Destination Guide: Iceland

Iceland is one of the trendiest destinations right now, and for good reason. It’s got some stunning scenery, flights are pretty cheap (WOW, a budget Icelandic airline, offers $99 flights from some majorĀ  U.S. airports), and it’s like nowhere else in the world. Think of it like Hawaii, with animal and plant biodiversity unique to the islands, but really, really cold.

Iceland is an amazing place that I recommend for every traveler. But how do you get there? What do you pack? Where do you go and what do you do? How much does it cost?

Read on to find out.

How do I get there?

WOW Air or Icelandair are two of your best options for getting to Iceland. They’re not the only ones, but WOW is cheap (see above) and Icelandair will offer you a free stopover of up to 7 nights if you have a flight with a layover in Reykjavik. Two destinations for the price of one? Not a bad deal.

If you don’t mind roughing it in exchange to a super cheap flight, WOW is definitely the way to go. Just be prepared to travel carry-on only and bring your own food and entertainment.

What should I pack?

Contrary to its name, Iceland isn’t that cold, all things considered. I’m not saying that it never gets cold–trust me, it does–but it’s not as bad as you might think. You don’t need to worry about buying a whole new set of Arctic-ready winter gear for your trip.

If you’re visiting in the summer, you can get away with some heavy sweaters, thick pants, a sturdy pair of boots, and a wind- and water-proof jacket. It’s more about preparing for possible wind and rain than it is about prepping for a blizzard. Also make sure to bring sunscreen and sunglasses, since the sun will be up almost constantly.

For those who don’t mind dealing with the cold in exchange for cheaper, off-season prices, fall and winter aren’t the worst times to go. You’ll have a better shot of seeing the Northern Lights, for one. Just make sure you bundle up in a parka, gloves, scarf, leggings and an undershirt, boots with good grip, and those same sweaters and pants that you would have brought in the summer.

Something else you should pack? A swimsuit. I know it sounds weird, but trust me: you’ll be glad you brought it.

What should I do?

Drive around the Golden Circle. Explore Reykjavik. Ride Icelandic horses over lava fields. Snorkel and touch two continents at the same time. Hike a glacier. Wander through an ice cave. See a black sand beach. Gaze up at the Northern Lights. Relax at the Blue Lagoon Spa. Visit the world’s only Penis Museum.

The possibilities are endless.

How much should I budget?

There’s no other way to put this: Iceland is expensive. Remember the Hawaii comparison from earlier? They’ve got more than unique landscapes in common. Iceland is an island with no arable land, aside from some greenhouses scattered across the country. They have plenty of sheep, fish, whales, and puffin, but everything else must be imported.

This is why a chicken Caesar salad cost me about $21. And a combo at KFC was $13. You can get a full dinner of lamb, potatoes, gravy, and a drink for about that same price, though (the main bus station has a surprisingly good restaurant, by the way).

Souvenirs are expensive, too, so don’t promise your friends and family a ton of gifts. Gas is currently $1.53/liter, which converts to $5.78/gallon; so, think twice before renting that car to drive around the whole island. Tours and car rentals are both expensive, though they should be cheaper during the off-season.

So, how much money should you budget for Iceland? That’s a personal question that I can’t really answer. All I can say is that you should keep in mind that accommodations, food, and excursions are all fairly expensive. Figure out what you really want to do, what should be put off for another time, and where you can try to save money.

Maybe you can save money on accommodations by camping or sleeping in your car (as laws and weather permit). Or you can spring for a place with a kitchen, then load up on cheap groceries from the local store. Perhaps you’ll cut your trip down from 2 weeks to 5 days.

Just don’t go attempting this trip on a backpacking budget. You’ll regret it.

That being said, you’ll regret it even more if you miss out on this breathtaking, heart-stealing place.

Are you planning to visit Iceland? If you’ve already been, how was it? I’d love to hear your stories!

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