Planning for Iceland
I do a lot of googling and talking to other travelers I know. I like to read and see things that aren’t just on Trip Advisor. I want a more authentic “local” experience but I also want to see those really cool “well traveled” sites like Skógafoss. I made a Google map with pins to show all the places I wanted to hit up on the road. I also made a Google Doc with blogs I liked and other tips I found along the way (like how to photograph the Northern Lights). It’s easy to share that map with my travel friends.
Pro tip: To create your own pinned Google Map, go to Maps on your computer and click the icon in the upper left with three lines to see options. Click on “Your Places” then “Create Map” at the bottom of that popup. Then just click and add pins with different colors and notes!
Getting to Iceland
In Iceland the major airport is KEF or Keflavík International Airport. If you are flying into Iceland this is probably where you are flying into. This airport is about 30 miles / 50 km from Reykjavík. To get into the city you are going to need to take a taxi, bus or rent a car. There are plenty of car rental agencies just make sure you go with one that you know is a good one. This island is known for terrible car rental companies and experiences. Ask for referrals, read blog posts and reviews of the companies before you decide. The cheapest rental might not be the best rental or end up being the cheapest when you get surprise fees at the end.
Pro tip: I’ve heard Iceland4x4carrental, Bluecar and Sixt are all good ones. Whether you get the sand, ash and gravel protection is up to you. I’ve never heard of that til now!
The Iceland stopover
The best way to go to Iceland is on WOW Air or IcelandAir. With IcelandAir, Iceland is a free* stopover (#mystopover) for up to 7 days and then you get to go somewhere else in Europe for free (26 destinations!). The difference between the airlines though is becoming quite clear the closer I get to my trip. I think WOW is really up front with the nickle and diming and IcelandAir hides it. If you aren’t going to feed me on a 7 hour flight I think you should be really up front about that and call yourself a budget airline. Somehow I thought it was more “luxury” but it looks like I have to pay for that. WOW I would expect to pay for all the extras because that’s how they advertise it.
On my trip I’m also going to Helsinki which has a ferry to Estonia. I’m not a huge fan of big cities so I usually don’t spend more than 2 or three days there before moving on to another city or the country. That’s where the Baltic States come in. I’m excited to see the former Russian countryside.
Cost of the trip
The plane ticket to go there was pretty cheap for going to Europe especially since I got the free stopover which I normally only do on mileage tickets. If it’s free, I would take advantage of it even if you only spent a couple days somewhere else. If you have the time it’s worth it.
Any of the scandinavian countries are more expensive. They have higher taxes since they give education and good health care to their citizens. That means that all the things you buy like food and lodging become more expensive to pay the labor and taxes. I love that they have these things for their citizens and I wish that we had that here in the states. I’m not such a huge fan of paying $12 or more for a beer but, hey it’s only a week right?!
Pro tip: Buy your booze at the supermarket or the duty free store at the airport before you leave.
Winter vs Summer
Iceland has two main seasons, winter and summer. The other seasons aren’t quite as noticeable. Winter means you have to deal with snow and blizzards and ice. You also need a 4×4 to get around even on the main roads. In the summer you get to see more of the island and greenery. You can camp and drive around more easily.
The best way to see Iceland and all it’s mountains, waterfalls and geothermal waters you’ll need to rent a car. There is a bus that goes around but you won’t be able to see everything and you’ll have to do more walking or hiking.
Why am I going in the winter? The northern lights! This is my number one goal while I’m in Iceland although I have no control over it happening. I just know that winter is the best time to see them since you need cold, dark nights. In the summer you get near 24 hours of daylight. You can’t see the lights.
Icelandic is the main language but they also speak english. It should be easy to communicate. They also take mostly credit cards so you won’t need much cash. If you do need cash I’d recommend getting it when you are in the city. I’d carry a little bit even if you don’t think you’ll need it.
I’ve heard everyone is pretty nice. I think that’s true of most smaller islands. It’s a good way to find awesome secret spots, talk to the locals. Ask what they like to do and see.
I think the only really unsafe thing in Iceland is the road conditions and turning your back on the ocean. If you get swept out to sea you probably aren’t going to make it. Be careful on those beaches and cliffs. Don’t drive in the snow if you don’t know how or the road conditions say you shouldn’t.
If you can’t live without Wifi that is an option for most car rental places. They can also supply you with a GPS if you prefer that to Google Maps offline. You could also get a SIM card if you absolutely must have calling capabilities while you are there outside of Skype or Google Voice.
Pro tip: To get a map offline on your phone. Be on wifi for a big download. Open maps, click on the three line in the upper left. Select “Offline areas” and the “Custom area”. Zoom out to the area you want to have offline, for instance, all of south Iceland. Then Hit download. Now you can get directions offline in that area!
Check back here at the end of March for after trip details on how it went including pictures!
*If you book closer into your date I think they start charging for the stopover even though their website leads you to believe it’s always free. Make sure you read the fine print. I booked my ticket at two months before and it was still free.