O$lo on a Budget
By Rick Steves
Norway is expensive. With vacation budgets tight, you'll need to hone your budget skills. One solution: Travel off-season and take public transit everywhere you go. Smart travelers catch the shuttle train from Oslo's airport to downtown. It goes 100 miles per hour with a departure every 10 minutes, zipping non-stop to the Oslo Central Station — an easy walk from most hotels.
One time, I drove to see my cousin outside of Oslo. It took an hour of searching and finally I hired a cab ($20) to lead me there. Upon arrival, she pointed to a tram threading through the forest, which had left from near my hotel. It would have taken 20 minutes and stopped right at her doorstep, costing $3 and saving a lot of stress.
A great way to get the most out of every minute of your experience in Europe is to hire a private guide, sharing the expense with three or four travelers. With a group, a private guide costs no more than a typical half-day bus tour. Anywhere in Europe, a picnic in the hotel room makes sense. Yesterday, I had tasty little carrots, caviar spread on thick crunchy Norwegian crackers, and apple juice for $6, with plenty of leftovers to snack on later. Up here in Scandinavia, where the taxes on restaurant-served food and drink are so high, locals buy their beer in the grocery store. They drink at the harbor or at home with friends.
Tonight I ate at a pasta restaurant in a bright, busy mall as local shoppers passed by my table. In the States, most of us order soda with every meal, but the heavily taxed Norwegians know how to stretch their cash. Out of 20 diners, all but three had only tap water — which even costs money — to drink. For a budget meal, try the daily specials in mom-and-pop restaurants, rather than the big emporiums with neon signs that brag "We speak English and accept Visa cards."
Best of all, search out the authentic local experience, often much cheaper than a packaged performance for tourists. We can always enjoy exploring our world. Don't travel less, just cut corners smartly.