Svalbard, Norway On A Budget

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.

Norwegian Couple Gets Married At The North Pole

I’ve heard of lavish destination weddings before but this story pretty much tops them all. Earlier this week a Norwegian couple was married at the North Pole. The handsome groom and his blushing bride, dressed in traditional clothing, were joined by a small group of their closest friends at the top of the world. The 30-minute ceremony was performed by a Lutheran minister under a makeshift cross constructed out of skis and a celebration followed the nuptials.

For most people getting married at the North Pole would sound absurd but in this case it makes perfect sense. The groom was none other than Borge Ousland, one of the most experienced arctic explorers in the world today. Ousland has visited both the North and South Pole on expeditions in the past and even conceived of the idea of getting married at 90°N while on just such a journey. Lucky for him, his new bride, Hege, was up for the adventure as well.

The couple and their guests made their way to the Pole via the Barneo Ice Station, a temporary base of operations that is built each spring to facilitate travel in the Arctic. They flew to the base aboard a Russian An-74 aircraft that is equipped to land on the ice and were shuttled the rest of the distance to the Pole by helicopter.Once the ceremony was complete, the wedding party celebrated with music, dinner and dancing. But not unlike weddings that take place anywhere else on the planet, this one had a wedding crasher as well. British explorer Mark Wood completed his North Pole expedition just as the revelry was getting into full swing and it must have been a surreal moment for him to reach the finish line only to be greeted with singing and champagne.

After a few hours out on the ice, the wedding party loaded up into the helicopter and returned to Barneo where they spent the night before heading home to Norway. I’m sure they had some fantastic stories to share with friends and family upon their return.

[Photo courtesy Borge Ousland]

Explorer Mark Wood reaches South Pole, completes first half of journey

Back in November, we told you about British adventurer Mark Wood, who was preparing to set out on an epic adventure. Mark was hoping to become the first person to make back-to-back journeys to the North and South Pole on foot, and at the time he was getting ready to travel to Antarctica to start his expedition. Fast forward a few months, and Wood has now reached the South Pole, successfully completing the first phase of his journey.

Last Monday, after 50 days on the ice, Wood officially reached the bottom of the world – 90º South. That was pretty much exactly on schedule for what he had predicted, which is remarkable considering he had to deal with challenging surface conditions, unpredictable weather, equipment failures, and whiteout conditions for much of the way. All told, Wood covered about 680 miles on skis, all the while towing a sled laden with his gear and supplies.

Despite the fact that it has now been more than a week since he completed his journey, Mark remains stranded at a research station located near the Pole. Bad weather has prevented a plane from coming to pick him up, although conditions are expected to improve this week. When they do, he’ll get airlifted back to Chile, where he’ll take some time to reorganize his gear, and recuperate, before immediately flying off to Canada to start the next phase of the expedition.

While skiing to the South Pole is an impressive accomplishment, traveling to the North Pole is considerably more challenging. The journey will be similar in that Wood will go on skis, once again pulling his sled behind him, but while the Antarctic is ice formed over solid ground, the Arctic consists of giant slabs of ice floating on top of an ocean. As a result, Wood will face much more unstable ground and will have to navigate around or across large areas of open water. That open water has become much more prevalent in open years thanks to global climate change.
Because the ice floats on top of the Arctic Ocean, he’ll also have to deal with the frustrating natural phenomenon known as negative drift as well. This is a condition that actually causes polar explorers to loose ground – even as they travel north – due to the shifting of the ice. It is not uncommon for someone traveling through the arctic to spend all day skiing northward, only to stop for the night, and wake the next day to find that they’re actually further away from the Pole than they were when they went to sleep. It can be very disheartening for the explorers, who sometimes describe the feeling as much like being on treadmill.

The presence of polar bears is another hazard that Arctic explorers must be aware of as well. While those traveling to the South Pole seldom, if ever, encounter any other forms of life, those going to the North must be ever vigilant for bears. Because of this, most skiers add a shotgun to their gear list before setting out, hoping that they won’t have to use it along the way. Polar bears are the largest land carnivores on the planet, and they have been known to stalk humans traveling through the Arctic, bringing yet another element of danger to an already challenging journey.

Mark’s accomplishment of reaching the South Pole on on skis is indeed an impressive one, and while he has now technically completed the first half of his expedition, it’ll only get tougher from here. The North Pole trek is expected to take roughly 65 days to complete, and will be another test of endurance and determination.

Explorer to make back-to-back journey to North and South Pole

British adventurer Mark Wood is currently in Punta Arenas, Chile where he is preparing to start an epic journey. If all goes as planned, later this week, Mark will fly to the Antarctic, where he’ll begin a four-month odyssey that will take him to both the North and South Poles back-toback. While he certainly won’t be the first person to visit those two remote places, he does hope to become the first to make consecutive journeys to the opposite ends of the Earth.

Weather permitting, the first stage of the expedition will begin on Wednesday, when Wood will start his solo and unassisted trek to the South Pole. That leg of the journey is expected to take roughly 50 days to complete and will cover approximately 680 miles of ice and snow. Upon arriving at his destination, Wood will be picked up by plane and shuttled back to Chile, where he’ll immediately set off for Canada to start the second stage of the expedition. That will entail crossing another 700 miles of ice, over an estimated 65 day period, culminating with his arrival at the North Pole. If he is successful, he’ll then be plucked from the ice once again, and flown directly to an environmental conference that will focus on the effects of climate change.

In order to reach the two Poles, Wood will travel on skis, dragging a sled behind him. That sled will be weighted down with his gear, food, and other supplies, enabling him to survive for weeks on end, by himself, without any outside assistance. While on the trail, he’ll burn in excess of 8000 calories per day, enduring bitterly cold temperatures, whiteout conditions, and treacherous terrain.
Wood is making this journey to raise awareness of the impact of climate change on our planet and he is asking for support from others to help him achieve his goal. But rather than looking for monetary donations, Mark is instead asking for others to pledge to do some simple environmental actions that will cumulatively amount to a savings 100,000 kilograms of CO2. You can find out more about this program, and pledge your support, on the expedition’s DoNation page.

It will be a tremendous display of strength and endurance if Wood is able to pull this off. Spending 115 nearly-consecutive days in polar environments, alone no less, will take its toll on anyone. Additionally, the changes to our planet have made it increasingly more difficult to travel by foot to the North Pole, so he’ll have to have a bit of luck on his side for that to happen as well. Still, you have to applaud his ambitions and wish him the best along the way.

[Photo courtesy of Mark Wood]

Swedish explorer hopes to go Pole2Pole in one year

Earlier this week, Swedish explorer Johan Ernst Nilson set out on an ambitious, 12-month long journey that will see him travel from the North Pole to the South Pole in a completely carbon neutral manner. The so called Pole2Pole will use skis, dogsleds, sailboats, and a bike to accomplish its goals.

This past Tuesday, Nilson was shuttled by helicopter to the North Pole, where he embarked on his epic journey that will see him traveling south for the next year. He’ll start by skiing across the frozen Arctic Ocean to Greenland, where he’ll use a dogsled that to carry him to Thule Airbase on the northwest side of the country. Once there, he’ll climb aboard a sailboat and cross the North Atlantic to Ottawa, Canada, where he’ll get on a bike and ride to Tierra del Fuego, Chile at the far end of South America. Once he has completed the cycling leg of the journey, he’ll get back in his sailboat and sail across the Southern Ocean for Antarctica, where he hopes to kite-ski to the South Pole, arriving before April 5th, 2012.

When he’s done, Nilson will have traveled nearly 23,000 miles, averaging roughly 63 miles per day, without using a single bit of fossil fuel himself. The same can’t be said about his support team and the documentary crew that will be following him around. They’ll be outfitted with cars from Audi, the major sponsor of the expedition. The auto manufacturer aided Nilson by helping to design and build a new lightweight sled that he’ll be using to pull his gear behind him while in the polar regions of the journey.

This is going to be one difficult journey to make in a single year, and traveling in the Antarctic after January is always a dicey proposition. Nilson has his work cut out for him for sure, but it will certainly be an amazing accomplishment if he can pull it off.