How to Travel Scandinavia on a Budget
Disclaimer: this article is intended to guide economical travelers who value bang for their buck, but may choose to spend a little extra on an experience or meal.
You've probably heard, "Norway is an expensive place to visit."
It's true. I'd like to have returned from Norway and Sweden crowing about how cheaply I did it, but the truth is that while I didn't spend exorbitantly, I did spend more on things like food. Food is pricier. Hotels are pricier. Still, there are ways to make it affordable for travel. I've just finished combing over my credit card statements and am here to help. Let's get to it. First tip:
Stick a dime into your jeans pocket. Sit on it. Travel on a dime = cheap.
I'm kidding, I'm kidding. That is one way but I've got a few more tips up my sleeve that might help, for real. They do not include taking dimes. In fact, I recommend you don't take dimes.
(All costs based on two week trip)
Here's what I really recommend taking.
This is the pivot point of all my tips: take a few friends. I realize that some people prefer traveling alone, but if you're interested in keeping costs down in Norway (or anywhere), and having a nicer trip this is a good way to do it. I'm always interested in saving costs, but since I've passed 25 years old find that a reliably hot shower, nice beds, and no roaches go a long way toward the fun of travel as well. (Ok, I always thought this, just never admitted it before)
Advantages to traveling with friends.
- You can find better rentals and spend less per person.
- You have to buy a certain amount of groceries anyway to have a well-rounded diet, and buying for a group means a lower cost with more chance of getting them used up before you move on to the next place.
- It's way more fun. Think a cozy and conversational dinnertime together after a long day of walking and sightseeing. You can grab a bottle of wine and talk about the day's sights
- Have I mentioned you can stay in nicer houses?
For example, in Sweden, we stayed at an Airbnb that would've been too expensive for either half of our group (either us girls, or the Haley's) to stay at alone. We got a lovely experience staying in the Swedish countryside that we would otherwise have had to skip out on for the price. Bonus: everyone helped carry groceries and home and pitched in to cook. Less work. Voila!
To break it down: you can budget travel alone in Norway, but it will probably be at a lower quality as far as comfort and amenities go. My motto is:
2: STAY AT VACATION RENTALS
Our pick was Airbnb, and this actually saved us money in two ways. First, we had a group of 5 adults and 2 kids, so by renting 2-3 bedroom houses just outside the city (with access to bus and train routes into the city) we kept costs down to about $25-$30 a night per person. This is in contrast to low/mid-line hotel rooms that often run $100-$250 per room. You could also find private hostel rooms for $60-70, or rent a dorm bed that could run you around $30-35.
Second, we had private, well-equipped kitchens in which to make meals. Of course, you can do this in hostels as well, but rentals tend to be a much nicer option for the privacy and relaxation of one's down time. Plus, the knives tend to be nicer.
To break it down
Dorm bed: $32 per night x 14 nights = $450 approx.
Hotel or private room in hostel: $70 per night x 14nights = $980
Vacation rental: 4 people could rent this in Bergen for $355 (per person) for two weeks. ($115 x 14, or about $30 a night per person) Also an awesome deal for a family with a few kids.
Alternative: go camping. Norway has a policy called "the right to roam" which grants everyone free access to camping sites and hikes. The only rules are to be considerate and thoughtful. However, this will not get you a shower, though if you fancy a frigid fjord dip then have at it.
3. HOW TO EAT FOR LESS
Cooking at least two of your meals at the rental is going to add up to saving approximately $200-400, depending on what kind of restaurant you'd generally eat at. For this trip we almost always cooked breakfast and dinner at home, and spent lunch out and about because we were too far from the city (30 minutes public transport) to go back. It worked out well because we could eat at cafes for less money and still experience eating out in Norway and Sweden.
Groceries in both Sweden and Norway seemed quite comparable to here. Imagine your grocery bill in a week here, and that is likely what it will be in Scandinavia, with a few extras because you wouldn't be able to rely on previously stocked pantry staples. Also, plan on buying chocolate, lots and lots of chocolate. There's heaps of options there that, no offense Hershey, are actually real chocolate.
For price reference, a big Mac meal at McDonalds came to just under $10. We didn't eat there, but here are some of our more memorable lunches out, below.
FRIED HERRING, MASHED POTATOES, AND LINGONBERRY SAUCE - 70 // $8.7--
SWEDISH MEATBALLS, MASHED TATERS, AND LINGONBERRY SAUCE - 96 // $12-
LAPSKAUS (Rustic Stew & Flatbread) 139 // $17 (yes, I paid $17 for stew)
4. BUY PUBLIC TRANSPORT PASSES VS. RENTING A CAR
Of course, depending on the type of trip you want to do renting a car is a good option, but if you spend 4-7 days at each location as we were doing, (excepting Oslo) public transport could serve you better. We rented a car for one day to travel to Hardangerfjord, which ended up costing around $112 just for the car rental, to say nothing of tolls and fuel. There are variables in this, but even with a cheaper car and rate the cost difference would not have been worth it.
Car rental prices based on car model equivalent of Volkswagon Passat.
To break it down:
CAR: for three people x 14 days it would've likely been $20+ a day to rent a car (probably $30 with tolls, fuel and parking) to come to a total of $420.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT: approx. $10 per day, to come to a total of $150 (figuring in an extra one day pass, or two). Plus this cost included the archipelago in Gothenburg, as all ferries were included in this pass.
Takeaway: unless you're not planning to stay far out in the country, or go on a Norwegian road trip to see many points in the country, it's probably not worth your while to rent a car.
Note: we managed public transport with kids. I can't take any credit for it, but Janel carried Lincoln in a baby carrier, and Natasha did quite as well with walking 6-8 miles per day as one could expect from a 7-year-old.
MY APPROXIMATE TRIP COSTS
- Flights: $550 (including domestic flight)
- Lodging $375
- Eating out + Coffee $230
- Museums $30
- Groceries $150
- Public transport $150
- Inter-regional transport: train tickets from Oslo-Bergen, bus tickets from Oslo-Sweden and return. $250.
= $1,800. This is figured generously to defray costs I likely missed, and based on a trip on which I did not skimp. Trip does not include transportation cost from Michigan to Chicago. This trip cost was basically the same as my three week trip to England, France and Italy two years ago, in which I barely ate out, and where lodging and lunch can be cheaper.
Bottom line. If you can afford to travel economically, you can afford travel in Scandinavia.
Ha en god tur!