When people go on a package tour to Sweden, there seems to be a pre-set itinerary: they tend to go to Stockholm with an excursion to Uppsala thrown in, and then they make for Dalecarlia to celebrate midsummer in traditional fashion. Midsummer not being an option, they may go on a day-trip to the archipelago outside Stockholm. And while Stockholm is fine, Uppsala has Sweden’s oldest university, and going on a boat tour is always nice, this does seem a bit of a pity – there is so much else to explore. So why not skip the package tour (at least the second time round), get a cheap flight to the middle of nowhere (that’s the airport for cheap flights, Skavsta – but it has train and bus connections to the rest of the country) and an Interrail pass valid for one country (Sweden in this case) and set out to explore the Swedish countryside.
Sweden is unique in that its forests and lakes are open to everyone. This is called “Allemansrätten”, the “Everyman’s Right” and means that no forest owner can object to your wandering on their land or swimming and canoeing on their lakes and rivers if that’s what you like. It means you can pitch your tent anywhere you like for one night, provided you don’t put it up too near a private dwelling and provided you leave no garbage on the site. You can pick berries and flowers in the woods as much as you like – though of course not protected species.
What you cannot do is fishing – for this you have to purchase a fisher´s permit at the relevant municipality – and cutting down trees or tearing off branches, but why would you do that anyway? Collecting firewood is OK, but lighting a fire might be forbidden if it’s a dry summer. Check with the locals near where you want to stay! With a lightweight tent and sleeping bag you can stay where you like and not pay a penny – and should you decide this is too much wildlife and nature after all, there are cheap camping grounds in any larger village. Failing that, no farmer will object to your camping near their house for safety, if you ask nicely.
Now, you’re all set for participation in local summer life. Swimming in a lake and having a picnic on the beach is Sweden’s summer enjoyment number one. Sweden is dotted with lakes large and small, and almost all of them have some kind of beach. People just love to spend the summer by their favorite lake, even if it’s the size of a puddle – and the water is most un-puddly and clean. So join the crowds or find a more secluded space of your own, you are entitled to it according to Everyman’s Right – there are no private beaches. This means that you may use what very obviously is someone’s own summer house beach – but make sure it is not within sight of the house (that is considered trespassing) and don’t moor a boat there. If the owner is there, you should ask permission out of politeness, not because you have to.
Stop by a Tourist Information office in the nearest sizable town (in Sweden that means about 5.000 inhabitants) and get a map over the local hiking itineraries if you want to get deep into forests and pass between grazing cattle, walk through small villages with the traditional red houses and stop to buy your lunch in the village shop (modern and supermarket style, but can be rather small). You will also get a list of local sights: certainly there will be an old church and most often an outdoor museum with some old houses of the area brought together and readied for visitors.
This, you may object, is all very well for a fine and sunny summer, but what if the rain pours down, as one often hears it does? Wet tent, wet sleeping bag, wet trails…no need to go to a lake for water. Be flexible – there are other cities than Stockholm and Uppsala in Sweden! Use your train pass to get to them, and go to the local Tourist Office. This is a most helpful institution, where you may get help to rent a cabin (having a cabin or “small summer house” is a national trait in Sweden, and they are often up for rent for a week or two in summer) or to get a bed in a hostel. Explore the town dressed in the rain jacket you brought (or bought) – and should it turn out that there is nothing much to look at, try the local library while waiting for better weather. You’ll be able to surf the Internet for free, and there will be books in English (for kids as well). The local indoors pool might provide your children with some fun. And if the rain looks like it might continue for ages – so what? With your Interrail pass you will get back to Stockholm and its museums in no time at all.