Flying North for the Winter

I’m one of those strange, strange people who cannot stand Summer. I do not handle heat well, and I’m so incredibly pale I will burn just looking out a window. I live for rainy winter days, foggy mornings, flannel pyjamas and long, cold nights. This has earned me more than my share of perplexed looks from my fellow Sydney-siders.

I sometimes have the feeling I was born on the wrong continent.

My approach to Australian summers has always been to hide in a dark, cool corner until the worst of it is over and emerge when it’s safe to go outside without roasting. In the past few years, however, my tactic has changed. While Australia bakes under the summer sun and my friends take gleefully to the beaches, I pack my bags and flee, taking refuge somewhere cold and snowy for the worst weeks of the heat. I’ve spent my past few summers happily basking in the icy climes of Brussels, London and New York.

This year a ridiculously hot summer is predicted in Australia, so in response, I’m going to the Arctic Circle.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

I’m starting in Oslo, moving up the coast to Tromso then boarding a ferry up into the Arctic proper. We make land in Krikenes,  move down into central Finland, then to Helsinki and a quick side trip to Estonia. We move on to Stockholm, then catch the train down to Copenhagen, and finally fly to London for a few family events before, sadly, returning home to sunny, sweaty, sweltering Sydney. Urgh.

With a little luck, my icy retreat will look something like this –


(image from

With about two months to go til I flee North, I’m starting to tie up pre-travel loose ends. The last of my accommodation has been booked, I’ve bought my thermals, fleeces and winter accessories, I’ve got my travel essentials (tiny toiletries, aeroplane pillow, those little padlocks for your suitcase). I’ve got my various forms of kronor, I’ve bought theatre tickets for London, I’m getting my passport updated.

Because Australia is so far away from everywhere, international travel is always a production. Spending a month in far north Europe cannot be a last minute decision. My cousins in England take spur-of-the-moment trips with astonishing frequency, jetting off to New York, Denmark, Spain. That kind of lifestyle is unimaginable to me. I’ve been extremely blessed with opportunities to see the world, and because travel is so much more difficult for Australians, I’m very aware of how fortunate I am. Getting out of the country – and back into it – is an ordeal in itself. Getting anywhere is going to cost you an arm and a leg, clearing customs can take hours, and travelling to a iced-over winter wonderland when it’s 36 degrees in the shade at home requires a unique talent for packing and preparation.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather at my destinations, and within the last week or two, they’ve turned from chill autumn winds to seven straight days of sub-zero snow. Which is precisely what I’m excited about. The colder it is, the more I thrive. My travel buddies, however, are not quite as keen. When I announced it had recently been -12 C in Ivalo, the response went something like this

“Minus 12!! It’s only October! Can you imagine what it’ll be in January? We’re going to freeze! Are we insane? We must be insane”

And when I tell people I’m spending my summer in the Arctic, the general response is a resound “Why?”

The simple answer is, of course, “why not?”

For some people, travel isn’t worth the trouble. I know a good number of people who have no interest in seeing the world beyond their suburb, let alone the world beyond our shores. But for me, there is nothing more exciting than striking out in to the unknown and seeking adventure somewhere new. The thought of staying put, of never seeing something new, exploring a new place or experiencing a new culture, is terrifying. There is little I fear more than stagnation.

I’m down to planning the finer details of the trip, making lists of what to see and do in each city, weighing up reindeer sleigh rides against huskifaris. If anyone has travelled to the region before, I’d love your advice on what to do and where to go. 

In the meantime, the thought of snowy forests and icy fjords is all that’s getting me through my last few weeks of uni and the ever-rising temperature. I love my country. I adore my city. But I’m not built for Sydney summers. I’m happy to leave that to my beach-loving friends and mad British tourists. Flying North for the winter works for me.


Dear Prospective Employer

In five weeks – give or take- I will be finished my Bachelors degree. I’m not entirely sure when that happened, because I swear it was a few months ago I was angsting over what to study and which university to study it at and did I really want to go to university at all?

I made some bad decisions and took some bad advice and enrolled in the wrong course because I’m reasonably clever, and clever people don’t study literature or theatre or writing when they can study proper subjects like statistics and anthropology and psychology. But I was a miserable psychology student, and after a lot of anxiousness and fretting I discovered I made a much happier writing student. And when I explained this to people – tutors, advisors, even friends – the first thing they told me was that I wouldn’t make as much money with a writing degree.

As if I wasn’t aware.

The truth is there’s no such thing as a guaranteed career, regardless of your degree, so I figured I may as well spend three years studying something I actually liked, rather than studying something that made me incredibly unhappy in preparation for a career of vague discontent and general dissatisfaction.

But now I’m graduating. In five weeks I’ll be finished my undergraduate degree, and then, more than likely, I’ll be looking for a job. And that is more than mildly terrifying.

I’ve been asking around for advice, talking to careers advisors and industry professionals and getting as much guidance as I can, because the truth is I have no idea what I’m doing.  I’m torn between excitement and deep, gut-churning fear.

It’s becoming apparent to me that everyone thinks everyone else has their whole life together. I look at some of my friends who seems to have everything under control – steady jobs, steady relationships, steady lives – and I wonder how on earth they did it, because it feels like everything in my world is spiralling a little bit out of control.

My way of dealing with that sense of helplessness is trying to focus on the things I do have going for me. It’s easy to dismiss my achievements as meaningless because they’re mine – to me, they seem utterly normal. I recently had this odd revelation when discussing my resume with an HR professional. She asked what kind of experience I had. I said I didn’t have much, then went on to tell her about my degree, my two jobs, my journal publications, my voluntary  writing and editing contributions to various magazines. She blinked faintly and said “Hannah. You have experience”.

I’m going to be out looking for a job, and that’s scary. Change usually is, and there’s a hell of a lot of change coming up in my life. I’m trying to focus on the excitement over the fear. I’ve not quite succeeded yet.

It’s a work in progress.