Monday, August 6, 2012

Semi-Frugal European Jaunt

A while back, BF  and I were discussing the fact that it has been two years since our last real vacation.  Sure, I've taken a few mini-breaks since then, mostly for conferences, but a real, completely ignore work and get the hell out of town vacation hasn't happened for a while.  So, we started knocking about ideas of where we wanted to go/ where we could afford to go.

First we decided on London.  I've been before, I went to school in England for a semester, but BF had never been so we decided to go after to Olympics when the city was certain to be a mess of ticker tape and the Londoners were likely to be real sick of tourists.
I started planning for this.  I bought a raincoat: 
Then, a couple months ago, I mentioned our trip to London and BF said, "did we really decide on that? What about Scandinavia?  Your homeland?"

As much as I knew I would like to go to Norway and Sweden (where my ancestors are from--VIKINGS!!), I knew from a friend who just went to Norway how crazy expensive it is.  Sure, I've been supplementing my travel fund for two years, but I didn't want to blow it all on a single vacation.

Then, a wonderful thing happened, our landlord came downstairs and tried to install a ceiling fan.  That didn't actually work (sadness, I love ceiling fans), BUT. he informed us that his wife, who is from Sweden, still has an apartment in Stockholm that she uses when she visits.  Not only that, but we could use it for FREE!

Since Stockholm is lovely, but there's not a ton of stuff to do, we decided to divide our trip between Stockholm and Copenhagen, Denmark.  This also allowed bf to live the dream of traveling over this bridge:
That's the Øresund Bridge, winner of the 2002 ABSE Outstanding Structure Award
For those who may like to travel to this part of the world, I have some tips as to how to do it frugally:

1.  Take out and Groceries.  Food in Scandinavian countries is ridiculously expensive, and most Swedes rarely eat in restaurants opting instead for picnics.  Consuming alcohol in public is legal, so just get some bread and cheese and camp out.  Stockholm and Copenhagen are full of beautiful parks, why not eat there instead of a stuffy restaurant that serves 12 kinds of herring.  We only ate one restaurant meal on this vacation, and I didn't feel deprived at all.

Great deals on herring!
2.  Get your Walk/ Bike On.  Both Stockholm and Copenhagen have excellent public transport, but they're also very walkable cities, and the public transport is expensive.  Copenhagen is a bit more sprawling, but that's the perfect excuse to rent a bike!  You can rent bikes in both cities, but Stockholm is much pricier for this, and also much hillier.  Copenhagen is flat as a prairie and EVERYONE bikes.  You'll fit right in with the locals.
OMG bikes!
3. Save on Wi-Fi.  We stayed at a hostel in Copenhagen that had free wi-fi, but when we were in Stockholm, we had no internet of any kind!  The horror!  But seriously, it was actually kind of a problem because we needed to book lodging for the next part of our journey and the train to get there.  Never have I yearned so hard for a library, but we just couldn't find one.  Thankfully, we found a very nice mall with a very nice coffee shop (excellent sandwiches) and free wi-fi!  Also, every 7-11 store, of which there were dozens, had free wi-fi.  Yes, I spent a large chuck of my vacation hanging out outside 7-11, but you do what you have to do.

4. Happy Hours and Offsale.  Beer is also very expensive in Scandinavia, and very hard to find in Sweden.  In Sweden, you can only buy take-away beer at state-run liquor stores, which close very early and have no cold beer!  Fortunately, we had a fridge, and if you're a wine drinker, there were scads of boxed wines (ideal for travel!).  In Denmark, beer was much cheaper, and we actually bought most of what we drank from the 7-11 (oh thank heaven).  We found a couple happy hours at bars, but not many, sadly.  In the end, I figured we were saving enough on food to splash out a bit on booze, plus it's way more fun to drink outside than in a lame bar.

5. Free Day at the Museum.  There are a lot of free museums in both Stockholm and Copenhagen and there are museums that usually charge that have free days.  Fortunately for the frugal, each city has a guide to museums that's updated annually that lists free days and the charge for other museums.  These guides were abundant and in English.

Nobel Museum, bit of a letdown, glad it was free
6. Free City Tour.  Each city that we visited had a free city tour--Stockholm actually had two!  Each tour is 90 minutes and is completely free, you just tip if you liked your guide.  Since the guides work only for tips (this is their tagline), you get a great tour every time!  We went on the walking tour of Old Town in Stockholm, and it was excellent.  We learned a lot and even though we had already spent the day wandering around Old Town, we saw a lot of new things we hadn't noticed.  Like this Rune Stone:

7. Bring Snacks.  I've mentioned before that one of my key strategies for frugal life is to always have snacks, and international travel is no exception.  I got a kick-ass deal on Cliff Mojo bars before I left, and I had at least two in my bags at all times.  They saved me from overspending on airport snacks, overspending on afternoon snacks, and really overspending on any kind of food at all.  You know how sometimes you get so crazy hungry that you will pay any amount of money just for sustenance?  Snacks save you from that moment--and snacks are delicious.
Travel with mojo

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