A feeling of extreme desire towards a certain destination. You’ve visualised your experience, yet you never really thought about the execution of it. Thinking, it won’t happen ‘on-the-days’ but rather in the distant future. What’s a place that immediately popped into your mind?
Iceland was that kind of place for me.
You might have heard about Iceland – either from a Geography class (insane core activity), or, if you’re VERY unlucky, a cancelled flight back in 2010. You know, when Eyjafjallajökull casually erupted and shaken the air space a little…
I – a self-proclaimed millionaire-in-the-making (because I ain’t got a lot of coin at the moment) – predominantly associated it with: icebergs, colourful night skies, and a certain little word starting with E… EXPENSIVE.
Now, y’all probably know by now, that I’m guilty of falling for one thing – flight-sales. So naturally, after booking my £52 flight [EasyJet return flight from London Stansted, January 2019] I knew I had to figure out a way to make the most of this calling – but on a super tight budget.
The initial plan was to travel with two of my friends, who unfortunately could no longer make it. I thought that in fact that was for the better (in these circumstances), as I wouldn’t experience other opinions regarding eating out etc. (although I wish they both have came!).
So, I ventured out on my second solo trip of a lifetime, with an intention of slower travel, and an enhanced focus on self-care. Here is how I did it on the cheap.
THE revolution when it comes to budget travel. I’ve heard numerous stories from friends (both positive and negative) regarding the Couchsurfing community, and coincidentally had a trusted contact who ended up hosting me for a few days. The cost? A duty-free shopping favour, costing £70. There are no set rules in the Couchsurfing community, other than an expectation of a free stay, respect and not being too fussy about noise etc. I stayed in Hafnarfjörður, 18km South of Reykjavik.
Overall, my experience was smooth – thanks to the volcanic activity in Iceland, by default, the house was extremely hot, my host offered free lifts to the city and I met travel companions right from the get-go. It isn’t as scary as it may seem, just remember to check the reviews of the host thoroughly before you request a stay, and you’ll be JUST fine!
In short, would I do it again? HELL YES.
As a lover of architecture, I didn’t hesitate and spent my first day checking out the city of Reykjavik. To say the least, it isn’t a city I could call a favourite, because my expectations of the streets were somewhat linked to architecture present in other Scandi countries e.g. Sweden. Nonetheless, the route I took was as follows:
- The Pearl – for a quick coffee date at the dome, with the city’s landscape cutting through the rainy windows
- A walk through the woodland by The Pearl, on my way to the city centre
- Sightseeing the city, park, Cathedral and a walk by the rocky beach
- Sitting down at the rocky shore, looking out to the ocean
- Walking back home to Hafnarfjörður because I felt like it (it took me about 2 hours)
As I considered the city ticked off my list, it was time for a day tour. I decided to prioritise the most popular spots, and managed to find a tour costing only £40 (via Viator). I didn’t consider it a cliche, as nature really is a must-see in this country, and that’s what I could afford.
The tour included:
- A pick up from Reykjavik central bus station
- A really passionate tour guide
- Kerið Crater Lake
- Geysir Geothermal Area
- Gullfoss Waterfall – A pair of waterfalls, one 11 and other 21 metres tall
- An interaction with the Icelandic horses – SO CUTE!
- Visit to the UNESCO-listed þingvellir National Park – which lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
I have gotten to know extremely unique facts about Iceland (thank you, lovely Icelandic tour-lady!), while enjoying the pastel pink and blue skies as the sun rose and then went down respectively to the start and end of the tour. The only little downside to the trip has indeed been the sudden realisation as I got off the bus at the first stop. I have left my memory card in my laptop… (a minute of silence, please). BUT all I could do was to just roll with the punches and take the scenery with even more depth… through my own lens.
My favourite part of the trip were moments when the beautiful winter sun reflected on the Faxi waterfall, and then seeing the enormous force of nature at Gullfoss waterfall. A truly breath-taking moment you need to experience for yourself. The story of Gullfoss itself is extremely inspiring! You can read more about it here.
Fun fact: Did you know there are over 100,000 Icelandic Horses in Iceland? Once an Icelandic Horse is sold over and exported to another country however, it can never come back to the island.
Fun fact: with Iceland’s renewable source for electric energy, it is the perfect country where electric cars can become mainstream. In fact, new diesel and gasoline cars will be banned after 2030. Exceptions, such as for remote areas, will be considered. Maybe Tesla will finally make a profit eh? 😉
A big element of Couchsurfing involves spontaneous road trips! My host was lovely and offered to take us on a trip to the less-popular sights and points, at a charge of £20. Because I wasn’t spending money on food as I’ve exported all my food from the UK in my hold luggage, I thought it was a good price for a day full of activity.
Some of the sights we’ve visited included:
- Grænavatn Lake (‘Green’ lake is brightest during the Summer)
- The Blue Lagoon (free viewing area)
- Seltun Geothermal Area – sulphur, sulphur everywhere…
- Bridge between continents (Europe and North America)
To add to that, we’ve had the opportunity to swim in some natural hot springs during a snow storm, finishing the night off with some faint Northern Lights on our way back home.
P.S. We’ve chilled in the hot springs as the snow storm approached – not the smartest or most comfortable idea! It was the first time in my life when I thought I was five minutes away from hypothermia, as our clothes – covered in snow – weren’t the easiest to work with. BUT I SURVIVED! And don’t regret a thing ;).
But just in case you find yourself in a similar situ…
QUICK GUIDE ON: How to avoid hypothermia when getting dressed during a snow-storm?
- Place your towel on the ground and put your dry socks on
- Continue on by putting your hat on
- Make sure your wet clothes are off, and new clothes are dry(ish) – start by clothing the upper part of your body first
- Once you’ve got all the top layers on, you can take your time putting your bottoms on
- Feel toastyyy!
Some more tips on visiting Iceland on a budget!
♥ Buy all your food beforehand – be ready to make that sacrifice!
♥ Travel out of season – don’t be discouraged by the shorter days, the beauty doesn’t change, you’ll just have to be a little more efficient with your time!
♥ Accept you might not see the whole country during your trip – and that’s totally cool!
♥ Drop the fashion, it’s all about the toast factor.
♥ Ensure you’ve always got your phone charged, and that your internet is working. Don’t risk getting lost, with the weather being so unpredictable (cough cough… been there, done that!)
Overall, my flights (£52), luggage (£25), accommodation (£70), transfers (£45), food (£20) and activities (£60) cost me approx. £270 for a 4 night stay. Not too shabby eh?! It really can be done once you set yourself a goal and are disciplined with your word. I encourage you to push your boundaries and get out of your comfort zone, you’ll make unforgettable memories.
Sooo, here it is! A guide on how to ace that Iceland visit on a tight budget. Ready to get started and book that flight? Take my advice: yolo.
Keep thriving for more,
Don’t be a stranger, follow me on @karolinajakobczyk on Instagram for more travel tips and daily empowerment to be your best self.