Northern Lights issues location

Northern Lights responsible tourism

Travel right when watching the Northern Lights

Green is the most common colour of the Northern Lights and so, on what is the trip of a lifetime for many people, it is worth considering the small ways in which you can also make this is a green and responsible vacation. Although the Northern Lights are not a new phenomenon, the mass marketing of them is relatively new. And consequently the Northern Lights have become an industry in themselves. Several countries which lie between the Northern Lights zone of latitudes of 65 to 72 degrees are now competing for light lovers during the season from late November to March, as the Aurora Borealis goes viral.

Responsible tourism tips

Travel better to see the Northern Lights

  • Seeing the Northern Lights has become one of those horribly named bucket list things to do, and sometimes trips are bought impulsively as a result. A last minute dream birthday present, a spontaneous Valentine’s Day surprise, or a stuck-for-a-special-Christmas-present idea. But this is not a trip to buy without thought, as you might find yourself with a coach load of other tourists, joining crowds of other coaches on remote country roads with little or no contact with the landscape you are visiting. This is a natural phenomenon, caused by magnetic forces in the atmosphere – and it is special, so do your research well to make it more than a coach trip. That way you will not only have a more memorable trip, but you will have a much better impact as a tourist too.
  • Use a local guide, as some non-local companies are now bringing guides with them, as well as their own coaches, cars etc. This has not only led to congestion around busy areas such as Tromsø in Norway, but also means that local experts are being put out of a job.
  • The indigenous Sámi people live in Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden. Together these homelands are called Sápmi. Tourism is becoming a vital source of income for the Sámi, and so it is really worth considering a Northern Lights experience which is immersed in Sámi culture. On some Northern Lights trips in Norway, for example, you stay with a Sámi family, go on reindeer sledges, eat Sámi food and enjoy the lights in a traditional way.
  • If you are booking your trip independently, there are plenty of eco-friendly places to stay and things to do with a plethora of eco certification schemes to help you start your research. Being green comes naturally to a lot of tourism providers in this part of the world, so many places don’t bother applying for certs and awards, but Green Tourism Finland, Eceat and Nordic Swan, Ecotourism Norway and the excellent Natures Best in Sweden are great places to start.
  • If you are seeing the Northern Lights in Finland and are tempted to buy Finnish fur as a souvenir, be aware that it might be from one of Finland’s fur farms, which do not have good reputations for ethical animal welfare practices generally.
  • Keep an eye out for the forthcoming Code of Conduct for responsible wildlife watching, due out in Finland in Spring 2014. Created by Wild Taiga in partnership with a network of wildlife experts, such initiatives are always welcomed. Particularly of interest if you want to combine your trip to the wilderness to see the Northern Lights with bear and wolf watching, which this organisation can help you with.
  • Common sense, of course, but it’s still good to remember the principles of Leave No Trace when enjoying the wonders of the Northern Lights – most of which are what they say on the tin. Leave what you find, and take everything you bring in with you back home again.
  • Some travelers worry about the welfare of husky dogs, as few of us are familiar with a working dog culture. But very quickly you will realise that although these are working dogs they are also very happy dogs. When you take a husky ride, you can feel that the dogs are doing what they love. Running. You will rarely see a husky guide shout at his or her dogs; it is as if the human is being led by the dog, not the other way around.
Laura Greenman, founder of Magnetic North Travel, one of our suppliers:
"Our Northern Lights guides in Norway have started to favour places a little further afield from Tromso now, as the roads near to this small city have become quite congested at times. Although harder to get to, Alta can be a superb spot to see the Lights. Also, we are seeing a change in Northern Lights visitors - they want to stay longer now and discover more of the country, get involved in other adventures such as dog sledding and horse-riding. More people are seeking an autumnal Aurora experience too, which is great for the local economy as the tourism season is stretching. Traveling at this time gives you a wonderful chance to enjoy the changing Arctic scenery in transition too as the ice freezes, the first snows arrive and the wildlife slowly hunkers down for winter".

Shedding light on Northern food

Make the most of local produce when you are in these destinations – there is plenty of it on offer. Although it might not always be top of the menu, do seek out traditional, seasonal food. In Finland, for example, you might find specialities such as reindeer and elk, wood grouse and hazel hen, all usually served with locally grown potatoes, veg and the omnipresent berries. In Iceland, smoked and preserved fish and lamb are traditional, although contemporary chefs are favouring seabirds and waterfowl along with delights such as crowberry, blueberry, rhubarb, Iceland moss, wild mushrooms and dried seaweed.
One thing you might not want to consider eating, however, is whale meat, which does still appear on the menu in Iceland and Norway. Don’t be tempted to buy it and bring it back home either, as this is illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Which is bizarre, considering British and other EU ports allow ships carrying whale meat to dock in their ports. Either way, you’re better off going to watch them doing their thing in the wild and support their conservation. Read more about whaling at Whale and Dolphin Conservation.
Photo credits: [Pink, green and blue lights: Beverly & Pack]
Written by Catherine Mack
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