It’s no secret that backpacking Scandinavia can be expensive. So I am going to tell you how I managed to spend several weeks backpacking Norway, Sweden, and Finland on an average of $15 a day.
Considering that a beer in Oslo can cost $15 you may think I am a little nuts. But this is a post for those who want to travel Scandinavia but are put off by the costs. It can be done.
I recommend to take Rick Steves Scandinavia to help plan your travels when there. It gives a good idea of the things you can see.
First of all a disclaimer: this is not the post for you if you’re looking for a lot of comfort on your Scandinavia travels. This is about Scandinavia on a budget. That being said, I did have some very comfortable living at times, and it didn’t cost a thing.
Answer this question:
Why go Backpacking Scandinavia?
Wild mountains, forests, deep fjords in Norway, beautiful seaside locations such as the Lofoten islands. Scandinavia can easily be considered the “New Zealand” of Europe.
That leads to the answer: visit Scandinavia for the nature. And what better way to see nature? Hiking and camping of course. That should give you an idea of where this post is going.
When I decided to pay a visit for a few months I went mainly to see the nature.
Considering they have a law where you are allowed to camp anywhere, as long as you are a few hundred metres away from someones property, it makes things easy. The first step towards backpacking Scandinavia on a budget is to camp everywhere. It wont cost you anything.
Also these days you can use Couchsurfing to stay with people who offer a place in their home. I didn’t have couchsurfing when I did my trip, so I basically explored a city or town just for the day when passing through. I would then camp on the outskirts somewhere in the wild.
It’s easy to do this in summer as it’s warm enough and you have 24 hours of daylight. As far as the winter goes this advice would not really be valid, except for the Couchsurfing aspect. Although if you have seriously good winter camping gear it can be done.
Getting between places you can hitch-hike. People stop no problem for hitch-hikers, especially in the north, where public transport is not as common.
A Scandinavian Road Trip is the best!
And with hitch-hiking comes another benefit. Sometimes the people who give you a ride will also invite you to stay with them.
Don’t count on being offered somewhere to stay, but when it happens it is great. For example I had a family of seven in the north of Finland pick me up at ten at night. Upon asking where I was going to stay, I replied that I would just camp by the side of the road. They said “no way” and invited me into their big house in the countryside. We ended up taking a sauna until four in the morning.
Another time two teachers gave me a ride and offered for me to stay at the university with them. And so on. You will meet some very hospitable people, especially in the north where it’s more remote.
It could be a little more worrying hitch-hiking as a solo female traveller and staying with strangers. Just use your instincts and do what you feel comfortable with. If you don’t want to hitch-hike, you can still save loads of money by camping, which is perfectly safe to do. Often you will be on popular hiking trails with others around.
You will need to rely on buses in that case if not hitch-hiking for the cheapest form of paid transport.
Hiking in the mountains of Norway, visiting the Lofoten Islands and the north of Sweden really is worth it. It’s one of the highlights of Scandinavian travel.
Eating in Scandinavia on a Budget
As for food I lived on typical hiking fare. Ramen (instant noodles), instant mash, tinned tuna, chocolate bars, and many other budget options. These are cheap to buy and were actually my only travel expense. Sometimes I would spend as little as $5 a day. I wrote $15 a day just to average the costs out.
When invited to stay with people they would often give you food as well. Again don’t rely on being offered places to stay, but if you are lucky, it will happen.
To keep clean I would wash in the cool streams in the wilderness. And wash my clothes in those same streams. Wearing only synthetic hiking clothes meant they dried very quickly. Just choose a sunny day to do it to speed the drying up, if you can.
Camping in Scandinavia
Now you may be saying “well this is all good and fine, if you have camping gear for backpacking Scandinavia”. But what if you don’t?
If you are already backpacking in Europe without camping gear, and only planning a week or two backpacking Scandinavia, then it wouldn’t be worth it time wise to do what I recommend anyway. In fact it would be very difficult.
Indeed, to see Scandinavia properly you will need at least several weeks to appreciate the nature.
So if you have at least three weeks to explore then purchasing camping gear on the way to Scandinavia (say in Germany or Denmark), will actually pay for itself over that month of camping. Then you can sell it at the end and probably get half your money back. Or keep it and use it for future camping trips.
I would say to get camping gear if you’re only going for one-two weeks only if you plan to use the same gear in the future.
This is some basic camping gear I recommend for summer use if you want to purchase gear before going.
I personally like to buy things that are a bit more pricey, as they will last in the long run, and are more effective overall. Having said that this is a post about budget travel, so I have added some budget options as well.
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 Classic Backpacking Tent: This tent I have used camping many places and love it. It’s very comfortable for 1-2 persons. The downside is it can be pricey (but worth it), so if you want a cheaper tent that’s still good check out the ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 1-Person Tent.
Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Mat is my favourite sleeping mat ever! It’s so comfy and always gives a good nights sleep. It packs down small and is not that heavy. Perfect.
Hyke & Byke Down Sleeping Bag is a decent budget option that will keep you warm. In the long run like I said it’s good to invest in a good sleeping bag, but they can run up to $500! So this is a decent compromise for backpacking Scandinavia on a budget as it’s around $150.
Either way it will be cheaper than some of the other hotel/hostel options. Don’t rely on couchsurfing for everywhere as some places are so remote you won’t find it.
Having the camping gear for backpacking Scandinavia will also give you the freedom to hit the hiking trails, such as the Kungsleden in Sweden. And stop whenever you want, without having to worry about finding somewhere to sleep for the night. It really is the best way to travel Scandinavia.
Scandinavia on a Budget
Now if you want to go out drinking and eating in bars/restaurants, take public transport everywhere, and stay in hostels/hotels, then this post is obviously not for you. You will not be able to see Scandinavia cheaply like that!
But my travels are geared towards similar minded people, looking to travel around on a budget, and still get to experience the best the countries have to offer.
At no point in this trip did I take it for granted that people would put me up in their homes and feed me. The only things I took for granted was that I could camp almost anywhere. And that people would give me a lift when hitch-hiking, as someone will always stop eventually.
Go Backpacking Scandinavia!
I hope this has helped some budget travellers to get an idea on how they can go backpacking Scandinavia on a budget. And be able to explore one of the best places in Europe, if not the world.
GOD TUR! (Norwegian for have a nice trip)!
Scandinavia Travel Resources
These are some guidebooks I recommend to help plan for backpacking Scandinavia:
Take travel insurance for your backpacking trip as even though you can travel Scandinavia cheaply, it will be expensive if you need medical treatment. I use World NomadsTravel Insurance:
Here’s a good post on another blog about some of the best places to visit in Sweden.
If you’re interested in cheap countries then this my list of 10 of the cheapest countries you can travel to.