It was a long weekend in France and we spent our time driving through the Western Norwegian Fjords and let me just stop right now to say that this region took my breath away (literally and figuratively, it was beautiful, but still quite cold!). Very often, I found myself standing in awe at the end of the cliff or the water, just looking out across the lake or up the mountain. Looking all the way up, you’ll see high clouds and the mountain covered in snow. Bringing your view downwards, you’ll follow a plethora of waterfalls cascading down the mountain, occasionally covered by some low hanging clouds. Follow the water down through the bush through the increasingly large trees, until you reach the bottom and can take your gaze across a beautiful shining lake or inlet (the Fjord!). Look slowly back up towards the top of the mountain and repeat until you feel as if you’ve taken it all in and have etched this image into your mind because a camera will never be able to capture the precise scene and feeling of this moment.
When you think Norway, maybe you think vikings or socialism or fish, but your wallet definitely clutches it’s stomach in pain, knowing it is not cheap to be up there. Lucky for us, we are frugal experts and we were able to keep our costs down by going “wild camping.” Fortunately, Norway allows people to wild camp on public lands as long as you don’t disturb the environment, or leave your trash around (and are far enough away from private settlements/private property, more on that later). Out of our four nights, we wild camped for two, and had a blast searching for secluded enough spots (with land flat enough for a tent) and spending time among Mother Nature.
We didn’t have a stove and didn’t make any fires (too wet!) so we resorted to making supermarket sandwiches and eating dinner at local restaurants and fast food joints. Since our trip was short, it worked out well and we made sure to stock up on supermarket snack for when we eventually got hungry. But be sure to pay attention to when places open and close, it can be very easy to lose track of time since the sun doesn’t move much in the sky.
Getting There: We flew from Paris to Amsterdam to Ålesund and didn’t want to pay for or bring a large suitcase so we packed our two carry-on trolleys full of camping gear and two smaller backpacks filled with sweaters, hats, and socks (among other clothing of course). Regarding camping gear, we went to Decathlon and bought a Quechua 3-person tent, two medium-warm sleeping bags, two self-inflatable mattresses, and two inflatable camping pillows (which we forgot to bring, oops), the total cost being around 100€, so not bad at all. Our only worry was whether airport security would approve of our tent poles going in the carry-ons. According to the United States TSA website, tent poles are not allowed since they could be used similar to a baseball bat, as a weapon, but had found conflicting information about European airport security.
We arrived at the airport well in advance, just in case our tent poles caused trouble, and while the security did give our bag a second look in the x-ray machine, we were all cleared without a problem.
Finding a Camping Spot
Our first night we spent at an official campground. We were arriving late and wanted to catch out our bearings, take showers, and not be stressed to find a good spot, plus we didn’t have a car just yet. Night number two was wild camping night number one. After a day full of driving and site seeing, we sat down at a burger place for dinner and started to scour google maps for potential places to check out. We had a rough idea of where we wanted to camp, but needed to find a spot that would work.
- At least 500 feet from the nearest dwelling (by law)
- Not private lands (by law)
- Somewhere we wouldn’t disturb the plants or environment (by law)
- Somewhere with nearby place we can leave the car
- Not too close to water or a cliff
- Somewhere flat
- Far enough from the road
At first, it sounds hard to satisfy this list, but we started by looking through Google Maps Street View for potential spots that would be worth checking out. The first spot we visited ended up being perfect, it was right next to a tunnel and there was even evidence of people being there before us (fire ring built, flattened grass). Plus there was a little space on the side of the road where we could park the car and a little walking trail to easily get to the spot.
Finding a wild camping site the next night was easier, but it took us a few extra tries until we found the perfect place. Originally we had found this hill overlooking the road with a semi- flat space, but decided we could do better. Just in case, we put a marker on the map and drove off continuing our search. The second spot we looked at was actually on top of a tunnel, but again there wasn’t much of a flat space except for the concrete area, which was also a little too close to the edge for our liking. The third spot we found was a no-brainer, another perfect spot! It was right on the water, though not too close, had signs of previous campers like fire rings and a log bench, and there was a good place nearby to park the car. It had plenty of flat space, hardly any cars traveling on the road in proximity, and a huge waterfall on the other side of the road, very peaceful.
Our last night in Norway was really only a half night. We cheated a bit and slept in the car in the parking lot outside the rental agency, before returning the keys and catching the bus to the airport (at 4am no less). At first, we were pretty nervous about finding good spots to do wild camping, but even after only two nights of searching and doing the wild camping, our eyes adjusted and we saw potential spots everywhere we drove!
My advice: When searching for wild camping spots, it’s best to try and find spots that seem to have been occupied before. The fire ring was a good indicator for us. Also try and search around, in front of, or on top of a tunnel, there are lots of forested areas next to the tunnels and many of them make for a good camping place. Google maps street view is also a good way to try and find potential spots. Try to find little walking paths or parking spaces along the road using street view and start your driving search there.
Cost of Trip
While it still wasn’t a cheap weekend, we saved a ton of money by renting a car, driving around the fjord areas, then camping at night. We only took 3 ferries, and avoided all the toll roads (thanks Google!). We had wanted to do more hiking, but it was overall too wet and rainy and we didn’t have the best shoes for those conditions. Stopping at viewpoints, driving around the Fjords and lakes, and taking the lesser known roads (with equally amazing views) was entertaining enough.
Flights – 200€ RT per person between Paris and Ålesund
Car rental for 3 days (incl young driver fee) – 126€
Gas – 92€ for ~54 liters
Camping site first night – 18€
Wild camping – free!
Grocery store food and snacks ~ 6€ per meal
Fast food/restaurant dinner – 11-15€ per meal
Ferries – 11-22€ per boat (we took 3: 11€, 13€, 22€)
Parking in a national park for the day – 5€
Bus between airport and city – 10€ per person per ride
Hopefully this can give you an estimate of how to budget. We expected food to cost a little bit more, but we found the prices at basic restaurants and fast food not too high or inflated, so we opted to eat a warm dinner somewhere as opposed to strictly only eating supermarket food. We had expected more toll roads as well, but according to our map there were only 3 places with tolls in effect (Near Olso is a way different story). We were able to avoid the tolls and limit our number of ferries.
My last piece of advice is to not plan out every single road of your trip and instead be a bit daring and take random roads that look nice. Some of our best views were because we decided to drive down whatever road just a little bit longer. Plus, those roads have less cars on them and it’s easier to drive!