How to Plan a Budget Trip to Longyearbyen, Svalbard
If your quest in travelling is to find “budget friendly” destinations, you’ll probably find few occasions to travel to the Nordic countries and territories.
They’re all notoriously expensive and none more so than Norway, in my experience so far. I remember being in Oslo years ago and shelling out over 15 quid for a small plate of nachos. Granted it was at the airport, but it was a lot of money and they left the taste of bitter disappointment in my mouth, rather than that of cheesy goodness.
Svalbard, an archipelago that is a part of Norway, is no exception. For many, it may seem like an impossible dream – a cluster of islands on top of the world, which few should have a chance to ever step upon in their lifetime.
Yet, I’m here to argue that it can be done. Planning a budget trip to Longyearbyen, Svalbard is not quite the same as travelling through say, the Balkans or Southeast Asia, two regions where you’ll certainly see more bang for your buck. If you’re savvy however, you can certainly lower your expenses somewhat, without feeling as though you’re missing out on what the region has to offer.
So, want to have a Svalbard holiday but not sure if you’ll be able to afford it? Here are some ideas, to keep your spending at a minimum in this winter wonderland. And if you are indeed heading there in the cooler months, here are some tips for planning a winter expedition in Svalbard.
Keep an eye out for cheap flights via Norwegian Air
I was pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive it is to fly to Longyearbyen in Europe (considering a place that I’m desperate to go to, Lord Howe Island off the cost of my home state of New South Wales in Australia, costs over $1000 AUD for return tickets from Sydney).
Discount carrier Norwegian Air offer flights from both Oslo and Tromsø and you can fly to these Norwegian destinations on the cheap from many places around Europe.
When I visited, I started my journey from London, stayed overnight at Oslo airport (in a hotel admittedly, have learnt my lesson regarding sleeping in airports, but it is another way to save some cash if you’re on a budget), before flying onto Longyearbyen in the morning. I took a similar route back, but went on a same-day flight to Berlin, rather than spending another night in Oslo. All up, it cost me around 125 pounds (173 USD) and that was without waiting around for any special deals.
It may not be a nine quid round trip to Rome from London, but with some forward planning, you won’t be weeping over the cost of flights there.
Base yourself in the Miner’s cabins
There are a few options for accommodation in Longyearbyen and the cheapest of the lot are the Coal Miners’ Cabins.
This accommodation is located in the upper part of the Longyear Valley, close to mountains or glaciers, making it ideal for those wishing to embark upon hiking trips.
The downside of the cabins is that they’re not in the centre of Longyearbyen, along with rest of the town’s hotels. Rather, they’re a bit of a hike out, which could be annoying in cooler conditions.
However, there’s not doubt that you’ll save money staying there – plus you’ll experience a little bit of the area’s history. It was the archipelago’s miners after all, who originally called the cabins home.
Borrow any warm clothes you’ll think you’ll need
For someone who likes to visit colder regions and once did it on the regular, I lack many sensible, warm clothes. I’ve got a random assortment, but probably not enough to keep me warm for extended periods of time up north, or far south.
To save on cash, I often borrow the jackets, ski pants and thermals of friends, in exchange for some chocolates or a bottle of wine. It’s far more economical in the long run, rather than buying them myself.
This random collection of clothing may not lend itself to the most fashionable of moments (note my red hat and pink ski jacket in the photo above), but you’ll be snug at the very least.
Limit yourself only to activities you really want to do
There are a lot of really, really neat things to do in Svalbard… but they come with a hefty price tag.
I suppose you have two choices where this is concerned – see it as a once in a lifetime trip and splurge, or limit yourself to the activities you really want to do, whether that be dog sledding, ATVing, seeing the northern lights or taking a boat trip out to Pyramiden in the north (I am very bitter about not having done this myself).
Some activities are “riskier” than others, as they’re based on the elements. For example, we paid to go on a trip out to a cabin to see the northern lights, but they didn’t fancy making an appearance that night. We still had a lovely meal and learned about the area’s history, but I would have been a bit cheesed off if seeing the lights was my main endgame.
We also couldn’t go properly dog sledding or snow mobiling… because there was no snow (instead it was raining, which locals said was highly unusual, the region being an arctic desert and all). We went dog… karting I want to call it instead (sitting in a kart, not on a sled) and ATVing, which was fun but not as good as snow mobiling would have been. I can only guess however, as I am still yet to do it in this life.
Buy meals from the local supermarket
Food can lead to another massive expense, particularly with prices being inflated becase 1. Norway and 2. mostly everything is imported (although there are greenhouses in Longyearbyen, believe it or not!).
The simplest way to save money is to load yourself up on your hotel/hostel’s breakfast and buy the rest of your food at the local supermarket. Try not to get eaten by the stuffed polar bear that leers over you, on your way in.
If you fancy at least one meal out, I found the pizzas at Svalbar Pub to be inexpensive by Nordic standards and quite delicious. You could split one between two… or treat yourself.
Spend some time exploring Longyearbyen, easily done on the cheap
One of my favourite activities to do when I travel to anywhere new, is take photos. It costs me nothing (well, apart from the initial investment in my camera, which obviously was a lot. And paying for all the extras I’ve needed along the way, like filters and batteries. Wait a second…) , it’s an excellent way to explore a new town.
Brightly coloured and based in front of a stunning fjord, Longyearbyen is an extremely photogenic town.
Just make sure you don’t wander outside the city limits. You’re not allowed to do so without a gun, due to the threat of polar bear attack.
Some cheaper activities on offer in town include having a hot chocolate (or tiny edible polar bears) at the world’ northernmost chocolate shop Fruene AS, or making a visit to the Svalbard Museum.
Time your visit appropriately
And it goes without saying, but you’ll save cash simply through whichever season you choose to travel to the archipelago.
Travelling there in the shoulder season meant there was a little less to see and do, but things were considerably cheaper. And yes, it meant we didn’t get to experience the midnight sun or Polar Night, but we did get six hours of soft beautiful light, which coloured the mountains pink. That was pretty special within itself.
Have you been to Svalbard? Have any tips of your own?
Pin me baby, one more time.