It’s impossible to travel to Svalbard on a budget according to an orthodox definition of budget travel. The standard shoestring repertoire (student train passes, cheap fast food or street food, sleeping in train stations or parks) is next to impossible to carry out in this arctic Norwegian territory.
You could come to Svalbard with your own gear and attempt to camp in the wilderness, but the supplies you’d need to survive would exceed your garden-variety tent and basic provisioning by a mile. You’d need to shell out a lot of money in advance to obtain the appropriate gear, and you’d also need to rent a rifle on the island as protection against a possible polar bear attack.
In short, Svalbard is simply too expensive to be a budget destination. It’s a territory, after all, of Norway, a rich country with high taxes. In addition, Svalbard is very remote, and consumer goods have to be shipped in at great cost. That relatively cheap supermarket yogurt on the mainland? Not quite so cheap on Svalbard.
While there is no question that the territory is not a budget destination, it can be finessed at a fraction of the average daily tourist spend. Here are five tips for keeping costs reasonable.1. First of all, don’t discount the truly exotic, exciting things that are absolutely free to observe: the landscape; wandering reindeer, wary but clearly not terrified of humans; the cultural center Kulturhuset; the gallery and art and handicrafts center in Nybyen; and the remains of earlier mining activities strewn about Longyearbyen.
2. Stay at Gjestehuset 102 in Nybyen, just up the hill from Longyearbyen. Double rooms begin at 750 NOK ($125) October-February and 890 NOK ($149) the rest of the year; dorm rooms begin at 300 NOK ($50) per bed in low season and 320 NOK ($54) in high season. The guesthouse is a lively place, with an interesting smattering of guests – extreme skiers, wildlife photographers, scientists, friends and family of residents and average tourists. The nightly rate includes breakfast. Another inexpensive option is Mary Ann’s Polarigg, with rates comparable to 102’s rates. There’s also a campsite, Longyearbyen Camping, open March through September. It charges between 100 NOK ($17) and 150 NOK ($25) per night per person.
3. Shop at the supermarket for food. Barring that, eat dinner early. Huset, the territory’s top restaurant, operates a casual cafe that offers an early-bird special. It costs just 96 NOK ($16), a mind-bogglingly inexpensive amount in these parts. It’s an all-you-can-eat situation to boot, which makes it an even better deal.
4. Book a relatively inexpensive tour. An informative city tour by taxi takes in most of Longyearbyen’s highlights. Booked through 102’s tour arm Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions, it costs 275 NOK ($46). Before winter and well into the spring there’s the thrilling option of an ice cave tour for 730 NOK ($122), also booked through Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions. The tour involves climbing a glacier in snowshoes and rappelling into a narrow ice cave.
5. Drink beer. This won’t actually save you money, but it’s surprising and noteworthy how cheap alcoholic drinks are on Svalbard. Norway’s sky-high alcohol taxes don’t apply here. As a result a single beer in Longyearbyen is about half the price of a single beer in Oslo.