bon voyage : iceland

i’m not easily intimidated, especially when it comes to travel.  i’ve ventured off for summers abroad on my own, clueless about what to expect at my destination, with little fear or reservation.  when my husband and i decided to travel to iceland to celebrate our first anniversary, i took it as an opportunity for lots of adventure and little planning.  it wasn’t until we landed, got our rental car, and started driving that i realized iceland is unlike any place i’ve ever visited.  over our next four days (yes, it was a quick trip), we discovered the inviting but intimidating beauty of the country’s southern coast.  though we didn’t have an extensive period of time in any one place, we were able to explore and enjoy the vast landscapes, charming towns, and stunning wildlife of the countryside and spend a day exploring reykjavík, the capital city.  if you are trying to plan a trip to iceland, i hope this information is helpful in making the process less daunting!

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first things first, set your budget, then double it; iceland is expensive, even more so than i realized.  different icelandic airlines offer budget-friendly fares from the states and mainland europe; we flew on wow air from baltimore for about $415.00USD each, including baggage fees and taxes.  we spent roughly $400 on four nights of accommodations, all booked through airbnb, and we found a 4×4 suv rental through rent a wreck for around $290USD.  these were the sort of expenses we planned for and paid off before our trip, so we didn’t expect to spend much more once we landed on the island.  we only drove for three of our four days, and we spent $150 on fuel.  food was our biggest expense, though, with a daily average of $90, even though we ate as cheaply as possible–i’m talking gas station hot dogs, snacks, and water.  whether you plan on buying groceries or dining out, plant to spend $50-$75 per person daily if you want to eat things that don’t taste like cardboard.  a great alternative option is to bring snack foods with you; we were grateful that i had packed a few snack bars when, due to a national holiday, almost all the stores and restaurants we stopped at were closed.  kind bars for the win.

secondly, figure out your “can’t miss” sights, and give yourself ample leeway in your schedule to stop along the way.  our first day was a long one of driving from reyjkavík to höfn, or, to put it in layman’s terms, all the way across the south of the country.  the drive could have taken six hours had we not made many stops along the way, but it took us eleven.  we broke the drive in half into two days, thus allowing us even more time to stop for photos, hot springs, hiking, black sand beaches, horses, waterfalls, geysers, and everything else the frigid volcanic island has to offer.  definitely seek out a hot spring or two for a relaxing break during long stretches of driving.  if you have a week or more for your vacation, drive the ring road–route 1–around the perimeter of the country.  if you are taking a shorter trip, consider driving the golden circle and stopping by the beach town of vík í myrdal.  figure out how much time you are comfortable traveling each day, and plan accordingly.

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third, different seasons have different sights to offer, so consider what you most want to see and do when you begin planning your trip.  if you want to explore ice caves, you’ll have to visit in the late fall or winter while they’re open.  dreaming of green pastures and (moderately) warmer weather?  the summertime will be your jam.  want to see the northern lights?  visit between september and april for a chance to view them in their dancing green glory.  research the weather before you go to make sure you pack warm enough clothing, and wear weatherproof shoes and outerwear.  in late march we encountered clouds, rain, sunshine, winds, and snow.  channel your inner boy scout and be prepared for anything.

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lastly, spend a day decompressing in reykjavík.  this charming town has plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, and stores to duck into around every corner, and the majority of the country’s population lives in or around the city.  the buildings are covered in beautiful street art, and the people inside them are lovely and fluent in english.  go inside the harpa music hall to see stunning architecture, or visit the top of hallgrímskirkja for a killer view of the city.  stop by rekjavík roasters for a latte, or check out tíu dropar for the best chicken + bacon + ciabatta sandwich you’ll ever have.  my icelandic friend, helga, was kind enough to show us around on our last night, even driving us by jónsi and björk’s houses.  plan to have a peaceful night resting in the city before flying back to reality.

if you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment!

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