The health risks while travelling in Lapland are minimal and healthcare 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 healthcare 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 has replaced the old E111 form. Note that when the UK officially leaves the European Union, British visitors may need to take out separate medical travel insurance in order to be covered while travelling in Finland and Sweden. Check before travelling.
Citizens of non-EU/EEA countries are liable to pay for healthcare, 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 healthcare system; citizens of other countries receive no discount. All citizens may therefore want to consider taking out health insurance to cover any health bills while in Norway.
Caused by a virus in the same family as yellow fever, tick-borne encephalitis is spread through the bites of infected ticks which are usually picked up in forested areas with long grass, and it can also be transmitted through the unpasteurised milk of infected livestock. Anyone liable to go walking in late spring or summer (when the ticks are most active) should seek protection. A vaccine is available against the disease and initial immunisation ideally consists of three injections. The second is given one to three months after the first and the third five to 12 months later. If time does not allow for the third dose, around 90% protection is given by the first two and, if time is shorter still, then the second dose can be done two weeks after the first. There is a different vaccine for children aged one to 15 (Ticovac Junior) but the schedule is the same.
Taking preventative measures is also very important. When walking in grassy and forested areas, ensure that you wear a hat, tuck your trousers into socks and boots and your shirt into your trousers, have long-sleeved tops and use tick repellents. Ticks can more easily be seen on pale clothing and can be flicked off before they get a grip on you, so consider your clothing carefully. It is important to check for ticks each time you have been for a long walk – this is more easily done by someone else. If you find a tick then slowly remove it, taking care not to squeeze the mouthparts.
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.
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 Sámi community, is likely to cause quite a stir, so it’s probably best to keep outward displays of affection to yourselves.
Travelling 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!