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Lapland - Health and safety
With Dr Felicity Nicholson
The health risks while travelling in Lapland are minimal and health care is of an excellent standard. Visitors should be up to date with childhood vaccinations, including MMR. Rabies is only present in bats in Lapland – although contact with them is highly unlikely – but a bite from any mammal should be followed by a trip to the doctor.
Language (except occasionally in Finland) is rarely a problem and health workers are generally proficient in English. Under reciprocal health arrangements, European Union citizens (plus those of EEA countries) can take advantage of Finland and Sweden’s health care services under the same terms as residents of those countries. All that’s required is a European Health Insurance card (EHIC), which is available via the post office in the United Kingdom and Ireland; the EHIC card has replaced the old E111 form. Citizens of non-EU/EEA countries are liable to pay for health care, hence, it is probably sensible to make sure you have health insurance before leaving home. Rules for Norway are slightly different since the country is not a member of the European Union: EU/EEA citizens are entitled to discounted medical treatment within the national public health care system; citizens of other countries receive no discount. All citizens may therefore want to consider taking out health insurance to cover any health bills whilst in Norway.
Two particular hazards to bear in mind when travelling in Lapland are the heightened risk of road accidents as a result of the large number of wild animals on the road, especially reindeer, and the effects of cold during the winter months.
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on www.istm.org. For other journey preparation information, consult www.travelhealthpro.org.uk (UK) or http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ (US). Information about various medications may be found on www.netdoctor.co.uk/travel. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.
Women travelling alone are unlikely to encounter any problems. Nordic males are generally well mannered and far too shy to create trouble. On Friday and Saturday nights, though, when the beer starts to flow, it’s obviously sensible to keep your wits about you, but, once again, you are unlikely to become the target of abusive behaviour.
Gay travellers will have to forego the pleasures of gay bars and clubs while in Lapland – quite simply, there is no gay scene whatsoever. Attitudes towards homosexuality are generally tolerant, though the views of unmarried lumberjack types may not be the most enlightened. The sight of a same-sex couple walking hand in hand through a remote Lapland village, particularly with a large Sami community, is likely to cause quite a stir, so it’s probably best to keep outward displays of affection to yourselves.
Travellers with a disability
Finland, Norway and Sweden, as you might expect, are model countries when it comes to meeting the needs of disabled travellers. Throughout Lapland you’ll find hotels with rooms specifically designed for disabled access and trains with special hydraulic lifts which are designed to get wheelchairs in and out of carriages with a minimum of fuss. Buses, too, are often fitted with a divide which allows the front of the vehicle to drop down closer to the ground to ease disabled access. The Hurtigruten ferry in Norway is also geared up to disabled travel with special lifts and cabins for disabled users. Winter, though, can be a tough time for wheelchair users as pavements are rarely completely free of snow and ice and can be extremely difficult to negotiate.
Travelling with children
Naturally, Lapland is a magnet for children, enchanted by the wonders of Santa Claus and Rudolph. Travel companies, particularly in and around Rovaniemi in Finland, understand that many travellers come to Lapland purely because of their children. Accordingly, they have made sure that there are plenty of activities on hand to keep younger travellers busy and contented.
Public transport, too, is well equipped and provides easy access for pushchairs and prams. Many trains have separate family carriages where there’s a play corner for children, making it possible to supervise children at play from your seat. However, it’s important not to underestimate the severe climatic conditions which you are more than likely to encounter when you disembark the plane or train on arrival in winter; it is not uncommon for temperatures to stubbornly hover around the –30°C mark which poses a serious challenge to outdoor exploration. Hence, you should make sure you have plenty of warm clothing, hats, gloves and scarves to protect against the extreme cold. Remember, too, that children may find the 24-hour darkness of winter Lapland disorientating, not to say boring. Conversely, in summer, it may be hard to get children to sleep when it never gets dark!