In early July, I spontaneously decided to travel to Iceland for a couple of days. After a very hectic June, which involved a family holiday, a week in Budapest with my friends and receiving my degree classification. The realisation that my time at university was at an end and my life was about to change hit me hard. Then Brexit happened, so I decided to go to Iceland to clear my head.
Iceland is notorious for being expensive. My last-minute decision to book this trip meant that I didn’t have weeks or months before I planned this to get a good deal. As a result, I had to book accommodation and flights based on what was available. Though I feel the prices weren’t too bad for what I wanted for my trip, I am in no doubt that had I planned this trip a lot further in advance, I would have saved a lot of money.
This was my first solo trip so I see it as very trial and error as I worked out how to budget, navigate and plan my time accordingly. With this mentality, I acknowledged the rookie mistakes I made during this trip and can think carefully about how I’d handle a similar situation again. The following is a run-down of all the elements of my trip to Iceland and how I fared in my attempt to keep to some kind of budget when I was out there, with some advice on how not to make the same mistakes I did!
As I mentioned before, this trip was last minute, and so I booked the cheapest flights available; I flew to and from Iceland with WOW Air, an Icelandic budget airline that offers flights to the USA via Keflavik. I was unfamiliar with the airline, but I chose to fly with them as they were the cheapest option; I had a quick look at some reviews. One had mentioned that WOW flights were frequently delayed. I was rather optimistic and hoped this wouldn’t happen on my journey, but my outbound flight was delayed by 2 hours and the return flight by one hour. However, once boarding started, everything was smooth; the planes are big jumbo jets with really smart interiors and a jazzy purple exterior. Very handily, I was able to book the shuttle bus from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik.
I stayed at Kex Hostel for 3 nights when I visited Reykjavik, and I’m delighted I chose this hostel. It’s about 20 minutes walk from the bus station and is situated about 5-10mins walk from the centre of Reykjavík once you get your bearings. The best thing about the hostel was that it faced the sea and the mountains, which gave my trip the most beautiful backdrop; every night I was there, I walked across the road, sat on the rocks and watched the Icelandic summer “sunset”.
Kex Hostel is an old biscuit factory that has been converted into a hostel; its vintage interior gives it a quirky and hipster vibe. Dim lighting throughout the hostel makes the communal areas cosy; the bar is frequented by locals. While I was there, they used their function room ‘Gym & Tonic’ to show the EuroCup football matches. On my first night, I sat in the hostel’s beer garden with some travellers I’d met in the kitchen. The hostel is buzzing with activity in the evening. Though reviews had mentioned it having a noise problem, I didn’t find this a problem during my stay.
The communal kitchens were well equipped, decorated with vintage bingo sheets and comic books! But, unfortunately, the kitchen did not have an oven which caught a girl from New Zealand out when she bought Oven chips for her dinner.
Despite the vintage decor, the keycard access to rooms was very modern and easy to use; the dorms were basic. However, the bunk beds were high quality with a good reading light attached to each bunk.
Kex Hostel had a lot to offer in entertainment; they often hold gigs in Gym & Tonic. Still, they also offer excursions through ‘Kexland’; I decided to book a tour of the Golden Circle ‘Kex style’ as I was on my own and wanted to go and visit some of the national parks. This is a really cool service that Kex offer, and Kexland’s desk is right next to the reception, so once you pay for your room, you can just go and book an excursion. For a first time solo-traveller, this was really useful!
To keep costs down, I decided to limit how much money I spent on food out there by taking with me sachets of quick-cook porridge and couscous. This worked out really well and meant that I only spent money on lunches; however, this didn’t mean I missed sampling some of Iceland’s local dishes! Across the road from Kex was an Aktu Taktu, which is an Icelandic fast-food chain, probably akin to McDonald’s but reminiscent of the fast-food stalls at the end of IKEA shops. It seems that Iceland has a thing for jalapeno poppers, as I saw them advertised on quite a few menus around Reykjavik. One tip I would give anyone visiting Reykjavík and visiting an Aktu Taktu is don’t ask for large fries unless you want your budget blown! Take it from me, I was handed a bag of chips the size of my head, and I am still embarrassed at how much I spent on chips on my first night in Iceland!
I also visited the hot dog stand that I later found out was frequented by the Kardashians earlier this year; a group of travellers I met at a Couchsurfing meet up at Hlemmur Hostel were planning on visiting the hot dog stand and I ended up tagging along. I had read that hot dogs were a big thing in Iceland but hadn’t understood why. For a hot dog and drink, it was 660 ikr which is relatively cheap for Reykjavík; despite the hype, the hot dog with all the toppings wasn’t anything special, but it was fun trying an Icelandic hot dog. Then, somewhat randomly, I sampled putrified shark; as I was walking to the hot dog stand, the group I was with were approached by some other travellers who asked if we wanted to try shark, and so I did. Again, the smell and the texture were odd, and the aftertaste lingered, again it was fun to try, but I’m not sure I’d have shark again!
Food costs- mainly chips, hot dog, a glass of wine, a wrap and a smoothie and ice cream; I think I spent around £40 on food.
I wanted most from my trip to Iceland to go for long walks with beautiful scenery, away from the hubbub and craziness of home. Reykjavík offered me all that and more; during my trip, I took a tour of the Golden Circle, visited the Phallological Museum and went to the beach.
Yes, you read that right; Usually when talking about beaches while on vacation our mind thinks of exotic places like Hawaii. But in this case, no. I went to the beach in Iceland! Instead of heading to the Blue Lagoon like most tourists, I wanted to find a cheaper alternative, and the Nauthólsvík geothermal beach was a great find. It was a 40-minute walk away from my hostel, which took me through a national park and past the university. It was easy to navigate with google maps on my phone. I really enjoyed the walk to the beach, and when I arrived, I was greeted with sunshine and a load of locals enjoying a beach day.
The beach consists of a man-made swimming pool that allows seawater to come in and out according to the tide; this means that the pool isn’t too deep. When the wave comes out, the deeper side becomes shallow very suddenly. There’s also a pool that looks like a jacuzzi connected to the man-made seawater pool, but I didn’t go in that one as loads of children were filling it with stones and sand. There’s also a thermal pool, which is just outside the changing area. It was lovely to sit amongst locals and to bathe in the Icelandic sunshine. I thoroughly enjoyed this alternative to the Blue Lagoon, especially as access to the beach and pool is free; the only thing you can choose to pay for is to have your valuables kept behind the bar at the little tuck shop.
After hours at the beach, I decided to pay a visit to the Icelandic Phallological Museum. A couple of summers ago, a friend and I watched ‘The Final Member’ on Netflix. When I saw this friend before I went to Reykjavik, I remembered that the museum was in Iceland, so I made plans to visit. I have to say it looks a lot better than it did in the documentary. Once you see the museum, you realise that this really is one man’s life’s work and not some perverse interest. I thoroughly recommend a visit, it’s a small museum. There are some hilarious things to see, specifically the guest book and the gift shop. I found it refreshing to go around a museum I didn’t have to take seriously; as a history student, I usually spend museum visits analysing the quality of information, however with this museum, I was able to appreciate that this was one man’s life’s work, whilst also finding it pretty funny that there were penises everywhere. I definitely recommend this as a way to spend an hour in Reykjavik!
Overall the activities I got up to in Iceland varied from the budget with the Nauthólsvík beach, which only cost 300 ikr to store my phone and purse. On the other hand, the Icelandic Phallological Museum cost 1,000 ikr entry (approx £6) which is the going rate for most things in Reykjavik.
In total, my mini-break to Iceland cost around £500, which for 2 full days in Iceland is a lot of money. Still, as I said, my decision to go was spontaneous and that spontaneity did not mean wallet-friendly. It was totally worth it, though, and I definitely recommend Reykjavik to anyone looking to get away either as a first time solo-traveller or as an experienced traveller. Two days are definitely not enough time to experience all that Iceland offers, but it was enough time for me to get my bearings and make me want to return again.