Last summer I spend some weeks hitchhiking around the north of Scandinavia. It was one of my best trips ever. Such beautiful nature, the freedom, adventure.. and all without spending any money. I put together a guide to show how you can travel this area – which is one of the most expensive and richest in Europe – without spending a dime.
First, I will show you the route I took:
I went from Sundsvall (where I used to study) to the west, to Norway, then all the way up north to North Cape, and again back down through Finland and Sweden. I saw the most amazing landscapes, went hiking in the mountains, slept in a few of those cute Scandinavian wooden houses, experienced a Finnish sauna, camped in the most beautiful places, and so on. It was a great trip.
I already traveled on a very low budget before, but on this trip I wanted to experiment with traveling without spending any money whatsoever. Together with my travel mate from Spain, we set off on the journey without having any expectations. We would just see if it would work and how it would go. Norway is one of the most expensive countries in Europe (and in the world) and many people told me they would love to travel to Norway, but that everything just costs too much. Challenge accepted!
The guide to travel the north of Scandinavia without money:
If you are traveling you just need a few things to keep you going: Transport, sleep and food. Apart from that, a shower from time to time would be nice and some activities to keep you busy. All can be done for free.
There are different ways to get from A to B for free. Walking, biking and hitchhiking. My preferred way of transportation on this trip was to hitchhike. Hitchhiking is a great way to cover large distances, meet different kinds of people and travel for free. From truckers who would like to talk to someone during their long journey by car to families, students, business people and tourists who don’t mind taking a traveler with them for a bit.
Hitchhiking in Scandinavia might be slower than in other European countries. Especially in the north there are not so many cars around and people tend to me more introvert and to themselves compared to other cultures. Nevertheless it is still quite possible and the people that did pick us up were generally very nice and helpful.
Waiting time can differ from 15 minutes to an hour or two. Finland was the worst, where we once made around 35 km in 7 hours and a total of a hundred hm in two days. If you don’t want to get stuck you might want to consider going back through Norway or Sweden, where there are more (tourists) cars around to pick you up.
We also managed to hitchhike a boat in Norway from Bodø to Lofoten, which was completely based on luck. Unfortunately, you need to pay per person to get on one of the ferry’s, instead of per car (what would make it easier to hitchhike, since you don’t have to pay extra for more people in the car). We didn’t know how this was arranged until we were actually there, trying to hitchhike a car onto the boat. When the ticket officer noticed us – standing outside two minutes before the boat was about to leave – he decided to do us a favor and let us on anyway without paying. :) If you are not this lucky, you might want to consider to hitchhike around the sea to avoid taking a ferry.
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We don't really have a plan where to go (we just go north) so we asked our rides for advise. Everyone said we had to go to Lofoten, so here we are. In one of the most beautiful places of Norway. Good morning :) #lovefornorway #lofoten #hitchhiking #wildcamping #mountains #snow
Sleeping for free in Scandinavia is one of the best. Since it is legal (!!) to wildcamp basically anywhere you can pitch your tent at the most amazing places. Some spots even have free toilets and showers. The locals love it as well. Everyone just cleans up after themselves, is careful with the fire and takes their trash with them. Even in touristic areas you will have a hard time finding trash in the nature.
In both Sweden and Norway there are free cabins in several of the National parks. For example, there are old farm houses in the Saltfjellet –Svartisen National Park in Norway and wooden cabins in Skuleskogen National Park in Sweden. All free to use on a first-come-first-serve base. Often including fire wood that some scouts or local government workers have put there.
When hitchhiking you also have the chance to get invited by the people who take you. Thanks to this way of traveling we got to sleep in one of those cute wooden summer cabins of a local fisherman.
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Norway/Sweden #hitchhike trip day two: when we asked our last ride for the day to drop us off near the lake he told us he was going to his summer cabin next to one of the best salmon fishing places in Norway at the so-called 'queen river' and invited us to come along. He let us stay in his secondary cabin, we made fire and watched the fishers at the lake. Things happen when you decide to trust people. #succesfullhitchhiking #norway #intothewild #norwegencabins
Eating and drinking
dumpstered food in Norway
Previously, most of my money would go to food. Especially in Norway, where the food is incredibly expensive (I quote a Latvian driver saying: ”This is not a food market, it’s a food museum!”) it should be a challenge to eat cheap, let alone for free.
The northern countries have it very good. Especially in the far north and remote areas people still get to choose between several big supermarkets. The sad thing about this kind of wealth is that they trow away an incredible amount of food, simply because there are too less people to eat it all. You wouldn’t believe what kind of good food can still be found behind the supermarkets. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure..
If you open one of the big black or iron containers (they are often not locked) you will see what I mean. Fruits and vegetables are often individually packed in plastic (most of them don’t even have a bad spot.. they just have been too long in the supermarket and have to make room for the new food that just arrived), tons of bread from the day before in big brown bags, chocolate candies, juices, packages of nuts that expired a week ago (but nuts don’t really expire..), etcetera.
In the beginning of our trip, we took almost everything that we found just in case we would not have food for the next few days. This soon appeared to be not such a good strategy, since we would always find food. Lots of food, right behind the supermarket for everyone to grab. We even found pizza dough and made a pizza on the campfire with some other travelers!
A good thing about the north is that, since it is quite cold (even in summer) the food doesn’t go bad that easily. Even if you find something that is expired by a few days (which seems to be rare), it is often still good.
Concerning water, the tap water in Scandinavia is perfectly fine. In most of the national parks the water is so clean that you can just drink it right from the lake or river.
Other things that especially the Norwegians trow away much are bottles and cans. They are everywhere, and you can get money for them. You can collect them during your trip and exchange them in the supermarket. In the end of our trip through Norway we collected enough money to buy some ice-creams. :)
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Our most recent #dumpsterdiving catch in Norway consists of 15 paprika's, 10 bananas, pesto, pizza bottom, a bag full of mushrooms, a few breads and cakes, potatoes, lettuce, onion, avocado, cheese and a shitload of different fruits (mangos, blueberries, raspberries, apples, peers, etc.). With most of them there is nothing wrong. Half of the paprikas do not even have a single bad spot and we had to just remove a few bad pieces out of the bags of fruit. Its insane how much good food Norway is throwing away! Shame on you Norway.. But on the other hand: Thank you for the insane amount of delicious free food ;) #dumpsterdiving #travelinglikehoboseatinglikequeens #foodhunting #ontheroad #goodfood #tropicalfoodinnorway #spoiled #nomnomnom #traveling
Transport, food and a place to sleep are the basics of traveling. But who wouldn’t mind a shower once in a while..? In Scandinavia there are several free showers to be found.
- First of al, you can just jump in one of the many lakes or rivers. They are clean and fresh, but also very cold.
- In gasstations you can usually use the toilets for free (in contrast to many places in western Europe). There is definitely a sink and sometimes even a shower included. The showers are mostly used by truckers and from time to time you can find a free one.
- Some free camping places in Sweden have free toilets and showers as well, especially at the common camping spots near the national parks.
- Several apartment buildings in Scandinavia (especially in Finland) have a common room for the sauna, including showers and toilets. In Finland we were camping outside of one of these buildings (without knowing) and a local let us in so we could hide from the rain and use the free sauna and showers!
- If you wildcamp nearby a paid camping site, you can ask them to use the shower for free.
- You can use Trustroots or other hospitality websites to find locals to stay with and use their showers. :)
Things to do can be quite pricy, unless you only choose to do the free stuff. Luckily, there is tons of free stuff to do in Scandinavia.
First of all there are several national parks, which are all free and great for hiking. The best thing about the north is definitely the beautiful nature and the animals you can spot. The landscapes change all the time and when traveling in summer you can expect snowy mountains and rocky landscapes interchanging with huge forrest areas and lakes. Especially in Lapland you can find many reindeers, elks and deers. You really don’t need to do a tour or go to an ‘elk and deer zoo’. When driving around and camping for a few weeks you will definitely meet them in the wild.
One of the reasons to travel in summer is to see the midnight sun. In the north it is light all night (very convenient for hitchhiking) and to see the sun moving sidewards instead of up- or downwards might be a quite strange but pleasant experience. The picture above was taken exactly at midnight.
Another highlight is the northernmost point of Europe: the North Cape. If you arrive by car or motorcycle you are expected to pay a high entry fee to get onto the plateau. However, if you come by walking or cycling you don’t have to pay this fee. If you are hitchhiking it’s best to get out of the car a kilometer or so before the entrance and walk around the toll booth. You obviously came walking all the way. In case you want to camp in a free cabin nearby, check the hitchwiki page on Nordkapp.
Who is in for a moneyless trip to the North?