Iceland on a budget

Stunning waterfalls in IcelandIceland “The Land of Fire and Ice” is quickly becoming Europe’s worst kept travel secret!  After their devastating economic crash in 2008, Iceland put large amounts of funding into promoting Iceland as an outdoor adventure paradise. Incredible raw nature and awe-inspiring landscapes guaranteed that once the word was out it did not take much to get people talking.  A simple image search of Iceland will instantly have you champing at the bit to buy your plane ticket and visit this outstanding country.  That being said the prices have been steadily rising and it is now considered a pretty expensive place to visit. However a trip to Iceland can still be done relatively cheap if you stick to these few essential guidelines.

First and foremost

Oftentimes visitors opt for just visiting a few days, which is mostly free when flying local airlines going across the Atlantic. Give Iceland the justice it deserves and make it your main destination. We stayed for 12 days and it felt right, of course you can always stay longer but it felt like an appropriate length and it was enough time to see a lot of the sights.

Freedom is renting a car

Consider this a must! Public transportation is infrequent, very time-consuming and staying around Reykjavik you will limit yourself to the sights most frequented by tourists. Consider renting a car from SADCARS. Their cars certainly live up to their not so flattering name. All their cars are around 10 years old, which makes the price (around half of other rental companies) totally worth it!  IMG_0237Be aware that going off-road is very illegal and that F roads are for 4WD only. Most other gravel roads are fine as long as you take it slow. We took this old beast up some pretty formidable mountain passes and besides a flat in the middle of nowhere we survived.  There is no mileage limit, which is really nice if you plan to go around the ring road, a total of 828 miles without any detours. We ended up driving around 2000 miles total but that included seeing the remote Western Fjords, a final frontier that should not be missed.  Keep in mind that they do not accept debit cards in Iceland when you rent a car, only credit cards. Some places even require the pin code. If you are dead set on not renting a car plenty of people (including many single females) hitch hike, which is considered safe as Iceland has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

Camping is Key

Wild camping in IcelandAlmost every town or city has campgrounds; most of which have hot water, a cooking area and often even hot showers and laundry facilities.  Pretty luxurious!  Campsites are roughly $10 per person per night.  If this is too much for your budget to handle it is legal to camp in the wild as long as you are not in a national park or on somebody’s private land.  Anywhere else goes and seeing that once you get out of the main cities Iceland is scarcely populated. It is very easy to find some pretty spectacular places to camp.  If you are not camping you can easily blow your budget on a few hotel rooms. Hotel rooms in Iceland are fairly expensive, somewhere around $200 for a shabby bungalow style room.  However we managed to get a screaming last minute deal through Expedia in the center of Reykjavik for the last night.

Pick your food battles

Eating out can quickly become quite expensive.  Lunch for two people in a decent restaurant can easily cost you $50 or more. However the quality of food in Iceland is generally really good and something you should not miss. Especially the locally raised lamb and the fresh fish will make your mouth water. There is no shortage of local fast-food joints, which are of course much cheaper if you are tight on cash. Subsidize eating out with cooking a lot of ”gourmet” meals on the camping stove, which can really save you a ton of money.  Make up for the camping food with the breathtaking surroundings. There is a local budget supermarket called Bonus in all larger towns, easily the best priced groceries in the country. Whatever you do don’t buy bottled water as Iceland has some of the cleanest and tastiest fresh water in the world. Stop by any stream and fill your bottle with ice-cold and refreshing water straight from the glaciers.

Tours Tours Tours = $$$

PuffinTours are a great way to have foreigners spend copious amounts of money while visiting Iceland. Pick a few and don’t go overboard. I found tours to be totally overpriced and borderline outrageous as far as price goes. Sometimes you just have to bypass certain things to stay on budget.

There is an endless array of exciting tours we would have loved to experience but had to skip. Instead we preferred to travel to the more remote spots and spend the day photographing birds and enjoying being out in nature instead of going on a tour.

Top Tip!

No matter how small the town is (and I mean small) they will most likely have a Sundlaug (it literally translates to swimming pool).  These pools cost about the same as a shower at a campground (around $3-5) and although they vary a little in price and quality they are absolutely amazing.  After driving all day it was a lifesaver jumping into the pool, and even more importantly the hot tub or sauna.  For us prude Americans you have to get used to gym style showers but no one really cares that you are naked.  Drop “trou” and you will get over being naked with the locals in no time.  One of the best parts for me was that all these “Sundlaugs” had hair dryers, which is outstanding because even in summer it’s pretty cold and for those of us with long hair this was an unexpected luxury.

I hope that these tips will come in handy on your next Icelandic adventure!

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