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TRAIN TRAVEL

How to travel dirt-cheap by train and bus in Sweden this summer

If you want to tour Sweden's countryside this summer, one of the cheapest and greenest ways to do it is by taking advantage of one of the special summer tickets sold by regional travel companies.

How to travel dirt-cheap by train and bus in Sweden this summer
Travelling by train can be one of the best ways to see the Swedish countryside. Photo: Tina Axelsson/imagebank.sweden.se

For adults, the best deals are those offered in Skåne, Halland, and Blekinge in southern Sweden. Holders of these regions’ summer tickets can travel unlimited on public transport from the start of June until mid-August, for just over 700 kronor for each region. 

Västra Götaland, Uppsala, and Kalmar also offer summer cards for adults, but they are fairly stingy in comparison. 

Stockholm, and the nearby regions of Sörmland and Västmanland, also offer summer tickets, but only for those under the age of 19. 

Here’s the low down on what’s on offer: 

Stockholm 

SL, Stockholm’s regional traffic operator, is this year giving out cards to anyone born between 2004 and 2010, which gives them free travel on SL’s trains, buses and underground throughout the school summer holidays. 

The cards, which will be sent out to young people’s addresses in the last week of May or the first week of June, are valid until August 31st. 

Brothers and sisters of those with cards can travel with them, so long as they are under the age of seven. The cards are not valid on ferries out to the Stockholm archipelago run by Waxholmsbolaget. 

Sadly, SL has no special summer offers for those born before 2004. 

Gothenburg

Västtrafik, which operates trains, buses and boats in Västra Götaland, the region around Gothenburg, offers a one-month summer card, which gives holders access to all train, bus and ferry traffic in the region and also in Kungsbacka municipality (which is in Halland, despite being a suburb of Gothenburg). 

You can buy the ticket between June 15th and July 31st, and it costs 815 kronor for adults and 610 kronor for a youth ticket. 

Västtrafik says that the ticket gives access to “three zones for the price of one”. 

Skåne

Skåne has arguably the best deal in Sweden, perhaps influenced by the generous summer tickets available across the Öresund in Denmark

This year’s ticket is valid from June 15th to August 15th, costs 749 kronor, and can be used on trains and buses operated by Skånetrafiken (but not by SJ) all over the region. 

The ticket will go on sale from June 1st, and can be bought on the Skånetrafiken app, on its website, at a ticket machine at a station, or at one of the company’s travel centres. You can either have a paper ticket, have it loaded onto a Skånekort travel card, or have it on the Skånetrafiken app on your phone. 

Three people can travel on one summer ticket, but only one of them can be over 20. 

The tickets can also be lent out using the app, by simply filling in the telephone number of the person you are lending it to (they need to have the app too). You can lend out your summer card 31 times to a maximum of five people. 

A family enjoying a holiday on Hallö in the Karlshamn Archipelago. Photo: Alexander Hall/Imagebank Sweden

Blekinge 

Next door Blekinge offers a similar sommarbiljett deal to the one in Skåne. For 739 kronor, you can travel on all Blekingetrafiken trains, buses, and ferries from June 13th to August 14th. 

Like Skåne’s card, you can buy the ticket on the Blekingetrafiken app, on their website, at a ticket machine, or at a travel centre. 

The fun thing about Blekinge’s card is that it gives you free travel on the boats that go out to the wonderful Karlskrona, Ronneby, Karlshamn and Solvesborg archipelagos. 

Halland

Halland, also perhaps influenced by Skåne, offers a summer ticket for 715 kronor, which can be bought from June 15th, and is valid from June 15th up until August 15th. Youths get a 40 percent discount, and students a 25 percent discount. 

Like Skåne’s card, the tickets can also be lent out to others using the app. The ticket can also be bought as a plastic card, or loaded onto an existing plastic travel card. 

The tickets are valid on the Öresundståg, Västtågen, and Krösatågen trains within Halland. 

Kalmar has a great castle but a pricey summer ticket. Photo. Emmy Jonsson/imagebank Sweden

Kalmar 

Region Kalmar, to the north of Blekinge, also offers a sommarbiljett although, at 1,680 kronor for an adult, it’s double the price of the summer cards offered by regions to the south. Those between the ages of seven and 25 can pay a slightly more reasonable 1,260 kronor. 

Kalmar’s ticket allows you to travel on all Kalmar Länstrafik’s buses and trains, and also on the Dessi cycle ferry over from Kalmar to the island of Öland. The ticket is also valid on ferries in the Kalmar archipelago. 

Uppsala 

UL, the travel company in Uppsala, offer summer tickets from June 1st until August 31st. The tickets cost 910 kronor for those between the ages of seven and 19, and 1,940 kronor for over-19s. They are valid on all buses in the region, on the Upptåget regional trains, and on SL commuter trains between Uppsala, Knivsta and Arlanda. Anyone over the age of 18, however, has to pay if they end their train journey at Arlanda C. 

You can buy the ticket on the UL app, on their website, at a ticket machine, or at a travel centre. 

Sörmland 

Sörmlandstrafiken is offering a summer ticket to those between the ages of seven and 19, which for 560 kronor, allows free travel on buses only, all around the region. The ticket needs to be loaded onto the gröna resekort, or “green travel card”, which young people have for travel in the region. 

The tickets are valid from June 9th until August 18th, and can be bought from a bus driver, at a Sörmlandstrafiken travel centre, or at shops selling Sörmlandstrafiken travel cards. 

Västmanland

VL, the regional travel company in Västmanland, offers a summer ticket for seven to 19-year-olds. Like the ticket from Sörmland, it is only valid for buses, and it costs 500 kronor. It is valid from June 1st to August 31st but can be purchased from May 16th. 

Örebro 

LT, Örebro’s regional travel company doesn’t offer a special summer card, but is selling 30-day travel cards at half price between June 1st and July 17th. This means that adults can use all the trains and buses in the region for 687 kroner. For youths it is 342 kronor, and for students 550 kronor. 

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TRAIN TRAVEL

‘Something always goes wrong’: What I learned taking the train through Europe with two kids

Travelling from Sweden to the UK and back by train via stops in Denmark, Germany, Belgium and France is no easy feat. But The Local's Richard Orange and his two kids managed to do it. Here's his advice for other travellers hoping to avoid the planes.

'Something always goes wrong': What I learned taking the train through Europe with two kids

When I stepped bleary-eyed off the train in southern Sweden on Tuesday morning, it marked the end of 24 hours of non-stop train travel through six countries. 

Together with my long-suffering children, Eira, aged 10, and Finn, aged 8, we’d had to deal with two train cancellations, several missed connections, and our sleeper train back to Malmö breaking down in Berlin, forcing us to quickly make other arrangements. 

This marked the third time I’ve done the return trip to the UK by rail, since deciding five years ago that avoiding flights if possible was the easiest way to make a small personal contribution to battling climate change (I still haven’t managed to go veggie). 

So what have I learnt? 

Richard Orange sets off with Eira (10) and Finn (8) on his way back to Sweden from the UK on Monday. Photo: Richard Orange

1. Something almost always goes wrong 

When you are taking four or five long intercity, and often international, train journeys, you can be pretty certain that at least one of your trains will either be delayed or cancelled, leading to a domino effect of missed connections. 

On the way out to the UK, our ICE was delayed, meaning we would miss our Thalys train from Brussels to Paris. (We got around it by taking another Thalys direct from Cologne to Paris, despite lacking a ticket for part of the journey).

And on the way back to Sweden, our ICE from Brussels to Cologne was cancelled, with the guards then sending us off on a series of regional trains, before we gave up and forked out €140 for the Thalys from Liège. 

You can reduce the risk of a domino effect by allowing a comfortable transfer time (at least 30 minutes) between trains. 

On the Deutsche Bahn (DB) website, you can set a minimum transfer time when researching your journey. One of our fellow passengers on Monday said he always allow enough time at each stop to take the next available train and still get his connection (about two hours). 

Screenshot from DB website. Image: Richard Orange

But you also need to be psychologically prepared for the possibility that you won’t make it, that you might need to spend the night somewhere like Cologne, Liège, or Osnabrück, and continue your journey the next day, and is that really so bad?

A German ICE train in Stuttgart, southern Germany. Photo: Thomas Kienzle/AFP

2. Consider getting an Interrail ticket (even for a single round-trip) 

If you order about three months in advance, it is possible to get long-distance Deutsche Bahn tickets quite cheaply, with a one-way ticket from Malmö to Brussels going for about €50. You can then (if you are lucky and booking at least three months in advance) get a Eurostar to London for around €45. This means you can do the round trip for under €200. 

However, getting tickets this cheaply means being both flexible and carefully watching Deutsche Bahn’s website. Children aged 6 to 14 travel for free in Germany if accompanying their own parents or grandparents. 

For €246, you can get an Interrail ticket allowing you to travel four days in one month, or for €335, seven days in one month. And If you order an Interrail ticket for one adult, you can get Interrail tickets for two children for free. 

The advantage of travelling on an Interrail ticket is that if something goes wrong, you can hop on the next train without needing to talk to any rail staff or visit a ticket office.

The new Railplanner app, once you’ve got the hang of it, is also very convenient, allowing you to just show a QR code at the guard on most trains, and even at the gates at stations. The only drawback is that if you want to or need to reserve seats, you still have to do that on the interrail.eu website. 

If like me, you intend to travel around quite a lot in your destination country, it almost certainly pays for itself. 

3. You need to improvise 

When the trains across Europe are a real mess, as they seem to be at the moment, I have found train guards quite tolerant of people jumping on trains without having exactly the right ticket if they need to make a connection. Particularly if you have another ticket from DB, they often let you travel. 

If you’ve got an Interrail ticket, you’ve got even more flexibility, although it can be hard to book seat reservations on the Thalys (necessary) and some ICE trains (normally not necessary) at late notice. 

The Thalys often seems to sell out of reservations that can be used with an Interrail pass, meaning you need to pay full price. Having said this, on my way out to the UK, I saw people jump on the Thalys with no reservation or ticket at all, and none were made to pay. The staff even gave them advice on making the Eurostar to the UK. 

When things go awry, you will probably find yourself linking up with other long-distance train travellers in the same situation, all trying to solve the same puzzle. It’s worth identifying who knows what they’re talking about and listening to their advice. 

The DB Navigator app kept well up to date on which trains are on time and which are delayed, meaning you can often second-guess the guards, who I’m afraid don’t always know what they’re talking about. 

4. Get help from rail staff and staff in the ticket office 

The excellent Seat61 website, managed by the former British Rail station manager Mark Smith, recommends that if your train is delayed, you should first get your ticket endorsed by staff on the delayed train or at the interchange station when you arrive, and then approach staff working for the operator of the next train you want to get. 

Under the International Convention for the transportation of Passengers (CIV), if you have a through ticket all the way to your final destination, if a delayed or cancelled train means you miss your connections, you have the right to free tickets on later trains. This, however, doesn’t always apply if your ticket is split between more than one company (for example with two DB ICE trains and one Thalys train). 

If the delay or cancellation means you can’t get to your destination that day, the rail company involved (in my case normally DB) is also supposed to arrange a hotel for you close to the last station you end up in. 

5. Don’t expect decent internet 

One of the things that makes replacing flights with trains for long journeys across Europe bearable, or even enjoyable, is the internet. When you have a good internet connection, you can get as much work done in a day’s travelling as you would in the office. 

The only problem is that on Europe’s trains, you rarely do get a good connection. I have found the on-board wifi too slow on trains to be able to work effectively. On the train at home in Sweden, so long as there’s mobile phone coverage, there’s usually no problem. In Germany, though, the mobile internet is often so ropy that you can’t use that either. 

This also means that if you are planning on keeping children entertained by hooking them up to a laptop, tablet or phone, you might run into problems. So it’s worth downloading some films or cartoons at home before you leave so that they can be played offline. 

6. Pack as lightly as possible

As you are quite likely to end up sprinting between platforms and up and down station stairs to get a connection, you really don’t want to be heaving around a heavy suitcase, so if at all possible, limit yourself either to a rucksack or backpack or to the smaller type of wheeled luggage. 

7. Consider splashing out on a proper meal in the ICE restaurant 

The restaurant cars in some of the ICE trains are extremely civilised, with starched white table cloths, proper cutlery, decent wines, and food you’d be happy to get in a mid-range German restaurant. At €15 to €20 for a main course, it’s not particularly cheap, but it’s a lot better value than the junk food you’ll be able to grab rushing through stations during your transfers.   

Eira and Finn Orange asleep on the DSB train to Copenhagen. Photo: Richard Orange

8. Children are surprisingly resilient (at least mine are) 

Before I started putting my children through a gruelling 24-hour journey at least once a year, almost invariably involving a succession of stressful mishaps, I would have expected tantrums and breakdowns.

Mine do grumble, saying things like, “Dad, we should have gone on a plane,” or, “this is so boring”, but they also appreciate the unlimited screen time.

And as we wandered around Hamburg station at close to midnight on Monday searching for somewhere open to buy food and dodging the homeless drug addicts, they almost seemed to be enjoying themselves.

It’s quite rare to spend that amount of time so close to your children, and even to find time for the occasional round of Uno. I suspect that the memories of our trips back to the UK are something we’ll all treasure. 

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