In The Moment The Ultimate Summer Break, Scandinavian Style

by Linda Åkeson McGurk | June 04, 2018

Are you living your best friluftsliv? Loosely translated as ”free-air life,” it’s the outdoor complement to the cozy Danish concept of hygge — and it just might flip your otherwise over-scheduled summer on its head.

Where hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) is all shearling slippers and cuddling in front of the fireplace, friluftsliv (pronounced FREE-loofts-leave) encourages skipping barefoot across a dew-kissed field any chance you get. And Scandinavians know how to do it right.

Friluftsliv — what’s that?

Say hej to hygge’s lesser-known outdoor-loving cousin. Børge Dahle, contributing author to the anthology Nature First: Outdoor Life the Friluftsliv Way, says, “…friluftsliv, first and foremost, is about feeling the joy of being out in nature, alone or with others, and experiencing pleasure and harmony with the surroundings — it’s about being in nature and doing something that is meaningful.”

Passed down by generations of Scandinavians, the point of friluftsliv is to immerse yourself in nature, without specific plans or expensive gear.

Friluftsliv in action

For many Scandinavians, friluftsliv also means planning your day to maximize time spent outdoors. Start your morning by taking the dog for a walk around the neighborhood. Follow it up with a bike ride to work, and later, eat lunch at a local park. Kids get in on friluftsliv too, since many Scandinavian preschools have classes outdoors.

In the evening, Scandinavians dine in the sunroom or outside to soak up summer’s longer daylight hours. Many cap the work week with a steam in the sauna with friends, followed by a dip in a cold — but refreshing — lake.

Friluftsliv is an important part of the Scandinavian culture all year round, but during summer vacation, it really kicks into high gear. This ingrained yearning for nature helps explain why so many Scandinavians opt for vacation days spent bunking in a camper van or rustic cabin, over the comforts of a hotel room. Summer break, after all, is not for lounging around inside.

Instead, kids while away their days in the woods foraging for wild blueberries and building forts, or by the water chasing minnows and fishing for crabs. They’re often left to their own devices, and expected to entertain themselves.

Working friluftsliv into your summer  

This is in contrast to how many U.S. families spend  their action-packed — and often costly — summer breaks, filled with robotics camp, music lessons and travel baseball leagues. If you’re ready to dial back the stress, embracing friluftsliv may just be the answer. After all, research tells us that being outdoors is absolutely key to children’s physical and mental well-being, according to Science Direct.

Friluftsliv encourages children to have downtime, to play without constant adult direction and to even be bored — something that is increasingly rare in today’s society, and highly underrated. According to child psychologist Lyn Fry, boredom can be a catalyst for creativity and motivate kids to get things done. “Being bored is a way to make children self-reliant,” she says.

Scandinavians enjoy an abundance of both nearby natural areas and time off, which makes a perfect setup for friluftsliv. But parents in both rural and urban areas in the U.S. can still benefit from folding in aspects of this nature-loving ethos into their summer plan.

Friluftsliv is an important part of the Scandinavian culture all year round, but during summer vacation, it really kicks into high gear.
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Try these traditional Scandinavian friluftsliv activities to fill your summer break with as much fresh air as possible:

  • Make a daily habit of going for a walk in nature or just around your neighborhood without any agenda. Turn off your phone, or put it in airplane mode.

  • Eat as many meals as possible outside — at a sidewalk café, in your own backyard or at a local park. Bonus activity: try making bread on a stick over an open fire.

  • Build a home for the fairies in the woods, park or backyard using materials (leaves, flowers, acorns, feathers) you find in nature.

  • Celebrate the summer solstice by picking seven types of flowers and putting them under your pillow. According to Scandinavian legend, the person you dream about that night is the person you will marry — sweet dreams.

  • Forage for flowers in the woods. Or, have the kids help plant window boxes with herbs and edible plants that they can tend to over the summer.

  • Sleep under the stars, either on a camping trip or just outdoors on a back porch.

  • Pluck dandelions, link them together and make a crown.

  • Beat the crowds and take a refreshing morning dip in a lake, ocean or pool.

  • Walk barefoot, as often as you can.

little girl in teepee

Once you start living the “free-air life” of friluftsliv you’ll be hooked, even if it takes some practice to pronounce it. So, kick off your shoes, grab your dandelion crown and head outdoors for a Scandinavian-inspired summer that’s closer to home.

Linda Åkeson McGurk

enjoys friluftsliv by cooking over an open fire and sleeping under the stars with her two daughters. Author of There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Happy, Resilient and Confident Children, and she also writes about connecting children with nature on her blog Rain or Shine Mamma.