Before leaving for Iceland I tried to do as much research as possible. I wanted to have an idea of what to expect, but no amount of reading could prepare me for what was coming.
There were also several things I would choose to do differently, and I gathered what was most surprising/obvious for your enjoyment:
Changing of the seasons
I looked out the window one morning and was so excited to see clear blue skies. I turned around to make a snack or something, looked back out the window a few minutes later and it was pouring down rain! What gives? Being from Oregon, I’m pretty used to bipolar weather and rain, but seriously. It had more mood swings than a hormonal teenager.
The first part of our journey around the Ring Road was pretty much just torrential rain and strong winds. At several points I thought the wind would topple our car over! (Read the first post on our Ring Road adventure here!)
We rented this dinky little car that was “4×4” just in case the roads were bad. It was technically an SUV but it felt shorter than most compact cars. There were absolutely no bad roads, so it wasn’t necessary at the time we went. When we go back I’ll make sure to either rent a smaller car that would be good on gas or a bigger SUV. We had barely enough room in the back for our bags, let alone people, and missed out on quite a few opportunities to meet hitchhikers. I felt like such a jerk driving past these poor souls in the rain, averting my eyes and chanting, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!!!”
I know, this seems obvious, right?? The airline we flew with had very strict baggage limits, so we packed as light as we could and had to sacrifice clothes for our heavier (but much needed) camping gear. I’m not complaining because we got such a good deal on tickets, it was just one of the things I would have planned differently. Layers, layers, layers. And some more layers.
A warm coat should be priority — here are some budget-friendly options:
(another packing tip: learn from our mistake and leave room in your bags to bring back hordes of Icelandic candy without paying an overweight baggage fee!:)
Who farted? Oh, it’s just the shower water.
It was almost laughable, but the first major difference I noticed was that all the hot water from the tap smelled bad. Like, really bad. Or maybe everyone just had gas, but I don’t think so. Apparently they run the hot water directly from the geothermal heating underground and it’s how Icelanders heat their houses as well. Pretty neat! Another thing, you definitely don’t need to buy water while you’re there. The cold tap water was delicious, and around the country we would just fill up our water bottles from glacier streams found everywhere!
It was interesting learning about some of the differences in laws, security, and how strong feminism is there. For example: there are 1.1 murders a year and the longest you can spend in prison is 16 years, and some of the prisons allow you to roam freely but just check in at a certain time! Imagine! It was kind of refreshing to feel so safe and not having to worry about theft or anything.
There was a very relaxed vibe wherever we went. I read beforehand that it was customary to burp in public but I guess it didn’t click until I witnessed a 70-something-year-old lady at the bus station cafe belching louder than most men I know, before casually sitting down to enjoy her soup without a word. It was awesome.
SO MANY TOURISTS!
What’s the first thing you think when you think of Iceland? I thought it would be this desolate and beautiful place, devoid of civilization in parts and we would practically have the place to ourselves to explore. It was most definitely gorgeous, but we were just part of the mass of tourists that occupied the majority of the country. Some were obnoxious, and I feel compelled to dedicate a future post on how to be a good tourist, so I’ll leave it at that.
After talking to a few locals, they all agreed that tourism has been booming in Iceland since the last decade. I think people are realizing how amazing and untouched it is, but guess what?? The more people that flock to Iceland, the more they ruin the pristine landscapes and novelty that makes the country wonderful. They abuse it and treat it disrespectfully and like a toilet. Be a responsible tourist! Sorry, my rant went longer than I meant.
Full disclosure: we spent way more than we wanted on this trip. Iceland is freaking expensive. A “cheap” beer was $8, a typical meal about $20-$30, and I spent my life savings on gasoline (almost $7/gallon), but there is redemption! If you haven’t already heard, Icelandic hotdogs are the greatest things on earth and the cheapest meal you can buy (they sell them everywhere). I definitely ate my weight in them and we ended up buying the ingredients to make them ourselves to save even more money. It was one of the sadder things about coming back to the states. In case you’re curious or want to make them as well, these are the basics:
Oh, and they weren’t lying when they said you don’t need cash. We used our card for everything.
All in All
The food was amazing, the landscapes breathtaking, the people freakishly beautiful. I almost hesitate to recommend going there, because I want it to remain less explored, but honestly it is the prettiest country I’ve ever been to. Just start saving up now!
Have you been to Iceland?
What was the most unexpected thing you encountered?
How do you save money while traveling somewhere costly?