Iceland is known for its epic waterfalls, stunning landscapes, & geothermal hot springs. It is certainly not known for its wallet-friendly prices. Every family has their own travel budget strategy and knows what you are willing to splurge on and where to skimp. Here are some tips on how we traveled around Iceland for 7 days without breaking the bank.
Flights – We flew the super-budget Icelandic airline, WOW. WOW has some unbeatable prices on flights to Iceland, which is part of the reason we wound up visiting in the first place. Flying budget airlines is only a budget option if you avoid all the extra fees. WOW allows you to bring on one personal item for free as long as it fits with in specific dimensions, but charges anywhere from $40-$100 for carry-ons that go in the overhead bins, and checked bags can get even more expensive. Pack light and double check to make sure that your bags fit with in the requirements. They do not offer any complementary beverages or food on board. Come prepared by bringing you own water bottles and filling them up once you get through security. Bring snacks from home or buy them at the airport. Even food you buy at the airport convenience store is better and less expensive than what you get on board a WOW flight.
GPS/WiFi – If your cell carrier doesn’t have international coverage, buy a SIM card once land. On the way out of the Keflavik airport, there is a duty free shop where you can pick up a local SIM card. Our campervan company charged 50 Euros to rent a GPS or 15 Euros a day to rent a WiFi hotspot. I bought a 1GB SIM card for $16 that kept us connected for the full week. We tried to be conscientious about our WiFi consumption so that we had enough data for GPS.
The best way to conserve data use, and also help make sure you catch all the sites on your list, is to geotag all your points of interest, hot springs, and campsites in your phone before you leave. Yes there are signs everywhere for points of interest, campsites and restaurants but they are very, very easy to miss when you are in awe of the country side. Our two favorite hot springs had no signs at all and we would never have found them if I had not geotagged the location in my phone in advance. Even when my phone was on airplane mode GPS still worked to follow our little blue dot around Iceland. I had no clue how far 1 GB of data would get us, but we stayed off of social media and mostly kept the phone on airplane mode unless we needed directions, to look up campsites because our plans changed (surprise surprise), or to double-check road and wind conditions. Did you know there are over 100 Icelandic words for wind?
Swimming – Skip the Blue Lagoon. I know that might sound like blasphemy to some Iceland evangelists. The Blue Lagoon is a must visit to almost anyone with an Instagram account and you too can take those perfect pictures starting at an $80 entrance fee with not much included. Maybe if I went back to Iceland again without a toddler, I might splurge on the man-made must visit spa experience. However we absolutely loved all four of our nearly private, virtually free geothermal swimming experiences.
Bring your own towels. Assuming the towels don’t push your bags over the weight or size limits, bringing a towel can save you money if you plan on visiting more than one geothermal pool. Our campervan company offered towels for rent for $15. Any staffed spa or hot spring offers towels for rent, however none of the four pools we dipped in were staffed.
Food – After reading so much about how expensive food in Iceland could be, I decided to bring some food with us to save on grocery and restaurant expenses. I packed 6 just-add-water backpacker meals for dinner, 18 packs of instant oatmeal, instant coffee sticks, dried fruit, and lots of Larabars (Craig and Benton are addicted). We stopped at a few grocery stores to buy supplies for lunches and snacks. Our cost-conscious grocery shopping included the absolute best Icelandic yogurt skyr, Icelandic hot dogs with mustard and fried onion topping (classic Icelandic dish), bread, peanut butter and jelly, cookies (which served to help recover from hiking and as bribes to get a toddler back in his car seat), chips, Icelandic Brie, and salami. We splurged on some eggs ($6.40 for 10 “gasp”) and a rotisserie chicken, which my two dudes absolutely love, so much so, the $13 for a very convenient and well-loved snack and quick lunch was worth it. With all the hiking we did every day and the fact that I was 20 weeks pregnant on this trip, we were definitely a hungry bunch and went through food faster than we usually do at home. Our grocery bills were certainly high, but based on pre-prepared and restaurant food prices we saw, cooking was definitely the way to go.
Booze – Although drinking in local establishments can be a big part of experiencing another country, the costs can also add up quickly. As you leave the airport, snag some booze from the duty free shop just before you exit to save yourself almost 30%.
Lodging – When I first started researching our trip, all the lodging seemed really expensive. Even shared-home Airbnb’s seemed so pricy, and I wasn’t even looking at high end hotels. After comparing prices and doing a little soul searching to make sure we wouldn’t kill each other by the end of the trip, we opted for a campervan to serve as both our transportation and lodging. I did opt for the highest level of insurance on the camper because it seems like anything can happen in Iceland, at any time. After camp site fees for two adults and the campervan rental, our daily costs were pretty close to what an Airbnb and small rental car would have been, but we had significantly more flexibility than if we had to get back to a certain spot every night by toddler bedtime.
For a full itinerary on how we spent our 7 days in Iceland check out this post. We think that renting a campervan is the way to go when visiting Iceland with a toddler. Check out our top 3 reasons why we loved our campervan experience in Iceland.