Saturday I had a travel buzz and pulled the trigger on a $541 United airline ticket from San Francisco to Oslo in September 2014 with a two week return date. Planning 14 days in the world’s most expensive country is challenging for a traveler on a budget.
Norway is a big country and I am not the type of traveler who wants to constantly be moving around. My travel style is to minimize transportation time when I am visiting a foreign country. My style is to park myself in a location and spend two to four days exploring the area.
Seth Kugel who writes Frugal Traveler for the New York TImes did a series in summer 2012 on Scandinavia for $125 per day. His series is useful for nuts and bolts in anecdotes about traveling Scandinavia with a few pieces on Norway. Seth got plenty of angry comments on his blog post Partying Above the Arctic Circle, on the Lofoten Islands of Norway for preparing and eating whale meat with a group of friends he hooked up with in the Lofoten Islands.
Nomadic Matt comes up high in Google searches on Norway travel. He was there for a couple of weeks in June 2011 and has a page of Norway travel tips. His trip was financed by Norway Tourism. Reading between the lines of his blog posts, as far as I can tell he was in Oslo, took a train to Alesund and then spent a week as a passenger on a 7-day fjord cruise south to Bergen. He has lots of general information about where to go and what to do, but hard to tell if he actually did much of what he suggests as itinerary adventures.
The fjords were one of the most dramatic natural things I’ve seen. They lived up to the hype, and one day I will go back (when it’s sunny) and do the many hiking trails I didn’t get a chance to do this time around.
Nomadic Matt – The Fjords of Norway
From what I have read this past weekend, hiking the trails through the mountains of Norway is one of the premier activities of summer in Norway. That is an activity that sounds desirable to fill my days.
Sun and Rain in Norway
Norway is the land of 24 hour sun in June. Tromso, about 350 km above the Arctic Circle, is 1,800 km from Oslo.
Bergen in fjord country is also about 1,800 km from Tromso. In September, Bergen starts out with more than 14 hours of daylight on September 1 from 6:30am to 8:30pm and loses more than 5 minutes of daylight each day. By the end of September there are 11.5 hours of daylight from about 7:45 to 7:15pm. I should have about 12 hours of daylight for hiking tours.
Rain is another realization I have made reading through articles and comments about Norway travel. Apparently September is one of the rainiest months in Norway. Bergen can expect rain 3 out of 4 days in September.
Most tourist photographs I have seen from summer trips are cloudy days.
Another reason why I like to hang out in places for a few days is to get a better opportunity to hit good weather. One of the sites in Norway ranking high on my initial itinerary thoughts is Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock).
Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) is reached by ferry from Stavanger and then a 2-hour hike to reach the cliff top standing 600 meters over the fjord.
Here is a short video with a good panoramic view from the cliff’s edge. Something like 175,000 people make the hike each year.
TripAdvisor.com is quite useful with current material on Norway’s many sights with differing opinions and critiques. I found myself getting valuable information on that site repeatedly.
In March 2013, I had a 24-hour transit stop in Oslo and spent one day walking around the city in the snow and ice. I’ve been on the Opera House roof, walked through the fort, seen the Parliament building and the changing of the Royal Guard at the Palace.
Oslo, Norway’s capital and largest city is southeast Norway, many miles inland from the open ocean on a long fjord.
I want to see natural Norway away from the big cities with walks in woods, up mountains and around Norwegian Sea islands.
North of the Arctic Circle
My main question so far is do I go north of the Arctic Circle to see places like Bodo, the Lofoten Islands or Tromso? I would take a flight to the north to save time and money compared to ferry travel. A flight between Bergen and Tromso is around $100 and flights to Tromso from Oslo are under $70 one-way.
Pin A marks Harstad, a town 250 km north of Arctic Circle and about 100 km south of Tromso, Norway. Lofoten Islands are west of the pin.
The location of Harstad above the Arctic Circle means even more daylight hours than Bergen with more than 15 hours of daylight at the beginning of September and a decrease of 8 minutes per day, dropping to 13 hours of daylight after two weeks by the time of my flight home to California in mid-September.
Towns I have investigated for my Norway itinerary are not random towns. My choice of potential cities in Norway is guided by the location of chain hotels across the country where I can get free nights using points and disregard the common $150 to $250 per night room rates.
Clarion Collection Hotel Arcticus is a hotel in Harstad that offers free breakfast and an evening light meal from 6-9pm.
Hotel loyalty points did not play into Seth Kugel or Nomadic Matt’s travel plans. There are 85 hotels in Norway available in Nordic Choice using Choice Privileges points.
Most of the Choice hotels I checked for stays using Choice Privileges points are 16,000 points per night in May 2014. One issue with Choice Privileges is the limited window for booking reward nights is 60 days for a base member and rates change every couple of months. I can’t book Choice Privileges hotel nights in Norway until July 2014 and I will not know the rates for another month or two.
Assuming hotel reward nights are 16,000 points per night, then I currently have enough points for 10 hotel nights with Choice Hotels.
Club Carlson points will buy rooms in the major cities around Norway. My preference is to be in smaller towns and cities.
Best Western also has a surprisingly large number of hotels in Norway with some in rural areas. I have always said that Best Western’s competitive advantage are the number of hotels outside the USA in places where few other major chain hotels exist.
I have not even checked all these Norway locations yet.
Alta, Norway is about 300km northeast by road from Tromso and with a population around 20,000 is considered the northernmost inhabited city in the world. Best Western Alta is 20,000 points per night or $105USD on AAA rate in September. There are more than 15 hours of sunlight during the first week of September and daylight drops to 13 hours by mid-September.
This is known as the Finnmark region of Norway and is the largest, most northern and most eastern administrative region of Norway. This is also the least populated portion of the country.
Altaelva is the Alta River and the canyon Sautso is the largest canyon in Scandinavia. Credit: wikipedia. The river saw a dam constructed in the 1980s on the best salmon fishing river in Norway. There are canoe trip tours offered on the river.
Norwegian Air is $100 one-way to Alta from Oslo.
Help a traveler out
With a $541 ticket from San Francisco to Oslo in September 2014, I plan to visit Norway for two weeks and I hope to keep my in-country travel expenses down to about $100 per day, not including my lodging which will be primarily reward nights using points. There will not be any $100 restaurant meals for me, unless some restaurateur wants to treat me in exchange for a blog mention.
I’ll likely fall somewhere between Frugal Traveler and Nomadic Matt for my Norway itinerary. Some sponsored excursions might be part of my experience, but I don’t want to be on a fjord cruise for days. Hurtigruten port-to-port ferry service is more my style.
I have never purchased an airline ticket six months in advance of travel. I’ll probably overthink this trip way too much and develop a list of potential itineraries that changes dozens of times. There is actually time for me to work with Norway Tourism or reach out to individual businesses for sponsored excursions. I don’t want to hike off into the Norwegian wilderness on my own.
One thing I have learned over the weekend of studying Norway tourism is hiking is free and a popular activity in Norway. Air travel is relatively inexpensive to get to far-flung places within Norway.
I only want to travel to three locations at most where I can get a good hotel deal, most likely with points, and use those hotels as a base for hiking and sightseeing for the 3 to 4 days I am in each location. Transiting from place to place can eat away lots of time on a trip. A couple of intra-Norway flights and a couple of port to port ferry trips can limit my relocation movements to part of three or four days in the 13 full days in Norway.
Scenic views and spotting sea and mountain wildlife are my two primary desires.
Suggestions are encouraged for my Norway travel itinerary.
Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.
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