Iceland: Final Thoughts and What I'd Do Differently
When I first started writing about our trip to Iceland, I mentioned that it was somewhere that had been on my radar for quite a few years. I'd had images of myself exploring the country's rugged landscape and stumbling upon hidden waterfalls and caverns long before we booked our plane tickets.
After spending a little over a week in Iceland, I feel like I was able to get a good grasp on what it had to offer. It's very rare that I take a trip that's shorter than two weeks, so there's still plenty on my Iceland bucket list that makes another trip back a good idea. Kevin and I have already talked about it a little and how we would do it next time.
There were a lot of things I learned on this trip. Like, factoring the time change for taking birth control can result in waking up at the most obnoxious hours for just one little pill. Or the reinforcement of the fact that I dislike rigid and structured plans - I'm a little more free-flowing and open to detours and possibilities. I learned that Icelandic water does wonders for my skin, and that combined with the fact that mosquitoes don't exist in the country makes for a very compelling reason to move there. I learned that living on an island where almost nothing can be grown naturally results in high costs of everything due to the necessity of importation.
Most importantly, though, I found that Iceland has this wonderfully unique and preserved ruggedness that is very hard to find these days. Yes, there are a lot of tourists. Yes, the country is civilized and has roads to everywhere and everything. But despite that, the natural texture and landscape of the country is still very raw. It's easy to understand why there are such high fines for off-roading - Iceland has something worth preserving, and its citizens are very aware of that. I would like to explore more of it someday!
Here's a breakdown of the logistics of the trip:
What we did: We stayed in an Airbnb about 15 minutes outside of Reykjavik. For us I think it was a great location because we needed a parking space and easy access to the freeway. The home has three bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, a hot tub (unlike any other I've used, due to the fact that you fill it with hot volcanic water each time you want to use it), and an stunning view over the surrounding area. Since it was already coming into Iceland's summer season, it didn't even start to get dark until about 11pm and we were able to enjoy the view for a long time every night.
What I'd change: Unless you're only there for a few days - like, three - then I wouldn't recommend trying to set up home base in one place. There's too much Iceland to see! Instead, I'd do a couple days in Reykjavik and then move south, possibly to Vik or one of the other small towns, and spend some time there. That way, you're closer to all the major sites that are in the south or towards the east of the country and don't have to have 14-hour driving days to see one thing.
Alternatively, book a camper or trailer and make your way around the country without having to worry about reservations!
It's no secret that if you want to see Iceland, the best way to do it is with a car. You'll want to rent a car that can handle the rough terrain and possibility of harsh weather or high winds.
What we did: We rented a Suzuki Grand Vitara a few months ahead of time. I wouldn't risk trying to get a car when you arrive, especially if you're visiting during the summer months. It was the perfect size for the length of trips we were taking, and lots of room for camera and gear storage in the back.
What I'd do differently: I'd be fine with the same car again, even if it's just for two people, so there's not much I'd change. Looking up the different camper companies would be a good idea if you're thinking of camping or just taking your time along the Ring Road.
P.S. For our flights, we flew a combination of JetBlue and WowAir. I don't know why we were so adamant on flying WowAir, but it would have been a much better decision to book everything through one airline and have our bags checked all the way through instead of us having to deal with a huge layover and having to deal with checking into multiple times. Plus, it actually wouldn't have cost that much more. You win some, you lose some.
What we did:
Arrival day: Got rentals and accommodations situated.
Day 2: Explore Reykjavik
Day 3: Drive Snæfellsnes peninsula (Map)
Day4: Drive / ferry to Westman Islands and Vik
Day 5: Break day in Reykjavik
Day 6: Drive Golden Circle (Map)
Day 7: Drive to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon
Day 8: Another day in Reykjavik / rest day
Day 9: Home
What I'd change: I've thought about this a lot, because I think a lot of the problems from the trip were the result of the itinerary and being cramped together in the car for long periods of time. Next time - other than going with fewer people - I'd do things in blocks. Three days in Reykjavik, and then start working my way around the country, booking places along the way or staying somewhere south, if you're not up for the nomadic lifestyle.
I think it'd be a lot better to do it that way instead of bouncing back to Reykjavik each night for a few reasons: You'll save more on gas if you don't have to drive back somewhere (at about $7/ gallon, each fill-up is pricey), and because it'll give you a lot more time to spend in each place and allow for a little more spontaneity instead of trying to spend forever deciding on stops and a set schedule. I'd really like a second shot at this country and having more time to see everything it has to offer!
Everything you hear about Iceland being expensive is true. To be quite honest, it was even pricier than I was expecting.
What we did: Kevin and I had to stick to a pretty strict budget since that newlywed life does not include buckets of money (going on this trip required months of stretching and not eating out), but I also lost 8lbs during the trip...so take from that what you will about how well we ate.
The majority of our food came from the grocery store Bonus - the one with the crazed looking pig as its logo. It still wasn't cheap, but it was a far better option than eating out for everything. We ate out a couple times, but didn't go for anything too fancy.
Instead of buying water, we brought our own water bottles and some energy power to mix in so that we could fight the jet lag and make it through those long days. Lunch was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches almost every day. We went out on our first night, for Kevin's birthday, and on our last night when we got kebabs. There was also a stop at a gas station one night, but we only got the pre-made sandwiches. We ate at the hot dog stand twice, and picked up pastries for breakfast twice. While we could have maybe been even stricter, I didn't want to limit ourselves and have a lot of regrets later. Either way, we still managed to stay within budget.
You'll spend the most on gas. As mentioned, it's about $7 USD / gallon, so that means big money each time you fill up. I throw up in my mouth a little when I think about how much money went towards all those fill ups - it's the biggest reason not to backtrack to the same accommodation each night.
As for extras - museums, excursions, etc. - we were pretty slim on those. Thankfully, a lot of things don't require entrance fees if you're just doing the road trip. Museums can be pricey, but make sure to ask about student discounts if you can. I would have loved to go horseback riding or walk on a glacier, but we kept our only splurge on the Blue Lagoon, which was about $140 for two people. I am definitely planning on doing a little more next time! Make sure you try and book any activities you're sure about beforehand so you can get the best time and price available!
What I'd change: If you have a schedule, booking things ahead of time is your best bet to know how much things are going to cost. Have your priorities straight when deciding what you absolutely can't live without experiencing.
We actually had enough money left that we could have done a bigger excursion, but I don't have any regrets. And that's the biggest rule - don't have any regrets. If this is once in a lifetime, you better live and treat it as such. Don't go into debt, but don't nix anything that will leave you with regrets months later - trust me. You're already there, and paying to come back and do one thing is a lot more expensive than just doing it in the first place.
Iceland should be a destination on everyone's wishlist. As a country with a history that goes back to the Vikings, and as a place where so much of the land hasn't been touched, it's a unique experience to see the land as it's been formed by the volcanic activity over thousands of years. Iceland is rugged, untouched, diverse, and has something that is sure to interest everyone.
Going somewhere named after the cubes I put in my drinks doesn't seem like the most appealing location to most people, and almost everyone I mentioned it to asked "why Iceland?", but the country has so much to offer in the way of natural wonders. I hope that I can go back someday and experience even more of what makes Iceland such a great destination!