I have spent the weekend considering flying to northern Sweden tomorrow to see the aurora borealis. I live in the US. I have never to Europe or anywhere else outside of mainland North America.

The things I've thought of to take into account:

  • a lot of very warm clothing given the climate I would be heading for.
  • I'll have to exchange my money somehow, somewhere.
  • Not sure if my US Visa debit card works in Sweden, but by all accounts it should. I plan on checking with my bank in the morning.
  • My Verizon phone won't work. I'll need to get a disposable phone there.
  • Need to find hostels or couch surf.

This is everything that's come to mind so far. I'm wondering what other things I might need to know or keep in mind when attempting a visit to a foreign country with no planning like this. If anyone has any Sweden-specific advice, that would be nice, too.

Note: I know it's always better to plan way ahead, but that's exactly the point of this question....under current circumstances it's not possible and if I don't go now I won't be able to again for quite some time. I'm asking precisely for advice about an unplanned trip.

  • 3
    Travel insurance. Does your health insurance cover there? Passport needs 6 months + validity an the date you LEAVE in some countries (eg Malaysia). Immunisations relevant to area. No disqualifying conditions (convictions, prior history, ...). ALWAYS carry an outer "shell" that will keep you alive and half comfortable when/if you get stranded somewhere and separated from your main luggage. Depending on country even a one word at a time basic electronic translator can be v useful. IF you have internet access by phone then online translation is far better. Jan 20, 2014 at 23:59
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    @RussellMcMahon did specify “depending on country” but it might be useful to add that Sweden is not among the countries where you would need to worry about communication in languages other than English ;-)
    – Relaxed
    Jan 21, 2014 at 0:02
  • Not sure you need to exchange to cash, card works almost everywhere, and at some places you can't even use cash. Go to an ATM and take out if you need it. Nov 28, 2019 at 9:02

3 Answers 3


You don't have to bring a lot of warm clothing, but you have to pack sensibly. For example, a wick-dry inner, light natural fibre sweater, a down layer, and a windproof outer will do nicely. Hat, gloves, warm socks, and windproof pants (with long thermal underwear) would also be needed for that weather. A scarf is helpful to keep your neck warm and to cover your nose and mouth if needed, especially if it's windy.

Your usual ATM card should work fine in Sweden, there's probably no need to carry much US cash with you. Check with your bank first (tell them you are travelling!), and make sure you have a 4-digit PIN (at one point I had a 6-digit PIN and it was incompatible with a lot of systems around the world).

It's a good idea to book at least your first night in your initial destination. You can work things out from there (eg. Stockholm should be no problem). If you're going to northern Sweden, there will be far fewer services available due to the lack of population, and you'll definitely want to book ahead. Couchsurfing in a remote area is not terribly reliable.

These days it's super useful to bring a mobile device with WiFi networking (even if it's a phone and the phone part won't work), as you can find WiFi available in lots of places in the city. And if you have WiFi, you can use Skype (with credit) to call normal phones in Sweden.

Travel insurance (eg. in case you get hurt) is strongly recommended.

Presumably your passport has at least three months remaining validity (if you're a US citizen you won't need to pre-apply for a visa, but for other passports you might). The absolute minimum you need is your passport and your wallet.


Adding options about how to travel in Sweden. (I guess you already went....) To see the aurora Abisko is probably the best place to be.There are two main ways of getting up there.

  • You can go there by night train from Stockholm (which will likely be your entry point when flying from the US). The train passes Arlanda (the main airport) on its way north so no need to get into Stockholm. According to the current timetable it leaves at 18:22 from Arlanda and arrives 12:32 the next day in Abisko. This is the slow and (nice?) option.

enter image description here Photo by flickr user beefortytwo.

  • The fastest is (of course) flying to Kiruna with SAS. It is a ~90 minute flight and then you will need to endure another 90 minutes on a bus to get to Abisko. Or just stay in Kiruna. Aurora should be possible to see there also.

A good site for planning your domestic travels in Sweden is resrobot.

More detailed information also available in this question about travelling from Berlin to Abisko.


Regarding ATM cards, you should have one with chip, since most ATMs here only accepts those cards.

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