Traveling in Scandinavia is not as expensive as you might expect

By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, June 13, 2010

Who: Kathryn and Phil Phillips, 62 and 69 respectively, and daughter Cheyne, 28, of Fresno, Calif.

Where: Scandinavia

Why: Family vacation with a focus on culture, nature, shopping and relaxation

When: May 2011 for two weeks

Budget: $7,000

"My husband and I want our daughter to see as much of the world as possible. Travel is the best education. Sights, sounds, foods, cultures are what we want to experience."

Annika Benjes, director of public relations for the Swedish tourist board, would like to make one thing perfectly clear: "It's a myth that Stockholm is the most expensive city in Europe. Not true!"

And she's right; the Swedish capital didn't appear on any of the dozen or so priciest-cities-of-the-world lists that I checked, even going back several years. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of Oslo, Copenhagen and Helsinki, all of which make regular appearances in the Top 10.

In other words, while there are ways to economize on a trip to Scandinavia -- and we'll explore those -- it's important to realize that the place is simply not a budget travel destination. Which means that the Phillipses of Fresno, Calif., who want to visit Scandinavia together for two weeks next spring, have two options: They'll have to reduce their planned vacation time by half, going from two weeks to one. Or they'll have to increase their $7,000 travel budget by at least $1,000, and $2,000 if they want to stay in mid-price hotels or B&Bs with private baths, as well as have an occasional splurge. (On the bright side, they have a year to save up.)

Now that we've got the bad news out of the way, let's talk about how to make this trip happen.

Usually when faced with a budget challenge, I recommend booking an air-hotel package, because bundling airfare and lodging from a discounter is almost always cheaper than booking separately. With Scandinavia, not so much. Even the canned tours are expensive, especially those leaving from the West Coast. However, if you employ a little creative airline routing and have a willingness to embrace the region's network of affordable and clean hostels, guesthouses and B&Bs, you can save some serious money.

For example: One of the cheapest package tours I found on a quick Internet search was General Tours' seven-day "Classic Scandinavia," which visits Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki for a land price of $1,599 per person. The reservationist guessed that airfare would run about $1,500 per person from the West Coast, for a grand total of $9,297 for three people -- and that figure will most likely increase by next year. The price includes rail and ferry transportation, city tours and breakfasts, but you're on your own for lunch and dinner. Info: 800-221-2216, http://www.generaltours.com.

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