Thursday, June 03, 2010


When I awoke the morning after the country music concert I had over 400km to cover to get to that night's destination, the small mining town of Røros. I consulted my map and saw there was what the key referred to as a "primary route" heading in exactly that direction and so I asked around town to see where and when I could catch the next bus along it. I finally found the manager of a camping who informed me that the next bus would be after Midsummer. I didn't quite realise that the road passed over some of the highest mountain passes in the country and that there was still plenty of snow up there. Going back by public transport would almost double the distance and so I put all my eggs in one basket and decided to carry on hitching. It was two and a half hours before I got a ride from a friendly retired vet. Unfortunately he was going up to the mountains to do some cross-country skiing and could only take me up to the pass. I was tired of sitting around in my spot and agreed to go with him, saying to myself that anywhere closer to my destination would be better than where I was. 45 mins later I was standing 1500m up, looking at snow in every direction, and quickly putting on my jacket and gloves before trying to get a ride any further. My luck was in and I didn't have to wait long before a couple, who had just been to help their daughter kit out her new student flat, picked me up almost all the way to Røros.
I slept in this goods dock after the concert. There was a soft bale of roof insulation and it was pretty secluded.

Although Røros has an important tourist element to its economy it is already far enough north (although not even a third of the way up Norway!) for the tourist infrastructure to only open from the 1st of June. I arrived on the 30th of May and so had a day to kill before the museum and mine opened (like Falun, the town was an important copper mine in the middle ages). My host Monica said no problem, there's still plenty to see and do. And so she took me out to the surrounding countryside close to the Swedish border where Winter has been reluctant to give up its grasp on nature: the birch trees were still bare, there was ice on the lakes, patches of snow on the ground and only the first hardy flowers were making themselves noticed. Traces of humanity are few and far between and it was possible to see animals making the transition to summer: big gooey masses of frogspawn in the marshes, ptarmigans moulting their winter plummage, and elk (moose for you North Americans) with only the beginings of antlers showing. And although it was difficult to get up close to the shy elks, I got a lot closer the next day when we had elk stew (mmmm!).

Norway is generally acknowledged to be the most expensive country in the world; I remember conversations I would have at work with my Norwegian colleague where he would scare me with stories of $10 hamburgers at fast food joints, $12 coffees and $15 beers. This really isn't the place you want to be when travelling on a budget, and certainly not one as tight as €20 a day. I have therefore had to refine and improve my thrift-skills so as not to haemorrhage too much money on this leg of the trip. I thought it might be interesting to share some of my every day money-saving tricks with you to get an idea of my life on the road.

- accommodation is the biggest worry and potential expense. As I've mentioned before in previous posts I try to couchsurf as much as possible. Not only does it help make travelling more affordable, but it allows you to meet and talk to local people on an intimate level, something that can often be very difficult to do under normal circumstances and yet is one of the most rewarding aspects of travelling. They can be people from all walks of life, young and old, rich or poor, and many have become firm friends. You also get the opportunity to see everyday life in the country and perhaps things that are under the tourist radar. When not staying with people, especially when out in the countryside, Norway is an easy place to spend a cheap night thanks to the Nordic concept of allemansretten (everyman's rights), a concept which is deeply cherished here. Essentially it's a right of way and right to roam: you are allowed to walk freely and unhindered over any uncultivated land and set up camp a reasonable distance from peoples' homes. So armed with just a tent it is possible to find somewhere to sleep pretty much anywhere in Norway (the only difficulty being in finding a flat piece of ground to pitch your tent on).

- travel is next on the list of budgetary drains. When possible I try to hitchhike. There's a certain degree of preparation that is required, mostly in finding a good spot to hitch from, which is paramount if you don't want to spend hours by the side of the road freezing your butt off. Cars must have enough time to see you, they have to be going slow enough to stop, there needs to be enough room for them to be able to stop safely, and the traffic must be going in the right direction and not just be local. All these issues addressed (Google maps and Streetview are very handy for that) you have to get out to your designated spot, which could involve quite a hike and/or public transport. Once at your spot your work isn't over: you have to remain alert to all coming traffic and hold your thumb out as cars pass whilst trying to look as inviting and harmless as possible (I try to look directly at people whilst smiling innocently at them, although after an hour the smile is more of a frozen rictus). Hitching is a very hit and miss affair with big regional variations. In some countries people are used to hitchers and pick them up quite readily, in others they are wary of them and try to not even make eye contact - Norway is one of the latter countries. On average I have to stand for about 90 mins here before somebody finally pulls over. I am not, however, dogmatic about hitching and will get a bus or a train when I see that it is the only reasonable option.

- entrance fees for sights can make a dent in your wallet as well, though luckily Norway's greatest attractions are the natural wonders that are freely on display (once you've got there) and so it's not much of an issue. For the few museums I do visit it is nice to have a student ID card to get a small reduction (luckily I have connections...).

- food is something that no-one can do without and is a prime concern, especially if I'm uncertain about where I'll be staying or if I'm camping. The main considerations when buying food are cost (of course), transportability and calories (although, as opposed to most people who count calories, I try and get as many as possible for the least weight and cost). This means that my diet is heavily skewed towards bread-and-something, the something usually being chocolate spread, peanut butter or cheese. However I do make a point of trying as many local and regional specialities as I can, so in the past few days I have tried cod roe pate and moose stew (not together mind you). Recently I have also started, when the opportunity presents itself, to try something that I had been wanting to try for some time (even when I was living in England): dumpster diving. As a society we throw away so much perfectly good food just because of arbitrary "best before" and "use by" dates, or because a box has a slight dent or a fruit a slight blemish, that it makes me quite angry. When so many people are chronically hungry or struggling to feed themselves the wholesale dumping of food without even trying to salvage some of it is almost a crime. On the handful of occasions I have now done it I have been amazed at what I have been able to fish out that has been of very high quality - much better than anything I could afford on my tight budget.
My host Monica and I showing off our haul after only 30mins of dumpster diving in Roros (we had to stop because we couldn't fit any more in her car).

- although there's no real way of making money whilst on the road (at least not with my skillset) I have found a way of making a few bob whilst here in Norway. Whenever you buy drinks in a bottle or a can here in Norway you must pay a deposit for the container, which ranges from about 10p-30p. Although when at home all Norwegians store up their containers and take them back to the supermarkets in one big go, very often if they finish a drink on the street they can't be bothered to keep the bottle and just throw it on the ground or in the bin. Although I don't need the money so much that I root around in bins for them, I will certainly pick up any of these stray bottles that I see on the ground (this way I also feel I'm doing my little bit to keep the place cleaner and am recycling more) and often end up making a couple of pounds a day this way. Since the money saved from both bottle deposits and dumpster diving are not a matter of survival for me I can do it as little or as much as I want and treat it like an exciting treasure hunt, which certainly makes it more fun.

So far all of these measures has meant that I've managed to stay well under my budget and so now I have a cushion of around £200 should I need it for emergencies or a special occasion. Luckily I will also soon be out of Western Europe and things will hopefully get a little cheaper and so I will be able to be less strict with myself.

1 comment:

Monica said...

Erik! Thanks for the tips :) I admire your way of traveling, and wish I could do that one day as well (but how to be a girl - and not go shopping?!)
I wish you all the best on your adventures.