Travel can make some serious demands on your credit or debit card, but there’s another card that will both save you money and equip you to get the most from your travel experience: a library card.
Let’s say you’ve returned from a March Break expedition and are already starting to dream of another trip. To see how you can leverage your library card, let’s dream big and explore ways it could assist you in a vacation to what is officially the world’s happiest country, Finland. (Hey, three million saunas and Moomins — who wouldn’t be happy?)
Everything you’ll need can be arranged for online, at the library’s website (though if you need help, you need only access the library’s user-friendliest resource, our librarians).
A guidebook is a good place to start. The bestselling Lonely Planet Finland by Andy Symington is available as an e-book through the library’s Hoopla service. Going digital is smart: you can search the content easily, add notes and bookmarks, zoom-in on maps and follow embedded links. If you download to your device, you can take the book along without taking up valuable luggage space.
Although many Finns speak English, knowing a few words — and being able to pronounce them correctly — can make a good impression. To help you with this, the library’s online learning section offers Mango Languages, which includes Finnish among its 74 languages. Structured, thematically-organized lessons take you through basics — “moi” (Hi), “kiitos” (thanks), and the invaluable “Puhutko englantia?” (Do you speak English?) — to the much more ambitious. One particularly helpful feature of Mango Languages is that you can compare your pronunciation of words and phrases to that of a native speaker.
If you’re going to want more language help, drop in to the library and take advantage of the free Wi-Fi to download the Finnish language set for Google Translate. Type in the English; the app gives you the Finnish (in written form or spoken aloud). If you’re using a smartphone you can also take a picture of a sign or menu and see a translation.
While you’re downloading, you could download Google maps for offline use. This is particularly useful for a big city like, say, Helsinki. You’ll know exactly where you are and how to get where you want to go. It is virtually impossible to be lost.
To really prepare for your trip you may want to familiarize yourself with the country’s history. A physical book you could wade through is A Concise History of Finland by David Kirby. It takes you from medieval times to an analysis of recent developments. At 340 pages it’s maybe not as “concise” as the title promises, but read it and you’ll have a good grasp of historical forces that shaped the country (especially relations with Russia and Sweden).
If that seems a little tedious, try downloading some painless entertainment. Crime fiction, on screen or in print, is an entertaining reminder that no country is completely immune from the dark and troubled. Maigret in Finland is available on Hoopla television and Hoopla e-books includes Helsinki Noir, an anthology of crime stories by Finnish writers edited by James Thompson.
When your flight takes off, you can take the library with you in the form of your digital downloads: your guidebook, of course, but also ebooks and current issues of magazines (available through Flipster). And why not sample some Finnish music while you’re reading? Finlandia, by Sibelius might be the perfect, restful choice. For music downloads there are a couple of library options. Freegal has 11 million songs from Sony Music’s catalogue, but Hoopla might be your best bet. Type “Finlandia” into its search-bar and you’ll get 394 results that include many full albums featuring Sibelius’s tone poem.
And when you arrive, you can check in to your hotel. Or, if you’ve taken advantage of a little-known library resource, you can check in to a private apartment. The resource is called “Tech Boomers” and it bills itself this way: “educational tutorials designed for inexperienced internet users and older adults.” One of these is a terrific guide (with links) entitled “Best 8 sites Like Airbnb to Book Your Vacation.” You can find everything from rooms to entire homes.
In either case, you’re ready to explore.
While you’re in Finland, by the way, not a bad idea to check out the Finnish libraries; in fact, anywhere you go in the world you’ll find local libraries are a welcoming haven. Not to mention a source of free Wi-Fi.