I should ever be expected to do anything more than flip my pillow to the cold side.

Because the tubes weren’t even running yet, we had to hire a taxi to take us to Victoria Station where we caught the train to Gatwick and waited for our flight to Stockholm to depart. This was when I noticed I was feeling kind of funny, and by the time we boarded the plane, I knew something was wrong, like possible alien about to erupt from my belly wrong, and my heart sank. Of all the times to get sick.

For the next two flights and the long layovers at both airports, I slept every chance I got, hoping my body might miraculously heal itself from sleep alone. Sleeping on hard airport chairs, feeling two steps from death – this is definitely the not-so-glamorous-side of traveling. Not that any of our travel is what most would call glamorous, but this was so far from fun, I just wanted to cry and go home. There was nothing I could do, though. I had started this trip and I was going to finish it, sick or not.

When our plane landed in Kiruna on their one, tiny little airstrip, the sun was setting and as we exited the plane, I was left breathless – not because of a pretty sunset, but because of the cold. It was like breathing in tiny shards of ice! And we still had somewhere even colder to look forward to.

We had missed the last train to Abisko, so we had to wait for four hours in the airport for a bus to come take us an hour away to our final destination. It’s always those last legs that are the hardest! We finally made it to the Abisko Turiststation, where we would be staying for two nights, around 10pm. We checked in and hurriedly changed into all of our layers before heading straight to the top of a mountain in hopes of catching a glimpse of the northern lights from the Aurora Sky Station. We did (yay!), but for now, check out Abisko!

Traveling Into The Arctic Circle To Abisko, Sweden

Traveling Into The Arctic Circle To Abisko, Sweden

Traveling Into The Arctic Circle To Abisko, Sweden

Now, when we were planning this trip back in November, I was all gung-ho about an Arctic Circle vacation, even the far below freezing temps. I enthusiastically bought us all thermal clothing and snow boots and booked fun daytime and nighttime excursions. I even added Abisko’s weather tracker to my iPhone app. And then somewhere along about late December when I saw the temperatures dip to -20°F/-29°C, I began to realize maybe I had overestimated my ability to withstand the cold a little bit.

I’d never been in anything colder than 10°F before, and even then it was only long enough to break up the ice in the chickens’ water bowls before tucking tail and running back into the house. This was going to be entirely different. Still, at that point, our trip was six weeks away. I had faith it would warm up, and it did…a little.

During the day, our temps were usually around -2°F/-19°C in Abisko. (That doesn’t include the wind chill, which was brutal.) What the temperature registered the night we went on top of the mountain, I don’t even know, but I do know I had never felt anything like that before and it took me hours after getting back in the cabin to warm up enough to fall asleep. The weather really was something else. Our last day in Abisko it snowed and, ironically, this actually made it warmer. It got up to a balmy 14°F/-10°C that day!

Weather aside, Abisko National Park is just wild. There’s snow as far as you can see and the only thing dotting the landscape are trees, and the occasional moose. Where we stayed in the park, there was a giant frozen lake on one side of us and great snowy mountains everywhere else.

Besides a little bitty town with a pub and a restaurant about a mile away, the Turiststation was pretty remote. Being in the middle of nowhere allowed for plenty of options for outdoor activities, though. While in Abisko, I had us booked to see the northern lights from the Aurora Sky Station, go snowshoeing, and spend an afternoon dogsledding, but there were countless other activities available, too – cross-country skiing, regular skiing, snowmobile tours, photography classes, ice fishing, moose tracking expeditions. Pretty much anything you can think of to do in cold weather, you can do it here. It’s easily a place we could have stayed for weeks and not been bored. You just need to be tough enough to survive the weather.

Traveling Into The Arctic Circle To Abisko, Sweden

Traveling Into The Arctic Circle To Abisko, Sweden

Traveling Into The Arctic Circle To Abisko, Sweden

Not everything on this trip went according to plan. I mean, it never does anytime we travel, but getting sick on the way there certainly wasn’t on the itinerary. Over the course of the next 2.5 days, I ate only one real meal in an attempt to keep what I knew was coming away as long as possible. I am in no way condoning purposeful starvation under normal circumstances, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and thankfully I was able to do almost everything on the trip (and enjoy it!), before coming home and finally allowing the virus to unleash its fury.

Poor Lexie didn’t have the same luck. At least she got to enjoy playing in the snow on our first day in Abisko before coming down with whatever was gunning for me, too. In the end, we only had to skip one planned excursion – the snowshoeing – which really can be done anywhere, so no great loss. With as often as we travel, I figured the day would come when one or all of us would be sick on a trip. I’m just grateful we didn’t have to cancel the whole thing. And if we were going to be sick and stuck inside more often than usual, this was probably the place to do it. At least we had some beautiful scenery to gaze out on from the quarantine of our mountain cabin! Stay tuned for more Sweden adventures in the weeks to come!

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Traveling Into The Arctic Circle To Abisko, Sweden

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  • Deepak Sable
    November 19, 2018 at 1:29 AM

    Hello Sarah, I know its tooooo late, it’s over 3 years since your post. I am going to be in Sweden this winter for a few months and was browsing the net when I saw your blog. I have actually bookmarked your site, lol. The photos are stunning & the description is great and like all cannot describe in words. One just needs to experience it. I am planning to visit some of these places and read your updates regularly. Thanks a ton.


    • Sarah Shumate
      November 19, 2018 at 8:03 AM

      How exciting to have the opportunity to spend several months in Sweden! I’m sure you have lots of fun traveling planned while you’re there, and it’ll be perfect timing for seeing the northern lights. I hope you enjoy your time there, and stay warm!!

      Thanks for leaving a comment. It’s always fun to discover that someone is still reading something I wrote so long ago! :)

  • Crystal
    March 14, 2015 at 11:49 PM

    What a shame you got ill. You’re photos are stunning… I love a good winter scenery. Thankfully your cloud had a sliver lining…

    • Sarah Shumate
      March 16, 2015 at 8:48 AM

      Thank you, Crystal! I love winter scenery, too – especially photographing it. We see snow so infrequently that it’s always a real treat when it comes around. Most of the time we have to go where the snow is instead of waiting for it to come to us! :)

      • Crystal
        March 16, 2015 at 11:57 AM

        I totally agree. If up to me most of our trips would be somewhere snowy… The husband thinks am bonkers …

  • topchelseagirl
    March 8, 2015 at 7:52 PM

    Sorry you were ill, bummer – and yes your bag did make me chuckle. That snowball shot is great!
    Years ago I went to Russia in January and it was -32 degrees while we were there – you must have experienced similar, or possibly even worse!?!

    • Sarah Shumate
      March 9, 2015 at 9:32 AM

      -32 Celsius? Yikes. No…you had it much colder than we did. It was around -19 during the day and probably a little colder at night and up at the higher elevations. But I highly doubt it was ever -32. How did you manage through that? We were outside most of this trip, so I’d never have made it if the temps were that low!

      • topchelseagirl
        March 9, 2015 at 4:05 PM

        Lots and lots and lots of layers. We looked like a group of Michelin men roaming around! We were in and out all the time though, I don’t remember spending any great length of time outdoors.
        To be honest though, I think that once you get past – 12 or so you just can’t get any colder.

        • Sarah Shumate
          March 10, 2015 at 9:03 AM

          I think you’re probably right about that. I couldn’t differentiate between the daytime cold and the nighttime cold in Sweden, even though I know it had to have been colder at night without the sun.

  • rorybore
    March 8, 2015 at 4:01 AM

    I love it. It looks like home. LOL
    you know I’d be right at home here. It sounds like it has the same temperature as us — maybe a bit warmer. imagine that. ha but seriously, it;s beautiful! glad to hear you kicked that bug in the B.U.M ;)

    • Sarah Shumate
      March 8, 2015 at 5:31 PM

      How do you live in this all the time?! Really…how?

      • rorybore
        March 8, 2015 at 7:56 PM

        I cannot stress the absolute correct winter outer (and inner) clothing…and a good supply of hot cocoa. also Bailey’s Irish creme and a flask. :)

  • Lemon Freckles
    March 5, 2015 at 7:08 PM

    Oh lord these photos are wonderful and as is your blog. Sorry you got so sick, it is so horrible being sick and travelling. That happened to me in Malaysia, not cool at all. Nothing beats home comfort for sick days. x

    • Sarah Shumate
      March 6, 2015 at 8:32 AM

      I think it would be worse to be sick in Malaysia where the heat and humidity can really compound how bad you already feel. So sorry you had to be sick while traveling, too! And thank you for the sweet compliment on my pictures and blog! :)

  • Amy @ the tide that left
    March 5, 2015 at 7:43 AM

    Beautiful pictures. I’d love to visit one day. Mr Tide has a real thing for cold climates.

  • Suze @LuxuryColumnist
    March 4, 2015 at 10:36 PM

    I love your snowball shot – I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to the cold but Abisko does look beautiful

  • Sammy @ Days Like This
    March 4, 2015 at 8:19 PM

    Oh, sorry to hear you and Lexie weren’t feeling too flash! Glad you made it to Abisko. I got the BUS there from Stockholm. It took about 17 hours. I went in March and it was freezing! -10(c) I can’t believe colder than that!!

    • Sarah Shumate
      March 5, 2015 at 8:09 AM

      17 hours?! Holy cow. I’ve never been on any one form of transportation that long before.

  • Melanie Fontaine
    March 4, 2015 at 8:09 PM

    I’m so sorry to hear that you and Lexie got sick on this trip! Getting sick while traveling really is the worst – and funnily enough the same thing happened to me when I travelled to the Arctic Circle in Norway! My memory of this trip must be a little fogged by the amount of pain killers I had to take to keep a tooth infection from completely ruining my trip! ;) Glad you guys are okay again!

    I honestly can’t wait for you to write more about your trip! Even though, I’ve been to the Arctic already, I’ve been hearing so much about Abisko that I’ve already started dreaming about taking a trip to the North Pole again in a coming winter – I’m sure your stories will just strengthen that feeling! ;)

  • Katrin
    March 4, 2015 at 10:18 AM

    Oh no! I am so sorry you got sick! I hope you are feeling a lot better now. It’s so horrible to get sick while on vacation, it happened to me once and I tried to pretend like everything was alright for a while. It was horrible. I am so sorry, Sarah! That place looks so magical, I cannot wait to read more! Places like that fascinate me. I am not sure if I could stand the cold but I would clearly give it a try!

  • Emma @ AdventuresofaLondonKiwi
    March 4, 2015 at 12:02 AM

    I’m glad you were still able to enjoy it, despite not being well. It’s so awful being in a strange country and not 100%!
    I’m so curious – what made you pick Abisko in particular?

    • Sarah Shumate
      March 4, 2015 at 9:55 AM

      I’m going to get into that on Thursday’s post, but I chose Abisko because out of all the places in the world where you can see the Northern Lights, Abisko has the most days per year that they’re visible. We only had three nights in Sweden (it’s recommended that you stay 10 nights if you REALLY want to ensure you’ll see the lights), and I wanted our best possible chances of seeing them. We ended up seeing them 2 out of our 3 nights, and we would have seen them all three if we hadn’t crashed too early our second night! :)

  • Polly - Let's Love Local
    March 2, 2015 at 8:20 PM

    Ha! In Moscow we’d also get really excited when the forecast said snow because you knew it would get a bit warmer!

    Really gorgeous photos though so sad you were ill through it!

    • Sarah Shumate
      March 4, 2015 at 9:56 AM

      I have never lived somewhere where snow means warmer temperatures. It’s always been the opposite! It just blows my mind! :)

  • Stacie Stamper
    March 2, 2015 at 5:20 PM

    Definitely not my kind of diet. But glad that it sounds like you forged ahead and just made the best of your cold trip anyway.

  • Jamie | The Healthy Passport
    March 2, 2015 at 10:11 PM

    I was the same way on our paris trip!! I literally researched how much it would cost to get an appendectomy in Paris haha!! I was in that much pain!! Anyway, I’m glad it didn’t totally ruin your plans…can’t wait to read about the dog sledding!!

    • Sarah Shumate
      March 4, 2015 at 9:52 AM

      An appendectomy?! Is that what you needed? Good grief. I’m glad all I had was a stomach bug!

      • Jamie | The Healthy Passport
        March 4, 2015 at 10:35 AM

        Haha no! That’s just what I thought it could be!! I was in pain and feverish but I was determined to make in to Paris lol! And I’m glad I pushed through :)