Monday, January 29, 2018

Top 7 Swedish Travel Hacks

If you are planning a trip to Sweden, here are my top tips for a smooth, economical trip.

1.  Free Lockers

I was pleasantly surprised that throughout Stockholm, free lockers appeared to be everywhere.  This certainly makes decision making a little easier in terms of whether or not to carry a daypack.  So, feel free to pack those snacks, cameras, and water bottles.  The museum or attraction you visit will most likely have a locker that you can stash them in for free!

2.  Debit/Credit Card Usage

I tried to book admission to one particular museum, and train tickets online and ran into difficulty.  It turns out that some (but not all) companies will not allow you to make purchases online using a non-Scandinavian issued debit or credit card.  So, if you seem to be unable to check out when purchasing some sort of fare online, that is likely the reason why.  Don't be too concerned though; you shouldn't have any problems taking care of these reservations and payments in person.  Additionally, be sure to know your PINN for any chipped cards you have to ensure smooth credit/debit card usage.

3.  24 Hour Transit Tickets

In the United States, we're accustomed to purchasing an "all day" fare on public transportation and having it run out at midnight.  This is not the case in Sweden.  A 24-hour ticket is exactly that!  In an age where time is money, this can save you both.  Side note: This same hack applies to the Stockholm Pass.  The number of hours listed on the pass genuinely reflect just that: the number of hours you can use it.

4.  Free Museums

There are many free museums in Stockholm.  So, if you have partial days or days without the Stockholm Pass, they don't have to be expensive to provide a rich cultural experience.  A visit to the local visitor's center will provide you with maps and lists of museums, attractions, and their associated fares.  You'll be surprised by how many of them are free.

5.  Alcohol

Alcohol is terribly expensive in Sweden.  So, if your tastes are somewhat eclectic, you will certainly save money by choosing beer over wine.  Wine is pretty much always imported and spendier, but there is a fair amount of beer that is made locally.  While it still isn't cheap, it is entirely less expensive than wine or other spirits.  Additionally, grocery stores sell beer relatively inexpensively.  So, you can always make a purchase for your hotel room.

6.  Cell Phone Charges

In order to avoid international charges on your cell phone (especially if you don't have an international plan), simply turn off your cell phone data.  This means you are only going to use your phone for internet purposes when you are able to connect to wifi in your hotel or another business.  Alternately, take a look at your roaming options and make sure that it is all turned off.

7.  Directions

Google is pretty amazing.  Even if you turn off your cell phone data, you can still use Google Maps to give you directions. Just pop into a local coffee shop for a beverage and hop on their wifi.  Once connected, you can initiate your route using the Google Maps App.  The app will continue to give you directions even when you become out of range of your wifi signal.  The app isn't entirely perfect, and occasionally makes mistakes, but for the most part, it works pretty well.

Are there any other Swedish travel hacks that you've tried and recommend?  If so, leave them in the comments below.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Stockholm Pass: Day #1

After a relaxing and completely satisfying traditional Scandinavian breakfast in our hotel, we made our way on foot to City Hall to catch a Hop-on Hop-off bus.  In Stockholm, City Hall is one of the first stops on the route.  You should know that the Hop-on Hop-off buses don't start until 10 AM, and they are very full in the mornings.  From City Hall, you may still get a seat, but perhaps not from stops further down the line.  It is also worth mentioning that there are multiple companies that run Hop-on Hop-off buses, not all of which are usable with a Stockholm Pass. This can be fairly confusing.

We rode the bus to the Hop-on Hop-off boat dock, which is conveniently located right next to the tour, and proceeded to a Hop-on Hop-off boat to the Vasa Museum. The Vasa Museum is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Stockholm.  If I should visit Stockholm 12 more times in my life, I would still visit the Vasa each and every time.  It is truly special.  The Vasa Museum features an authentic Viking ship which set sail on August 10, 1628, and sank in the Stockholm harbor where it lived until 1961 when it was rescued from the sea after a 333-year slumber.  It was then reconstructed and preserved in this 6 level museum.  The Vasa is truly a mesmerizing mark of Viking grandeur and extraordinary craftsmanship.  We happen to arrive just before the start of one of several tours performed in English.
ticket booth for all of the boat tours.  We quickly acquired tickets for an afternoon

After the Vasa, we made our way to Junibacken, a children's museum just next door.  Those traveling with children will want to plan enough time to take advantage of their considerable offerings.  For us, it was a quick trip to see a childhood favorite:  the Pippi Longstocking exhibit.  The Pippi Longstocking exhibit is a complete reconstruction of her house from the beloved series.

At this point, we needed to make our way back to the area we had just come from so as to be on time for our boat tour.  The boat tours originate in the same area the tickets were purchased.  Unfortunately, taking the Hop-on Hop-off boat would take too long to cycle back to that stop, so we took the 7 tram (streetcar) back to the waterfront. Upon arrival, we realized we had just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat and save ourselves some money on lunch by taking advantage of the outdoor dining kiosk right across the street from the ticket booth.  They serve modest fare: burgers, fries, ice cream, and the like.  While unexciting, we found it to be a quick and economical option.  Our priorities lie more in having a nice dinner as a splurge and saving
on breakfasts and lunches where possible.

There are a great number of boat tours in Stockholm.  They all vary in length, sights featured, and
amenities offered. We opted for the Archipelago Boat Tour to Vaxholm.  This is one of the lengthier tours, taking 3 hours to complete (1 1/2 hours in each direction).  The same basic tour exists under two names:  Vaxholm and Archipelago.   You can opt to get off at Vaxholm, and re-board later.  Many people like to make a day trip of it, go shopping, etc.  We opted to stay on board. This is a fairly classy cruise on a beautiful Yacht, where many other boat tours take place on board much more modest vessels.  This Yacht features a rather nice restaurant, where you can opt to be seated for a nice full-service meal.  We opted to enjoy the lower deck, seating ourselves in the bar area, where we enjoyed some Pimms and beers.  This tour also features a guide person, as opposed to a pre-recorded guide.  The tour guide provides anecdotes in both English and Swedish so as to provide further cultural and historical insight regarding the sights along the way.

After the lovely late afternoon tour, we decided to take the tour guide's recommendation for the best seafood in Stockholm.   I generally prefer a vegan diet, but when I travel, I occasionally like to try something that is both local and traditional.  On those occasions, I aim for the best.  In this situation, the best is to be found at Stockholm Fisk, located just a few blocks from the central train station.  Stockholm Fisk is a classy, yet relaxing atmosphere, and well worth the splurge.  We tried the daily special of Red Fish with horseradish and potatoes and the highly recommended Perch.  Side note: for those of you watching your figures, don't skip the bread basket.  I assure you.  It's worth it!

Full of fish and culture, we leisurely made our way back to our hotel to plan for Day 2 of our pass.

Where we saved money:

  • Stockholm Pass:  Junibaken Museum, Vasa Museum, Hop-on Hop-off bus and boat, and Vaxholm Boat Tour (no additional charge beyond the pass)
  • Breakfast at the hotel (free)
  • Public Transit:  24 hour unlimited pass
  • Lunch at the outdoor kiosk/cafe

Where we splurged:

  • Nice dinner at Stockholm Fisk

Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 Travel Year in Review

Life is a journey with certain mile-markers lighting the way.   On the final day of the year, I frequently like to take a timeout to consider the road I traveled since January 1st.  In my travel life, this year has been amazing.

It started in February with a trip to the Oregon Coast with my partner and a few of our best friends to celebrate a rather monumental milestone in one of our lives.  One of the group had just received her first cancer-free report one month before her 50th birthday.  We celebrated with a beach house rental, shopping at the local outlets, and an ocean-side seafood dinner.

In April, I spent some time in North Dakota with my family.  I was immersed in Mid-west farm culture, visiting livestock auctions, prairie churches, and some good hometown, North Dakota hotdish!  For those of you who've never experienced a North Dakota hotdish, you're missing out!

In May, We visited the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon for a Wedding.  We stayed downtown, and spent time in the Pearl District, and visited the famed VooDoo Doughnuts, and Portland Saturday Market.

With summer, came international travel, where we flew to Stockholm, Sweden.  We toured museums, Viking ships, and indulged in the best food Scandinavia had to offer.  We took the train across Sweden to Trollhatten to meet my Swedish family.  After a week in Sweden, we visited Iceland for the first time, taking advantage of Reykjavik's annual Culture Day, and relaxing at the world-renowned Blue Lagoon.

This fall, we found ourselves in Indianapolis for yet another wedding.  Much to our surprise, we found a secret foodie heaven lurking in the great Midwest.  Who says there's no such thing as hidden treasure?!

As for the road ahead?  I'm not sure where 2018 will lead us...  Stay tuned to find out!