A few months ago we returned from yet another amazing trip to Europe. During the trip we visited Iceland and it was one of the most amazing places we’ve been and I couldn’t recommend it enough. There’s one, slight problem though… it’s expensive as balls. Cheaper travel in Iceland isn’t impossible though, so read on as I explain how we did it.
First off I want to make it clear, travelling in Iceland will still be expensive. However with a little tweaking it’s possible to make it not as eye watering. To start with I’ll list out a few common things and their prices so you can get an idea of what we’re up against.
- Petrol – $100 AUD / 65L tank
- Chicken – $50 AUD / kg
- Cheese – $40 AUD / kg
- Tunnel Toll – $14 AUD
- Inside The Glacier Ice Caving Tour – $230 AUD
As you can see, things aren’t cheap! But I’d still recommend going as the scenery is just pure entertainment.
The Ring Road
To start with we didn’t just go for one or two days, we stayed for nine. This allowed us to see more of the country and experience things most other tourists miss. We hired a car and drove around the entire country side on the main Ring Road shown above.
The number one tip I can give to reduce costs is to travel on your own accord. There are many tours and whilst some require special equipment and can be worth it, most just drive you around to the scenery. As such, you can save time, money and get a much better experience by planning it on your own.
I’d recommend using both Google Maps and the specialized Iceland version here.
We based our trip on this excellent piece from Alex Cornell. Obviously you can add or take away certain things yourself but it provided a great template to go off.
The best way I can describe the scenery is that it’s like entertainment. I would find myself staring out the window for hours just watching like it was TV or a movie. Everything was so enormous, so pristine and pretty.
It also would change at the drop of a hat too. One minute you’d be in mountains… then the next you’d be on the shore line… then back in the mountains but everything would be covered in snow. Driving a bit more and fog would cover everything and reduce visibility to about 2 metres in front of you!
There was no need to look at my phone or read like I normally would on a long drive. I didn’t want to miss any of it. One of the absolute best shots I took there was the one below. Made up of three full sized shots and stitched together this panorama just shows how beautiful everything is.
The best thing about Iceland is easily the scenery and you can get unlimited amounts of it for free! You just have get yourself there and remain fed.
Believe it or not, the best option we found for where to stay was AirBnB. There are hundreds of places to rent all over the country and it also helps you to explore even more.
As we were driving every day it was a bit of a pain trying to organise 8 different AirBnB’s on 8 different days but it all worked out well in the end. From the Country Hotel Heydalur to Bragdavellir Cottages they were all quite good value for money.
One strange thing was that most accommodation was relatively small. This wasn’t a huge problem but just seemed odd given how vast and open Iceland as a country is. You’d have no other houses or people for 5 km in every direction yet the unit was still tiny! It never really detracted from the trip though as everything was so cosy and warm.
So for my second tip, use Airbnb and try and book just before the 1st of June. This is because from June onwards it is their Summer or peak season and prices sky rocket. We found it to be a good compromise to book in the last week of May and just accept that the weather might not be as perfect. We did end up with a few rainy days but it also means there aren’t nearly as many tourists which is good.
Unfortunately the best way to eat cheaply in Iceland is to essentially not eat meat or cheeses. Two of our favourite foods! My third tip is to cook most or all of your own meals rather than going out each time. While we did still have small bits of chicken here and there as well as a great hamburger out cooking our own food greatly reduced our food bill overall.
This also comes back to why Airbnb is so good as most of them also contain their own kitchen. Unlike in most hotels, having a fully stocked kitchen meant we could just do a quick shop and make our own breakfasts, lunches and dinners. As you’re on the road a lot it’s even better because you have lots of snacks and healthy food with you at all times. The usual sandwiches, fruit, some chips and lots of water were all winners.
Prices for other things like bread, milk, vegetables and so on are still very high but it did make things cheaper overall essentially excluding meat. I would also recommend only shopping at their Bonus or Netto supermarkets as these seemed to be the best combination of cheap and a good range.
As mentioned we drove ourselves all around which no doubt saved us quite a bit. Guided tours easily cost hundreds of dollars for even a few hours. I can only imagine how much a 9 day guided tour would set you back!
After doing a fair bit of research we settled on Blue Car Rental. There we hired the excellent Nissan Qashqai (X-Trail) (Diesel) for 8 days. Their service was excellent and we had no issues at all with them or the car. For the 8 days it cost us 87,300 ISK to rent which was about $1,000 AUD. Not cheap by any standards but the freedom and possibilities it enables are well worth it! I’d also recommend getting something with a good amount of clearance and preferably 4×4.
While it might sound strange to do something “cheaply” by spending $1,000 you have to remember how expensive the other alternatives are. A similar package shown here gives you car hire, accommodation and a map for 8 days. It’s not even guided but for two people you’re looking at over $5,000 AUD!
In contrast we spent around $3,000 on car hire and accommodation all up. I think we found a free map but really the best one to use was Google Maps.
Drones! Drones! Drones!
While we were over there I broke out our DJI Mavic Pro drone as often as I could. Above is a video I put together from some of the best footage. It was extremely windy most of the time and I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t handle the high winds too well. It performed like a champ though never once giving me any issues.
I was able to get hours of footage and explore parts of the country that simply aren’t possible to get to normally. It was also awesome fun to fly around too! With huge open area’s and no people or cars etc you could fly around knowing that you weren’t going to get yelled at. I’d highly recommend buying one if you’re heading to Iceland.
One quite annoying thing was that on the Ring Road there are very few places to pull over. For most of the way it’s a good road, but with essentially no side lanes to pull over into. There were so many times that I wanted to pull over and break out the camera or drone but we just couldn’t as there was no where to stop! Quite frustrating!
Cheaper Travel In Iceland
As I mentioned at the beginning travelling in Iceland is going to set you back a bit regardless. But by following these few general tips and front loading a lot of the work yourself you can save a huge amount. This could make the difference between “nope too expensive” and “hmm.. let’s go!“.
So try and stay longer as this means you get more value out of the flight costs to Iceland. Rent your own car and drive yourself around on your own tour. Shop at Netto or Bonus supermarkets and cook/make all your own food. Finally hunt out some good Airbnb places to stay each night. On average we spent about $250 AUD per night for our accommodation.
You might need to save a bit longer for it but Iceland is truly worth it. You can also see a full gallery of some of the best shots I took below! So have you always wanted to go to Iceland? Have you already been? What was the best part? Let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to share!