The more I travel, the more I realize that absolute preparation is near impossible to achieve–when visiting a country for the first time. For that reason, I’ve compiled a list below of all the notes I jotted to myself while in-country so that others might have a few more of the answers before beginning their first journey to Iceland.
- Flights & Airlines
- Discount Airlines: (Notes about WOW Airline). Their customer service is extremely generous, but I also only know this because I needed them quite a bit. Clearly, the sheer newness of the company means there are kinks to be worked out before it is perfect. For example, lack of bag scanners can make it more likely for baggage errors, such as being left behind. Delays, common anyway due to volatile weather, are always more likely with a new agency. “Oddly sized baggage” includes backpacking packs. Note the carry-on and luggage dimensions, weight acceptabilities (they are not bad, just not standard if I remember correctly). Rule of thumb: avoid checked luggage if at all possible.
- If you’ve selected an airport transfer, make sure you have a separate voucher with a printed with a specific agency listed. If you book this with your ticket, its likely to cost about € 14 as opposed to the €25-29 on site cost. However, if you do not have a specific voucher, then neither of the two agencies conducting the transfers can help you. A third option is to display your boarding pass, which has additional information not listed in the e-mail likely sent to you by the discount airline you have likely taken to Iceland. If you think about it, there will always be transfers from any airport to any downtown –no matter where you go. If nearly every traveler needs the same thing, there’s a 95% chance some means of public transport is in place to satisfy that need.
- Exchange Rates: It is one thing to acknowledge that prices will be relatively higher than your home country (most goods are imported). It is quite another realize that you will need to perpetually divide prices by 113.27 Krona (if converting to USD, or by 119.21 Króna if converting to Euro)
- Food: It’s crazy delicious, but also crazy expensive. Brace yourself.
- Planning Your Itinerary
- Room & Board: Book where you will stay first. Then go through hostel or hotel to book excursions. It takes away the need for you to reach-out and organize pick-up locations.
- Climate/Sun: No matter what season, check the sunrise/sunset time and temperatures. It’s a standard thing to do, but just assume your going to assume wrong 🙂
- Over-planning makes things worse, not better particularly in a place as dependent upon the weather as Iceland. Tried to change my style on this one and prepare for once, but found that really its better to hit the ground and ask around. Do your research, commit to what is likely to fill up early (The Blue Lagoon for example, or a glacier hike).
- Another obvious bit of advice: don’t schedule an excursion the day of your arrival. Again for reasons of punctuality mentioned above.
- Disclaimer: While I am typically not a proponent of tours and excursions because I feel it wears such a heavy veneer of tourism, given that I was visiting in the dead of winter I figured they’re going to know how to handle it so much better than any brief visitor would. And they did. However for a summer trip, I would highly recommend renting a car or camper, mapping out the locations you want to see and road tripping it. Another great alternative would be to cycle it and bring a tent.
- Excursions: If you aren’t booking through your hostel or hotel (which is completely fine), don’t book through a single agency on-line. It may seem convenient at the time, but chances are they serve as a middle-man with less information than they should have (despite their best intentions). Rather, if you opt for excursions but don’t want to go through your hotel or hostel (sometimes they’ll charge a fee) then contact the transportation agencies directly, such as Grayline, BusTravel Iceland, NiceTravel, or any other local agency . Something to consider is that Reykajavík is so small that no disreputable company would survive long. It’s the foreign agencies trying to coordinate tours that can cause problems (such as Viator, an american based agency that gave me a headache and a half and has yet to refund what was needed.)
- Country Notes
- There are three National Parks in Iceland .
- For a country with only 337,000 local inhabitants, a major sector of their economy is run by tourism (annually projected to be around 2 million next year). The ‘tourism phenomena’ began approx 20 years ago as flight prices drastically decreased and generally awareness of the natural beauty here increased.
- Iceland has lowest crime rate and the highest rate of gender equality in all Europe.
- Fun Fact: The policeman have their own Instagram account. To be honest, it resembles a lifestyle section more than police work.
- Purest water in all of Europe.
- Don’t shower at night. It will be -quite literally- ice cold. Never had I ever taken a shower while wearing an oversized cowled sweater … until Iceland
General travel tips I’ve watched others fail at miserably…
- Be kind to the airline attendants. It’s not their fault.
- Contacts: make them, keep them.
- Bring your own travel lock, TSA for your pack/suitcase and a pac-lock for hostel lockers.
Hopefully, there are a few gems above which have answered a few question marks lurking in your travel preparation. In either case, best of luck and bonne voyage!