Iceland has been on my mind since my friends from all over the world told me tales of this country since high school, and for a long time, I knew that stories of glittering ice, colorful nights, and rocky green highlands were going to be my only connection to the remote hinterland paradise. But when I set out on my own to budget my way across the world, it became a dream that wasn’t so hard to bring to reality.
While Reykjavik is not anyone’s idea of a cheap destination, it’s possible to travel there on a dime, if you know where to spend. So check out my quick tips for traveling to Iceland on a budget. You will be thankful once you get your first glance at the Aurora Borealis. Trust me!
1. Plan a road trip around Iceland.
Iceland is a big country (for our North American readers it’s about the size of Ohio) and the best way to see the glacier beaches, lava fields, and waterfalls is to rent a car from the airport and avoid the official tours so you can make your own way around undeterred by a rigid itinerary designed to milk you for your cash . If you have a friend who can accompany you, grab a map of the Ring Road (aka Route 1), that way you have someone to jam in the car with and split the price of seeing the country with.
Pro-tip: Rent a vehicle that is an all-wheel drive diesel edition no matter the season, if you can. It’s going to be the safest and most budget friendly option to get around.
2. Be Tech Smart.
If you’re road tripping, make sure you download apps to help out on the road. I suggest loading up with localized guides like the app called 112 Iceland app for emergencies and the locally-compiled and free Iceland Travel & Tourism Guide app.
Another budget saving tip: get a SIM card. If it’s a SIM from Iceland, you can cut out on the international roaming charges and instead get the local rate. You can buy it at the airport and manually unlock your phone for the best service, or you can let the kiosk guy do it. Either way, it’s an easy fix for keeping yourself plugged in.
3. Visit Iceland During A Stopover.
Stopovers are the new budget friendly way for travelers to experience as much as they possibly can for the cheapest price tag, and with offers from Icelandair, it’s the perfect opportunity to use it for your first visit to the beautiful country. With destination stopovers like the one that hops from New York City to a 3-night stay in Reykjavik, hotel included, it’s easy to make a cross-continental leap that allows you to kill multiple birds with one stone.
4. Plan to go to Iceland in the off-season.
Iceland is a major summer favorite for travelers since it offers excellent weather and once in a lifetime natural wonders like the famous midnight sun, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that flights in June are much more expensive than ones in February, even if you’re using the latest tech trickery to find deals.
While it’s true that going in winter means you get less light, it also means better Northern Light opportunities and less cash is required for your getaway. That being said, ask yourself before you book if a winter season trip is right for you.
5. Make “no alcohol” a hard rule. instead eat Icelandic hot dogs!
Iceland’s remote location means their alcohol prices are through the roof, so anyone wanting to keep to a daily budget for meals needs to forego the extra price of alcohol because the food is expensive as well if you don’t know where to look. I suggest taking yourself on a foodie tour to taste every Icelandic hot dog in the area—it’s a very famous and delicious national snack—and supplementing that with healthy picks from the produce section of the grocery store.
For trying the other local delicacies on a budget, try ordering appetizer portions. It’s a way to shave off the dollars and still get a tasty treat.
A trip to Iceland is going to be one of the greatest experiences of your life, even if you’re on a budget, so don’t let my penny-pinching advice get you thinking they will get in the way of having a great time. The beauty of the landscape, people, and cuisine are breathtaking no matter the time of year or price tag.
Have you been to Iceland already or did you just get back? Share your experiences here, I’m always looking for better ways to see my favorite spots on a dime.