By Jill Sessa
Exploring new waters—every adventurer’s dream, right? After years of investing in high quality gear for weight, durability and function, I’ve begun to think how I can push my travels further.
I’m just an average middle-aged woman who’s decided that living my best life can be lived anywhere I choose.
When a family decision to delve into our genealogy put Sweden in our sights, I determined to take a month to discover this beautiful country.
From planning the flights and movement between locales, to how I fit it all in a suitcase, to circling the castle in my paternal great-grandmother’s hometown—it was a dream to put it all together.
The Packing Challenge of Taking My Gear
I’ve now got a kit that’s highly mobile, crafted with thought and investment over the past several years. I travel full-time in a Sprinter van or on a motorcycle, yet never want to be far from water.
So I’ve moved away from a traditional kayak to inflatables and packrafts. I figure that anywhere I need a specific style of boat there are rental outfits more than willing to set me up. But I’m finding my packraft suits almost every situation I desire.
Without the packraft, I’d still bring the rest of my kit, making a rental much more comfortable and suitable to my personal quirks.
When the Aqua-Bound four-piece paddles became available last year, it was a no-brainer for me. Having a paddle that breaks down small enough to fit in my backpack or suitcase, bicycle or moto just makes a lot of sense.
As this was my third purchase of an Aqua-Bound paddle, I knew the quality and durability would match my needs. At 28 oz, it’s comfortable for all-day paddling and is barely a whisper in my pack.
With a background in sailing, I’m very comfortable in a shawl style PFD. While this is a controversial choice for paddlers, I know the type of water where I mostly find myself and this suits me just fine.
I was concerned about flying over with the CO2 canister and didn’t know if I could find them there. I chose to leave my PFS stateside and purchase a new one once I arrived. Ends up it would have been a non-issue, but now I have a second one for friends!
A dry suit and wet suit components, along with dry bags and first aid kit round out my gear. A neoprene hoodie is great for an extra warm layer even off the water. Being this far north, when the days were cloudy or rainy, I simply put this on under my vest for hiking or street-wandering, too.
11 pounds for boat, paddle and PFD plus an additional 8 pounds in clothing and safety gear totaled just 19 pounds. Consider the quality and weight reduction that comes with investing in your gear—your back will thank you!
Choose Your Luggage Wisely
I lucked out on a paddle-specific backpack at a gear consignment store a few years ago. It only weighs a pound, has a well-designed storage system and big main compartment for a packraft. I’ve also used a 40-liter hiking pack with bungies around my paddles.
All of this fits into one side of a suitcase, the other side for clothing and toiletries for the out-of-water portion of my trip. I chose my particular Samsung soft case because it has structure, four spinning wheels, easy access to outer pockets, compression straps and even a waterproof interior compartment.
As I was going to be in airports, train stations and cobblestone streets, I didn’t want to carry a duffle. This one gave me the benefits of wheels.
Route Planning in a Place I'd Never Been
We’re so lucky to live in an age when information is available at our finger tips. I spent some time looking at where I’d like to start the trip, how I’d maneuver between cities, and camping versus hotel stays. I knew I was going into a modern, first-world country with excellent transportation options.
I discovered you can take a train across the entire country in First Class—which included water, coffee and snacks—for under $60 USD. I chose to start in Gothenburg and move onto Stockholm. Both archipelagos were intriguing to me.
Sweden has a beautiful principal called allemansrätten—the Right to Access all lands. Essentially, you can camp almost anywhere as long as you’re a good human. I wanted to take advantage of this!
A water-based country, ferries are everywhere in the coastal areas of Sweden, along with trains to those ferries. I only used a taxi going to and from the airport at the beginning of my trip. Purchasing the local metro pass in each city was a smart option.
The only reservations I made in advance were at a hostel in Gothenburg upon my arrival and a unique stay in Stockholm: a hostel aboard an 18th Century masted ship called the A.F. Chapman. You can share a room here or even stay in the Captain’s Quarters, with enough lead time. Dreams of launching my packraft right next to this ship swirled in my head!
I brought along a hammock and tarp for camping, a water purifier and meal kit. Due to weather and being joined by family for part of the trip, I only used this a few times but was glad to have it all along.
A Different Vantage Point: Urban Exploration by Packraft
There are so many rivers and lakes in addition to the big waters that surround the country. I wanted a taste of them all!
While in Gothenburg, I paddled in the canal at the center of the city each day, but also went out into the channel. There are major museums, botanical gardens and parks that line this urban area.
I was surprised at how few other small craft were in the water, but did see a few sea kayaks as well as the small rentals available inside one of the parks. Mostly, I enjoyed the smiles and waves I got from people on the shoreline.
The train from the city center to the coast gave me access to the Gothenburg Archipelago. There are many different ferries that will take you from there out to the numerous islands.
First, I gave myself a taste of these island communities with two short around-the-island paddles. Then on the day when the sun was shining and I felt the strongest, I took the ferry out to the northernmost island of the archipelago and wove my way down and around until I hit the southernmost one that has a ferry stop.
What a blast!
The far edge of the islands sees a lot of large ship traffic, plus the ferries going between so many of the islands, so head-on-a-swivel is a must. But then you’ll tuck into a little dock or harbor and the water gets calm and the paddling—or resting—is more relaxing.
Oh the Sights and Sites You Can See!
In Stockholm, the main ferry boarding area for the archipelago is right across from the Palace and the National Museum. And since you’re already on an island, you’re already on the archipelago!
I was fortunate that one of the largest sailing events in Scandinavia was taking place during my stay. Between paddling and ferry rides, I was able to see much more of the races than if I tried to view by land.
Mama mia, the ABBA museum is in the area, along with the Viking Museum and a gorgeous park. I simply paddled from the AF Chapman to each of these locations. I wound down the channels and portaged the water-level management areas.
Again, my lightweight kit makes this very easy—a 5-minute setup of my packraft means I can also stash it into my backpack as needed.
Be sure to give your boat a good rinse every now and then during your trip! The hotel maid was definitely a bit surprised to find a fat red boat drying in the shower one day, but it was the easiest way to make sure my boat was clean before a final pack for the return to the States.
My time in Sweden also included traveling with my parents and family by car, so we went to our ancestral hometown of Kalmar. Here, I got to paddle around a castle! The coastal town is protected by a barrier island and has a terrific riverway. It was the most elegant of the towns we visited—I highly recommend it!
24 days in Sweden was not nearly enough to explore all the water this country has to offer. I can easily see myself returning.
But there are also so many more places where I want to put in a boat that you’re more likely to find me in new waters soon. Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast is calling!
(All photos courtesy of Jill Sessa)
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