Introduction to Our Iceland Trip – Planning

Iceland has been on my bucket list but it’s like “I’ll go there someday”…not that it’s not interesting (Northern light is one of my must see at least once in my life) but it’s cold! For those who know me, I am NOT a winter person. I want to travel with flip flop…well not anymore after my last trip to Cinque Terre…but nice sandals; that’s my type of traveling – comfortable weather. Last year when WOW Airlines announced to launch nonstop from Boston to Iceland for as little as $99 per person one way, my heart was itching to go, despite that I don’t have enough vacation days LOL! I calculated the amount I will save on two tickets balanced out my no-paid vacation 🙂 I started to read articles about it and as soon as I read that the solar activity has a cycle of 11 years and 2014 was the peak, I convinced myself I need to go! That night, we booked the tickets for 4 of us; I also made my brother and best friend to tag along because it was so cheap haha. Well it didn’t came out to be $99 one way, it had limited seats (I think it was only 2) per flight for $99. Beware that as like other budget airlines, WOW airlines charges for everything….even carry-on if over 11 lbs! However, after adding up the seat assignment and check-in luggage cost, we paid $425 per person round-trip, that’s still an excellent deal!

We booked August 27th to September 7th to take advantage of the Monday Memorial Day holiday so that gives us just over a week in Iceland. But then when I try to allocate the days, I had second thought – my brother and friend will be bored after the first few days! After some discussions, we decided to visit London (WOW has cheap flights from Iceland to London as well) for half the trip for extra $224 per person round trip. I’ll talk about planning to London on a separate post, now let’s get back to Iceland 🙂

Our plane to Iceland!

Transportation

Whenever we travel, we tried not to drive ourselves and instead use the public transportation as much as possible especially in Europe – the train system there is so efficient and inexpensive. However, Iceland is an exception, public transportation only get you so far and it’s definitely not a country where you want to restrict yourself on a timed schedule! We found that renting a car in Iceland is expensive and hubby can only drive an automatic car – even more expensive yikes! Of many companies and ratings, I decided renting a car from Blue Car Rental, it’s 46122 ISK or $370 for 4 days including additional insurance – the sand and ash protection. I heard stories that volcano ash damages is expensive to repair so who knows, I rather pay additional $50 for a peace of mind! I rented a small sedan and not a 4×4 – we went during September – no snow on the ground yet so no need for an all wheel drive! We are also not planning to drive up the mountain or anything like that so a regular sedan is enough.

Our rental car:

Driving and Navigation In Iceland

Please do not speed! The speeding fine in Iceland is outrageously expensive, I have read in TripAdvisor that people had fined over $2000! They have speed cameras all over the place and the ticket get processed in a month or two so you wouldn’t know until you receive the ticket in the mail…after you are home! You certainly don’t want the surprise charge to ruin your vacation afterwards! I made sure my hubby gets the message…do not speed! For the four days, I lost count on how many times I kept telling hubby “slow down hun!” The ring road (route #1 that circles the island country) is quite “straight” so it’s very easy to get over speed if you don’t keep your eyes on the odometer every few seconds! Make sure the car has cruise control – that’s your pal and make the hours of driving much more comfortable. Ours didn’t have it and we didn’t make sure before we left the rental office – it was hard to believe that a look like quite new car would not have cruise control!!!

The scenic Ring Road where its speed limit is 90 kph ~ 55 mph!

Finding our way is surprising easier than I thought! We brought our Nokia phone for it’s GPS – HERE offline map with us and it worked nicely; it was able to find most of the locations except one or two places. I highly recommend getting a Nokia phone as GPS – it’s only $50 and you can download all the maps you need before the trip, no need to waste data or worry about no cell phone reception! My hubby has T-Mobile so it’s free data roaming in Iceland but once we get out of the towns, it’s barely 3G. All the tourist sights are well marked with sign pointing here and there but you need to know the name of the sight in Icelandic 🙂

Lodging

As usual, you can find the most lodging options in my favorite site – booking.com. You can find from hotel to farm houses in Iceland in booking.com. Another good site for accommodation in Iceland is Icelandic Farm Holiday. Generally speaking, accommodation in Iceland is quite expensive but there are hostels and rooms/cabins with shared bathrooms as cheaper options. I can’t share bathroom so I have to go with more expensive choices!

Money

Believe it or not, the whole 4 days in Iceland, we didn’t even take out a penny from the ATM! It was amazing how Iceland is fully plastic – credit card is the king here! Every place we went accepted credit card, even small purchases, incredible! Do not worry about taking Icelandic Krona (ISK) with you or taking it out once you are there!

Bathroom

Important topic since once you are away from towns, it’s very rural, I mean you can drive for 3 hours and not a town around! Some sites charge a small fee for toilet (that’s when people said take some small Icelandic change but the ones I saw take credit card too). We had no issue with finding a toilet when we needed with good planning of course 🙂

Food

Be prepared for $$$ food in Iceland – after all it’s an island in the middle of “nowhere” so it’s expected to be expensive……unless you have its famous hot dog for every meal or cook on your own 🙂 Many accommodation have a kitchen so it’s convenient if you decided to save some money. Grocery is expensive too but still cheaper than eating out!

Clothing

We went end of August/early September so it wasn’t freezing cold..it was actually warmer than I expected with highs in the low 60’s during the day and low in the 40’s at night. The key is pack in layers that you can take off when it gets hot especially when you are doing some kind of hike…I rolled my clothes and it saved me a lot of room! Bring your winter jacket, you’ll thank me for that! Do not over pack, leave some room for some souvenirs! I packed 4 sets of clothes (short sleeves inside and cardigans outside) and 3 jeans. I picked two accommodations with washer and dryer to do laundry so we could pack light 🙂

Hunting for Northern Lights

The famous Northern Lights (Aurora) depends on three factors:

  1. Solar activity – there’s rating on solar activity from low to moderate to active on a scale, you can read more and check the solar activity for the next few days on this website: http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/. Just like weather, it’s impossible to plan unless you are as flexible as hop on the flight in the next few days! Just like other “forecast”, the solar activity forecast is not 100% accurate (at least when we were there, it was not)!
  2. Cloud coverage – even when there is active solar activity, you wouldn’t be able to see it with complete cloud coverage! Forecast can be checked using the same website as solar activity but it’s not always accurate! You need a clear sky to see the Northern Lights.
  3. Light – this is the only part that you can plan – you need a dark sky, away from city light pollution to see the Northern Lights. Do not go during summer months because of midnight sun – almost 24 hours of daylight in Iceland during those months so you’ll NOT see the Northern Lights regardless of its solar activity and loud coverage. Go between September to mid-April for complete dark nights. The winter months give you longer night hours but take into account of snow and rain, remember you need clear night!

Finally, our planned itinerary – Iceland part

Day 1 Sat 8/29 Reykjavik – HallgrĂ­mskirkja Church
Reykjavik – Harpa Concert Hall
Thingvellir National Park – Selfoss 801, Ăžingvallavegur
Geysir – Haukadalsvegur, Iceland
Gullfoss, Iceland
Lunch Kaffi Krus – Austurvegur 7, Selfoss 800, Iceland
Supermarket Bonus – Austurvegur 42, 800 Selfoss
Seljalandsfoss – Þórsmerkurvegur
Skogarfoss – GönguleiĂ° um FimmvörĂ°uháls
Farmer’s Guess House Hella – Meiri-Tunga 1, 851 Hella
Day 2 Sun 8/30 Reynisfjara
Foss á SĂ­Ă°u – Ăžjóðvegur
Skaftafell National Park, Iceland
Svartifoss
Dinner Hali Country Hotel restaurant
Hali Country Hotel – Hali 2, SuĂ°ursveit, 781 Höfn
Day 3 Mon 8/31 Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon
Hofn
Hali Country Hotel – Hali 2, SuĂ°ursveit, 781 Höfn
Day 4 Tue 9/1 Driving back….
Dinner Thai Keflavik – Hafnargata 39, Keflavi
Blue Lagoon at 6 PM
Bed and Breakfast Keflavík Airport -Valhallarbraut, 235 Reykjanesbær
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