Posted in Europe on December 25, 2010
Today’s guest post is by Jenn from Surviving Life in Sweden. Jenn is an American ex-pat who has been living in Sweden for almost a decade. She works as a language consultant for several large global companies, and as a freelance writer. She’s spent a lot of time travelling Scandinavia, and is also married to a Swede! These are her best budget tips for discovering Sweden on a budget.
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Traveling in Sweden is expensive – no way around that. And most of the time what the Swedes mean by ‘savings’ would make you laugh out loud. But there are a few little things you can do to cut costs while making your way through Sweden. Because despite the cost, it really is a great little get away with a very not-quite-continental vibe.
Food and drink
Dining in restaurants in Sweden can put a huge dent in your travel budget. Even if you just order a main course and a drink, it will easily set you back 300 SEK. So what to do if you don’t have access to a kitchen? If you want to try out some of the nicer restaurants, the best thing to do is go during lunch hour. While the quality of food might be slightly lower than in the evening, the price is often at least 2/3 cheaper. Most restaurants offer ‘Dagens’ a lunch of the day, which includes a drink (usually lingonberry squash or near beer – try the lingon), a salad, and a cup of coffee. The portions are usually quite generous and it gives you a good chance to people watch.
Sweden has some pretty prohibitive alcohol laws compared with the rest of Europe. A glass of wine or beer will cost 50 SEK and up. If you want to save money here, stop by Systembolaget (a flashback to socialist Sweden – it is the alcohol monopoly), but remember to go early, many close at 6 on weekdays and 2 on Saturdays. Prices here are still a bit bloated, but will save you in the long run. Most Swedish students imbibe before going out, due to the high costs. Travelers can do the same.
Swedish meatballs – the food everyone thinks about when they think Sweden – is not typical restaurant fare. If you find it at a restaurant it’s often a tourist trap and overpriced. If you want to give them a try, head to a cafe or bakery before closing time (in many areas cafes close at around 6pm). There are some very Swedish sandwiches, with meatballs and red beet salad (kottbollar och rodbetsalad). In this form they will only cost about 45-65 SEK. If the weather is nice, take your sandwiches and Systembolaget drinks to the nearest park for a picnic.
The cheapest way to travel within a city in Sweden is by bike. Most cities offer bike rentals near the train station – so scout around. Swedish cities are extremely bike friendly – with special bike paths on most major and many side roads. Swedes often bike to work rain, snow or shine. If you aren’t feeling up to biking, make sure to ask about a discount bus/train pass at the station. Each major city has a different savings program, but a rebate card in Scania/Malmoe, for example, costs nothing and gives you 20% off all bus and train trips. The only requirement is that you put at least 200 SEK on the rebate card to start.
There are two large organizations of hostels in Sweden – STF and SVIF. STF is a group of hostels that agree to a certain set of standards set by the Swedish Tourist Association. At STF hostels, sometimes room rates can be higher, but you are guaranteed a certain level of quality. That said, most hostels, hotels, and inns in Sweden maintain a high standard of quality. SVIF hostels have no common set of standards, but this allows them to set their own prices and be more flexible on some rules. You can find some pretty good deals by checking out some of the non-STF hostels. In all of my backpacking around Sweden, I have yet to stay at a really low quality hostel. Remember, though, you are expected to leave the room as you found it!