First thing's first: I want to dispel the common myth that you can only go to places like Norway if you either 1) have a ton of money, 2) are a professional photographer on a job, or 3) have an easy career or no career at all. An affordable, fun and authentic travel experience, even to less frequented places like Norway, is absolutely possible with a little budgeting, planning and strategizing. Last I checked, I am still very much employed. I simply set my sights on Norway and made the most of resources to make it possible.
MAKING IT AFFORDABLE
Ditch the hotel rooms. I was very diligent about researching unique yet inexpensive places to stay while there. If you’re willing to do a little “glamping” and sleep in a bunk bed, you can be A-OK and spend a lot less. Alternatively, there are many AirBnb’s that allow you to enjoy all of the comforts of home at about half the price of a hotel. Both options allow you to meet real people who give you the local perspective on an area, rather than the tourist version. Win-Win.
Make your own tour. You cannot possibly fathom the true vastness of a place until you actually drive across it. As tempted as I was to book one of the common tours which allow you to see a few of the best places in a quick day trip by boat or train, I felt like I could do a better job on my own by simply doing adequate research ahead of time and planning a route to see everything (or almost everything) on the list. I re-allocated the money that would have been spent on a couple of tacky tours towards renting a cheap rental car and made it my mission to truly SEE as much as possible. There are so many sights that would have been missed had I not done it this way, so, it was entirely worth it. See more, spend less.
Skip eating out. Norway is relatively very expensive for eating out, and there is a limited food selection. Despite only having a 2-burner cabin stove, it was possible to cook a complete dinner with fruits/veggies, Norway’s esteemed salmon, and a dish of meatballs, and spend about $12 total to do so. Other nights called for just a series of Norwegian snacks to fill the tank. Not to mention, every night was much more enjoyable than sitting in a pricy and stuffy restaurant.
Chase Sapphire credit card allows you to earn points over time. Almost all of the European flights were paid for with points earned on money that was being spent anyway. Chase also covers all rental car insurances so you don’t have to pay that extra money before you even leave the airport on your journey. It also has no international transaction fees anywhere abroad, which further cuts down on needless expenses.
Make the most of duty free. With time to kill at the airport before arriving in Alesund, stopping at duty free was a must. I was happy to find that my favorite snacks/treats as well as bottles of wine were significantly less expensive than they usually are even back at home. I swooped up as much as possible (don’t forget to get the bag sealed or they will not let you through security!) and avoided having to pay a premium when arriving in Norway.
Bring money with you. What can really chew into the trip is if you don’t bring enough money from the get-go and find yourself having to pay premiums at the ATM in order to get foreign currency from your U.S. debit account. Don’t do it! Bring more cash than you think you will need and worst case, you return it for USD when you get home.
Be entirely open to new friends and new experiences while traveling abroad. Talk to the person next to you on the airplane (I did, and met a Chief Security Officer at a top Denmark tech firm and an elderly couple vacationing from the U.S.). Strike up conversation with the cashier at the store. Ask questions. Tell stories. Compare notes. Be open.
Tap into your social media networks. I connected with a fellow American Instagrammer living in Bergen while getting her Master’s degree. Krysta came to my AirBnb with Norwegian chocolates and was able to build a bridge between the American traditions/culture I’m used to and some of my new perceptions of life in Norway from an outsider’s perspective. As important as it is to see a place with your own eyes, it is equally, if not more important, to learn through the stories of locals and friends.
MAKING IT AUTHENTIC
How do you make a trip authentic? My advice is to get off the beaten path. If it’s somewhere that every tourist always goes, it’s not somewhere that you are likely to find anything more than a takeaway Norway magnet and a new ugly Christmas sweater. At a certain point, you start to feel like you are lost in a sea of tourists and question why you even left home at all. That’s not what the experience is supposed to be about. The best parts of the trip were getting lost wandering the scenic and historic side streets and observing the locals go about their days. Seeing the Norwegian college students stumble around the streets in a bout of syllabus week debauchery. The late nights spent at the grocery store trying to translate Norwegian to English to simply make a proper dinner that evening.
Take pride in learning as much as you can about the place you are going. Throw yourself into the experience and partake in as much of the culture as possible. Read about the traditions, the geography, the people, the education system, the politics and the foods to try before heading home. Dive in fully and you will truly feel like a part of the society – if only for a moment.