Early in June we completed a 10 day vacation to Iceland. Today’s post will explore that trip a bit and how we got out of the trip for $3,200.
A Trip to Iceland without Children
We decided this year we wanted to do a trip without the children. This is only our second trip without kids since our first child was born. It’s also the first more in line with our typical pre kids travel. As part of adapting to kids, our travel with them focuses on more laid back beach vacations and kid friendly places like Europe. Even without kids, our prior trips have been more about resting off burn out. This year we lacked burn out so it was time to do an exploration vacation.
Cheap Flights to Iceland
How much exploration you ask? Well, not only did we decide to go on an outdoor exploration vacation, but we set it up as a ten day road trip around the ring road of Iceland. Why Iceland? Frankly, another deal. The cost of flights to Iceland out of Newark International airport was about $300 with WOW airlines. This flight did not include bags. Flights out of the same airport with Iceland Airlines was $400 a person and included bags. Even better, Iceland Air flights were available with American Express Points. So we used 80,000 of our Amex points to book a free flight for 2 to Iceland.
The second thing we noted while booking the trip was lodging in Iceland is expensive. We didn’t see a hotel for under $300. To keep the costs down, we invited another couple to split the costs with. We invited my best man and his wife to come along. They also left their kids at home. For lodging we booked Airbnb’s every 2-5 hours of driving around the loop. Our most expensive lodging was $250 a night. Add to that a Hertz rental VW Golf manual for a very reasonable $670 with unlimited kilometers and 10 days. Lodging and rental car came out to $1700 per couple.
A Counter Clockwise Roadtrip in Iceland
Before we get to the rest of the costs, let’s explore some of the vacation. Unlike most people we chose to tour the island in a counter clockwise method. So for the first 2 days we stayed in a house on a farm in the middle of the Golden Circle. We skipped the tourist trap over-priced Blue Lagoon (more on that later), but did visit the other well-known sites.
We started our 2 days in the Golden Circle by visiting the geyers of Geysir (say that three times real fast). The highlight of this stop was the decent size geyser that went off every 10 minutes or so. Next, we visited the Gullfoss waterfall and enjoyed the tremendous flow of water. Further off the beaten path we did a hike to a hot river where after 3 km we soaked it up with a bunch of other folks. Finally, we visited Thingvellir. Here we saw one of the waterfalls from Game of Thrones and hiked between the tectonic plates. Honestly, Thingvellir, while the most well known, was in my opinion the least of these many entertaining sites. It certainly was the most populated.
In respect to heavy crowds, we had read about significant crowds near Reykjavik. I’m not a big fan of crowds while hiking. Because of the forewarning we decided to do something to avoid them. The sun never fully disappears in Iceland in the summer, so there was no motivation to visit sites during peak crowd time. By going late evening or even at 10 pm at night we missed the crowds. We ended up spending the entire trip on East Coast US time.
A final note on our time in the Golden Circle. We stopped for a great lunch at Fridheimar, an indoor greenhouse that served some great tomato soup and other tomato based offerings. You ate in and amongst the growing tomato plants. A bit touristy perhaps, but it was on my wife’s list, and the food was quite good.
Food is Expensive in Iceland
An aside, the most expensive part of our trip turned out to be food. We ended up not being entirely on the same page as our co-travelers as they wanted to eat out all the time, while we only wanted to a few times. Food and beer in Iceland is incredibly expensive. How bad? $27 for a six pack bad. $25 for a normal hamburger bad.
Unfortunately, we blew our travel food budget out of the water. The total food and gas bill for this trip was $1500. So total cost of the trip was $3200. Not bad, but not what I had intended. We did do some shopping at the grocery store, and the prices were comparable to our grocery choices at home. We enjoyed sampling Icelandic skyr (kind of like greek yogurt), and muesli for breakfast, sandwiches fixings for lunch with remoulade sauce, and a variety of easy supper meals like pre-marinated lamb and delicious icelandic hot dogs.
One top Iceland tip though, you can get beer by the case in duty free before entering the country for normal beer prices. $11 for a six pack in the duty free sure beats $27 in the grocery store. You can buy 6 six packs a person, so you should be able to cover most of the trip.
Anyway back to the trip, after the Golden Circle, we drove along a route past several major waterfalls, and two glacier lagoons. Right after leaving the Golden Circle we stopped at Seljandfoss waterfall. This one was really cool as you could walk behind it. Even better, since my wife had done her research she knew there was a “secret waterfall” you could walk up the river to inside a canyon. These two waterfalls were easily the coolest I’ve ever seen.
We also stopped at Skogafoss waterfall and hiked to the top of it. The next stop was the Reynisfjara black sand beach. There is a very rough surf, the wind was something else, but the basalt columns and view were spectacular. After leaving the beach we had a bit of a drive to our lodging for the night in Hali near the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.
We stayed at a guest house that night due to lack of other possible accommodations. It was nice though a bit more confining compared to the cabins with hot tubs and grills we stayed at for the rest of the trip. Typical budget accommodation in Iceland is of this type. It wasn’t a bad experience as the hosts provided coffee, tea, and Icelandic skyr as beverages and refreshment. Plus we had the opportunity to have an extended conversation with some locals out of it. However, sharing a room with another couple is not entirely something I want to do for more than a day or so.
Eglistadir, Glaciers, and Hengifoss
Day 5 was a shorter drive to the outside of Eglistadir and a cabin in the mountains. However, before we left we stopped at the glaciers. Some of the pieces of ice bergs washed up on the shore at a place nicknamed “Diamond Beach”, and were stellar with their blue almost crystalline appearance. Another worthwhile stop is the smaller Fjarlson glacier lagoon with its own peaceful tranquility. If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s even a hiking trail that connects the two.
Once we were en route to Eglisstadir, we stopped every so often to view road-side waterfalls, or scenic outlooks of some gorgeous fjords and went through a 6KM long tunnel. The next morning we hiked up a trail to the Hengifoss waterfall. Afterwards we had a fantastic Icelandic buffet lunch at a small cafe called Klausturkaffi, sampling all the local foods. Reindeer sausage, dandelion syrup, Angelica spice, Lamb, and cod were all on the menu.
Fishing and Myvatan Baths near Huskavik
Day 6, we drove to Huskavik where we spent 2 days. Our compatriots decided to go fishing in the lake we stayed on in front of our cabin. So, we ultimately ate arctic char for 2 days caught from the lake and cooked on the grill. Also, here we finally went to a blue man made lake like the Blue Lagoon. You see on the back side of the island is the Myvatan Baths. They are exactly like the Blue Lagoon but far away from the tourist area of Reykjavik, so half the price with no time limit. Soaking in a natural blue water while staring at a snow capped mountains is surreal.
We skipped most of Myvatan lake, or lake mosquito as the locals call it. How bad were the mosquitos here? While driving through we passed through a cloud of them, it was like rain falling on the car. Instead, we chose to stay at our smaller non fly infested northern lake except to explore Abyrgi canyon which is an absolutely stunning horseshoe shaped canyon. This canyon is featured in mythology prominently as the hoof print of Odin’s horse. The view was spectacular with birch lined cliffs. We did a 4 hour hike through the canyon.
Whales on the Fjord
We spent one more night in the area, for a total of 3, in an Airbnb on a fjord in Akueryi. While sitting at that cabin drinking a beer around the time of the midnight sun, I noticed a spout of water in the air. You guessed it, the whales were right in front of our Airbnb under the non setting sun. Very cool.
Reykavik and Recovery
The last 2 days we spent in Reykavik as our traveling companions were worn out. Here, we explored the local church, ate some local food, and generally relaxed before our flights home.
Honestly, one thing this trip did reinforce is the importance of being on the same page as to the type of travel you plan with all attendees. I believe we could have done a better job there with our traveling companions. But we still had a blast, and I believe so did they. My wife said something she rarely says to me at the end of a trip, “ We have to come back.” Normally I get a we could come back if it’s cheap or other lukewarm reception. Only Hawaii has gotten such an affirmative thumbs up from the missus.
Not bad for a $3200 trip that you could do cheaper if you didn’t eat out as much. If I subtract our normal 100 dollar a week food bill that means the net cost of the trip was $3100. Add that to $1940 we were left from the cruise and we have to travel hack 5K more to reach our $0 spend on travel goal.
We have signed up for a new card, the Capital One Venture card, with it’s $500 signup bonus and the final global entry credit for our family. Also, any travel from here on out is weekend trips or our yearly near 0 cost trip to Maine. As such I believe we will be close to hitting our goal by the end of the year.
Do you have any summer travel planned?