Yes, these Iceland lists are all over the Internet. Trust me, I know. I studied them obsessively before heading to the mystical land of fire and ice by myself last month. But one more list can’t hurt. Everyone’s experiences are going to be different. I travelled alone, didn’t rent a car and stayed in Reykjavik for the week.
1. Get to know the locals
Icelandic people are super friendly and very proud of their Icelandic heritage. They will tell you tales of their homeland that you won’t read in a brochure, give you all the help and advice you need to make your stay a happy one, and they will look impeccably good while doing it too. Seriously. The men and women here walked off a runway.
2. Don’t bother bringing an umbrella
Yes, depending on the time of year it can get rainy. It’s not like the rain you know. It’s more of a windy spray. Like walking near a waterfall all the time. I got used to it after a while and was thankful for my waterproof jacket I bought for the trip. Umbrellas are a tad useless because the spray-rain is inconsistent and it’s often too windy for an umbrella anyway. My hood sufficed. I think I saw maybe one or two people the whole time I was there bothering with an umbrella and it rained – everyday.
3. Make sure your cell phone is unlocked
If you want to make long distance calls on your phone, it’s cheaper to buy a SIM card for 2000ISK that comes with international minutes and texting that you can top up anytime throughout your stay. Don’t be a dinosaur like me and show up with a locked phone though, or you’ll be a tad screwed. Long distance calling cards either don’t exist or are not easy to come by. I never found any the whole time I was there. Which brings me to…
4. Download a free phone/text app to your phone before you go – and make sure your family does it too
WhatsApp and Line are the two I’ve used depending on who it is travelling overseas. The key here is to make sure the people you want to keep in touch with the most have these apps on their phones too. If you have some tech-inept loved ones in your life, install it on their phones for them before you leave. It will save much hassle when you’re too busy being distracted by waterfalls and volcanoes on the other end!
5. Bring food! And don’t be afraid to grocery shop once you get there!
You may have scored a cheap plane ticket to Iceland, but that doesn’t mean it’s a cheap country to eat and play in. A simple burger and fries can run you over $12. That’s the low-end of the scale. These numbers can add up if you’re there for a few days. My advice: If you’re staying somewhere where you can cook your own meals – Do it. Groceries are fairly on par with prices I see here in Toronto (Bonus stores saved me). I bought bread, sandwich meats, juice etc and was fine. I also brought my own oatmeal packets, energy bars, granola bars etc from home for snacks and they definitely were consumed. Save your money instead for one big night out and some incredible excursions. You’ll be happy you did later.
6. Skyr – Eat it. Love it.
The hostel I stayed at charged 1800ISK for a buffet breakfast. Instead, I’d run across the street every morning and grab a tub of Banana Skyr for around 400ISK (I tried all the flavours, but Banana became my thing). I started with that oatmeal packet I brought from home, finished with the Skyr and I was good to go well into the afternoon. Mornings haven’t been the same since and I am ruined now for Greek Yogurt and the like. I miss you Banana Skyr.
7. Don’t take Reykjavik’s waterfront for granted
I made it a habit every night, no matter how tired I was, to walk along the path on the waterfront. It was 5 mins from where I stayed, it was never crowded and it was such a calm, relaxing place to just wander for a while with your thoughts while staring out at the icy blue water. Along with my daily doses of Skyr, my nightly walks along Reykjavik’s waterfront are truly missed.
8. Glacier hiking is not like walking across an ice rink
Sometimes I think not doing my homework before signing up for this made the experience all the more terrifying and all the more magical. No regrets. Strap on those crampons, take a deep breath and just do it.
9. If you don’t add “Snorkeling through the tectonic plates” to your list, you are mad I tell you – mad
It’s as surreal as it looks. Don’t wear heavy clothes. I got away with tights beneath my yoga pants, and a thermal top. They really suit you up. The water is chilly on your hands and face, but the scenery is so unreal, you won’t care and/or notice. I would go again and again.
10. Don’t bother buying bottled water
The tap water in Iceland is some of the cleanest you will ever find. I was buying bottled until a local told me to save my money and just drink from the tap, because they’re essentially coming from the same source. It really is the clearest, purest tap water I’ve ever drank. I miss it like I miss Banana Skyr.
11. Bring more than one camera, if you can
I had my DSLR for the scenic excursions, but was happy I had my cell and point-and-shoot with me as well for those moments where the elements (like when walking behind a waterfall) would’ve possibly damaged my expensive camera. Or when I was just wandering around the city but didn’t want to lug my larger camera everywhere. The end result is a lot of pics, in a lot of resolutions and a fun trip down memory lane when you get back home.
12. Souvenirs aren’t cheap – Create your own
You won’t find any dollar store souvenirs here. And if you do, please let me know. Budget carefully on this one, as Iceland actually does have a ton of fun souvenirs. An optional idea for friends and fam back home: If you brought a half-decent camera with you, get your best pic blown up to 8×10 when you get back home, put it in a frame, throw in one of the many small volcanic rocks you brought back with you (or some yummy Icelandic chocolate that can be purchased at any grocery store) and voila – unique gift straight from Iceland
It is such a beautiful country, with friendly people, clean air and unreal landscapes. Add it to your travel to-do list and then actually go. You won’t regret it!