Updated: Dec 25, 2019
I ventured onto a trip of a lifetime, Iceland. The land of Fire & Ice, but Fire & Brimstone to your pockets. A decent burger and chips will set you back $25. And that’s cheap, no lie. What about a beverage? Oh that’s extra, about $2-$3 more. Outside of food, accommodations, and the Blue Lagoon, the natural wonders are FREE, but you have to get to them.
Iceland was a challenge for my budget travel ways. However, I was able to stay under my $1000 budget and did not sacrifice a thing. Of course splitting some of the expenses with my travel buddy helped a lot.
Now my mantra is to, “Travel By Deals Not By Destinations.” While at the gym. I mentioned to my gym buddy about a $300 round trip fare I came across to Reykjavik, Iceland from Chicago, Illinois on WOW airlines. A 6 hour flight from Chicago-ORD.
It was a cheap flight, so why not. We booked April 4th thru April 8th 2018. Our flight left Chicago at 5pm on the Wednesday the 4th and we didn’t arrive to Keflavik airport until 5am on Thursday the 5th. Then a 45 minute drive into Reykjavik. This gave us 4 full days and 3 nights to explore.
WOW Airlines: It’s an international budget airline and they charge for everything like Spirit (if you choose your own seat, water, food, snacks, carry-on and checked luggage). EVERYTHING! We avoided baggage fees by master packing our included personal item. You’re allowed a small backpack/bag that measures 17x13x10 and weighs no more than 22 pounds.
Bring your own snacks and an empty water bottle you can fill once you pass TSA. We stopped at subway prior to arriving at the airport and picked up a sandwich. Yes it passed TSA screening. We both have Global Entry and WOW airlines does not participate in Pre-Check. Ugh, but cool. So the regular TSA line it was. There is no entertainment and no WiFi onboard, but there is a USB charging port. So bring your own entertainment.
GETTING TO CHICAGO
We live in Milwaukee, WI. I would not dare fly to another country from Milwaukee-MKE. The prices are astronomical. Chicago-ORD is 1 ½ hours away from Milwaukee. We decided to drive to Chicago and use the park and shuttle.
As we did some planning I did more frowning than smiling. I was on the verge of contacting my employer employee assistance program for therapy. Hell between the prices of the accommodations and the food. I wanted to abort mission. However, I’m not the type of person to back down from a challenge. I said this would be a great traveling on a budget post for my Facebook Travel Group…She Travels The Globe.
The cheapest hotel we could find was $673 for 3 nights. No, I’m not kidding, unless you stay in a hostel and they were just as expensive. I never imagined $80 a night to share bunk-beds with strangers. On the real. I wasn’t against it, the way those hotel prices were setup SHHHIIIIIIIIID!!!!
I’m an Airbnb junkie so I knew this would be our route, but they were a little expensive as well. BUT the travel Gods bestowed upon us a private bedroom with 2 beds, but the bathroom, mini kitchen area, and lounge was shared with 2 other groups of travelers. But for $167 for 3 nights BOOKED!!!
We would hardly be there so there was no need to dump all of our money into accommodations. As long as it’s clean, safe, and convenient, I’m good.
Our hostess Edda was super nice. Loved her setup and the booklet of tips she had laid out for us. Also downtown was a 15 minute walk from our Airbnb.
GETTING TO THE SIGHTS OUTSIDE OF REYKJAVIK:
We had a few sights we wanted to see which required us to travel outside of Reykjavik.
Great Geothermal Geysir
DC Plane Crash
Reynisfjara Beach also known as – Vik Beach
To rent a car or to book excursions that is the question? Oh the horror stories I heard about renting a car. Between the $1K to $2K incidental hold on your credit card to the additional car insurance and add-ons (windshield, sand and ash, extra driver, Wi-Fi, super collision damage, and gravel protection). Yes each one was an extra expense or purchase the premium package which covered it all, but not really. I knew this was an Excedrin Extra Strength moment.
The highly recommended tour company was Reykjavik Excursions.
After doing much research we would have ended up spending more money booking excursions. Plus you’re on a schedule. I like flexibility.
We decided on renting a car from Go Iceland Cars who is also Blue Car Rental. We were so thankful they did not charge an incidental hold on your credit card. We rented a 2-wheel drive since we were only planning to drive the Golden Circle and the South Coast of Iceland. We wavered between renting a 2-wheel and 4-wheel drive. Unless you’re planning to drive F-Roads then a 2-wheel drive is fine. We also decided to purchase the premium insurance package to cover our bases and paid extra for Wi-Fi and the extra driver.
We did skip the theft insurance. Iceland is one of the safest countries. People leave shopping bags in their cars. I saw this in action at my Airbnb. The next morning the person’s stuff was still there.
Total with insurance $225 for 2 days.
We ditched renting a manual transmission which is cheaper, because we didn’t have time to be shifting gears, so an automatic it was. Driving is no different than in the states, except the speed limit, car odometer and miles are in Kilometers.
Please get Wi-Fi. This is a must in my opinion. Especially if you’re planning to venture outside of Reykjavik. You can use your own, but theirs is much faster. Also it’s portable. We used Google Maps and the Waze app for navigation. They’re both easy and accurate.
As a tourist stick to the speed limit. Don’t allow those Icelanders trick you into thinking you can speed. They know where the traffic/speed cameras are and you don’t. When we picked up our rental car this guy was dropping his off. Oh yeah, they told him he got a ticket, which they tacked onto his rental car bill. He was clueless, but not the camera LOL. Stick to the speed limit.
Pumping Gas: Funny and Crazy. You have to select a purchase amount, not slide your card and pump gas. Whatever you do. DO NOT SELECT FILL CAR. A $200 hold will be placed on your credit/bank card. Also gas is in liters, not gallons. It equates to about $8 a gallon. We used our credit card a few times at the same pump and constantly checked the needle on the gas tank when filling the car. We wasn’t about that $200 gas hold life.
We ended up spending $66 on gas for 2 days.
GETTING AROUND REYKJAVIK
Our Airbnb was a 15 minute walk into downtown. The day we didn’t have a car we visited downtown and walked around. Nothing really special, but we did get to see the famous church Hallgrimskirkja.
Now this is where it became expensive. Eating out is expensive. As I stated above, a decent hamburger and fries cost $25. We ate out 3 times. We ate at Reykjavik Chips $15 for some fries with awesome dipping sauce and Reykjavik Fish $20 for a chicken burger and fries. The 3rd place was a sandwich shop which I don’t remember the name, but I had the most delicious teriyaki lamb sandwich for $15.
The rest of the time we purchased sandwiches and snacks from Bonus, Kronan, and this neighborhood grocery store which sold hot food. Of course baked goods from Braud & Co Bakery, Ice cream from Efstidalur II, a loaded waffle from Voffuvagninn and I killed the best $4 hotdogs on a regular from Baejarins Beztu Pylsur.
We can’t forget the most sought out tourist attraction…
THE BLUE LAGOON:
The Blue Lagoon is expensive no matter how you view it. This was a little tricky because our car was returned on Saturday the 7th and we decided to visit the Lagoon on the day of departure which was Sunday the 8th. The Lagoon opened at 8am and our flight was at 3pm The Lagoon was a 20 minute drive from the airport.
The Blue Lagoon had 3 packages. We booked the cheapest called comfort. It included the silica mud mask, towel, a drink, showers, and a locker. We added round trip transportation for pick near our Airbnb and drop-off to the airport. Pickup and drop-off was through Reykjavik Excursions. Everything was booked directly through the Blue Lagoon website. Since there was no pick-up available at our Airbnb, we opted to be picked up at Blue Saga hotel. It was an 8 minute walk from our Airbnb. We spent 4 hours at the Lagoon and then headed to the airport at 12pm.
Total cost $146
NOW THE BREAKDOWN…
Day 1 - We landed at Keflavik Airport in Iceland. It’s a 45 minute drive into Reykjavik, Iceland. We picked up our rental car and hit the road. The first 2 days we drove on the outskirts of Reykjavik to see the sights. We headed to the Geothermal Great Geysir, and Gullfoss Waterfall. We stopped on the side of the road at this farm and fed the Icelandic horse candy. Not actual candy, but horse candy made for them. We stopped at Efstidalur II restaurant and ice cream barn and had some of the most delicious ice cream.
Day 2 - Vik Black Beach, Skogafoss Waterfall, and the DC Plane Wreck
Day 3 - We spent the day walking around Reykjavik and eating. We visited Hallgrímskirkja Church, passed by the Harpa Hall famous for Opera.
Day 4 - Departure – Blue Lagoon then back home.
We didn’t get to see the Northern Lights, but next time.
Reykjavik, Iceland – 4 Full Days/3 Nights
• $300 round trip airfare from Chicago O’Hare • Airport Parking & Shuttle $62/2=$31 • Airbnb accommodations $167 (split between 2) $83.50 • Blue Lagoon $146 (round trip transportation included) • Rental car 2 days $225 (split between 2) $112.50 • Rental car gas for 2 days $66 (split between 2)$33 • Taxi $35 (split between 2) $17.50 • Food $125 • Duty Free/Souvenirs $50
Total cost $898.50
Food: If you can book accommodations with a kitchen and refrigerator please do so. This way you can purchase food from the grocery and cook. Do your research on where to eat for less and the happy hours.
Alcohol: Use the Appy hour app to find happy hours or purchase your alcohol from the duty free shop upon arrival. A glass of wine can set you back $20. The Appy Hour app can help you find beer and wine for $6+.
Tipping: No tips and please don’t. Sounds crazy I know. Tips are already factored into prices.
The Culture: The people were nice and they love their Rap & R&B and yes they are friendly to Blacks in case you’re wondering.
Apps To Download: Currency converter, weather updates, Coupons, Google Maps, and Appy Hour (happy hour).
Credit Card & Bank Cards are widely accepted everywhere. There's no need to purchase currency. Some of the card readers will ask if you want to make your purchase in ISK or USD. Opt for ISK, it’s cheaper.
One thing I would highly suggest is to take along a partner to split the cost. Average cost $2k per person I read.