12 April 2017

How to travel Iceland on a Budget

Iceland seems to be at the top of everyone's bucketlists at the moment and for very, very good reasons. The country is unlike any other but being cut off from mainland suppliers of almost everything, things get expensive and pretty fast. However, I have some tips that will help you to tick of Iceland from your wanderlust list and travel without breaking the bank. How to travel Iceland on a budget...

I did an awful lot of research before leaving for Iceland on how to make the most of my trip. Whilst blog posts on travelling the magical land of Iceland seem to be popping up a little more than they were a few years ago, the information within them seems to be more of the same. You can spend hours reading about the tourist hotspots on the Golden Circle and how to explore the eclectic city of Reykjavik. If you look hard enough, there's even a few posts on the alien landscapes once you leave the Golden Circle. However, the one thing all these posts have in common, is that they spend most of the post reiterating how expensive Iceland is and how much it's going to leave a gaping hole in your bank balance.

Now, I'm not going to tell you any different, Iceland is not cheap. But it's totally affordable if you're really dedicated to make it that way.

I got so fed up of hearing about how expensive Iceland is when I was researching my trip, that it kind of became my goal to make something else. Which I think I smashed. There are always ways to save money and Iceland is no different from that. Being frugal and budgeting isn't for the weak hearted when you're exploring somewhere new. The desire to eat at every restaurant and shop in every shop almost killed me. When you've been living off of dry cereal and packet noodles even for just a few days the withdrawel of 'real food' can almost be a game changer. George and I really went cold turkey, be all end all on this trip. But you can do anything you put your mind to, right!

What do you want from your trip to Iceland?

Depending on what you're coming to Iceland for, will completely depict how much money you're looking at spedning whilst you there. Most of the time, tourists come to Iceland for it's natural beauty; like the volcano's, waterfalls and geysirs. But Iceland has so much more to offer than just what you can find on the Golden Circle.

The trick to saving the most money, is to know what you need/want to see/do. Chances are you're going to leave Iceland after your first visit knowing that you want to go back many, many times after. Even with a reasonable budget, you'll never see and experience everything Iceland has to offer in one visit. So go into planning your first trip with the mindset that you're going to come back. If you're on a budget, and I'll put money on the fact that because you're reading this post you are, then figuring out a list on un-missables is you're best plan.

If your dream is to eat your way through Iceland's best restaurants, then you're not going to need to venture much further than the Golden Circle. Arguable I know, but if you're on a budget, then going all the way to Akureyri for the countries best hot dog is a little ridiculous. Scrap that, it's very ridiculous. If you're here for the food then there are some incredible eateries in the city which will satisfy your senses completely. No need to venture to the other side of the country. What's more, is when you're not eating you can spend your time on one or two of the guided tours to the Golden Circle, because you can't go all that way and not leave Reykjavik.

On the other hand however, if you're all about the sightseeing and the roads less travelled, then I'd get out of the city as fast as you can. Like I mentioned, Reykjavik is filled with so many incredible, deliciously smelling restaurants that compared to British prices, are so expensive. But they smell so good, you'll want to spend the money. Which is a big no, no when on a budget. If you're there for the sights then you'll want to hire a car, guided tours are great but there's nothing better than travelling at your own pace. But more on that later...

How to save money when you know what you want to do

I'm going to keep going back to those two scenario's, you either A) want to visit Iceland for the city life and food or B) want to see the sights. Because let's face it, Iceland has nothing on Scandenavia and you're most certainly not visiting for the weather.

But, once you figure out what category you're in, and honestly I can't say this enough, if you're on a budget it's not going to be easy if you're in both. Pick the one that you want the most, there's always room for comprimise later.

Anyway, scenario A), you're all about the food. Reykjavik has a plethora of restaurants on offer (I recommend Svarta Kaffid, seriously, check it out) and chances are, you'll be enticed by them all. Which also lends a good chance that you're going to be spending a bit of $$$. Realistically, a single course dinner with tap water and a tip is going to set you back at least 2300KR (£17) for just one person. So, if you're there for 4 days and eat out for every meal, which you can, you're looking at spending a minimum £200 on food.

Do your research, figure out what eateries you can't miss, like the Icelandic Hot Dog which they cover in cheese, garlic mayo and Dorito's. Yes, Dorito's. If you're staying in a Hostel or AirBnB then you'll have access to a kitchen. As far as I'm aware, there aren't any stand-out Icelandic breakfasts, so picking up some cereal or toast and eating in will save you money. If you can, maybe try cooking for yourselves at lunch time too. There's always a lot of 'different' foods sold in any 'new' grocery store than what you might find in your local at home. So taking the time out to experience home-foods from the Icelandic grocery stores will still be working towards your 'experiencing Icelandic food'goal, just not spending as much money!

TOP TIP: Only shop at Bonus when you're grocery shopping. And when you can pick the products with the EuroSave logo on them.

Scenario B); you want to walk the roads less travelled. As long as you don't go too far, for example staying on the ring road and not venturing too far North, then you've got quite a good chance at doing this on a budget.

George and I travelled the southern coastline in a Camper Van, which meant what we paid for the van, covered our transport and accomodation expenses in one. It also meant that we could be really flexible about where we were going in the daytime and where we could end up each night. We had no hostel reservations to abide by like you would if you hire a car. And no pre-booked tours to attend even if there was a torrential downpoor. We were truly free birds, going where we wanted and when we wanted. Which I'd thoroughly recommend, considering your itinerary will be 100% depicted by the weather when you visit.

When do you want to go? 

Summer is peak season in Iceland because the weather is slightly more predictable (although only by a fraction) and the days are long. Seriously long. I'm talking, the sun doesn't set in August. So you can expect to be spending more than premium prices to travel Iceland in Summer. It's the most popular time of year to camp and there are lots of celebrations, festivals and activities to keep you occupied all 24hours of daylight.

In winter, the prices are more affordable. Still quite steep, this is Iceland remember, but it's more accessible on a smaller budget at this time. The weather however is more unpredictable and the temperatures can be below freezing in winter too. However, if you're dreaming of seeing the Northern lights whilst you're there, you've got a good chance in the colder seasons. Particularly in March. George and I travelled in the last week of March and only paid to park our camper and stay overnight once. Wild camping in Iceland is illegal all year round however the campsights which are open 365days of the year seemed fairly flexible about charging in low season. We wern't trying to specifically elude the charges either, on our first night we asked the guy how much and he just shrugged us off.

I'm not going to pretend that Iceland was a breeze and super cheap, because it wasn't. We spent roughly £1100 on our 6 day trip, including flights, tours and camper hire (George and I went with Camp Easy for our Van which were phenominal by the way, I would 100% recommend). Not to mention insurance and all that nonsense you need when you travel. But it was 100% worth it and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. But to recap on how to save money when travelling Iceland:
  • Know what you want to get out of your trip, and remember that you can always come back if you don't get everything done first try.
  • The weather will define what you do, have an itinerary to make the most out of your time but be flexible about when you do your activities. Don't trust the weather report more that 3 hours in advance because it's seriously unpredicatable. You'll also save money on tours by not booking in advance due to weather too. A freak storm before your Ice Cave adventure would mean losing out on a lot of $$$ as you couldn't make it to the meeting site because of unsafe road conditions.
  • But, do do tours. Some of the most spectacular things in Iceland isn't accessible without a guide. And don't think it is. A four wheel drive is great but you will get stuck in the snow trying to get to the Ice Caves. There's a reason the tour guides drive monster trucks. No joke. Just remember to shop around, there are lots of tour operators offering the same thing for different prices. 
  • Go to fancy restaurants but eat from the kitchen in your hotel room too. You can eat in for three nights for the same price as eating at a restaurant for one! Experiencing the local delicacies requires you to experience the grocery shops too. When was the last time you ate vacuum packed shrimp?
  • When grocery shopping, stick to Bonus. All the other supermarkets stock imported food which is two thirds more expensive than the stuff you find in Bonus (look for a giant pig for the logo). Remember to look for items with the 'EuroSave' logo, that's Icelands equivilant of Sainsbury's 'Basic' range or Morrison's 'Value' products.
  • Why are you staying in a hotel? Tourism in Iceland is only just starting to make a break, meaning the hotels that there are sell out fast and are super pricey. There are a few hostels but if you're not up for camping, I'd recommend Air BnB. The Icelandic people are super friendly and accomodating and it'll definitely save you a lot.
  • Winter is the cheapest time to visit, think about the shoulder seasons when the temperatures aren't too extreme (October/November & March/April) but prices are still discounted.

If you're interested, I've been Instagramming like crazy throughout my trip so if you need some Iceland inspo or generally just fancy getting some wanderlust jealousy. I mean, who doesn't spend half their day scrolling through insane travel accounts? Because I most certainly.

Love always,

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