Iceland has been at the top of my bucketlist for a while now. Five years ago, before it got so popular, I suggested to my family that we should go to mark a special occasion. They just laughed.
No one is laughing about Iceland now. It’s a hugely popular destinations as you probably know. Fueled by TV shows, movies and the Gram, low cost carriers have made getting there easy. But, and there’s usually a but with a popular vacation spot, it’s expensive. Just how much money do you need for Iceland?
I decided to find out. Knowing I was going to be in the Northeastern US for a conference, I decided to book a ticket because it’s more affordable to fly from there than from Atlanta. I wanted to travel comfortably but still save money where I could. What I found was that some things were no more expensive than bigger US cities. Gas and food, were more, as I’m sure you’ve read. However, if you know going in exactly what things cost, and what you have to spend money on, then you can simply cut back on other items. We all know money saved equals more travel, right?
So what did I spend on my four day trip to Iceland? Keep reading!
I flew to Iceland on WOW Air. WOW flies from Newark and JFK nightly. They also fly out of Chicago, Baltimore, and Detroit, seasonly, but not Atlanta so I took advantage of being in the area.
Southerner Says: While Kayak and Google might in the end, have the best price, always check the airline’s website too. Sometimes there’s even a difference in mobile apps and desktop version prices. Check both.
If you already have a trip planned to Europe or Asia, another option to make Iceland work with your budget is to do a stopover. WOW has made it very easy to incorporate this option into a ticket.
What I paid:
- Round trip to Reykjavik from Newark, $219.98 USD
- Regular window seat, $7.99 USD each way
- Carry on, $49.99 USD each way USD
- Total $335.94 USD
Like many low cost carriers, WOW charges for carry on luggage. I was going to try and see if my backpack would pass for a personal item but after reading other experiences I decided to pay online for carry on. The fee is cheaper if you pay ahead of time. Only $49.99 USD as opposed to $69.99 USD at the airport.
At the airport, they provide a stand to help you determine what size your bag is if you are undecided what category your bag falls under. Several posts I read made it seem as if they did not allow much, even for a personal item but I found their standards to be in line with other airlines. I was content with my decision to pay because my backpack, even though it was not huge, it would have never been considered a personal item.
The plane WOW utilizes had a three and three aisle configuration. To save money, you can opt out of paying for an assigned seat and allow them to assign your seat at check in. However, I prefer a window seat so I paid the fee. Since it was just a regular window seat, my strategy was to pick a window seat near the rear and hope no one would be assigned to the middle seat. It paid off on the flight over. I could stretch out a little more and I was able to sleep the entire flight. The seats don’t recline much but the legroom I felt was comparable to any other coach layout.
Southerner Says: You can pay extra for XL and XXL seat. They both recline more and the XXL is wider as well and is a two two seat configuration. I received an offer last minute to save fifty percent on the XXL but since I was trying to travel on a budget I decided to pass.
Another useful thing that WOW offers that most low cost carriers don’t, is two charging outlets per row. That means with three people you will probably need to take turns but still having this option on a flight with no free entertainment is a huge bonus. You can load up your phone and watch shows all night.
Southerner Says: Some Netflix downloaded content will not be available internationally i.e. The Office.
WOW does not provide any complementary food or drink but has food for purchase. I had picked up water, (because I forgot my water bottle but can we just says thanks that so many airports now offer refill stations for water) a protein bar and some nuts all for about $20 USD at the Newark airport and I forgot to look at what they offer. Next time I would carry my own snacks because airport food is a budget buster.
I am aware that WOW has a lot of complaints online. However, my experience was good. I checked in online and received my boarding pass on their mobile app. Boarding went smoothly. They board by rows, not sections or groups. There was plenty of overhead bin space. The flight was smooth and I arrived on time, both legs of the trip. In fact we arrived in Iceland about fifty minutes early. Since I had no checked luggage I was in and out of the airport quickly.
Rental Car: When I began to research going to Iceland, I had not even considered driving. I started out looking at different tour options. The tours I looked at were very reasonably priced but I’m a road tripper. So when I got an email from WOW with special offers for customers who had purchased a ticket with them, I was shocked, in a good way, at what I could rent a car for. I immediately booked my four door Fiat through Green Motion.
The office is located a couple of kilometers from the airport. Staff will meet you in front of the airport with signage and take you there in a shuttle. I did have to wait a while to get my car since they were very busy that morning. However, the comfy couches and the free lattes helped pass the time.
You can save money by renting a smaller vehicle that gets better gas mileage. Going in the spring or fall (when I went) shoulder season, when you shouldn’t expect too much bad weather, eliminates the need for four wheel drive. I had no issues getting around with my Fiat.
Southerner Says: If you can’t drive a manual transmission make sure your vehicle is an automatic when you book it. I was told that manual transmissions are very common in Iceland and that’s what I had.
Insurance: I spent more on insurance because but I decided to play it safe and purchase insurance the agency offered. Why?
Iceland is very windy. Damage due to blowing sand and ash, yes that’s a thing, isn’t covered by ordinary insurance. Neither was broken headlights, broken windshields, damage to the undercarriage and tire damage. I was concerned that the coverage through my credit card might not pay either so I ended up purchasing a policy that included everything except, doors blown off by the wind, which is just not covered. In this case, my peace of mind was the more important than my wallet. Next time I’ll check with my credit card company ahead of time to verify what’s covered.
Gas: The first time you get gas in Iceland you might think this isn’t too bad until you realize the price is per liter. Maybe that’s the way it is in all of Europe but here in the US of A, it’s per gallon so it takes a little getting used to. I did know gas was more expensive so I least I was prepared.
The gas for the Fiat was $233.3 Iceland Krona per liter. That’s about $2.11 USD. There are 3.785 liters in a gallon so you are looking at about $7 USD per gallon. I calculate I would have spent at least $300 USD on basic tours. Those tours would not have offered everything I did. Plus I could spend as much or as little time I wanted, wherever I wanted. I was able to maximize my short time there to the fullest.
Another thing to consider is, I was able to drive myself to and from the airport. The airport in Iceland is a good forty five minutes away from Reykjavik, where I would imagine most people would be staying. If you didn’t have a car, you would need to ride a bus, which takes more time, for about $50 USD round trip. The alternative would be to take a taxi, which is even more expensive.
What I paid:
- Four day rental, $117 USD
- Extra Insurance, $167 USD
- Gas $150 USD
- Total $435 USD
For four days that’s a little over a $100 USD a day. It wasn’t cheap, but it’s not the most I’ve ever paid either. I just paid over $100 USD a day, for a car in Boston in July, not counting gas.
Southerner Says: Keep a check on your gas tank. There are not a lot of places to gas up outside of Reykjavik. In Vik there is only one gas station. There was quite a line and a really pissed off British guy.
Where to Stay
Another way to cut expenses, especially if you are traveling alone, is to stay in a hostel. There are quite a few in Reykjavik and I decided that it was as good of a time as any to try one.
In making my decision I considered the location and cost. I also knew I wanted an all female room. After reading a lot of reviews, I chose B14 Hostel conveniently located in Reykjavik. It was great choice. One of the reasons I selected it was that even though the beds are bunk beds, they had curtains that you could close for privacy. There were about eight beds in this room. As I mentioned they all had curtains and there was a little shelf and light at the head of the bed. Bins and hooks were available for your belongings.
B14 was super clean. There was a host on site all the time and there was common areas and a kitchen. I could have saved more money if I had bought food and cooked dinner. The price also included breakfast, which was cereal.
What I paid:
- Room $35.04 USD x 3 nights
- Tax and fees $12.72 USD
- Total $117.84 USD
(Price was for three nights because I had a 9pm flight the last night)
I realize a bunk bed isn’t for everyone but I was never there. I was so busy I really only used it to sleep and I slept well. Earbuds help. They do have some private rooms and if I returned with family I would definitely look into staying there again. I liked the location, the amenities around it and I met some really great people.
What to Eat
If you really want to save money while in Iceland, don’t eat. Just kidding! There really are some affordable options. I also found that no matter where you bought food in Iceland, the quality was really good.
As soon as I arrived and got my car, I headed off to find a Bonus grocery store. In the states I would compare it to Aldi’s. There is one located about five kilometers from the airport on route 41 that goes to Reykjavik. I didn’t have a cooler with me but would definitely take one next time.
At Bonus, I bought a sandwich, some chocolate and water, because as I mentioned, I forgot my refillable bottle. The sandwich was a pre-made sandwich that in the states I wouldn’t even consider buying, but it looked good, (it was), it was cheap and I was ready to get on the road. Lunch, water for the entire trip and chocolate cost $12 USD. I spent about $18 USD the next day on meat, cheese, crackers, chips and yes more chocolate, don’t judge, for the next two days worth of lunch and snacks. This was the easiest thing to do since stores and restaurants are few in the countryside. This is a good way to save some money.
Southerner Says: Don’t miss trying some Icelandic chocolate. You can pick some up at Duty Free when you leave for a pretty good price. It makes a good gift or you can just eat it all yourself.
My routine was to have a coffee and muffin or pastry in the morning. There was a vegan, organic coffee shop called Glo, below the hostel. Thankfully coffee is not expensive and really really good. Then I would eat my snacks/lunch on the road during the day. At night I would eat a nicer, sit down meal for dinner.
You can’t go to Iceland and not try Fish and Chips so on my last day when I explored Reykjavik, I found a cute stand in the old harbor area. I really enjoyed them and the different choice of homemade sauces. The cost was $19 USD without a drink.
Dinners consisted of:
- Night 1- Pizza and one beer at Eldofninn in Reykjavik $33 USD
- Night 2- Burrito at Serrano at an NI gas station $14 USD
- Night 3- Burger and one beer at Smidjan Brugghus in Vik $37 USD
- Night 4- Chicken pasta salad and wine from Mathus at the airport $24 USD
All of the meals I had were good. Even the burrito, that I don’t have a photo of, was way better than something, for example, from a truck stop in the states. The best thing I ate was the blue cheese burger in Vik, from the Brewpub. It was really delicious. As was the beer. I would definitely go back there if I was in Vik again.
All in all, I feel like I ate well. The four days I was there I spent less than $200 USD on food and meals. Fifty dollars a day isn’t cheap but again, it’s not the worst. I also don’t feel like I sacrificed anything. Yes they weren’t gourmet restaurants but as I mentioned, I don’t usually eat at places like that anyway. If you were on a tight budget, simply cut the alcohol. On average, a beer is about $10 USD.
What To Do
When I made the decision to rent a car, I also decided I wouldn’t do any paid tours. Since I had an idea of what I wanted to see and do, I just wanted to do my own thing and see if I could save money. I mean what’s the point in renting a car if you are going to pay someone else to carry you around, right?
So here’s what I did. I drove the entire Golden Circle plus some. I also drove the Southern Section of the ring road to Jokulsarlon or the Glacier Lagoon, spent time on the Reykjanes Peninsula and explored Reykjavik. The best part was everything was free. I didn’t have to pay any fees at the National Parks I went to. I didn’t even have to pay to park even though I had read of others paying parking fees along the Golden Circle.
I was almost able to do almost everything I had planned. The only thing I didn’t get to do was experience the hot springs. I went to the Blue Lagoon, walked around and took photos. Yes you can do that without paying. I had planned on going back later but ended up staying out and watching the Northern Lights when I returned from Vik. Worth it? I think so. There’s always next time for hot springs but you might not see the Auroras.
If you total everything up, I ended up spending less than $1000 USD. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether you think that’s expensive. In my opinion, Iceland is worth every penny and I would go tomorrow given the chance. It’s insanely beautiful and there is something to see and experience everywhere you look.
Now you know what I spent. Leave me a comment and tell me how much money you spent in Iceland and your tips for saving money.
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