norway on a budget?
Updated: Apr 30, 2018
Ok, we all know that traveling to Norway on a budget isn't really possible... or is it?
In November my friend Victoria and I went to find out. I'll save you some time. Everything in Norway is expensive, really expensive! But if you're smart, and don't mind putting 'adventure' above luxury then it is certainly possible to visit Norway without breaking the bank.
Our intention was to explore the Lofoten Islands, see the northern lights and return home without having to sell a kidney to pay for it. We found return flights from Gatwick (London) to Oslo and connecting flights from Oslo to Tromso with Norwegian Air using Sky Scanner for around £60 each (including luggage). Ordinarily I'd try and save money by only taking a carry on, but on this occasion we decided to take a 25kg bag between us. Granted, November isn't exactly peak season in Norway, In fact daylight hours are reduced to 0-4 hours per day in the winter months. Visiting during the Polar winter isn't for everyone, and it is definitely NOT the best time of year to visit! But it was something we both wanted to experience.
I don't love it, but Sky Scanner is usually a first port of call for me when planning a trip, it compares most major airlines and allows you to search all airports at once. So, if like me, you live within reasonable distance of 4 or 5 airports and aren't fussy which one you depart from, you can spread yourself the agony of searching each on individually just to save yourself £20. Another advantage to Sky Scanner is that it will combine flights from various airlines to give you the best deal. This will sometimes result in making more than one booking, but that usually not much of a hassle and can often save you a lot of money!
For this trip, I also needed a car. Sky Scanner automatically offers rental car and hotel options as well but I thought I'd shop around a little. We managed to rent an estate sized car (with everything needed to drive in the winter months, e.g, studded winter tyres) for about £30 a day with Hertz. There were plenty of cheaper options but seeing as this was going to also become our home for 4 nights we opted for a little more room. Your rental car will get more expensive naturally as you add extras, sat nav (use your phone instead) pre paid fuel (don't, its cheaper to fill up yourself before you return it) always check the included milage if you're intending on a long journey. We managed to get free unlimited milage, but many companies will give you 500 miles free (sometimes even less) before charging you a fee per mile for any additional mileage. Additional drivers will also cost you more money.
At this point we are in Tromso, in our brand new rental car (hotel) with 5 days exploring ahead of us having around £150 each when you include the train to the airport back in the UK. We picked up a JetBoil gas canister in town and some groceries before heading out. Gas in the UK is around 4/5 and we paid roughly twice that in Tromso. Our food shop wasn't cheap but we had brought coffee and some other essentials from the UK (hence the 25kg bag) to reduce this cost. All in all, 4 hours in Tromso cost us approximately £60 but we were pretty much set for the week.
From Tromso we started our drive down towards the Lofoten Islands. Because it snows to often in the winter it's worth noting that there comes a point each year where the roads are no longer cleared from snow. The ploughs are out daily but tend to hard pack the snow on the roads rather than attempt to clear it. This means you are driving on snow most of the time however with winter tires and a little care. This shouldn't cause much of an issue in getting around.
We had made a very loose plan to get as far as we could along the chain of islands without taking any ferries before heading back via the more well known locations within the Lofoten Islands. The great thing about Norway and actually much of Europe is the whilst it isn't exactly encouraged, It's tolerated to sleep at rest stops provided that you aren't causing an issue. Wild camping is also encouraged much as it is in parts of Scotland provided you're respectful of your surroundings and operating a very strict 'leave no trace' policy. (which you should be anyway). My general rule of thumb on this is, if there is a campsite or you intend to camp in a place where 'tourism' is a source of income, always pay to stay in a campsite or hostel. Don't be the person who pitches up just outside of the grounds to save your self £10 on a 'technicality'
If you're a good distance from a town, then go for it! It is called WILD camping after all.
With that said, the rest stops (particularly) in this part of Norway are set up for this type of adventure. Most had toilets and were protected from the main part of the road. We car camped in 4 different 'rest stops' during our trip and didn't have a single issue. Again, it's worth noting that at the time of year we visited, a lot of campsites were closed for the season and we saw very little traffic. I can't say for sure that if you dragged your motor home over during the summer you might not encounter a few disapproving looks. However, as I said, to the best of my knowledge, provided you are doing so responsibly. Enjoy your stay!
There are some beautiful hotels and houses to rent all across the Lofoten Islands. They're not cheap, but I'm sure with some negotiation and advance planning you could reduce the cost of these. That wasn't the point of this trip though. This trip was all about seeing as much as possible, as quickly as possible and spending as little as possible along the way.
Petrol/Diesel during our visit was fairly comparable to the UK, so... expensive. But nothing we weren't used to. We covered close to 600 miles on our trip which made fuel our biggest outgoing at around £130.
We cooked our own food most days and only occasionally picked up the odd extra from the plentiful service stations along the way. One of these service stations was the scene of our biggest mistake...
After 3 days living and cooking, comfortably from our car, during a routine petrol stop, I was seduced by the burger bar located inside the petrol station. I couldn't help myself. I ordered us two burgers... two petrol petrol station burgers, do I need to say more?
2 minutes and £40 later I began filling the bath with ice and prepared to remove my own kidney.
Before I do, all was not lost... I did say at the beginning of this blog, Norway on a budget, IF YOU'RE SMART. I am not smart. I'm hungry!
If you remove my little mishap we were still doing pretty well. As we toured the Lofoten Islands we saw everything Instagram had told us to see, and so much more. We found deserted beaches to camp on, tiny fishing villages where we chatted to locals about, well fish mainly. And we sat each night with the exception of one under the stars and watched the Northern lights dance through the night.
So lets break this down, if you're thinking about visiting Norway, can it be done on a budget? The answer is yes. But it really depends what you're in to. For me, car camping under the northern lights during polar night is an absolute no brainer. For others the thought of not having a shower for a week will spoil the whole trip. It's all a risk! It's a big risk. Thousands of people flock to places like Norway and Iceland each January, February to see the Northern lights and end up seeing nothing but cloud. We were very lucky. We got 3 clear days and nights at notoriously the worst time of year. This blog would have been very different if I'd spent the whole time sheltering from strong winds and blistering cold.
So, even with my little burger indiscretion, we spent 5 wonderful days exploring these beautiful islands for a little more than £250 each.
For me, it was worth the risk.
Pro tip, if you like the idea of car camping but not the idea of spending half your time trying to find a friendly coffee shop who'll allow you to re charge your cameras, phones and drones whilst staring into a latte. Grab an in car converter. Yes most mirrorless cameras and phones can be charged using the 12 volt socket these days. But there are still certain items that can't be. This thing has been great for me and has allowed me to be truly self sufficient when car camping.