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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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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

  8. 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. ❤️

  9. Votre billet est magnifique et les photos sont de toute beauté. Quel beau voyage dans cette belle région naturelle.

  10. Reading this got me thinking of what has been happening in my own backyard. Indonesia is trying really hard to allure as many foreign visitors as possible because some of their smaller neighbors — i.e. Thailand and Malaysia — have been successful in promoting themselves which is reflected in their high numbers of foreign arrivals. However, in doing so, many places across the archipelago often resort to the easiest, but often destructive, way: make everything “Instagrammable”. This means mounting large letters spelling a place’s name out, obstructing the beautiful vista that place has otherwise been known for. Then there’s the trash problem, which is quite serious here.

    • How sad to hear! As we consume more and more, the rubbish issue is becoming unbearable. One can only hope that locals decide to take charge and change how things are done.

  11. What a beautifully written piece, Atreyee. I love this concept of “Allemansrätten.” I’ve experienced this freedom to roam only in a few countries, but especially walking through England, where walkers have the right-of-way. In America, everything is “no tresspassing” unless you’re in national parks. I wish everyone would be guardians of our beautiful earth, and treat it with awe and respect.

  12. It is a wonderful, and challenging system of honor. As a child growing up in Sweden, and later on becoming a teacher myself, I would say that a heavy part to make this work has to do with education. Swedes loves the outdoors. Many parents spent most of their free time with their kids in the woods, carefully talking about Allemansrätten. I remember as a little child, how proud my sister and I was to have Allemansrätten, and how eager we were to do our part. In school the subject was often brought up, and field trips in woods, and mountains are common. I to fear that with a bigger ratio people v/s land this might be more challenging to keep up. Spending time on typical tourist resorts, with many people not growing up with this system, it becomes obvious. Unfortunately. I would love to believe that we humans are capable of honoring nature, and do our part. Wether it is in Sweden, or in another part of the world.

  13. Beautiful photos and makes me long for my summer in Sweden! Litter does annoy me and I make sure to always take everything with me – and luckily see most others try as well!

    • Thank you. It has heartened me to see Swedes taking stewardship of their environment so seriously. As for summer in Sweden, I have loved it and really want to experience it again!

  14. I enjoy your thoughtful posts, Bespoke! Your post resonates with me as we continue our “gap” year of travel. It seems to me that tourism itself has become a necessary “industry” for parts of the world, due to downturns in the economy. But these tourist havens suffer as a result with overcrowding, pollution, and desecration by tourists. There is no agreed-upon code among tourists to respect the land, the people, the traditions of the other country. That makes me so sad. When we were in Italy, I was reminded of the fact that this country has endured a number of foreign invasions throughout the centuries and has survived. The invading hordes of tourists are just another incursion they have to endure. 🙂 At the same time, different Italian cities like Venice are enacting laws to protect their cities from tourist overcrowding and damage.

    • Thank you so very much! As you say tourism is the new “golden key” for so many regions who have suffered economic declines in other industries and it’s so easy to sell them that dream. Locals always suffer as a result and visitors become antagonists. Your mention about an agreed-upon code regarding tourism intrigues me. I’d like to find out if any tourism organizations are working on something like this.

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