5 things to know before heading to Iceland
I tend to get a lot of different responses when friends find out that we visited Iceland this summer. At a party last night I had a man say, “I’ve always wanted to go there! But my wife has absolutely no interest in visiting Iceland.” Hopefully my recent blog posts will help inspire her, and a little preparation goes a long way. Here are 5 things I think you should know before traveling to Iceland:
1) It’s kind of expensive – There is nothing that can ruin a vacation more than not planning for the expense of it all. It is an island after all, so they have to import a lot of things. There are things you can do to save money like booking hotels with points, grocery shopping for food, getting out of the capital, etc. In my next few posts, I’ll share some of the travel hacks we used in Iceland. I just think you’ll do yourself a disservice thinking Iceland is a budget destination. When that first yummy cocktail surprisingly costs $20, it won’t taste quite as good.
2) Pack lots of layers – I felt silly when I packed 4 different jackets in my suitcase for this trip. By day three, I had used every single one of them. Not to mention thin gloves, buff and a hat. I had a rain coat, a thin down parka, a water resistant wind jacket and a hoodie jacket. All of those clothes were for Iceland in the middle of June. Each day seemed to start out a little overcast and get more and more beautifully clear as the day wore on. I’d peel the jacket off on a strenuous hike and be fine in a short sleeved shirt for a while. Then I’d put it back on when we stopped at a waterfall or a cliff on the coast. The hat and gloves were used for short periods of time, like inside the volcano, or on a fast moving boat on a glacier lake. My fingers and ears were glad to have them.
3) English is almost everywhere – According to one of our guides, several years ago, Iceland began to integrate a lot of english into the country on their signs, in restaurants and hotels. It was an effort to encourage tourism and I think it worked. There were only a few times that we saw a menu with the Icelandic language on it. We saw less and less english the further we drove away from Reykjavik, but most people spoke more than enough for us to get by. When I saw large amounts of Icelandic writing, I took photos because I was so enamored with how strange it looked. It’s important to note than when asking for directions, ask them to write down the name of the place you are looking for. I confirmed the name of a bus stop with a concierge and the word sounded like Sherman. So as I wrote that down, he noticed my writing and said no, it’s written Hrednan. Wow! I was glad he did that because I would have been looking for the bus stop that started with an S for sure!
4) Bring the right shoes – Hiking boots were an absolute must for our trip. We hiked to waterfalls, around glaciers, and into a volcano. We were really glad we had something a little more sturdy than your average sneaker. If you aren’t going to hike or go inside the volcano, you might get away with athletic sneakers, but your basic keds won’t be able to keep up. On the other hand, don’t forget a pair of flip flops. It was too cold to wear them outside, but we used them while visiting geothermal pools like Seljavallalaug and the Blue Lagoon. Okay, I’ll admit that the flip flops came in handy in the hotel room too.
5) Be ready for adventure and personal responsibility – The access to natural wonders in Iceland is amazing. It seems like there are a lot of spectacular stops without a lot of distance between them. You’ll get a chance to see a lot of incredible things up close and personal. But I never saw a park ranger or anything resembling security. At Geysir it was easy to put your hand over a steam vent to feel how hot it was or feel the run off from a boiling geyser. But it’s your responsibility to pull that hand back when it’s too hot. We encountered a lot of low, small one rope fences separating the public from a big cliff, a spurting geyser, or a giant waterfall. Respect that flimsy looking fence, listen to your inner voice, and you’ll have a great time and stay safe too. We rented a more expensive 4×4 so that we could visit some places off the beaten path. But we still saw people driving in a small sedan past the sign that said 4WD access only. When the oil pan gets torn from underneath the car due to big rocks and little clearance, the repair bill will make you wish you’d turned around. (It happened to my friend Heidi once. She ignored 3 signs and ended up delayed for 2 days and $650 poorer.)
Unless you have a lot of time in Iceland, you can’t possibly see it all. Since we explored the south coast, I know that when we return, we’ll head the other direction. One things for sure, we’ll be back!!