Five Tips for Planning A Successful Trip to Norway (Or Anywhere!)

My decision to travel to Norway this year came so suddenly it was a surprise even to myself. Being one quarter Norwegian, thanks to my grandpa Floyd Gunderson, I have thought that, someday, I would like to see what some recent internet articles have called “The Most Beautiful Country on Earth”, but no realistic plan had ever materialized. The conversation that led me to finally go happened in February, or maybe it was early March. I had just, maybe a week prior, booked one “trip of a lifetime” to Mexico, for April (See my earlier posts under the category “Sea of Cortez”). I was talking to my brother and he said, “You know, you should meet up with us in Norway in June…” or something like that. The rest is a blur, but I probably explained that I already had a big trip planned this year, most likely couldn’t do Norway also, etc. I went home, looked at airfare for Norway, saw that it was expensive, as my brother had already warned me. I thought about NOT going for a few hours, realized I would regret it FOREVER if I missed a chance to visit my ancestral homeland with family, went back to my airfare search, clicked a button and it was done. Technology makes it too easy to make irresponsible decisions, doesn’t it?? To further nail it down, I sent a quick email to my brother, along the lines of, “I did it!” thereby further discouraging any idea I may have had about changing my mind. Just in case you’re wondering, no, I was NOT financially prepared for such a trip and put the entire thing on a credit card. As a result, I will have to tighten the belt until it is paid off, but in hindsight it was totally worth it. The lesson here? Never miss once in a lifetime opportunities, even if two different ones come along at once, since by definition they won’t come around again!

Aside from general good luck, there were several things I did that helped my first ever trip to Norway go smoothly, in spite of a travel delay, going through customs in a foreign airport, and an unusually (for me) complex itinerary:

Norway 23 June – 3 July
23 June Arrive in Bergen
24 June Travel to the Lofotens
28 June Return to Bergen
30 June Travel to Flåm
1 July Return to Bergen
3 July Depart Bergen for home

 

From what I learned planning and packing for this trip, I have come up with the following tips to help you plan YOUR next adventure.

Tip #1: Do your research!

The internet is FANTASTIC for this. This is a resource that has only become available during my lifetime, so I have a full appreciation for this miracle of modern technology. Looking for something to read over morning coffee? Google “Things to see in (insert destination)”, “History of (insert city name)”, or “Shopping in (insert city name)”. Watch YouTube videos about local culture. Load a language app on your phone. Even if English is widely spoken, as it is in Norway, it is so appreciated when you can at least say hello, please and thank you in their primary language!

Talk to other people who’ve been there. In my case, I received a hot tip (Thanks Phoebe!) about “Norway in a Nutshell” (NIN), a highly customizable way to travel the country and see areas outside of the city limits. You can even add activities to your NIN itinerary, which is how I got to kayak the fjord in Flåm and take a fjord cruise up the Næøryfjord, but I’ll be writing more about that in the coming weeks. Be sure to subscribe on this site so you don’t miss anything!

Tip #2: Check the weather before you pack, then check it again, then check it one more time.

I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again, and I’ll keep saying it: Always, always, always check the weather report for your destination, for places you’ll pass through on the way, and possibly for when you return home. A good extended weather report for your destination will certainly help you pack wisely. My trip to Norway involved at least 2, maybe 3 distinct, drastically different kinds of weather. Bergen was a chilly 55F and raining when I arrived, but sunny and around 70F when I returned to Bergen 5 days later. The Lofoten Islands, north of the Arctic Circle, had daytime temps in the upper 40sF and raining with one day in the 50sF with sun. Flåm was the warmest at 80F and sunny!

The range in temperatures made travelling lightly (carry-on only) a bit challenging. I followed my new packing rules (See my post,  2018 – The Year of Travelling Lightly): one main color (I picked purple with some articles in neutral shades of beige and brown), and one of each cut of clothing (short pants, long pants, long sleeves, short sleeves, tank top). I took one pair of comfortable shoes for walking around town, hiking boots for walking around the rugged Lofotens, and water sandals for showering and kayaking in Flåm . I added under layers and an outer layer in the form of a water repellant ski shell without the bulkier liner. On a hot day, I could wear shorts, sandals and short sleeves or tank. On the coldest days in the Lofotens, I could layer up to a full under layer, long pants, wool hiking socks, t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, and my ski shell. I used slim packing cubes to sort into outfits and compress everything. It all fit into my 55L Osprey Farpoint backpack with some extra room for souvenirs. I also added an empty cloth tote bag just in case I over-shopped. After this 10 day trip, with its wide range of weather, I cannot imagine a more challenging packing scenario (for one person). Having accomplished it, carry-on only, I feel confident that I’ll be able to take on any trip with very light luggage in tow, which brings us to the next tip:

TIP #3: Travel LIGHTLY, carry-on only if at all possible!

Finally the day of my departure came, 22 June, and I was on my way! Or so I thought. In reality, I was stuck for a couple of hours at my home airport due to bad weather. I very nearly missed the connection to my transatlantic flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam and had a couple of hours to try to decide whether to rebook on a later flight out of Atlanta. I decided to stay the course and run for the connection. This is where I realized a major benefit of travelling carry-on only: If I had checked a bag, it would have been removed from the plane in Atlanta, and I would have had to deal with tracking that down and rechecking to whatever alternative flight I chose. All other available alternatives were hours later or the next day. Having a checked bag, would have meant that I was limited to the few flights where the point of entry to Europe allowed 1 ½ to 2 hours to pick up my checked bag, clear Customs and make the next flight on the way to Bergen. That could have cost me, not only the night in a comfortable bed when I finally got to Norway, possibly on the 24th instead of the 23rd as planned, but I might have missed the flight on the 24th for the next leg of my trip, Bergen to Leknes. That would have cost precious time in the Lofotens, where I was meeting up with my brother’s crew for 4 days that promised to be the highlight of the trip! Thankfully, I did make it to my original flight in Atlanta, but everything was a little less stressful without the added considerations of checked baggage. Once I arrived, there was the added benefit of time saved getting out of the airport, since I wouldn’t have to wait with the crowds next to the baggage carousel for my luggage to (hopefully) appear. Lastly, keeping luggage to one or two carry-able pieces made it so much easier to get from the airport to the hotel. If I had arrived too early for check in, my backpack wouldn’t have made it too difficult to do some sightseeing or stop at a café on the way. A larger suitcase, that I would have had to check, would have made everything more difficult.

Tip #4: Talk to the locals!

I openly admit to being an introvert under normal conditions. On this big, adventurous, mostly solo trip, I wanted to experience and learn as much about Norwegian culture as possible in such a short time. One of the ways I did this was to be open to conversations with people I met. Norway is a great place to do this. The people are very friendly, yet somewhat reserved, which somehow made me feel less reserved myself. I don’t know how to describe it except to say that I felt that the conversation would only go as far as I wanted it to, no further. Therefore, I felt safe starting conversations, asking directions, asking for recommendations. For some people this comes naturally, for the rest of us who have to make more of an effort, I highly recommend doing so!

My first experience of this in Norway was on my arrival in Bergen. I knew I wanted to take the train, but didn’t see where to find the terminal. I almost boarded the airport busses headed to the general area of my hotel, just to avoid asking where to catch the train. Trains were preferable to me because a) I had already researched which train stop I wanted to go to and how to get to my hotel from that stop (see Tip#1 above); and b) I don’t get motion sick on trains the way I tend to on busses. I finally forced myself to ask, and not only did the kind woman tell me where to catch the train, she also provided me a map of the city, which she marked with relevant train stops and my hotel location, and described to me some landmarks to look for when walking to the hotel!

TIP #5: Bring snacks!

02:30am snack attack!

Obviously snacks from home will save money at the airport, as will a refillable water bottle, so bring both. Additionally, I realized some other good reasons to have snacks in your bag, jet lag being one. Jet lag will confuse your body in several ways. Most people will think of the sleep problem: When should I start sleeping on the new schedule? Before I leave? On the plane? Personally, I try to stay awake as long as possible and sleep as close to the new schedule as my body will allow. If I want to sleep “off schedule” though, I do it. It’s a vacation after all, and if you can’t take a nap on vacation, when can you?! On my first night in Norway though, jet lag struck in an unexpected way. I woke up at 2:30 in the morning, STARVING. The hunger pangs were so intense I couldn’t go back to sleep. Since I had 3 more flights that would take me the rest of the way to the Lofotens starting the next morning, I didn’t want to lose a lot of sleep. There was no place open at that time of night, and the hotel did not have vending machines. Breakfast was included, but would not be for another 4 or 5 hours. Thankfully I’d had the foresight to pack some protein bars and a large bag of plain almonds in my backpack. There was an electric kettle in the room for heating water and instant decaf coffee. I drank some water, had a cup of decaf, and ate a protein bar and was able to go back to sleep pretty quickly. Even though they came in handy in this unexpected way, in the middle of the night when no other options were available, the actual reason I had packed snacks was that I had read how expensive it is to dine out in Norway. That turned out to be true when it came to restaurants. Grocery stores were also more expensive than in the U. S. but far more affordable than restaurants, and I frequented them often. The snacks I brought along ended up saving me even more money that was better spent shopping and touring.

 

To quickly sum up:

Tip #1: Do your research!

Tip #2: Check the weather before you pack, then check it again, then check it one more time.

TIP #3: Travel LIGHTLY, carry-on only if at all possible!

Tip #4: Talk to the locals!

TIP #5: Bring snacks!

In the weeks to come, I will be describing all the best places I stayed, ate, shopped, and toured in Norway, along with plenty of pictures and tales of adventure. Be sure to subscribe and stay tuned!

 

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