Imagine not seeing the sun for months? Here's an inside look at how a woman lives in complete darkness and how she survives and thrives in these extreme conditions.
Imagine a World
A typical day is filled with work, errands, family, and friends. While cultures may be different, the daily lives of most people tend to look similar, even for those who live close to the North Pole.
The people living in Svalbard go grocery shopping, send their kids to school, and do everything we all do. Except, there are a few things that are much different about their lives, like months when they don't see the sun and carrying a gun in case of a polar bear attack. Here's what life is like living close to the North Pole.
Where Is It?
Svalbard is an archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole in the Arctic Circle. While Santa Claus may not reside there, the archipelago is only 500 miles from the North Pole. A nature lover's paradise, Svalbard is filled with varying landscapes and many wild species.
The remote islands are considered an arctic desert. There's only about an average rainfall of 15.7 inches, and the terrain is covered mainly in ice. Yet majestic mountains, deep blue waters, and icy white glaciers give the islands incredible views. Fun fact: Svalbard actually translates to "the land with the cold shores." But what is it like actually living there?
Welcome to Longyearbyen
The largest city on Svalbard is Longyearbyen. There are around 2,400 people who live there, but there weren't always humans living in this remote area of the world. In fact, there's no indigenous population. The first people to settle here were only at the turn of the 20th century.
An American named John Munro Longyear founded the city in 1906. It was called Longyear City back then, which is quite fitting for an area with long seasons without sun. Its first major industry was coal mining. However, today the primary industries are tourism, science, and education, with only one coal mine still active.
The People of Longyearbyen
Although the official language of Svalbard is Norwegian, there are people from all types of cultures and countries that live in Longyearbyen. There are actually more than 40 different nationalities that live in the village, including a Thai community.
However, most people don't stay in the village long-term. The typical duration is around two years. People come to study at the university or experience life in the Arctic Circle. While Norwegian may be the village's official language, many English speakers live and work there.
What Is It Like To Live There?
At this point, we are wondering to ourselves how do people survive in a place so remote? And what do their daily lives look like? Thankfully, one Longyearbyen resident has been sharing an inside look at the everyday life of living near the North Pole.
This resident is none other than Cecilia Blomdahl. Blomdahl was born and raised in Sweden. When she first arrived in Svalbard, it was only meant to be for a few months. Now years and thousands of followers on social media later, she has become a sort of ambassador for this remote way of life.
A Viral Sensation
Blomdahl began sharing her life on social media. She has accounts on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram, each with thousands of followers. Her videos have garnered millions of views, and she has become somewhat of an internet sensation. On TikTok, she has around 2.5 million followers from all over the world.
They ask her all types of questions about what life is like in Svalbard. In quick videos, she answers basic questions, gives glimpses into the scenery, and takes her followers along with her for a day in her life. So, how do things work differently living in the Arctic? Let's find out…
Seasons of the Year
In a typical year, there's summer, winter, spring, and fall. However, the seasons are a tad different for the folks living in Longyearbyen. First off, there are three main seasons up in the Arctic. According to Visit Svalbard, they are called Polar Summer, Northern Lights Winter, and Sunny Winter.
Each brings distinctive features for the time of year. Within each season, there are two sub-sets of seasons. For example, during the Northern Lights Winter, there is a sub-season called the Polar Night, where people live in complete darkness. Crazy, right?! Not for Cecilia and her neighbors. To them, it is just part of life.
The Polar Night is just one of the ways that living up in the Arctic looks a little different than most other places in the world. For about four months of the year, residents live in complete darkness. Why? It all has to do with location, location, location! But seriously.
The Earth rotates on a tilted axis. Due to Svalbard's location, it is tilted away from the sun, meaning there are periods throughout the year when the sun doesn't rise. That means residents will go out to do their daily errands, and it'll still be dark out - even in the middle of the day. So, how do they manage without daylight?
They continue with life as usual, except for a few adjustments. Blomdahl, for example, begins her day with coffee and takes her dog on a walk. During the Polar Night, she will wear a headlight to see properly. She also utilizes special lights inside her home to help stimulate sunlight.
It may seem strange to everyone else to go for months without sunlight, but for the people living on Svalbard, it is completely normal. Residents look forward to this time of year! But in order to enjoy it, Blomdahl has to prepare beforehand for the long Polar Night.
Prepping for the Winter
Everything begins with preparation! Just like people prepare for winter by buying a winter jacket, Longyearbyen residents have to get ready for the winter. As the temperatures start to drop, Cecilia Blomdahl knows that winter is on its way. She ensures the house is stalked up with firewood to help heat their cabin.
Firewood is quite expensive because all of it has to be imported! Cecilia will also winter-fy the house by switching out her summer bedding for her heavier winter sets and putting up string lights to provide extra coziness and light. Since she owns a boat with her boyfriend, they must also take it out of the water.
A Village Tradition
Like many cultures, the village has its own traditions that people look forward to every year. While the Polar Night can be difficult without seeing the sun, it is also a time of year when friends and families gather. One tradition includes a familiar wintertime friend, Santa Claus himself.
Per Cecilia, Santa Claus lives in a mine inside a mountain outside the village. According to local legend, he returns home on the first of Advent. The town turns off the street lights, and there's a torchlight procession and a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. Afterward, everyone dances and joins in on the holiday spirit.
The Northern Lights
Perhaps one of the best parts of the Polar Night is the front row seats to the Northern Lights. The island has zero light pollution, so people can see everything in the sky, including the famous Northern Lights. Their vividness depends on how strong and far away the solar storm is.
Since it is always dark during Polar Night, the Northern Lights can happen anytime. It all depends on solar storms that are happening billions of miles away from Earth. One time Cecilia was sitting in her cabin with a friend when they noticed the Northern Lights dancing in the sky above them. How magical!
Visiting the Grocery Store
Just like everyone else in the world, Cecilia has to go grocery shopping. But unlike everyone else in the world, she has to make sure to lock up her gun. (More on why she's carrying one later.) Once her gun is locked away, she can enter and start shopping in the only grocery store in town!
There are many items to choose from, like frozen veggies, granola, fruits, and even avocados! Since Cecilia and her boyfriend live outside the village, they like to buy a lot at once, so they don't have to make many trips. Prices tend to be higher since every food item has to be shipped or flown in.
Just Like Everyone Else
Although there are many differences to life in the Arctic Circle, some things operate just as they would in any other city in the world. Cecilia will go into town to get a manicure and pedicure. However, there's only one manicurist in the village to choose from, so hopefully, she had good reviews on Yelp!
She takes her dog for long walks, decorates her Christmas tree, cozies in for a movie night on her couch, works out at the local gym, and meets up with friends at cafes and restaurants. Life goes on as usual, no matter what part of the world a person may live in.
Beware of the Polar Bears
While life on Svalbard may not look so different than life elsewhere, there are a few significant differences. One is polar bears. Yup, around 3,000 polar bears are on the archipelago, per Visit Svalbard. This number actually exceeds the number of humans there.
Polar bears can be dangerous, so citizens carry firearms for protection when they are outside the village limits. Citizens need to apply for permission and receive proper training before they're allowed to carry a gun. This is why there are designated lockers to put firearms in town, just like the grocery store!
No Cats Allowed
Another dangerous animal that citizens have to avoid is cats! Although not as fearsome as polar bears, cats are banned on the island. This ban has been in place since 1992. This law was put in place in order to protect the natural fauna and wildlife, like birds, on the island.
However, up until 2021, there was one outlaw living on Svalbard. Kesha was a cat who lived in the small village of Barentsburg, which is around 37 miles away from Longyearbyen. Unfortunately, Kesha passed, and while no cats are allowed, many other pets are, including dogs, birds, and bunnies.
While there is much beauty to enjoy from living in the Arctic wilderness, one big danger people have to deal with is snow storms. The snowstorm can cause winds that go up to 70 miles per hour. That's like the strength of a hurricane. Since it is considered dangerous to be outside, Cecilia stays in during storms like these.
These storms can last anywhere from a few days to over a week. However, these storms barely phase the locals. They continue with life as usual. In fact, the schools don't even give snow days! But people like Cecilia, who live outside the village limits, will opt to stay indoors if the roads become too dangerous.
Something else to consider is what could happen in a storm. One possible outcome is a power outage, which is quite common during Polar Night. Since they happen regularly during winter, Cecilia and her boyfriend are more than equipped for any possible power outage. Here's how they have prepared.
They purchased a special machine called an Ecoflow, which is a power bank that she can hook anything up to. She also has some old-fashioned preparations, like lots of candles to light around the home. Another old-school method they use is their fireplace, ensuring a fire is always burning to keep their home cozy and warm.
Living in a rugged cabin in the Arctic Circle has its perks. There are amazing views that surround their home, including the waterfront, glaciers, mountains, and miles of rugged terrain. They built it themselves and were able to customize everything exactly to their needs and wants.
However, something that is quite different than the way most people live is their water supply. Until recently, they didn't have running water in their cabin. Now, they have a tank that hooks up to the whole house. Before their new system, they used a "porta-shower" on their deck or shower at friends' houses.
So, how do they go to the bathroom if they don't have running water? Don't worry, Cecilia has given all the deets on how they do their business on her social media pages. They have a unique toilet that actually incinerates their number twos. It is called Cinderella, and it really does feel like something out of a fairytale.
They put a sheet inside the toilet bowl, and then you do your business. Once you've finished up, you close the toilet lid and press a button. The bag will be sent down to the bottom of the toilet, where it is burned and made into ashes. Cecilia has done the calculations, which is about $1 for a single poop.
There are always things to do. From cuddling up on the couch with a book to doing a major clean-up of the cabin, there is not a day that goes by when Cecilia is just sitting at home doing nothing. This type of lifestyle keeps everyone busy. From daily errands to enjoying the nature around them, there's something for everyone.
Like people from all over the world, everyone looks forward to the weekend here. Many people will snowmobile, camp in an even more rugged cabin, or go cross-country skiing. Outdoor activities are one of the main ways people spend their time, which makes sense since they live in such a beautiful spot.
Just like there are months when it is constantly dark, there is also a time of the year when the sun never sets. It works the same way that the Polar Night does. During the Polar Summer, the Earth's axis is titled toward the sun, and because of this, the islands of Svalbard are continually exposed to the sun.
For the four months of Polar Summer, the sun never goes below the horizon. So, it'll still be bright out when it is midnight. How wild is that! They also call it Midnight Sun, which is a pretty apt name for what happens. While it may take some getting used to, it is a beautiful way to see the sights.
Fun in the Sun
Even though it may be summertime on Svalbard, don't break out the bikinis just yet. The islands are still covered in snow, and many wintertime activities are still enjoyed during the summer months. Cecilia and her friends will still go on their snowmobiles and take weekend trips away from town. One exciting change, though, is getting on the boat.
Yup, Cecilia and her boyfriend invested in a boat, and during the summer, they'll spend their weekends enjoying being on the water and exploring the sea. They'll also kayak around the coasts, observe the natural wildlife, and even plunge into the freezing water for a quick dip.
How To Fall Asleep
While staying awake during the Polar Night is difficult, the residents of Svalbard have the opposite problem during the summer months. The sun is constantly out, so it is hard figuring out a way for them to fall asleep. So, how do they do it? After some time living on the island, Cecilia has figured out what works best for her.
She makes sure she has curtains that will block out as much of the sunlight as possible. She uses two types of curtains, but sunlight still sneaks in. Cecilia also has a sleeping mask she keeps by her bedside to try and block out any light. It is a pretty difficult task, but it's not a bad view at midnight, either!
The Nearby Ghost Town
Even on Svalbard, there's an abandoned town that locals and tourists like to visit. The ghost town is called Pyramiden. It was once a Soviet coal mining village but was abandoned in 1998. Like, really abandoned. Once the coal mine was closed, people left the town and left items like cups and newspapers out.
In the 1980s, over 1,000 people were living in the Russian town. They had schools, a pool, and a thriving social scene. Now, only ten people are left in Pyramiden, and they are the ones who run and operate the restaurant, bar, and hotel located there.
How To Get to Longyearbyen
Like when most people travel around the world, the best way to get to Svalbard is by airplane. There is an airport in Svalbard, but it is incredibly tiny. It's only one room, and Cecilia tends to get there right in time for her flight to take off. Most flights go from Svalbard to Norway and then to whatever destination is next!
Pricing depends on what time of year people are traveling. In one of her TikToks, Cecilia explained that January is not a busy season, so tickets are relatively cheaper. Still, April is the prime season for traveling, so flight tickets can cost over $1,000.
If anyone wants to plan a trip to Svalbard, pack up your winter gear! Since tourism is one of the island's primary industries, plenty is available in terms of activities and hotels. Just in Longyearbyen alone, there are at least ten hotels for your accommodations. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafes to eat at.
Depending on the time of year you decide to travel there, there are many activities to do. One big attraction is snowmobiling. Once you're back in the village for the night, some restaurants and bars are open and full of people. While visiting may be fun, why do people choose to live there?
A Love for Nature
While living on an island close to the North Pole may not seem like the ideal lifestyle for many, there are a few thousand who have made this their home. But why? What brings them to this place and makes them want to stay? Content creator Cecilia Blomdahl explained that it's because of the nature for her.
She loves the raw Arctic wilderness and the lifestyle that comes with it. She explained further that most people living this type of life are usually nature lovers because if not, living there wouldn't be that enjoyable. Living here is unlike anything else in the world.
Those who spent their lives in Svalbard would naturally want to be buried in the place they called their home. However, being buried on the island is not allowed for the straightforward reason that the ground is permanently frozen. If someone dies on the island, they are sent to the mainland for burial.
Similarly, no babies are born on the island. Once a pregnant woman reaches a month before her due date, she is taken to the mainland and waits for the arrival of her newborn baby there. The local hospital is not equipped if something were to go wrong with the birth.
This island close to the North Pole is truly a winter wonderland. From the Northern Lights that dazzle in the sky above to the snowmobiling adventures across the snowy terrain, living in Svalbard is like living in an endless winter landscape. This type of life isn't for everyone.
But for the people who call this place home, they love it more than anything else in the world. Whether they live there for the tourism industry, the fantastic views, or they grew up there, this Arctic island has captured the hearts of many. Life in this winter wonderland is unlike any other.