How I did Iceland for as CHEAP as possible – besides the booze sesh

This was a fairly last minute planned vaca – if three weeks prior counts as last minute. But I went for it when I saw that I could get a round trip ticket for $600. I arrived around 6AM on a Sunday and headed home the following Saturday knowing that I could easily do everything in the south during that given period of time without feeling rushed.

Knowing beforehand that $$ can add up really quickly while traveling in Iceland I needed to make a plan. That plan was to only bring a carry on, pack trail mix, beef jerky, granola bars, live off of the gas station food, visit just the free tours and sites, and to sleep in my car. I was a bit hesitant about sleeping in my car but knew that I could just park at a campground and hop in my sleeping bag and pass out FOR FREE. I might be crazy, but that makes it more fun.

I rented a car from the airport in advance so that it could be ready for me upon arrival. It is cheaper to rent a manual rather than automatic by about $10 a day. They asked if I wanted insurance, a GPS, or WIFI for additional charges and I said “no, no, and no thank you.” Thank goodness for offline google maps which made my life so much easier. I also booked my first night of accommodation at Bus Hostel which was about a ten minute walk to downtown so I could meet people and have a little bit of comfort for the first night. Other than that, I knew I was going to road trip along the southern part of the Ring Road and find campsites along the way. There are tons of places to camp in Iceland so I wasn’t too worried about where I would sleep – just kidding, I was half freaking out deep down inside.

Be prepared to spend A LOT of $$ on gas and if you want to drink then buy booze at the airport in the duty free shop! I made that mistake of passing it by and although I only had one night out that definitely put a dent in my funds.

Here is a breakdown of how much I spent in 6 days converted to $USD:

Keep in mind I had a hostel for my first night and last night and free accommodation for the four nights in between.

  • Car rental: $180

  • Gas: $188

  • Food: $106

  • Booze: $120 (ouch)

  • Two nights accommodation: $50

  • Other: $60

Total cost apart from the flight: $704

I’m not quite sure on what is “normal” for budget travel in Iceland; but considering over half of that money was on the car and gas I don’t think I did too horribly. Image result for smile emoji

 

Iceland in a week

I loved the idea of going to Iceland as a solo traveler and getting AS MUCH done as possible with no one to get in my way. I wouldn’t have to wait around for anyone. I could sleep and eat whenever and wherever I wanted. And I could start my day when the sun came out around 5am and finish up with my adventures when the sun was setting around 10PM once I had completely exhausted myself.

Here’s what I did during that week:

Day 1: I arrived on a beautiful sunny morning at the airport and picked up my car. I headed toward Reykjavik and completely got lost until I found some super cool iconic church that I had seen on everyone’s Instagram. Phew! I knew that must be some central area where I could stop, walk around, find WiFi, and figure out where I was. After walking around for a few hours I went to the church service to get cultured and ran into a volunteer that I worked with back in Seattle. How great! I love when that happens.

For the remainder of the afternoon I found my hostel, figured out what I wanted to do for the week and then headed over to the free walking tour in the city center. 

During the tour I met three other gals from the states and France. It was their last day and we decided to go to the Laugardalslaug pool. After that it was close to 11PM and I wanted to get some sleep before heading out early the next morning.

Day 2: Hooray! Time to start the road trip! And this is what I saw while heading east:

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The symbol on the sign above means that it is a point of interest. Very easy to navigate where the sites worth seeing are.

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  • I finally arrived in Vik (south central Iceland) which is where I would camp for the evening. 

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I knew I wanted to camp in Vik for the night but it was only 3pm and I had so much daylight left. So I walked around the town near the coast and saw across the way there was what looked like a hiking trail. So around 4PM I started hiking up the plateau having no idea where I was going. There was a marked trail but I didn’t know how long it would take me. I walked along the plateau for about three hours before I turned around because I hadn’t seen one person and got a little nervous. It was a beautiful setting sun from the top but I was ready to get back to my car and post up for the evening. Dinner that evening consisted of beef jerky and chocolate.

Day 3: I survived the car sleepover! But because of the light I woke up at 4:30 and decided I should start driving. A few hours in I was nodding off so pulled to a stopping point and passed out for a few more hours.

Later that morning I arrived in Skaftafell and was ready to get a hike in. A few hours of exploring and there WERE other people around which was a nice little change. It was BEAUTIFUL being so close to the glaciers and seeing the amazing landscape.

I continued driving east in the afternoon and made it to Diamond Beach and the Glacier Lagoon. The Glacier Lagoon was massive and I had never seen anything like that. I walked around for about an hour and decided that it was as far east as I wanted to go since I did not want to do the entire ring road on this trip.

I made my way back to Skaftafell where I wanted to camp. I was there by 5PM and did another little hike out to a glacier.

By 7PM I was antsy and decided I would drive back to Vik so that I could be closer to my desired destinations for the morning. Because of other distractions, such as Fjadrargljufur, and other stops along the way I made it to the campground by about 10:30PM. 

Day 4: I woke up early and decided I needed to bathe so made my way to Seljavallalaug pool. It’s a hidden hot springs pool in a magical setting in the mountains. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the parking lot and is very easy to pass by if you don’t map it out beforehand. When I arrived I was lucky that there were only 5 of us at the pool. We stayed for about 45 minutes soaking in the warm water. As we were walking out it started raining and a crowd of about 30 had arrived. We got super lucky!

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I kept driving west and stumbled upon a little uninhabited farm town called Keldur.

Later that afternoon I arrived at a place called Reykjadalur. It’s a 3k hike up a small mountain and there is an amazing hot springs at the top. It was getting late but who cares when it doesn’t get dark until late? It was almost completely vacant and I spent a few hours on this trek. Eventually I found my way back in the little town at the base and was ready for dinner. I wanted a real meal and a beer but the cafe I went to was $30 a plate and didn’t serve beer. So I opted out and went to the gas station for a sandwich.

I was going to camp there overnight but had too much energy so decided I would drive up north to Þingvellir National Park and sleep there for the night. It was only another hour or so and that was going to be my destination for the next day.

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I arrived at the park and was ready to sleep. I found a little pull-out and was getting ready to pass out when the park service came up to me and asked if I had paid. I didn’t realize that to sleep in a national park it costs $$. It was only $10 but that’s good to keep in mind. It was pouring rain at this point and I was drained and passed out.

Day 5: I wanted to do some hiking but it was raining really hard so I passed that opportunity and headed northeast toward Gullfoss and Geysir which are a part of the Golden Circle. I stumbled upon another waterfall called Faxi, and it was still only morning. I decided I had actually seen everything I had planned and it was too rainy to hike. So I was going to head back to Reykjavik and figure out what to do from there.

I took the long way back and looped around a lake up north and headed south along the coast back to the city.

When I arrived back at the hostel I got out my book and people watched to scout out who would become my new friends. Immediately, two women introduced themselves to each other and said they had just arrived so I found my opportunity and we all went out in the snow to walk around the city and explored the beautiful architecture of Harpa.

A few hours later we were soaking wet and ready for a beer. The sun came out, I ate my third hot dog of the day, and we posted up at an outdoor bar and soaked up the sun. After that we went to an Irish pub and had a few more drinks.

We later went back to the hostel and made friends with a bunch of travelers and spent the night playing cards, making drinks, and sharing our stories. I told the gal I had met earlier in the day, Larissa, that I would just sleep in my car in the parking lot, but she insisted that her twin bed at the hostel was big enough so I had a bed! 

Day 6: A slight headache but no regrets. I finally took my first shower of the week. I knew I didn’t want to just hang around Reykjavik on my last day and so I did a 7 hour road trip through the snaefellsnes peninsula just a bit northwest of where I was. Once I was out on the peninsula the roads turned to dirt and I was the only person I saw for hours. It was a beautiful landscape and I was able to get out and about a few times to walk around. But by the end of the day I was exhausted and headed back to the hostel. 

That evening I had dinner at the hostel with some other travelers but stayed in because I had an early flight. I was happy to be a bit social despite traveling alone.

Day 7: I had an 8:30AM flight home. I dropped my car off at the airport and was on my way.

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Greenland from the airplane

A few times on the trip I was asked if I was scared to travel alone or sleep in my car. I was a bit nervous at the beginning but I am SO HAPPY I did that. I stayed super busy, met a lot of other people, and did so much more than I thought I would.

I would love to do the entire ring road one day but knew that this time was not meant for that.

Fun facts and a brief history

Did you know you can follow the Icelandic police officers on Instagram!? How can you not already love this country just based on that?

On my first day in Iceland I signed up for a free walking tour of Reykjavik to learn about the little capital city (ok, town). Our guide who’s name I completely forget because there are about 13 syllables took us around for two hours and these are some fun facts that we learned: 

  • Reykjavik was settled by the vikings (around) 871. Those vikings (pirates) were mainly from Norway but also Denmark and Sweden. Along the way they raped and kidnapped English, Irish, and Scottish women. In the following picture the sign says 871 + or – 2 because there was some debate about the exact time…

 

  • There are NO native people; Norwegian man + English, Scottish, OR Irish woman = Icelandic baby.

  • The only known native species is an Icelandic fox that came over during the ice age.

  • There is no army, but there are three coast guard ships and two helicopters.

  • The U.S. military had stations there until 2006 due to 9/11.

  • The U.S. built the airport, which is about 45 minutes southwest of Reykjavik.

  • During WWII there were 55,000 American troops stationed there and the population of the whole country was only 112,000 at the time.

  • During WWII the U.S. supported them against Denmark; they were officially freed in 1944 because Denmark was occupied.

  • The current population of Iceland is 338,000 people with about 2/3 living in or near Reykjavik.

  • It’s one of the most feminist countries in the world and will (soon) be the first country to require equal pay by releasing everyone’s income.

 

  • It was the country with the first elected female president in the world (1980).

  • There is a database in which you choose your children’s names. You can’t just name your child a western name because you like it. It has to have an Icelandic meaning to it.

  • In the summer it can stay light for over 20 hours and in the winter it can be dark for over 20 hours. To see a timeline of daylight click here. While I was here in April it was light by 5AM and dark close to 11PM.

  • There are almost NO trees in Iceland. But each year they have a competition called “Tree of the Year” and this is the one that won in 2016. It is in downtown Reykjavik. 

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  • It is the MOST peaceful country in the world.

  • I asked if there are any homeless people in the country and the guide said, “Yeah, maybe about 6, but we just build them houses.”

  • The American Embassy is the only building in the country that has any form of security.

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The white building on the far left is their “white house”
  • There are seven political parties.

  • Hallgrimskirkja is an iconic church that was designed to look like a geyser. 70% of Icelandic people are Lutheran.

  • The national sport is a form of wrestling called Glima.

  • Five years ago about 3% of the population worked in tourism and today it’s about 25%.

  • The lava cleans the water making the drinking water some of the cleanest in the world.

  • Fermented shark is the delicacy dish.

  • Global warming has caused the glaciers to melt.

  • The polar bears from Greenland are making their way to Iceland and have to be shot so not to kill the little kiddos.

  • There are 120 active volcanoes and there are some that are overdue by 18 years and could erupt any day. In the past four months there has been a lot more noticeable activity. 

  • I met an Icelandic guy who had just traveled to Washington state and he said, “I was shocked by the very large trees. I get bored here in Iceland. I wish I could just live on a big farm in the states and sip moonshine.” I asked him if there was anything bad about Iceland because it just seems like this perfect utopia. He responded saying the politics are corrupt, but of course, that would happen anywhere.

For more history click here and for more fun facts click here.

***What do you do if you get lost in a forest in Iceland?***Stand up.***

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