Iceland on a painfully tight budget-worth it?
Take the population of Florence or New Orleans, move north, norther, yeah there, and sprinkle them on an island the size of – hmmm – a bit more than Portugal or the state of Virginia and you will start to get an idea of how very few folks call Iceland home. So few, a measly 325,000, it holds the title of the least populated country in Europe. It has a slightly higher population density than Australia, which has almost as much space as Brazil, but only the population of Tokyo or Mexico City. Enough geek talk.
Not many folks is good, because when in this emptiness you go wild and throw around glaciers, volcanoes, lava fields, waterfalls and clean energy production, you get one of the most peaceful, interesting and clean travel destinations around.
Unfortunately, then you get back to reality where everything has to balance somehow and where Iceland is one of the most expensive places to travel around. Yeah, you can fly to Reykjavik reasonably quick from Europe or the States. Do a snappy tour of the city and fly out the next day to a more affordable location.
But don’t do it.
More importantly, the city is not ‘Iceland’, sorry. It is simply the spot where more than half of those very few folks make a living.
If you want to see Iceland, you have to venture out for at least a few days exploring. This equates to spending quite a few of those pretty Icelandic kronas.
We, of course, had not much of a budget when the wind blew us over to Iceland. There was a sale on Icelandair on their new Reykjavik-Anchorage route and with that one move the airline changed our plans and put us back on a very wanted, but ultimately out of our pockets’ depth, direction. North.
We found ourselves in Reykjavik after an uneventful flight from Edinburgh. Luckily on it, we met an Icelandic artist, who lives in France and who took an interest in our story. A day later we were in his cozy wooden house, sipping wine and eating one of the few proper foods on our trip to this country.
Luck had been smiling on us again and he turned out to be an ex-guide on the island. So we opened maps, made plans and best of all, he let us borrow jackets, sleeping pads and bags he had in his attic. Yes, we arrived in Iceland planning to camp without any equipment.
Iceland is 80% wild. If you have money, you rent a 4WD and go for it. If you are us, you spend countless hours researching with the firm belief that there has to be some metal box on wheels that could drag you around for under $100 per day. Finally, I found a freshly started website where locals rent their cars – or at least that was their plan. A bit risky, but for half the price of the lowest available rental, I jumped at it.
This is how we acquire Victor – an old red Honda, which could not hold all our stuff in the boot – which is where our only friend in Iceland now saves us again and agrees to hold the excess for us.
Cramped in Victor and basic supplies, we set off.
Follows 10 days of, how to put it, physical mi-se-ry. It was the peak season, but the weather was heavily depressed. After a day spent either stuck in wobbling/jiggling Victor or getting our heads blown off by the wind and drizzle, we only had to look forward to cold nights eating two minute noodles,
before freezing even further in the cheapest tent we could find in the stores (hate that tent with passion!):
On a good day, we could enjoy some crackers and cheese, cut with a stolen from somewhere plastic knife
but then it was back to slurping noodles, hiding in the car until the last moment, before we just have to go in the tent..
and the mornings would welcome me with a lovely coffee in a freaking noodle cup again.
You know what’s worse than two minute noodles? Two minute noodles “cooked” in the sulfuric hot water that comes out of the taps in Iceland. Gag. Folks, don’t do this, apparently the water is not meant for digestion.
There is no denying it – traveling through Iceland on a tight budget is not pretty or dignifying. Yes, Japan is expensive, but at least you can find the odd reasonably priced hostel and great food on the cheap. Great food. Norway is expensive, oh my, it is eye watering expensive, but it has awesome, comfortable camp sites and one can couch surf, be it with foreigners, but still.
Iceland.. Iceland…ok! Iceland has incredible hot spring pools in every suburb, which are not to be missed and can warm even the soggiest frozen bones. There, I thought of something.
In the end, was the misery worth it?
If you ask my teenage daughter, the answer is still a resounding NO. Iceland is her second least favorite destination after Mazunte, Mexico, where we, and I am not being dramatic here, melted for 2 days and 2 nights.
If you ask me?
How to make you understand… Let me show you…
Under the unrelenting gray clouds, was a place where the Earth’s crusts meet and form magical formations
Water abounds in striking colors.
Shivering in my borrowed jacket with my toes soggy in the weather-inappropriate second-hand shoes I got somewhere in Ireland, I actually could ignore the desperate pleading of my body to run, simply because I was busy wondering whether this was all real.
Life seamed to cling desperately, like us, but a lot more gracefully, to the not so welcoming surrounds.
Iceland is a collection of unforgettable moments for me.
Snippets of dread. Snippets of magic.
And when the sun showed up and the colors popped, Iceland forever clasped its cold lava fingers on me.
Iceland is unique.
It is quietly carving awesomeness up there, at the top of the Atlantic. One of the youngest lands on Earth, it bursts from underneath and feels alive. It feels like it is going places, without anyone noticing. Fittingly, it is also the home of probably the most egalitarian society. More than once I was told that there is very little, if any, class separation – professors having lunch with cleaning crew at the University would raise nobody’s brow. No job is demeaning – what a novel idea.
Icelanders are also the first in the World to elect a woman as a head of state, all the way back in 1980. Not only a woman, but a divorced one. Whoa!
The second woman in leadership position would break even more taboos – Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir is the first openly lesbian head of government. It’s no wonder that they have achieved the best representation for women in the World and over 42% of candidates for elections are also women. Just imagine.
If almost universal literacy, equality and non-existent violent crimes do not excite you, then we need to move on to Skyr:
Skyr is the Icelandic yogurt, although not really yogurt, but more of a fresh cheese-like substance that looks like yogurt. It was the only physical pleasure we could afford and enjoy to the fullest. Take note, melon flavour is our favorite.
But lets continue on our flyby.
Yes, horses did run with us at one point.
This is a plant we kept on seeing in the fields around.
Slow down. Take it in…
This story will not be complete without mentioning the generous people that opened their homes to us and showed us local hospitality, fed our frozen bodies, took us fishing, rolled sushi with us, shared deserts and warmed us enough so we can continue.
Thank you! You might have saved us from ourselves.
Still, our last meal in Iceland was Skyr, eaten in Victor, under yet another rain.
Back to the question – should you bother going to Iceland without a bag of money?
If you are a teenager or any person incapable of stepping on top of inconveniences in order to take a peek at beauty at its purest – no.
For anyone else, don’t go, run! Eventually your body will digest those darn noodles. You will forget the white soggy toes and wanting to die in your wet tent. And if not, it will make a funny side story to tell about your visit to, in its entirety, one of the most beautiful places in the World.
There. I said it.