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Off the Path in Götaland

“Allemansrätten.” It is a right granted to every citizen by the nation’s constitution. It is a part of every Swede’s identity. It resides deep in their cultural psyche. “Allemansrätten.” The word means “every man’s right.” It is the freedom to roam. It is the idea of land belonging to the public, a collective large-scale communal garden. It allows access to wander, camp, and forage on uncultivated or unpreserved property. 

I am not a Swede, only visiting. Therefore, this permission is a privilege to me. “Allemansrätten.” I repeat the term while searching for rock pools. I whisper the word as I bypass cows scrutinizing me. I sing it floating in the chilly cove. 

At its core “allemansrätten” is founded upon trust. Trust that such entitlement will be held responsibly, with tenderness. Trust that commercialism won’t abuse the ancient sanction. Trust that individuals will regulate themselves so that wildlife habitats are not disturbed or fragile countryside destroyed. It’s an endearing, idealistic faith in humanity. I benefit from such generosity — a fellow hiker recommends a lingonberry bush for its tasty fruit, a farmer invites me to cut through a paddock as a shortcut, a moored boater counsels me on pristine bays for swimming.

Cynic that I am, I wonder how long this credo will survive. Not all who traipse the wilderness abide by the unspoken rules of “allemansrätten.” How long will it be before used food containers whip past my face at the beach, smashed drink bottles lay underneath a boulder, cigarette burns fan into a brushfire, saplings wither from trafficked routes and overeager hands? 

Companies have begun to harvest the forests for profit, due to increasing organic produce demands. Locals in resort towns complain that summer tourists are leaving rubbish for them to clean up. When will this corner change bit by bit as well? In another decade will there be railings along the cliffs with warning signs? Will trail markers indicate places not to tread? Will fences materialize to keep out “everyman”? Will the ultimate anathema to Swedes, no trespassing notices, become common decorations? 

The ratio of people to space in Sweden is such that, at the moment, all can enjoy the liberty to rove. What happens, however, as travel democratizes, as we commodify, as our species swells into less trammeled tracts? At what point do our collective feet demolish the very expanses we seek? What will be the outcome of the conflict between our impositions and the planet’s ecosystem?   

Is the concept of “allemansrätten” possible to maintain? Can we all go trampling anywhere? If not, who gets to and who doesn’t? Who decides this? How do we limit ourselves while granting each of us the right to wander the earth?

I remind myself of my duty while traipsing. I don’t give in to every pleasure. I’d like to be lazy, but I take out with me everything I bring in. I want to plunge through inviting portals, but stay on trodden paths as much as possible so as not to scar the ecology. I wish I could gorge on nature’s bounty. Instead, I observe rather than collect. 

I even run after the errant napkin that got blown away from my picnic. I want desperately to believe that my small decisions will preserve the enchantment of golden light dripping through native dense canopy. I need to cling to the conviction that my little renunciations will guard the sanctity of silver cascades burbling within a grotto. I have to sustain faith that my mindful travels will extend to future generations the mystery of wilderness.     


Leave No Trace offers educational programs to develop a population knowledgeable about outdoor ethics. To learn more about their initiatives, volunteer, or support their opportunities, check out

Do you think public lands can remain vital biodiverse spaces without limiting access?

I would also like to hear about responsible, sustainable, ecological tips you practice while hiking, camping, and being in rural spaces in the comments below.


137 replies »

  1. Reblogged this on Urban Vyaas and commented:
    There are many fragile ecosystems that are endangered by tourism. Some of them are closed to all but scientific research teams (think of the Galapagos Islands), some islands off the coast of Phuket have temporary closed from May to October during the country’s monsoon season, one of them will not reopen again in the fall: Koh Tachai, an island that is part of Thailand’s Similan National Park. The spot, popular with snorkelers and divers, has perhaps proven too popular—local authorities estimated that a typical beach on Koh Tachai, in the Andaman Sea just north of Phuket, could comfortably accommodate 70 people, but typically sees closer to 1,000 at a time, including food vendors and boat crews.
    I don’t believe that Götaland will ever have this problem because the country’s cost of living makes it unattractive for the mass tourism industry. There is also the factor of social control who cooperates narrowly with the environment law enforcement officers to correct those who would abuse Sweden’s Allemansrätten. Wish you the best while you’re living your own Walden- experience (Thoreau).

  2. This is such a current and important topic. And, your timing is wonderful too. I just went on a yearly walk with a good friend here in Belgium. As often with me, the topic turned to humans and their despicable behavior. My friend mentioned how sad he found it that in Belgium everyone fences their property, and how, in Sweden, the wide open spaces and fence-less properties are a joy to see and walk in. My reaction was much like your post… if a Belgian would not put a fence around his pond, how long would it take before fishermen deplete his lake, garbage is left behind, and dog poop of irresponsible owners piles up?

    It is my negative opinion that there are always people who have to ruin everything, because they’re selfish, ignorant, irresponsible or uncaring. Yet, one might argue that in a unique and pristine environment, people who explore and are nature lovers do their best to maintain the area the way they found it. If I were to walk in a littered city, I would be less inclined to go out of my way to be responsible and not add to the mess. (I actually would not litter, since I’m disgusted by that attitude, but I could see others do this in dirty environments.)

    A country with the freedom to roam sounds just right for me. When my husband and I go for hikes in nature, without thinking about it twice, we always take out what we brought in (including stray napkins), never pick or remove anything, and abide by the rules “Take nothing but picture, leave nothing but footprints.” On the trails, of course. 🙂

    • How eerie that you and your friend were having such a similar discussion! I think you and Mark would love living and exploring in Sweden and would do its tradition of allemansrätten proud. After so many years of being nomads, on sea and land, you two are experts at responsible outdoor subsistence with minimal impact.

  3. Hi Atreyee, A thoughtful post and beautiful concept and your photos are terrific.
    We loved our travels in Scandinavia a couple of years ago and it was so pristine. If each traveler did one kind deed a day, pick up a piece of trash, recycle, follow the rules and model appropriate behaviors for others, it would be a good start. I have witnessed countless thoughtless- and dangerous- acts in my travels, it’s disheartening.

    • Thank you so much Jane. I too have been disheartened in my travels by experiencing so much of what I hold beautiful disintegrating. Often, I fear our love of nature and open landscapes will become a memory and a “virtual reality” in the future.

  4. If nobody chased after their napkins the world would be littered with napkins…. well, unfortunately it is in many places. I often wonder how hard it is to put a candy wrapper in the trash or a can in the recycling bin… it only takes a second. Thanks for your caring nature.

    • “It only takes a second,” and the result is so profound. I remind myself of this every time I am in danger of becoming lazy about how I conduct myself anywhere. Thank you for your kind encouragement!

  5. This sounds utopian and almost too good to be true. It’s wonderful that Sweden has been able to achieve, or at least actively strive for allemansrätten. Your photos work so beautifully with this piece, I particularly like the lily pond and the gorgeous purple flowers against the rocky background.
    We have it pretty good in Canada but I do get frustrated in my little neighbourhood where some residents who have property adjacent to public space or access to beach/parks exhibit a real sense of entitlement and don’t hesitate to show their annoyance when others use these spaces.

    • I fear that Sweden’s ethos is rather utopian and don’t think many places will be able to implement it, especially considering how our population growth is already impeding land and resources. Thank you for mentioning the photos you most enjoyed. I too love those purple flowers and how they spring out from between the rocks so beautifully.

  6. Your final lines about ‘those small decisions’ really ring a bell with me. Though I don’t travel much as a tourist, and indeed haven’t left my home country for over a decade, your conversation in this post still feels very relevant to me. I, too, often wonder whether my own small decisions — not to travel far when there is so much beauty on my own doorstep, not to leave litter on the beach near where I live, not to use plastic bags to carry my things in, not to buy a take-away lunch that comes in packaging but to bring lunch from home, not to wrap that very packed lunch in plastic film but to put it in a reusable container — make any difference. I live in Australia, which like Scandinavia has a low-density population, and yet my country’s environmental track record is, per capita, execrable. I guess I have to believe that each small act of mine adds up … because I have to start somewhere. We all do. I’m so glad to read that there are other people like you thinking and doing the same things … and writing about them :).

    • Hooray for all of our small acts of kindness towards the earth and one another! Thank you so much for sharing your outlook on this. You’ve motivated me to keep on track, to do more “because I have to start somewhere.” Most importantly, thank you for all the care you take in stewardship of your country and neighborhood. I so admire your mindfulness in traveling local and appreciating the wonder of where you live.

  7. You have such a beautiful way of seeing the world and expressing your thoughts so articulately. I’m always enchanted by your writing.

    I think it’s gorgeous you consider such things because sadly, many do not. Many natural spaces have been destroyed in Tasmania (Australia), not because of rubbish or signs, but simply the volume of people visiting and walking on the paths.

    I think the challenge is not just considering where we walk, but to support companies that are mindful of where they source their resources on a larger scale. Keep up the incredible work! ❤️

    • Thank you Kylie, I appreciate that so very much. ❤️ I do agree with you that the sheer volume of people is itself an issue when it comes to places, which makes the question of “freedom for all to roam” such a fraught one. It’s still hard to conceive of our planet as having limited space and resources, but it’s a fact. As our human population grows this will become the biggest challenge. Your reminder about our ability to choose companies wisely is so timely as I educate myself more about the appropriate tourism resources to support.

  8. Many years ago I encountered a sign, “leave only footprints, take only pictures.” I’ve always thought that was a great perspective, and would augment it with “be careful where you leave footprints.”

    Of course, my ancestry is half Swedish, so maybe some of that “Allemansrätten” ethos has trickled down.

    • I love that motto with your thoughtful addendum: “Take only pictures, be careful where you leave your footprints.” It should be taught to everyone, everywhere and kept ever in mind by those of us who travel.

      • It seems like a lot of the popular places are a bit fragile, and even if they’re more robust they can be loved to death. There are other ways to make your mark on the world, if that’s important to you.

  9. Another thought provoking post, Atreyee. Tourism is so double edged. I had an interesting experience in middle Sweden, when hubby and I went on an ‘immersive’ experience with a particular tour company. The holiday model is based on tourists staying with locals, experiencing a ‘sustainable’ lifestyle while being immersed in nature with a promise of observing wild creatures in the locale. The area was also sparsely populated but with transformed landscape. Coming from a background here in South Africa where wild animals and the natural environment are protected by law I was quite taken aback by the lax attitude of the local guides who took us traipsing over precious mossy-floored forest where there were no allocated paths. The paradox for me was the ingrained guilt being overtaken by a headiness exploring a primal forest, the scent to the conifers, the coolness and softness of the moss underfoot that here were moose and deer, wolf and more elusive bear and wolverines. We were encouraged to walk looking for signs -scat / spoor and yes we did find evidence and just for some moments I had a glimpse through a portal beckoning the realm of hunter/ gatherer. At the end of the foray our guide was nonplussed over my concern that too many feet trampling over the fragile forest floor could be damaging and with a group of noisy tourists there’d be a reduced chance of spotting wild animals.
    Whether or not ‘Allemansrätten’ is being exploited unwisely it would be sad if the environment is not protected and is allowed to degrade.

    • Thanks for sharing your intriguing insight into this issue in Sweden, Liz.
      “The paradox for me was the ingrained guilt being overtaken by a headiness exploring a primal forest….” Yes, you describe it so well! That is what I felt too, as if I was somewhere I shouldn’t be and yet able to feel that exhilaration of being the “first” human there.
      Perhaps part of the guide’s surprise came from not being able to imagine the consequence of too many people who don’t have allemansrätten ingrained into their culture. Scandinavia is still one of the sparsest populated areas and tourism there hasn’t yet bombarded their resources. However, things are changing quickly. These concerns will be something their tourism boards and, more likely, the locals will have to cope with in the future. Plenty of places are witnessing the truth that landscapes and wildlife cannot handle millions of us trampling through (and among) them incessantly. Limiting permits and admission has so far been the only solution to materialize. I’ll be paying attention to how Sweden approaches this problem given their deep dislike of restrictive land access.

  10. Such a thoughtful and timely post. Beautifully written and photographed. Such sentiments from yourself and readers … guardians … exactly. take only memories … precisely.
    Such a wonderful spirit the Swedes have … “founded upon trust. Trust that such entitlement will be held responsibly, with tenderness.”
    Yes, responsibility, that is it. We all hold the responsibility of ensuring the world, this precious blue planet, is better for us having passed this way.
    The cost to future generations of having to clean this mess up will be enormous. The seas of plastic, the mountains of rubbish, the clouds of toxic gas.
    And yet we have people who ask why we should bother when others are more to blame … what are they thinking.
    My morning run becomes a walk because of the plastic thrown by the roadside. I cannot carry a bag big enough to collect the cardboard cartons and paper as well.
    The longest journey starts with the first step.
    What can we do?
    Pick up three … pick up four … pick up five … pick up not what we have taken on a hike, on a day at the beach but some of the rubbish others have thrown away.
    Maybe leading by example, maybe their children will embarrass them … maybe, just maybe they will see it for themselves … we are all in this lifeboat sailing through the sea that is the universe

    • “we are all in this lifeboat sailing through the sea that is the universe.” How poetically you put our fate! Thank you for your lovely insight and for all your incredibly unselfish clean-up efforts on your morning runs.

  11. Oh my, I do hope that “Allemansrätten’ is not replaced with ‘Obehöriga äga ej tillträde’. The Captain, who is 12 years older than me recounts stories of traveling through Europe in a campervan and just parking it anywhere, of hitchhiking across the US, of walking long empty (trash free) beaches in Bali and Phuket. Those days are certainly gone. But we still find many pristine places along our way on Amandla. Luckily, we can store a lot of garbage in our anchor locker until we get to a port where it can be properly disposed of. Thank you for taking me along on your gorgeous walkabout. Balm for my soul.

    • Ha, apparently “those were the days” is not just a manner of speech when it comes to trash free wanderings. Whether it’s rural Sweden or coral reefs in the Maldives, it seems our rubbish is overwhelming us now. Thanks for letting me get a peep at sustainability issues while sailing, as it’s something I’ve wondered about.

  12. As a long-time hiker here and abroad, I have been heavily educated in the Leave No Trace responsibilities we all have. Unfortunately, of course, many more travelers have not learned this or simply don’t care. Just as you and I know that running down one little napkin makes a difference, these other heathens argue that the one little napkin isn’t really litter or a major problem.

    The term “allemansrätten” is new to me, but I have been the lucky recipient of this kind of welcome in some parts of the world, and it is such a shockingly wonderful antidote to the philosophy we often see here in the U.S. I remember accidentally straying onto private property in Colorado a few years ago, and within minutes, my group was chased down by an irate man with a gun in a pick-up truck. None of our sincere apologies placated him one iota, and we beat it out of there as fast as we could walk. It is an experience I have not easily forgotten (never mind the gun, a whole other story!), and reading about the opposite mindset with respect to open land restores a little faith in humanity!

    • How terrifying!! I’m incredibly thankful I haven’t had any such experience. Land possession seems to be an intense issue in the U.S. I’ve only hiked in national parks and designated trails in the States, and as these lose their protected status or become overwhelmed by visitors my walkabouts there will probably be limited in the future.

  13. Oh, I love this idea and hope it persists. I live in a beautiful area, but No Trespassing signs are everywhere. Roaming is so limited. But when people don’t respect a place, what are landowners to do? It’s lovely that you took advantage of Allemansrätten while you were there. Beautiful photos, as always.

  14. Allemansrätten: such a great Sweden word… x 💯‼️…
    Excellent photographs over here. Nature and landscapes at their best!.
    Sending love ❤️

  15. Beautiful. ❤ I also run after my napkin if wind takes it. But since I'm in Italy (normally, right now in stormy Slovenia), this action makes me run past heaps of paper, plastic, trash. Who is cynic in Sweden becomes inconsolable in Italy. I wish it lasts at least there.

    • Oh, Manja, that’s so sad to hear, especially as Italy is so filled with historic treasures and gorgeous scenery. Thank you for running after your napkins. Wishing you a sunny rest-of-your-stay in Slovenia. ❤️

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