Iceland- Tips, Tricks & Our Itinerary

Planning to travel to Iceland was a fun process for us and we wanted to share more about the resources we found that made our trip so enjoyable. Especially for a destination with rugged terrain and an almost unintelligible language, taking time to prepare before you go can make a trip much more care free. Maps can be a bit vague, wifi spotty, and sometimes the coolest experiences we had were uncovered by following the distinctly off-the-map advice of newly found internet friends.

The flight will be your biggest expense; we found several great options and ended up on Delta with an easy connection through JFK. We never love red-eyes, but we made it and even got a lucky upgrade on the return trip home! If we visit in the future, we will likely try IcelandAir as they operate out of our new home airport and have the free stop-over option in en route to Europe.

As always, our first step was to carefully prioritize our sight-seeing wish list, then map out the best route for fitting in as much of it as possible. Confusing the names of waterfalls and erroneous internet advice would have zigzagged us all over the place had we not reviewed the path in advance. Figure out the balance of activities your travel companions like. We layered in time estimates, trying to better gauge how long hikes and visits would take so that our days were better balanced and held allowance for random adventures and travel mishaps.

Hold up a minute before you start judging us for the efficiency method, because to us, this is so freeing! It helps to fend off extra crazy surprises on the road, and thus, minimizes extra crazy grumpy traveler meltdowns (not naming names). Between a simple tracking spreadsheet and Google Maps, we had a really good idea of what was possible and how much it was going to cost us to do it. This step then feeds into easy hotel booking decisions and other reservations that must be made in advance.

We were lucky to not have any delays or travel glitches, but if we did, we knew what stops would have to drop off the list to save time for our potential favorites. Ultimately, we didn't miss any of our must-see stops, although we did regrettably bypass snorkeling the Silfra fissure due to the time commitment.  It has been suggested that if you hope to make the full circle around Iceland, you would need at least 10-12 days to do it well. Our time on the Southern Coast hit quite a lot of what you see by way of popular Icelandic media. If you have more time, take it! If you 4-5 days like us, don't skip it; we believe that the investment was well worth it for the ground you can cover.

Once there, it's easy to navigate, but we were glad we had typed out full addresses and identifying hallmarks in our notes, and that we had brought a printed copy of those notes. Because sometimes your electronics die, and other times you type in destinations like"Fjaðrárgljúfur" into your GPS and you don't feel completely convinced that you are choosing the right place. Communicating with hospitable locals is a breeze, paying by chip credit card is even easier, and booking stays online in advance of travel allows for a peaceful conclusion to active days.

When to go:
-High season runs from May to August, and will boast better weather but worse prices/crowds. We traveled August 21-25, were able book most of our top lodging preferences, and enjoyed mild weather and few crowds. BUT we missed the Northern Lights. A day after we left, several active nights occurred. We embrace the idea of the shoulder season, but delaying longer will carry you into colder weather and rain. Winter is said to have amazing hallmarks, but for the itinerary we share, we say Sept. 1.

Our travel tips for Iceland:
- Rent a car. Pick it up right at the airport. Don't worry with an SUV, the budget option is sufficient.
-Don't pay for a GPS in the rental car. Instead, rent a wireless hotspot and use your phone. So simple and inexpensive. We even played Spotify through the car Bluetooth which was great!
-Print a physical copy of your notes with full addresses/ bring copies of all booking receipts.
-Use this to track Aurora activity and plan night watching
-Don't forget your chip credit card (no need to exchange money, we didn't)
-Go to the Blue Lagoon: read the reviews, but give it a shot, you only live once. Save $ by not buying the top package, and if you do like we did and schedule treatments, you get a complimentary robe to wear on your visit anyway. Seriously, book before you go, and try to plan to be there first thing in the morning (night sounds cool too). The few glorious early moments when the pools were empty were pretty stellar and as we left by mid-day the crowds were very dense. Bring a pony tail holder, make sure you try all of the silica masks, and splurge on the lip balm in the gift shop as you go.
-Filling up at the gas station can be tricky and requires your credit card to have a pin (set this up before you travel, as Americans don't commonly use pins on their credit cards). You can also simplify the process by going inside to purchase pre-paid gas cards and using those at the pump. On your first purchase, start with a moderate amount and calculate how far that gets you so that you don't over buy the next time.
-Trying to save your budget? Pack more food from home and skip paying for lunches on the go.
-Another budget option to look into is tent camping or rv rentals

What we packed: (hint -simplify and carry on)
-Use your personal carry-on wisely & bring something to repack for day hikes (we brought 1 backpack, 1 small drawstring bag, 1 large messenger purse , & 1 small clutch for evenings)
-Reusable water bottle for each traveler- stay hydrated on the plane & enjoy filling up with the purest water in the world once there!
-Swim suit (or 2)
-Thick wool socks, several pairs
-Hiking appropriate shoes/boots with a sturdier sole than a tennis shoe (we didn't spend extra $ to buy fancy hiking boots, but they are going to get muddy and tennis shoes will not hold up well enough)
-Fashion sneakers for travel/town
-Loafers/boots/etc. for town/dining
-Pack-able down jacket
-Rain shell
-Rain sleeve for your DSLR cameras (extra battery and memory card are a given)
-Long-sleeve thermal layer or pullover jacket to layer with others
-Regular (non-athletic) casual fall jacket or pullover
-Gloves, hat, scarf
-Athletic/hiking outfit (simple base layers)
- Black pants, jeans & neutral tops for town & travel
-Sharp casual outfit for dinner out (think black)
-Turkey Jerky and Chocolate covered almonds (or your favorite snack)

Where we ate:
Coffee/Breakfast: Rekyjavik Roasters, C is for Cookie, Kex Hostel
Lunch: Baejarins Beztu Pylsur
Casual Dinner/HH: Fish Restaurant Reykjavik, Nora Magasin, Glacier Goodies (Skaftafell)
Special night out: Grillmarkadurinn
Other New Nordic options: Dill, Fish Market, Snaps, Ion

Where we shopped:
-We saved our travel budget by buying little, but the woolen products were the most tempting, as was everything carried by Geysir and the super sleek Scandinavian home design stores. Plan accordingly. I do recommend finding these great items around Rekyjavik or in duty free on your way home:
-Nordur Salt
-Omnom Chocolate 

Our itinerary:
12:00 PM: Depart Austin

8:15AM-Arrive/Rental Car Pickup
9:00AM- GPS Pickup
9:15AM-10:00AM-Breakfast at C is for Cookie, walk in Reykjavik 
11:15AM-1:00- Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park
1:15PM-2:30PM – Brúarfoss
2:30PM-3:30PM – Strokkur, Geysir
3:30PM-4:30PM – Gullfoss
5:45PM – Arrive Hestheimar Guesthouse

7:00AM-8:00AM – Breakfast at Hestheimar 
8:30AM- 9:00AM- Seljalandsfoss
9:30AM-10:30AM – Skógafoss 
10:30AM-12:00PM– Reynisfjara Beach/ Reynisdrangar (puffins)
12:15PM-12:45PM – Lunch stop, exploring in Vik
1:15PM- 1:45PM- Suðurland mossy lava field exploration
2:30PM-3:30PM – Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
4:00PM-7:30PM – Skaftafell- Vatnajokull National Park/ Svartifoss/ Dinner & Coffee
8:00PM – Fosshotel Islandia Nupar

7:30AM Coffee & Hotel Checkout
8:30AM-11:15 AM Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon 
11:30AM-11:45AM Hofskirkja Church/Last Turf Church of Hof
3:00PM-5:00PM Reykjadalur Hot Spring
6:30PM– Hlid Fisherman's Village check-in Alftanes
7:30PM– Dinner at Grillmarkaðurinn in Reykjavík

7:30AM- Breakfast in Alftanes
8:45AM-11:00AM – Blue Lagoon
12:00PM- Check-in Hotel Odinsve
12:30PM-12:45PM – Lunch at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur in Reykjavík
1:00PM- Exploring in Reykjavík
4:30PM– Nora Magasin on the Square
8:30PM- Dinner at Fish Restaurant Reykjavik

7:00AM – Depart for airport
11:00 PM- Arrive home

What we read before we went:
Pinterest:I have collected several links on my Iceland board. Check it out!
Aspiring Kennedy(A fellow HU Alumna & amazing Intl. Programs Director) her itineraries are great and we ended up booking almost all of our lodging based on her recommendations!
Unlocking Kiki: (American expat living in Iceland) she helped us find Bruarfoss, our favorite stop and she shares other amazing excursions (like this one we missed). We took her advice on this hike.

So there you have it. Now get planning!

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