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COVID-19

How to travel around Sweden safely during the coronavirus outbreak

After months of being asked to avoid all non-essential travel, it will soon be possible to go wherever you like within the country, as long as you keep following other guidelines. Here's a look at how to do that safely.

How to travel around Sweden safely during the coronavirus outbreak
Dreaming of getting away this summer? Here's a look at your options. Photo: Jessica Gow / TT

The guidelines

From June 13th, it will be possible to travel within Sweden as long as you do not have any cold- or flu-like symptoms and you also follow the other recommendations in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus. That includes limiting social contacts, keeping distance from others in public, and maintaining good hand hygiene for example.

On June 11th, the Public Health Agency said that people should walk, cycle, or use other means of transport than public transport during the summer if at all possible. The agency said that travel with public transport where you can't book a seat, such as buses, underground trains, and some local trains, “should be avoided”.

So if you do need to use public transport, look for an option that gives you a fixed seat and make sure you'll still be able to follow the guidance around social distancing. 

The guidance may change in response to the situation in the summer, but you can keep updated by following The Local and the Swedish Public Health Agency. If you do choose to travel within the country, you have several options.

Flights

If you travel with SAS, face masks are compulsory on all flights. The airline is currently operating a number of domestic routes, including to and from Stockholm, Malmö, Gothenburg, Kalmar, Skellefteå and Luleå. See an up-to-date list of flights in operation here.

If you have a flight booked and want to cancel, you can rebook without a fee if you booked before March 4th and your departure date is before August 16th. If your flight is cancelled, you are always entitled to an alternative flight or full refund. Read more about how the coronavirus is affecting SAS flights here.

Swedish airline BRA was very hard hit by the economic effects of the outbreak, and has no flights at all until after summer, when there will be a more limited schedule than previously.

Over the summer, it is working with travel company Amapola to offer flights within Sweden from Stockholm's Bromma airport to Malmö, Gothenburg, Visby, Ängelholm or Halmstad between June 15th and August 9th, and customers with a ticket voucher from BRA can rebook with Amapola. Amapola also offers other flights, including to and from Stockholm's Arlanda airport.


An empty airport terminal in Stockholm. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Trains

There are a few different train companies that traffic different stretches in Sweden, but the largest rail operator is SJ. If you're planning extensive travel within Sweden, it may be worth your while to buy a 15-day or 30-day pass, which start at 3,295 kronor for 15 days with discounts for students, under-26s and pensioners.

From July 1st, it will be possible to book adjacent seats on SJ trains for passengers travelling together, something which isn't currently possible (although you can ask train staff to sit together after boarding). You should still keep a distance from other passengers on board, and SJ will not be filling trains to the usual capacity. 

If you develop symptoms and are unable to travel on your planned date, SJ allows fee-free cancellation. You can read about SJ's efforts to reduce the spread of infection, and train cancellations, here.

MTRX, another alternative for travel between Stockholm and Gothenburg, also introduced measures due to the coronavirus, but be aware that many of these change from June 14th. For journeys with departure up until June 14th, you can cancel up to 48 hours beforehand and receive a voucher for the equivalent amount, and all new bookings with departure up until June 14th include a free seat next to you, meaning you won't be sitting next to a stranger.

MTRX hasn't yet announced any measures for after June 14th, but you can read more about how they're responding to the virus outbreak here.

Snälltåget has cancelled its overnight Malmö-Berlin train until June 15th, and is currently offering free rebooking of all tickets bought before May 13th. You need to rebook at least 24 days before departure in most cases, and seven days before hand if you had booked a cabin.

Trains will also not be filled to capacity to help passengers keep their distance and seat bookings have been spread out through carriages. Keep up to date on the company's coronavirus measures here.

The Inlandsbanan, a tourist train offering slow travel options and package tours from Kristinehamn in the south of Sweden up to Gällivare in the north beyond the Arctic Circle. It only operates during the summer and in 2020 has postponed the season start to July 6th due to the pandemic, while journeys into Norway are cancelled until at least July 15th.

If your pre-booked trip is cancelled, you'll receive a full refund or re-booking, but most of the company's tours are set to run as normal. Read more about the company's response to the outbreak here.

Photo: Jörgen Svendsen/Scanpix/TT
 

Ferries

Tallink Silja has opened up a new route from Stockholm to Visby, Gotland via Mariehamn. The company will not allow boats to be filled to their capacity of 2,500, taking a maximum of 1,000 passengers only. All their international routes are currently cancelled for tourists, although some remain open for necessary travel. Read more about their coronavirus guidelines.

Viking Line is allowing booking for ferries from Stockholm to Visby from July, although its June departures are cancelled, as are all its international routes for tourism purposes. It is also running cruises from Stockholm into the archipelago, although onboard services such as the restaurant and entertainment are limited. The company is also offering free cancellation cover at the moment. Read more about their coronavirus guidelines here.

Car hire

Travelling by car means that the risk of infection is lower, and there are several car companies in Sweden including OKQ8Avis, EuropCar, Hertz, and Enterprise.

To further reduce the risk of infection, look for a company that offers contactless car pick-up and drop-off. For example, EuropCar allows you to book online, has masks and gloves for staff at its stations, and sanitises cars, keys, and equipment like child seats between use, and OKQ8 has also increased cleaning and allows free cancellation up to 24 hours before pick-up.

Local transport

If you're staying within your region this summer, you may still want to get out of your neighbourhood. Check with your region's transport operator if they have their own recommendations or changes to timetables due to the coronavirus, and don't forget their may be planned renovation works to contend with too — summer is a popular time for these due to the lower numbers of commuters.

In Stockholm, transport operator SL still asks passengers to avoid travelling with them unless absolutely essential, and especially to avoid rush hour. Read their guidelines here.

One of the main companies which operates ferries to the archipelago islands, Waxholmsbolaget, is operated by SL so the recommendation to make only essential journeys applies for these boats too. Capacity on the boats is limited in order to ensure social distancing, and the crew may deny boarding to other passengers if the boats get too full, or if you are showing symptoms of illness.

In Skåne, there are also changes although there's no general recommendation to avoid travel, except during rush hour. Up until June 14th, Skånetrafiken is offering a 7-day ticket to help people who usually get longer travel passes but are facing uncertainty. The company has also launched a live map where you can not only see where buses and trains are, but also how many seats are filled on each one.

The region also wants to promote travel within Skåne, which has so far been much less affected by the virus than other densely populated parts of Sweden. You can buy a summer ticket for 699 kronor, which can be used on trips within the region between June 15th and August 15th, on all routes run by Skånetrafiken. 

In Västra Götaland, Västtrafik has asked everyone to avoid non-essential journeys between 6am-8.30am and 3pm-6pm as well as avoiding all non-essential trips to the archipelago. Each week, the company also shares a list of the lines and stops which have been most crowded, to help passengers plan their journeys. Read more about their guidelines here.

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DRIVING

What’s it like driving from Scandinavia to the UK with a young family?

With the cost of airline tickets increasingly discouraging, is driving from Scandinavia to the UK becoming a more attractive option? The Local Denmark editor Michael Barrett gave it a try.

What’s it like driving from Scandinavia to the UK with a young family?

This summer has seen the return of large-scale international travel after a couple of Covid-hit years that have not been a picnic for anyone.

While the end of restrictions came as a relief, severe delays and disruptions at airports have added a new uncertainty around travel in 2022.

Scandinavia has not been an exception to this, with strikes at Scandinavian airline SAS and delays at Copenhagen and other airports among the problems faced by the sector.

Additionally, the increasing price of airline tickets in a time when inflation is hitting living costs across the board has become another factor discouraging air travel.

Finally, there’s the impact of air travel on climate to be considered. So is there an alternative?

The plan

Unlike colleagues who have made long distance journeys from France and Sweden respectively by rail, our plan was to make the trip from our home in Denmark to the UK by car.

There are a few reasons we picked this less climate-friendly option. I’ll readily admit they were driven (no pun intended) by our own needs, and not those of the planet. I hope we can offset this by using the train more than the car for longer journeys within Denmark, where costs are competitive.

Once we decided not to take our usual Ryanair flight, we only really considered driving. This is primarily because we have a toddler (age two), and felt we that on such a long journey, the ability to control the timing and length of our stops would be crucial.

Secondly, the route would have taken longer and been more difficult logistically by rail, and would also have cost more. For example, we arrived at Harwich International Port late on a weekday evening, from where onward travel was to rural Suffolk. The thought of doing this on multiple local rail (possibly bus) services with a tired two-year-old makes me shudder a bit.

The route

From our home in central Denmark, we set out on a Monday morning and drove south on the E45 motorway, crossing the German border and continuing past Hamburg. We then got on to the A1 Autobahn and made for Bremen, where we stopped overnight.

Travelling non-stop, this journey takes just under four hours. It took us around five and a half. We stopped twice and were caught in traffic at Hamburg, where there is lot of construction going on around the city’s ring road.

Leaving early (just after 6am) the following day, we drove southwest and crossed the border into the Netherlands after a brief stop, but then managed to complete the journey to the port town Hook of Holland without a further break.

Our ferry from Hook of Holland to Harwich was due to leave at 2:15pm and check-in time was an hour before that. This was the only deadline we had on our journey that would have been problematic to miss, so we gave ourselves plenty of time for the drive from Bremen. We arrived in Hook of Holland at around 11:30am.

Next was a six-hour ferry crossing to the East Anglian coast. We booked a cabin – they are inexpensive on daytime crossings – which gave us a chance to relax after the drive and our daughter a comfortable spot for her afternoon nap.

After a queue at customs in Harwich which took around 45 minutes, we were driving through the Essex countryside just before 9pm local time. The final drive to our destination took an hour and a half.

What went right

It’s not the most relevant information for anyone considering a similar trip, but I have to mention our car. A 2003 VW Polo we bought two years ago that has never had any mechanical issues, I was nevertheless braced for possible problems given its age (and ensured I had roadside assistance for outside of Denmark, more detail on this below).

However, there was not so much as a hint of an issue of any kind at any point during the 900 kilometres it covered on the journey, nor on the way home. Respect.

Our plan to split the trip into two days paid off. I think you could do it in one day (there are also overnight ferries) if you shared the driving and needed less flexibility. For us, knowing we could take long breaks if we needed them took a lot of stress out of the journey and allowed us to adapt as we went along to our toddler’s needs – changing nappies, finding a service station playground or stopping for an ice cream.

Stopping overnight also gave us the chance to see some new places (we switched things up on the way back and stayed in Groningen in the north of the Netherlands, instead of Bremen) and gave us a feeling of being on our own little bonus holiday.

What went wrong

In all, things went as well as we possibly could have hoped for and our conclusion after we got back home was that we’d like to travel this way again.

We were stopped by traffic police in Groningen city centre because I failed to understand signs showing we were entering a public transport-only zone. The officers who stopped us then offered to escort us to our accommodation a few streets away.

The ferry, operated by Stena Lines, had far less to do on board than we’d imagined there would be on a six-hour voyage. Two tiny off-duty shops, a cinema showing a superhero film and a minuscule play area (which our daughter nevertheless enjoyed) were about the extent of it. We hadn’t downloaded any films ourselves or brought much entertainment with us from the car, so we got a bit bored during the crossing. This is hardly a serious gripe and an easy one to rectify on the return trip.

The practical stuff 

Roadside assistance is obviously crucial for a journey like this, and it’s also important to double check your insurance is valid once you leave the country in which your car is registered and insured – Denmark, in our case.

Foreign authorities can check your insurance is valid. You can document this with the International Motor Insurance or “Green” card, which serves as proof you have motor insurance when you drive outside of the EU (you don’t need it within the EU).

This means that (in theory) you can be asked to present it in the UK. We weren’t asked for it.

The Green Card can be printed via your insurance company’s website. You’ll need your MitID or NemID secure login to access the platform and print off your document. Here is an example of the relevant page on the website of insurance company Tryg. If you can’t find the right section on your insurance company’s website, contact them by phone.

A number of Danish companies specialise in roadside assistance, including Falck and SOS Dansk Autohjælp. You can also include roadside assistance as part of your motor insurance package. We have the latter option, but in either case, I’d recommend calling your provider to make sure you are covered for breakdown in the EU and non-EU countries like the UK (if that’s where you’re going). Obviously, you should add such cover to your existing deal if you don’t have it, or change to a different deal.

The company which operates the ferry from Hook of Holland to Harwich is Stena Line. Both directions have daytime and overnight departures.

There is a range of prices, and I couldn’t cover all the options here if I tried. However, I’d recommend a cabin on the daytime departures, because it’s inexpensive and gives you a bit of personal space and privacy, which is useful with children.

After calculating what our approximate fuel costs would be, the price of the hotel stays and ferry tickets, we found that the trip cost around 1,500 kroner more than we would have paid to fly from Billund Airport to London Stansted with checked-in baggage with Ryanair on the same dates. In return, we could take as much luggage as we want with us (and back), we got to see Bremen and Groningen and had our own car with us in the UK. This was more than worth the additional expense.

I also spent 50 kroner on a “DK” sticker for the tailgate of the car (because the car is so old it predates the EU number plates that include the country code) and 70 kroner for some headlight stickers which prevent full beam headlamps from dazzling oncoming drivers when you are driving on the left in the UK.

As I busily fixed them onto my car as we waited to disembark the ferry, however, a lorry driver parked next to us said these were, in fact, entirely unnecessary.

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