The answer, not surprisingly, is a lot. There is a reason why Norway isn’t a backpacker haven like Thailand. Oslo consistently comes up tops in “Most Expensive Cities” lists year after year. People tend to use the words “astronomical”, “eye-watering” and “mind-boggling” when it comes to describing the cost of a pizza, a cigarette or a beer in Norway.
But Norway is also home to spectacular mountain scenery, dramatic fjords, colourful port towns, and the amazing aerial displays of the Northern Lights. A friend travelled to Oslo and Tromso earlier in March; she went dog sledding, slept outdoors in a traditional tent and witnessed a magnificent display of the lights. Her experience and photos decided us. We would go, and hang the cost!
With a little bit of advanced planning, research and a few sacrifices, we’ve (hopefully) managed to keep our expenses minimal without giving up (too many) bells and whistles. Our philosophy is that whatever we’ve managed to save on food and accommodation will go towards activities and transport. This is how much we think we’ll be spending during our 7 days in Norway, with stops in Oslo, Bergen and Tromso, and how we’ve tried to “reduce” our costs.
Think outside the box when it comes to routes
I live in Sydney, 9,905 miles (15,940 kilometres) away from Oslo. Oslo isn’t really a big airport hub and demand for a SYD-OSL route is usually low, which consequently means prices are high. On Kayak, the cheapest available flight is with China Southern at A$1,584 roundtrip, with a journey time of 44 hours with two stops enroute. I hate long flying times, I don’t like transits and I’ve never flown China Southern before.
Instead, we signed up for flight alerts on Kayak for Sydney-London tickets almost 9 months in advance of our travel dates, and when return airfares with Virgin Australia dipped below A$1,500 we bought them. That got us to London for about the same price as flying Sydney to Oslo, for a much shorter travel time, one less transit stop, and we were thrilled at being able to see old friends in Londontown again. From London, it would only be a short hop over to Norway.
Use frequent flyer miles
As London is one of the main flight hubs in Europe, we figured that flights from London to Scandinavia would be cheap and there are plenty of providers to choose from, both full service and low cost airlines. Then I remembered the thousands of frequent flyer points I had accumulated from my time living in London and travelling to Europe. Redeeming them for a long haul flight didn’t make sense from a value perspective, but 6,000 points would get me a return ticket from London to Oslo, easy. Total monetary cost? A$42.
Cook your own meals
When looking for accommodation, my only non-negotiable proviso was access to a kitchen. Lonely Planet puts the cost of food per day in Norway to be about NOK500, or A$85 for two self-catered meals and one inexpensive lunch outside – to be able to stick to this budget I would need cooking facilities. I also gave clear preference to accommodations that included breakfast (usually Continental) in their rates.
Stay with a host
I’ve heard great things about AirBnB. In Oslo, a 2 or 3 star hotel rate is about A$170-A$200 a night. The hosts on AirBnB offer rooms like these for just under $100 a night, with the added bonus of breakfast provided, a kitchenette for cooking and meeting a local and being able to ask for unbiased recommendations. In Tromso, there are less AirBnB options, so instead we plump for AMI Hostel, which has good reviews on Tripadvisor. The damage works out to be about A$500 for 5 nights in total for 2 nights in Oslo and 3 in Tromso.
Book train and bus tickets in advance
We are planning to take the Norway in a Nutshell tour from Oslo to Bergen. From Bergen, we’ll board an overnight train back to Oslo. Booking train tickets in advance could you save you 50% of the original price if you buy minipris tickets – which frees you up to book the sleeper berths instead. A normal seat on a one-way Bergen to Oslo train at minipris prices is A$67; a sleeper berth will set you back A$140. Book online, and early, at NSB, the Norwegian rail company. Tickets are released 3 months in advance.
Ask for discounts
The most expensive costs will be tours and activities; we were already prepared for this, but were still pretty taken aback by the costs. Norway in a Nutshell includes bus, train and ferry tickets, taking passengers along a picturesque route and allowing them to soak in the beauty of the fjords. Our customised trip will cost us A$200, which isn’t so bad as it includes one night’s stay in a hotel in Bergen. Northern Lights tours departing from Tromso are roughly A$140 a pop. Lyngsfjord Adventures offers dog sledding, snowmobiling, camping, and snowshoeing activities, combined to your liking – our preferred choices worked out to be about A$450 for a dog sled and a night’s stay in a Sami tent. Asking for a discount whittled that down to A$420. Still, a saving is a saving.
The total cost per day, excluding the Sydney-London flight but including everything else, works out to be a crazy A$311. Which is why we started saving for this trip from the beginning of this year. This NY Times travel writer managed to get his costs in Scandinavia down to US$125 a day – though he went in the summer, when camping was an option. Granted, our cost-per-day figure includes some very expensive tours and activities, but why go to Norway if you’re not going to go dog-sledding, or skiing, or to see the Northern Lights? We’ve bit the bullet. We’re going to hopefully see some amazing aurora displays, yell “Mush” (or whatever the Norwegian equivalent is) at some huskies, and sleep outdoors in the warmth of a traditional Sami tent.
Will it all be worth it?
I’ll let you you know when I get back. (But yes, most likely, yes!)