Despite not having an official vacation from work, I am in the middle of an amazing travel spree that has taken me to Helsingborg, Stockholm, and Båstad over the last three weeks, and this weekend I’m taking off again for Gothenburg! (Or Göteborg, as it’s called in Sweden.)
In the midst of all this traveling, I’ve been using a few tricks that I’ve learned over the last year to avoid spending all of my savings in one month. Every country has their own little peculiarities when it comes to what’s expensive and what’s not, so here’s the insider’s guide for Sweden on ways to stretch your budget and save a little for the splurges that are worth it.
1. Choose your mealtimes wisely.
To be more specific, choose which meal you’re going to eat out wisely. Eating in a restaurant in Sweden can be much more expensive than a similar restaurant would be in another country… with the wonderful exception of lunch.
My friend Elaine and I, maximizing our lunch money. 8 delicious dumplings with an enormous side of soup or salad and rice for 88 SEK? Yes, please. Oversize soup spoon-ladles are just icing on the cake. (At Steam in Stockholm) Photo: Kate Wiseman
Many, if not most, restaurants have fabulous lunch deals that are almost the same as the dinner menu, but go for half the price and include a drink of your choice. This is especially true with the ethnic restaurants for some reason, which often have a reasonably-priced buffet (score!!) or a sampler platter for 100 SEK or less. That’s a good deal!
2. Pick your poison with care.
The reasons behind the establishment of the Systembolaget and the sky-high alcohol taxes are a discussion for another time, but for now let’s just say that alcohol is expensive.
Alcohol is taxed based on the percentage of alcohol it has in it, so the price of a drink is much more influenced by how strong it is than how good it is. This means, of course, that if you’re trying to save money while going out, drink beer or the cider. Cocktails are a one-way ticket to Poorsville. (Been there, done that.) Wine is marginally less expensive.
One big plus of the drinking culture in Sweden, however, is that in many towns you’re allowed to drink in public areas. No open container laws here! If you want to sit and enjoy a nice evening with a glass of wine, you can bring a bottle with you wherever you want, whether it’s the park, the town square, or the harbor in a little beach town.
Another way to save money on booze is to buy a box of wine instead of a bottle. (It's not trashy here, I promise.) But then if you buy it on a Saturday, you may have to carry it around all day until your arm feels like it's going to fall off and you're forced to take a break that leads to a little nap on the aforementioned box of wine. Hypothetically speaking, of course. Photo: Elaine Hargrove
Word to the wise: You’ll have to buy that wine at the Systembolaget, and their opening hours are not, ahem, accommodating. Buy before 6 pm on weekdays and before 3 pm on Saturdays. (Closed on Sundays.)
3. Get your wireless at a café—but double-check that they have it before you buy.
A lot of cafes have wireless available for their customers, but some places require you to use their company gift card or rewards card with your purchase to get the code. The system isn’t really posted, either, so it’s best just to ask if they have wireless and what you have to do to use it.
For example, Espresso House (a Swedish Starbucks lookalike) has free wireless with the purchase of any item, but you need to put money on their Espresso House card and pay with that card. It might seem like a hassle, but at least in the case of Espresso House, using the card also gives you a 20% discount on all coffee and food, plus their lunch deals are only available for purchase with the card.
In the end, it works out pretty well. I get discounted coffee and lunch deals with my wireless, and there’s no real cost to me besides the hassle of recharging the card every now and then.
4. Go to the train station in person and get the inside scoop.
The Stockholm subway system has an onlin3 visitor’s section (http://sl.se/en/Visitor/Plan-your-journey/), but the public transportation in other areas doesn’t always have as good information on the internet. Even if you’re traveling by bus or trying to take the subway, your best bet is to go directly to the train station and find the customer service desk.
In Skåne, for example, a company called Skånetrafiken is responsible for the busses and trains. If you’re traveling in a group of two or more, you can buy a discounted duo or family pass. (You don’t have to be related.) You can also buy a Jojo card that you add money to and gives you 20% off ticket prices. For the Swedish national train system, there are student discounts as well as “youth” discounts for people 25 years old or younger. Nice!
When you’re in the station, don’t be afraid to approach people who look like they know what they’re doing and ask for help, either. In my experience, Swedes are both incredibly good at English and helpful with all sorts of tourist-related questions. The last time I asked a woman for directions to the bathroom, she stopped one step short of accompanying me to the next open stall and making sure that I had enough toilet paper.
5. Location, location, location… and breakfast.
When picking your hostel or hotel, pay the premium for a central location. You’ll save a ton on public transportation, and it’s even more of a win if you go for one with breakfast included. It will always be cheaper than a regular breakfast at a restaurant or café.
Two hostels I've stayed at in Stockholm: the Gustaf af Klimt hostel ON A BOAT (right by Slussen) and the aptly-named "Best Hostel" (on Gamla Stan). The Best Hostel earned its name with free linens, free breakfast, and an endless supply of pasta for the taking. Oh yeahhhh. Photos: Kate Wiseman
Those are my top five money-saving strategies for traveling in Sweden! If you’ve got more, share the wealth! Leave your own tips and tricks in the comments.
As for me, I’m off to Gothenburg. Fingers crossed for good weather!