The Cost of Visiting the Edge of the World

Reindeer pizza, camping on the tundra, and more

The Golden Compass

It’s not every day that someone asks you to visit the northernmost destination in the world. So when a friend of mine invited me to join him on a trip to Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago 800 miles south of the North Pole, I couldn’t refuse.

Here’s what the five-day trip cost me.

Airplane ticket: $611.52 round-trip from Berlin. I’m lucky to live relatively close to Svalbard. The airline did not charge for bags.

Lodging: $141.55. My friend and I opted to go camping on the tundra rather than stay in a hotel. We rented a tent and sleeping bags for a bit under $35 / night per person.

This ended up being the best decision of the trip. Our campsite was a bit outside the main town of Longyearbyen (pop. 2,144) and had a much better view than any of the hotels.

The sun never sets during the Arctic summer. Does that make my trip ten days instead of five?

Food and drinks: $132.50. Everything in Svalbard is expensive, particularly meals. Since I was camping and had a free checked bag, I packed enough food for a polar expedition and this helped me save a substantial amount of money.

I did eat out a few times. I couldn’t resist a reindeer pizza ($23.12) or a burger and fries ($21.91). Alcohol isn’t taxed in Svalbard so it’s price is reasonable. I drank few beers each night ($7.30 each)and did a whisky tasting ($35.20).

Excursions: $245.72. There’s not much to do in Svalbard unless you leave town. There are no roads and a gun is required at all times to protect against polar bears.

I normally visit budget destinations. This trip was the exception.

I took a nine-hour boat trip to see a glacier and the abandoned Soviet mining settlement of Pyramiden ($176.00). I also saw three whales on the way. Lunch was included. Coffee was not ($2.43 per cup).

I also took an eight-hour guided hike to the summit of Nordenskjøldtoppen, a 3,000-foot mountain ($60.00).

I usually don’t pay for guides when I travel, but I found it both necessary and worth it in Svalbard

Other expenses: $43.00. I spent a bit of leftover Norwegian kronor on souvenirs ($13.00). I also took a taxi twice to avoid the 40-minute walk from my campsite to town ($15.00 each time).

Total cost of the trip: $1,174.29

I normally seek out budget destinations when traveling, and this trip was completely unplanned. At a bit under $250 per day including airfare, however, I think I made out alright considering I went to the Arctic.

Svalbard on a map. (TUBS / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)