How I Funded My Studies as a Wilderness Guide in Finland

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Something that often interests me when reading other blogs about adventure or travel is the money. Quite simply I often wonder how people fund their expeditions and travels.

I will give a rough overview of how much it cost me to study for 10 months as a Wilderness Guide in Finland. In short it roughly cost me around £3500 (approx €4775) in total, including fees, travel, food equipment – EVERYTHING. I saved this money whilst working at an architectural firm when I was living in London. Initially I was saving and training to join a team that would be rowing the Atlantic – if I made it into the team it would cost 5k.

After getting quite far in the selection process I was confident that I would get into the team, but still didn’t have this confirmed. I was also looking at other options and once getting a place on the course in Finland I decided to pursue that and dropped out of potentially rowing the Atlantic.

I chose not to study in the UK, US or other countries due to the extortionate costs. Most courses of a similar ilk cost between £4000-£7000, and that’s just for the course fees alone. Money I didn’t have.

As said, I had around £3500 at the time, and thought I might just be able to scrape through the 10 months away.

The pound was strong during my time in Finland, stretching my savings. Also, I specifically got a card with free withdrawels meaning I had to pay no fees whilst taking cash out. Shamefully I am also known for being fairly tight fisted, which I knew would come in useful. Ok, so to give you an idea of what I had to spend, I have listed a few set fees and other outgoings below.

SET COSTS
Course costs: €345 (for the year!)
Monthly Rent: €90
Food shopping: Around €10-30 a week (we saved a huge amount by dumpster diving at the local supermarket – getting €100s of free food each week that was thrown away – in short, dumpster diving is where you collect items that supermarkets have chucked away – more about this soon)
Phone bill: €16

ADDITIONAL COSTS (not sure on the prices of these, but it basically was the remaining money I had.)
– Personal Gear
– Food for Expeditions
– Other Living Costs
– Flights to UK on Holidays
– Travel Costs in Finland

You might be wondering how the fees were so cheap? I thought the same thing, and before I enrolled, I thought it was too good to be true and some kind of very specific but not particularly lucrative scam, aimed at outdoorsy folk! The truth is, the Finnish government pays for it. Even as a non Finn, with absolutely no connection to the country. You don’t even need to be European, the government covers the approximately €14,000 course costs. (This was correct for 2014-2015 at least).

The accom was also heavily subsidised by the government, and at €90 a month it was the cheapest rent I’d ever paid. That included all bills, internet, washing facilities and on-site saunas. Quite remarkable really.

The school also covered most expedition costs even when on trips. This included use of school vans, petrol, (most) equipment and even accommodation if we needed it enroute. The education system here really looks after its students.

Sounds too good to be true right? For someone used to the high course fees in the UK it certainly felt like a dream come true and I would often think how lucky I was to make it into the course. If you were Finnish you also got a sum of money each month to help go towards living costs.

As said, I lived frugally and spent little. We dumpster dived a huge proportion of our weekly shop, sometimes not needing to spend anything. Generally food costs are pretty high in Finland. We hitchhiked in and out of Tampere, the local city. I bought almost all of my equipment I needed from second hand stores and flea markets. I scraped through financially, and came back to the UK with single figures in my bank balance.

I hitchhiked back to the UK once the course was finished. With an aim to  save money and have a few experiences along the way. It probably worked out the same cost as a flight, but was way more fun and a great experience.

So all in all, I got through with a combination of:

  1. Dumpster diving – Saving a huge amount of our weekly shop.
  2. Shopping at second hand stores – For needed clothes and outdoor equipment
  3. A good exchange rate – This stretched my savings back in the UK (£s) to Euros that little bit further.
  4. Living as frugally when possible – Thinking carefully about purchases, not spending it on unnecessary things, eating out infrequently.
  5. Hitchhiking – To the local city to save on bus fares.
  6. Couchsurfing – If I did need to stay somewhere else in Finland I would try and couchsurf to save money and meet people.
  7. A debit card with free withdrawels abroad 
  8. Finnish government – for subsidising the education costs.

Despite all these measures to save money I lived well, ate well and had a one of the richest experiences of my life, where money wasn’t on my mind as often as you’d might think.

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