There’s nothing like sitting down to a meal of exactly what you’ve been craving all day long. When traveling, I feel the same way about the area’s famed local cuisine. It’s always a cultural experience to eat what you’ve been hearing so many good things about. Unfortunately, acting on impulse like that will bankrupt a hungry traveler quite quickly. No matter what size your budget is, the less you indulge, the more ground you can cover.
Some may find it a little painful to avoid restaurants and feel they are missing out on the cultural experience by opting out on local cuisine. I’ve found that it’s quite the opposite. Making friends with the locals can lead to dinner invitations. Buying groceries in the country you’re living in is also just as culturally relevant. It’s perfectly possible for eating-in to be affordably delicious. All it takes is a little forethought and these few tips.
1. Budgeting - I can’t emphasize enough that you need a budget for food, and really any category, when traveling. It’s so easy to be peer-pressured into spending an expensive night out on the town. I recommend building some of these nights into your budget before you leave. After you arrive, you should carry out a scouting mission to see which grocery shops are the most affordable. Maybe walk through, pick up some essentials, and note the prices of everything else. It took me about two weeks to create a list that fit the same budget that I had for groceries in the U.S.
2. Minimalist Meals - Sometimes simple meals are the best meals. You can taste every ingredient that went into the meal and appreciate the alchemy involved. If you want to appreciate minimalist meals, I recommend one-bowl eating, as seen on the great blog Miss Minimalist. One-bowl eating is the perfect combination of frugality, tastiness, and zen. For some super-minimalist meals that are quite healthy, check out the One Dollar Diet Project.
3. Waste Not - Wasting food is a cardinal sin when living on a tight traveler’s budget. I try not to buy groceries until I’ve made every possible type of meal I can think of with the items that take longer to go through or expire (don’t let things expire!). This is usually a very creative and fun process, especially when I’m running low on everything. An amazing tool for not wasting food is My Fridge Food. One simply checks the food items they have off the list on the home page and clicks “search for recipes.”
4. Potluck - This works well among the student community but it’s also a great way make new friends and to exchange cultures through food. You’re not the only one living on a tight budget. Find some other travelers and pool some of your food together for a little more variety in life.
The Swedish Exclusive on Food
Scandinavia as a whole has a reputation for being the most expensive region on earth. Unfortunately, I have not found any evidence to prove this accusation otherwise. While there are gems to be discovered in Sweden, such as incredibly cheap and fashionable clothing, you will need a budget if you’re serious about living in the land of the Vikings.
Food will probably be the interested wanderer’s largest expense, second only to accommodation. Lunch at a kebab stand can cost as much as $10, depending how big you like your kebabs. And yes, alcohol is included in the food category. Unless a good beer is as important to you as it is to me, I suggest avoiding alcohol altogether. It’s worth noting that a beer in a restaurant can set you back as much as $8.
Sweden has a rich cuisine that is becoming more and more popular throughout Europe, and is more varied than the stereotypical meatballs, potatoes, and herring. The easiest way to experience it is to go to a café or restaurant. This is also the most expensive way.
A really great (and inexpensive) way to experience the food is to make some Swedish friends and have a potluck with them. Try your hand at making a Swedish dish, or maybe even cook something from your own country. Sweden is a very multicultural country and international dinners are commonly organized by different organizations in certain cities.
As mentioned before, alcohol is not cheap. I guarantee you will kick yourself every time you order it in a restaurant. Sweden is similar to some U.S. states in that they have a government-operated store, called the Systembolaget, in which beer, wine, and spirits are sold. Prices are less crazy here and the selection is okay. It’s no surprise that there are mixed feelings towards the Systembolaget, or as it’s officially known in English, Sweden’s Alcohol Monopoly. Unfortunately it’s the only place you will find alcohol anywhere close to the prices in the U.S.
I have been living in Lund, Sweden for about two weeks now, and have utilized about every type of transportation available to man, apart from boats and rocket ships. I used a plane to get here obviously, the bus occasionally, I’ve had a couple of car rides, walked several miles, have taken trains to other towns, and my new bike has already seen some wear.
My focus in this post is on the marriage of minimalism and practicality when it comes to getting around. I look for a method that is low-impact, cost-efficient and does not abuse my time.
All of these methods have their merits and their downfalls, and they are each dependent on one’s location and personal situation. Different countries (and different cities, for that matter) have different levels of infrastructure, so it’s difficult to write a post that is all-inclusive to anywhere in the world. Expect a huge USA/Sweden bias.
Millions of people worldwide journey to the bus stop everyday. It is, if carried out correctly by the city, an efficient and dependable way to travel. Sweden’s public transportation is among the best in the world. The buses are ALWAYS on time, and you can purchase a ticket simply by walking on with your electronic bus pass. Most of them use either biodiesel or ethanol for fuel. In fact, Sweden has the largest ethanol fleet in the world.
Of course, you have to pay for all these goodies. It’s generally between $3 - $6 to various places in Lund if you don’t have a pass. This is opposed to the free bus system at my home university, however unreliable that it was. It could be worth at least having a pass handy for those mornings you wake up to a torrential downpour.
As bad for the environment as they are, cars are probably the most comfortable way to get around town. You can decide on your own schedule, have your personal space, avoid the sometimes true stigma of public transportation…but at what cost? Gas prices have been consistently getting worse throughout my short life, to the point where going to the pump can sometimes ruin a morning that was going well.
Carpooling is a great way to have the convenience, split the fuel costs, and alleviate some of the environmental impact. If you want to look at extremely cheap and efficient carpooling on a massive scale, check out Zip Car.
The bike: exercise, transportation, and adventure, all in one. It is a great way to see the city and I guarantee you’ll know how to get anywhere in town after spending a day lost and aimless on a bike (especially if it’s raining). Commuting by cycle is very sustainable because the only environmental impact is from the materials that went into its production. Oddly enough, you also might be able to get where you need to go more quickly than if you commute by bus or car. You can easily maneuver where other vehicles cannot.
The amount of pleasure one can get from biking around town really depends on the bike-friendliness of the town. Honestly, I think almost any other country in the world is more bike-friendly than the US. In many parts of South America, India, and Southeast Asia it is the primary form of personal transportation. In Europe, it is accepted for it’s convenience and sustainability. Haters aside, I think bicycles are the perfect combination of mobility and sustainability, while also quickly paying for themselves by avoiding bus fares and painful gas prices.
We can’t forget good old-fashioned walking. The only costs involved go toward being fully-clothed in accordance to the law.
Well, I’m currently sitting outside a cafe in Lund enjoying the wonderfully mild Swedish summer. I told a friend last week that I was completely numb to the fact that I was leaving the country for five months because there have been so many preparations to finally get to my seat at this cafe. It’s finally hitting me and I’m ready for the adventure ahead, and I’m even more ready to write about it and pass on the things I have learned from experience to future wanderers.
When it comes to living somewhere long-term, the first obstacle that can really be nerve-wracking is finding a place to live. One has to worry about cost, location, roommates, utilities…it quickly becomes a daunting task in which one mistake has the potential to drain a significant amount of your funds.
As a study abroad student, I had the easy option of university housing to take advantage of. However, I was put on the waiting list almost as soon as I was accepted to Lund University. I decided that having prepackaged, expensive housing handed to me was no fun anyway, and it would be a better cultural experience to find housing elsewhere on my own. Below I’ll describe the different options I weighed and list some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
1. Couch Surfing - Couch Surfing is an online network of travelers seeking and hosting accommodation free of charge. Engagements can last anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks. When you become a member, you are able to designate on your profile if you are currently able to host guests or not. This is probably not a permanent solution for living somewhere else for a long period of time. However, it is possible to go from couch to couch, or go couchsurfing, in the same area.
Advantages: Free, great cultural experience, great selection of locations, make international friends.
Disadvantages: Not a permanent solution for extended stay, lack of personal space.
2. Global Freeloaders - The website Global Freeloaders offers a great service that is super convenient while simultaneously showing us just how far globalization has progressed. Basically it is Couch Surfing on steroids. The concept is the same with the exception that you must leave yourself open for incoming travelers in order to be a member and take advantage of the network. It is also possible to find entire bedrooms for free instead of couches. Think of it as a foreign exchange program without having to go to school or paying a dime.
Advantages: Free, great cultural experience, make international friends, a lot of space.
Disadvantages: You have to list your residence as a possibility for incoming travelers in order to join.
3. Hosteling - When it comes to Europe, hosteling is definitely a past time for travelers. It’s a good way to find accommodation on the fly, and you are usually in the thick of it, very close to the city center. Unfortunately it is not a sustainable way to live as it gets expensive very quickly. Some establishments will not let you stay over a certain amount of days either.
Advantages: Close to the action, exchange info with other travelers.
Disadvantages: Expensive, short-term, bedbugs.
4. Classifieds - For any given location, there is usually at least one classifieds website where you can post an ad notifying the community that you are looking for housing. Usually you will be paying rent and utilities if you choose this option, but the accommodations will be of a higher quality than those above. Of course, this option has a high potential for scammers, so don’t be naive and read everything.
Advantages: Lot’s of space, plenty of options, a good base-camp for your stuff if you want to travel lightly to surrounding areas.
Disadvantages: Potential scams, down payments to hold the room before you get there, more expensive.
I ended up posting an ad on a classifieds website in Lund asking for a “couch” or a “walk-in closet.” The housing crisis here is bad so I wasn’t going to be picky. A Swede responded to me and offered her living room, with all amenities included, to me for only 3000 kr, which is way cheaper than university housing. I have a comfortable bed, and the room is bigger than my bedroom in my apartment in the States!
This just goes to show you that you should definitely weigh as many options as possible when looking for long-term accommodation. Don’t be picky and throw your expectations out the window. If you’re a real traveler, you won’t be spending much time in your room anyway!