Iceland is a highly sought after country with tourists and can be known to be quite expensive. For reference, it is the fourth most expensive country to date.
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How can you visit this picturesque place on a budget? Well, if walking the 3,741-mile ring road by foot while foraging for food at every country house isn’t your forte, then I’m here to tell you about five other alternatives.
Live out of your car.
To save money on hotels and hostels, me and a group of 3 others shared a truck with a camper on the back. While space was limited (and I mean very limited), the overall costs of gas and the rental were split. This allowed us to go a greater distance and sleep where we parked instead of driving back to the one major town and then driving back the next day.
We were able to see more, even if that meant giving up comfort.
If you don’t plan on doing a lot of driving and are staying in town, Iceland has ample amounts of buses that run all day long, from all directions of the island. Four different bus companies in Iceland cover much of the ring road, depending on the season and the road conditions.
Buses into the interior of the country and local tours require that you pay in advance. The price per ticket is 350ISK, or $3.
Be a minimalist.
The less you pack, the more room you have. I know, easier said than done. However, my backpacking backpack and camera bag were the only things that accompanied me on a 2-week road trip.
If I can do it, so can you!
If you will be visiting in the winter, expect to be wearing the same snow gear most of the time. Packing a lighter for the colder conditions is all about wearing suitable layers. Thermal undershirts work as great base layers, and down jackets work as great snow coats (easy to compact as well). Instead of packing thick heavy socks, try to find thinner wool socks that won’t take up as much space. Wool will help regulate your body temperature in any condition.
Waterproof boots are necessary when visiting here in the winter as there is snow and ice all around. Also, boots with better traction on the bottom are highly suggested, given mine had a minimal amount, and I fell more times than I can remember. Trust me, paying a little more for better traction is better than having medical expenses.
Lighter and smaller clothes are easier to compact when visiting in summer. However, you will still want to bring waterproof pants and jackets to be prepared for the unstable weather conditions and the mist that the waterfalls carry (you will get soaked if you’re going to get close!).
If travelling with others, make sure to split up the essentials, so you aren’t all bringing necessities easily shared.
Pro tip: Wear as many layers and your heaviest shoes to the airport to save on bags and money.
This might mean giving up your favourite snacks to afford money for your dinner (I promise it will still be at your house when you get back!)
I packed with me 14 protein bars for the morning and bags of nuts and dried foods to have as part of my other meals. Dried oatmeal also works well as it doesn’t take up much space, and it goes a long way. While the food in Iceland is VERY expensive, the mini-marts and supermarkets are the best places to go for the cheapest items.
A sandwich at the mini-mart cost me anywhere from $8-$10, and a cup of coffee (my must-have) was about $3 per cup. They have a wide variety of food in the marts varying from salads, sandwiches, pastries, fish/meat, soup, etc.
Supermarkets are also an excellent option for those looking to buy some groceries for their stay on a low budget. There aren’t many around the island, but the most known one is called Bonus. These markets contain multiple walk-in fridges, so don’t forget your jacket! You must pay for your grocery bags, so save money by bringing in your own reusable bags.
Use public bathrooms for a shower.
Gas station bathrooms will be your new favourite place. When did you think you’ll ever be saying that?! This is where I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and, if lucky, could wash my hair in the sink!
If you get as lucky as I was, you can make friends with those in a hostel and “inadvertently” sneak to the bathrooms to go shower and blame it on the “random 2-minute rainfall” that just occurred outside.
Swimming pools are a cheaper way to find showers, but you must purchase a ticket before entering. These tickets are relatively inexpensive ($5 per adult, $1 for 6-18-year-olds, free for six and under), and you get the luxury of swimming in an outdoor pool along with it. The locker rooms make you embrace your outer beauty by making you shower in the nude. It is rude not to commit to these rules, and there are shower guards there as well. Soap is provided. (don’t forget to put on your suit before entering the pool!)
Do cheap activities.
Iceland, aka an “adults outdoor amusement park,” has a wide variety of different landscapes in all island directions. No two areas are the same. We found ourselves caught in a snow blizzard with heavy winds in one town, but we didn’t see an inch of snow insight when we drove to the next.
If you aren’t looking to spend money at the blue lagoon, need not worry. There are ten other free hot springs on the island with even better scenic views (and you avoid the crowds, Bonus!) The ten other hot springs are:
- Laugarvalladalur: (Private pool; will need permission from farmer)
- Myvatn Nature Baths
Glaciers and waterfalls are easily accessible and worth the drive. If you’re lucky, you can spot reindeer in the winter and puffins in the summer. Sawed houses are fun to explore around and in, even if that means being on someone’s property!
While the island isn’t that big, the views are breathtakingly overwhelming, making you want to spend days at just one location. Last but not least, Reykjavik, the countries capital, is worth the walk around town. The people there are very accommodating, and the atmosphere is very welcoming.