It’s been 2 weeks since my trip to Sweden, so it’s time to sit back and write down those memorable experiences of the very first European country I have ever visited. This post is divided into 3 sections: VISA preparation, Trip planning, and Personal Experiences. The first section is geographical-dependent, namely Singapore, but I believe it’s still applicable in other countries.
When writing this post, what I had in mind is not a mere tourism guide that is indistinguishable from those similar thousands of blog posts you can find on the internet, but also did I want to give you an idea, a starting point for a first-time traveller to plan your first trip abroad.
Sweden is a member state of Schengen, thus you have to apply for Schengen VISA to be granted access to this country. This wonderful blog post covers most of the essential information you need to know before applying for Schengen VISA in Singapore. After having a brief idea of what to do, you just simply click on VFS Global’s website, choose the corresponding country and travelling purpose, then follow their instruction to prepare the required document.
From my own experience, you should book an appointment at least 1 month prior to the actual flight; despite VFS’s quick proceeding, which takes 4 to 5 working days, the most time-consuming step is booking due to the shortage of available appointment slots, especially in summer. The staffs there are very nice. If you come earlier than your scheduled time, in my case 30 minutes, they still ask me to pick a queue number and process as usual. Anything that you can prepare at home, personal photo or printed document, for instance, should be done at home. Nevertheless, you should save five extra 1-SGD coins just in case, for example, to ask them to send an SMS message when the application is done. All printed or scanned-related document must be in A4 paper, and one-sided.
Last but not least, you have to show a proof of registration of flight/health insurance/accommodation according to the VISA checklist. Essentially, this shows that you had a proper plan in the visiting country, but you are not advised to officially book them, which means paying in full price before the VISA result comes out. One can use popular service such as Trip Advisor to get a free itinerary, as explained in detail here. I completely want to avoid such potentially complicated things, hence entrusting VISA Reservation to handle all three, with a fee of 145 USD in total. Their team communicates effectively and sends you a result within 24 hours, with a modifiable itinerary if you changed your mind later on.
Congratulation on your successful VISA application! Now let’s get ready for the fun part.
General Strategy – It is usual to feeling lost in the first place. My strategy is googling a general plan, such as “What to do in Sweden”, or “Travel guide from Singapore to Sweden”, then from there narrowing to specific pieces of information that I care about. The following bolded keywords are what I think of when planning a trip.
Flight – Often do I take into account 4 main factors to decide a flight: nearby airports to your area of interest, convenience in travelling from the airport to your place, the airfare, and the duration of the flight. One usually pick price as the highest priority, but trust me, a 24-hour flight is not comfortable at all, and a transit shorter than 1.5 hours probably increment the risk that you will miss the next flight. I choose Stockholm as my particular place of interest, hence proceed to choose Arlanda (ARN) as the airport to arrive at and the economical flight of EMIRATES Airline with one transit in Dubai.
You can have the following websites under your radar to look for the cheapest flight: Momono (my German friend’s favourite), Skyscanner, Kayak, PriceBreaker, and Google Flight. For some reason, Google Flight is not available in Singapore.
To avoid the hassle, I contact to a booking service (STA Travel) in person 2 months prior to the VISA application to keep an eye on the most economical and direct flight for me. If this were a business trip, I suggest arriving 1 day earlier to have time to recover after the long flight. You might ask how long the duration of stay should be; as a traveller who prefers sightseeing to other entertainment activities, if planned carefully, I can visit most tourist attractions within 4 days, in Stockholm particularly.
One last side note for one who is unfamiliar with aeroplanes: you can do online check-in 48 to 24 hours before boarding time. This gives you two main advantages: joins in a shorter queue when check-in at the airport and occasionally allowed to choose your seat.
Accommodation – Initially I ask STA Travel to handle this as well, but they no longer have low-budget hotels on their side. Alternative options are Airbnb, Trip Advisor, Traveloka etc… You can find an interesting comparison list of different hotel booking services here. However, I use Google Map to direct to my area of interest and click on a hotel symbol in the lower left corner of the screen, which shows you the locations and prices of nearby hotels.
According to a well-known rumour, no matter which way you know of the hotel, contact them directly will always result in the best deal. Besides, free wifi now becomes a basic needs so you don’t need to use it as a factor to filter out hotel. I opt for Good Morning+ Hägersten hotel, which is located not too far from the downtown, affordable prices, morning buffet, together with public transport to the city.
Transportation – Public transportations in European countries are well-developed. On the other hand, it is extremely expensive. Unless you confidently walk every day, which fortunately applicable in Stockholm, the optimized way of travelling here is buying a 24-hour or 78-hour ticket to use for train, tram, bus, and also some boats.
It has 2 forms, a paper ticket, or SL card (with a price of an extra 20 SEK) that can be topped up automatically via the machine in front of the access gate in the station. To use a tram, you need to scan it on a digital machine before jumping in. If you cannot find it, there will be a staff scans your ticket manually on the tram. Note that, for whatever public transportation, you only need to use the ticket when coming in, and simply walk out without scanning it again. Open sesame!
There are also hop-on-hop-off buses and boats that you can buy a 1-day ticket to travel around the city. One can easily find them with the same title on their front and both sides. This in combination with the Stockholm Pass, is a good way for tourists who are passionate about museums and palaces to make the best use of their time to explore these places.
There is no set upper bound of taxi price here, so it’s better to ask the driver before jumping in the car. Uber has not much-discounted price but is a good baseline for you to compare with.
Clothes – I came to Sweden in July, which is the second hottest month of the year so you can expect the weather is as warm as tropical countries like Vietnam or Singapore. Yet, it seems this year the weather behaves weirdly with no rain, plenty of forest fires, and flood in the subway.
Food – My original plan did not take into account food, except for the Kajsas fisk in Hötorgshallen market, hence I have to endure overpriced food, which varies from 80 (street food) to 300 SEK per meal. In fact, people preferably cook themselves rather eating outside due to this reason. I myself cannot cook, so my point here is that if you have to eat fancily, choose the representatives to try instead a random choice at last minute. Another option is checking the size of the dish, cause in a Kebab restaurant I visited, it is enough for even 3 people to share.
Payment method – Sweden is a cashless country, so you must have a VISA/Master card to make payment. Remember to set up Allow Card’s Magnetic Stripe for Overseas Use for your bank account. Strangely, sometimes my DBS card does not work at the train stations or convenience stores, so it is advisable to bring about 1000 SEK in those circumstances.
Cheap – Should I have thought of this before, the price at stores in the suburb is way lower than in the central. I only found out about this precious news on the last day.
For your record, here is my own plan after 5 hours of doing research on the internet.
It comes as no surprise that no matter how careful and detailed your plan is, there is an unaccounted factor that you cannot foreshadow. This section discusses the two sides of this coin: how to mitigate the risk in trip planning, and its wonderful side-effect that I found of.
The first thing to do when arriving at the airport is buying a SIM card. The power of the internet is unlimited: navigating, looking for restaurants, dialling friends- you name it, the simple act of opening an app can mostly solve. However, this comes as a price that your phone’s battery will run out, hence the solution is a power bank. In my opinion, a 10000 mAh does suffice and allowed to store in carry-on baggage. You, therefore, need to check Sweden’s standard plug if it matches your current use or not and prepare a corresponding “plug converter” and a voltage converter (110 V to 220 V).
If you do not travel alone, save a day for sharing moments and you might amaze by the experience a random walk can bring to you. By this way, I discovered a Viking restaurant where they pin a hunter’s knife on your bill, or held a “stone-skipping” competition with my colleagues on the peaceful river to the north of Skansen. How cool is that!
To be honest, I tend to be away from my initial plan due to various reasons, and I minimally feel guilty about it. I skipped the afternoon for an unintended performance in the Stockholm Concert Hall. I spent hours in Science-Fiction bookstore in Gamla Stan to admire their amazing collection of wonderful toys. I gave up my museum day when found out I overslept in the Vasa museum, and instead roaming the far west to look for the 48-flavour ice cream shop Glasshus.
This is a brief instruction guide of how to plan your first trip abroad, Sweden in particular. I hope that you find this post helpful and I welcome for any construtive comments to make it better.
Have a nice trip 😉