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Norway is a bucket list destination for so many reasons, including the striking natural landscapes, the Northern Lights and the nation’s Viking roots. But where there is a lot to explore, there’s plenty of room to make mistakes.
Like with any trip to a Scandinavian country, booking specific activities ahead of time can keep you from overspending. And doing a bit of planning on an actual map can save you a lot of disappointment. We rounded up eight common mistakes travelers make when visiting the Land of the Midnight Sun, so you won’t do the same on your journey.
1. Not Budgeting for Food and Gas
Norway is an expensive place to visit, and there’s no sugarcoating it. Chances are, unless you live in another remote Scandinavian country (Iceland, we’re looking at you), it’s going to cost you much more to eat or fill up your car than it would at home. You can reduce the overall cost by booking a rental with a kitchen and hitting up supermarkets for meals. Just steer clear of overpriced gas station and convenience store snacks. As for gas, which can cost more than $7.60 per gallon, try to fill up on Sundays, when prices may be lower.
2. Forgetting to Check for Road Closures
If you’re visiting during the wintertime, chances are you’ll encounter some inclement weather. It could be snow, it could be sleet and it could be icy rain; it all depends on how far north you are. Keep this in mind as you’re planning your trip and become acquainted with the local weather website. Take a look at the weather patterns from the year prior for a good idea of what to expect. If road tripping is on your agenda, build in a few days of wiggle room in case any major roads close.
3. Underestimating Norway’s Size
Given that Norway spans a lot of area from north to south, the country’s landscapes change drastically. For reference, if you’re only planning to visit Oslo, you won’t be anywhere near the dramatic fjords you see on Instagram. Many travelers assume that Norway’s wilds are a quick drive or bus ride away, when in reality, it’s a significant journey. Bergen is the spot you’ll want to visit if you’re looking for fjords, and it’s a seven-hour drive from Oslo, while travelers seeking the aurora borealis will want to start in Tromsø, which is above the Arctic Circle and a two-hour flight from Oslo. Identify your priorities (great restaurants, nature, Northern Lights) and plan accordingly.
4. Purchasing Train Tickets at the Station
Booking train tickets ahead of time can save save you a lot of money. In general, you should plan train trips around Norway well in advance. Travelers can buy Eurail passes exclusively for Norway, or opt for a Scandinavia Pass, which, in addition to Norway, includes rides in Denmark, Sweden and Finland.
5. Waiting Too Long to Reserve a Room
The tourist high season in Norway is from mid-June to mid-August. With better weather, it’s easier to drive around the country, enjoying city scenes as well as incredible hiking. With that in mind, northern Norway is also pretty booked up during the winter, when you can spot the Northern Lights. During these peak tourist times, Airbnbs and hotels fill quickly, especially if it’s a more unconventional experience: say a cabin lined with windows. I’ve seen properties fill up months in advance.
6. Expecting to See Auroras All the Time
This just won’t happen. You’ve got to plan a trip to the north in the wintertime to see the Northern Lights, and even then, the elusive aurora borealis may not make an appearance. Tromsø is a known hotspot for Northern Lights spotting, making it a great place to start. But inclement weather and low geomagnetic activity can reduce your chances even if you’re in the right place at the right time of year.
7. Not Preparing for the Solstices
Similarly, if you’re in northern Norway, you won’t be getting too much sunlight during the winter. At some latitudes during the winter solstice, the sun won’t even rise. The exact opposite is true during the summer: There’s a lot of sun and you’re going to want black-out blinds or a heavy-duty eye mask wherever you’re staying. The summer solstice is a great time of year to see the midnight sun and take lengthy hikes or drives. But you definitely will not see the Northern Lights.
8. Staying in Town
Remember those aforementioned fjords? Norway’s cities are great, but you’d be remiss if you didn’t take advantage of the country’s allemannsretten, or “right of access” policy. In the spirit of making nature accessible to all, you can venture almost anywhere in the Norwegian countryside without restriction. The national parks are free, and it’s possible to pitch a tent, hike or cross-country ski in nearly every stretch of wilderness.
Visitors should also ask a local for the best hiking and camping spots. Not only can they give you more detailed information about the condition of the trails at any point of the year, but they can also direct you to some less-crowded hikes. If anything, this is an excuse to head to a local bar and strike up a conversation.
Feature image by Valentin Wallet via Unsplash.
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