Planning a trip to the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia.

Duncan and Liz Brown had for many years held the dream for travelling Scandinavia in a motorhome / campervan with their dogs. This dream became reality in 2020 during the Covid-19 Pandemic when they undertook a 75-day 9,218 mile (14,835 km) adventure.

Planning for the trip commenced in the last quarter of 2019 and culminated with a Folkestone – Calais channel tunnel crossing being booked for the 25th March 2020.

Prior to making this booking Duncan and Liz obtained pet passports for their two dogs Storm (a male German Shepherd / Husky cross) and Freya (a female Northern Inuit – kennel name Machine Lady Artemis).

Storm and Freya

The dogs needed to be given anti-rabies vaccinations by an authorised veterinarian and it took circa one month for the passport to be issued (3 weeks of this time was for the vaccination to be effective). Please note that post Brexit, regulations have changed – if you are a UK citizen then check on https://www.gov.uk/. You can no longer use a pet passport issued in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) for travel to an EU country or Northern Ireland. If you are not from England, Wales and Scotland, you can still use a pet passport issued in an EU country or Northern Ireland.

Each pet will need:

  • – a microchip,
  • – a valid rabies vaccination,
  • – an animal health certificate unless you have a pet passport issued in an EU country or Northern Ireland,
  • – tapeworm treatment for dogs if you’re travelling directly to Finland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Norway or Malta,

Also verify in advance that the breed of your dog is allowed into the country – the list of banned breeds is greater in Norway that say the UK.

Duncan and Liz had researched the trip, reading various books on Scandinavia and travel blogs. This helped in planning a route. The route planned in 2019 is shown below, where the Øresund Bridge would be used to travel between Denmark and Sweden on both inbound and outbound journeys. The furthest point north was to be Slettnes Lighthouse on the Nordkinn Peninsula, which is the most northly mainland lighthouse on Earth. The duration planned for this trip was to be circa 3 months.

Planned route to the Arctic Circle

Unsure what the road conditions would be like in the Arctic, the plan was to reach Norway at the beginning of May. This was based on requirement in both Norland and Troms og Finnmark counties for tyre treads of 3mm minimum, reducing to 1.6mm in May. Duncan and Liz also took the precaution to procure both snow chains and snow socks for their vehicle; having on another trip, driven in Iceland in October in snow.

Key elements that Duncan and Liz deemed important were:

  • Having personal travel and vehicle breakdown insurance for the trip. Many insurers would not cover a trip of this duration; however, Red Pennant overseas travel insurance offered through the UK’s Caravan and Motorhome Club is specifically designed for trips of this type and duration. https://www.caravanclub.co.uk/
  • To procure a German emissions sticker for their vehicle. Since 2008, German cities can legally designate low-emission zones that only motorized vehicles with an emissions sticker are allowed to enter. Further details are available here.
  • To enter into agreement for an AutoPass tag. AutoPASS is the Norwegian system for collecting tolls road and ferry. It is owned by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration. All toll stations in Norway are automatic, with the exception of some ferries. You affix the toll chip to the front window of your vehicle and it gets automatically read as you enter a toll road / ferry. Furthermore, it can provide a discount of up to 20% on toll charges and the deposit for the toll chip reimbursed once it is returned. Further details are available here.
  • To have the vehicle serviced / inspected by motor vehicle technicians prior to departure. This will also most likely be a clause within vehicle breakdown insurance!
  • To verify that your debit / credit card provider does not charge for transaction fees for currency exchange or cash withdrawal when using another currency. If they do, then it is advised to search online and find providers that do not charge. Almost all transactions in Scandinavia are done via card, for instance vehicle fuel stations are generally unmanned, with the majority of fuel pumps having language translation facility integrated into them. However, some of these machines rejected some cards but accepted others. If you consider that the next fuel station could be a day’s drive.  Hence it is sensible to have more than one means of paying.
  • To verify the international roaming conditions for your mobile phone provider. Duncan and Liz found that the provider they used in 2020 covered them for 63 days as if they were in their native UK, after which they went onto a higher tariff. Post Brexit these conditions could change, so its worth verifying. It may prove cost effective to obtain a pay-as-you-go in advance and use that.
  • To install on your mobile phone a web-based language translation app, that will allow you to take photographs and translate them back to your native language. Duncan & Liz both used an app called Web Translator to do this. Not only could it translate signs, but if conversation was difficult, you could type text in your native language and get the app to translate it the language of the other person.
Web Translator App
  • To ensure that you have adequate maps for the entire journey. Duncan and Liz have used software-based maps on both mobile phone and tablet for many years. Their preferred choice is Guru Maps Pro https://gurumaps.app/. It works both on and offline, hence you can download country maps prior to your journey and operate without internet access using vector-based maps allowing you to zoom down to building level. It also supports turn by turn navigation, allows you to pre-plan and add your own ‘pins or bookmarks’ (with supporting text) to the map for places you want to visit. This is useful in pre-planning but Duncan also uses it to record where he takes photographs. You can also search for shops, fuel stations, public conveniences (WC’s), plus many more. Furthermore, when online you can display different type of maps other than vector maps, for example Landscape maps. The offline mapping is very useful when considering roaming charges!
  • To have a journey tracking app, recording the entire trip. Duncan and Liz chose PolarSteps https://www.polarsteps.com/. This allows not only for the journey to be tracked but also allows you to add pictures and also add a narrative, thus creating an online journey calendar as-you-go. You can also invite ‘followers’ so that family and family can follow you on your journey.
  • To install on your mobile phone nature identification apps. Duncan uses Merlin by TheCornellLab to identify birds https://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/, whilst Liz uses Flora Incognita to identify plants https://floraincognita.com/. Both apps allow photographs to be taken of the subject matter and will then ask questions such as where and when in order to provide you with a selection of the most suitable candidate(s).
  • To ensure that the vehicle was well stocked up with food for both themselves and the dogs. With the Covid-19 pandemic, Duncan and Liz wanted to isolate as much as they could and therefore reducing the frequency for replenishing supplies was one obvious way to do this. They had also been advised by others that had travelled in Scandinavia that the cost of food in Norway would be significantly higher than in the UK or Germany (circa 2½ more in 2020). Furthermore, they were uncertain how easy it would be to get hold of provisions in the Arctic Circle.

Duncan and Liz try to eat healthily and when travelling in their van they purchase fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese, milk, fish etc as and when the opportunity arises. When travelling they have meals that are easily prepared, such as salads; and when they cook, it is generally with a single pan. Their diet varies and can be cheese, meat, fish or vegetarian based. Typical food taken are tinned – kidney beans, chick peas, mixed pulse beans, tuna, stewing steak, corned beef; vacuum-packed – lentils, beans; couscous, noodles and microwave rice. The microwave-rice works well in a pan with stir-fry and chillies. Also, a wide variety of herbs, spices, stock cubes and sauce thickeners. Chorizo is also very versatile, since it can be added to a number of dishes for additional flavouring and it keeps well. UHT milk is always handy to have stored in case fresh milk is not readily available. For breakfast Duncan and Liz often have either cereal, fruit bread or pancakes. Lunches tend to be sandwiches; whilst the evening meal is much more substantial. In total Duncan and Liz filled a storage space of approximately one half of a cubic meter with food to take with them. On top of this they had 10 x 15kg sacks of dry hypoallergenic grain free dog food (white fish, sweet potato with vegetables).

Duncan and Liz also like to drink tea (preferably leaf), which is somewhat harder to source on continent. Hence, they ensured that they carried ample supply.

In their motorhome, Duncan and Liz carry a thermal cooker. To cook using this cooker, they prepare the food in a morning, bringing the pan to the boil, before transferring the pan from the stove and placing it in an extremely insulated holding vessel. They then continue their day, whilst the food continues to cook whilst serving as its own source of heat. In the evening, the food is usually fully cooked; however, on occasion it may need a minor amount of heat reapplying to finish it off. The thermal cooker is an exceptionally handy piece of equipment especially for stews.

Duncan also made some minor modification to the motorhome so that it would run on Gaslow LPG refillable bottles that could be refilled around the world, rather than the Calor Gas propane bottles that need to be removed and exchanged and are not readily available in Europe. Equipment was supplied by Aire Valley Gas Ltd. Duncan also installed the myLPG.eu app on his phone to assist in locating Autogas stations around Europe.

On 13 March 2020, Denmark closed its border in order to restrict the transmission of the Covid-19 virus. On 14 March Norway also closed its border. Duncan and Liz, decided to still pursue their travel plans, since they did not intend to enter Norway until May and things could change before then. Their contingency was to tour Germany and Sweden in the event that Norway remained closed. Duncan and Liz booked a ferry from Rostock, Germany to Trelleborg, Sweden for the 26 March 2020.

On the 17 March 2020, Duncan and Liz packed the van ready for setting off on 23 March. Other the supplies listed above, they also packed their inflatable SeaEagle canoe https://www.seaeagle.com/, bikes, clothes, bedding, wellington boots, walking shoes, books and magazines. The only items not loaded into the vehicle were perishable food, Duncan’s camera equipment, the dogs and of course Duncan and Liz.

On 18 March, it was announced that both France and Belgium would close its borders on 20 March, thus making it impossible to get to Germany. Hence Duncan and Liz decided not to cancel the trip, but to postpone it until the borders reopened. Hence, they pushed back the channel tunnel crossing / ferry from Rostock to Trelleborg by one month. They also pushed back the commencement date of their travel insurance.

The next blog will describe the first part of their adventure once they got off on the 7 July 2020, one day after the UK Government permitted European travel to recommence.

More information about touring in a motorhome / campervan and quidelines for wildcamping or freecamping is available here. The first part of the trip is described here.

Information about the areas to be visited can be found at the Visit Norway, Life in Norway, Visit Sweden, Schleswig-Holstein State Government and the Schleswig-Holstein tourism websites.

Photographs from the trip can be found on this website under the IMAGE CATALOGUE and also the PHOTO GALLERY.