Iceland: a land of adventure, of kind people and beautiful landscapes. My first major solo trip, and probably one of the best starter places to go for a single female traveler. Everyone speaks English, camping is plentiful, and plane tickets are cheap.
I wanted a trip that wouldn’t break the bank. I wanted to go to a place that allowed me to get around easily and enjoy on my own. I wanted a chance to experience another culture and landscape for as little money as possible, and Iceland, being a major destination for natural beauty, was a perfect choice.
I was able to save money in Iceland by planning ahead and following the wisdom of previous travelers; wisdom that I hope to pass on to others. My tips for traveling to Iceland for cheap are as follows:
I managed to save money on a flight by using multiple search platforms over several weeks. Typically, flights are the least expensive when you buy 1-3 months in advance, and are even cheaper when you buy mid-week. BUT, when I saw a round-trip ticket to Iceland for about $550 nearly 8 months before I’d actually board my flight, I jumped at the chance to get so far for so cheap, and bought my ticket before I could change mind.
In the past, I’ve exclusively used Kayak to find the best price for flights, as they can search other travel sites like Expedia, JustFly, and Delta for the cheapest airfare. They also have a “flexdate” option if your travel dates are not set in stone.
Google Flights is another option and is where I found a great deal on my tickets to Iceland. It can search hundreds of flights, has the ability to easily view the best deals for any day, and has the same bargains as Kayak with an easier user interface (in my opinion). I will most definitely be using Google Flights in the future for my vacation planning.See below, where I found one-way tickets to Dublin for $330.
Google Flights allows you to choose the best dates for your trip
- Camping > Hostels > Hotels
Unless you are traveling with a group of people and can split the cost of an Air BnB, hotels or rentals are going to be expensive and not cost effective at all for solo travelers. For example, a one-bed hotel room in Reykjavik can range from $100 to $200 a night.
Hostels, which offer cheaper options based on how many people share a room, may range in price from around $70-$100+. They are much better options for solo travelers who are looking to meet up with travelers and are an easier way to save money in cities and when camping is more difficult. They also provide free showers, WiFi, and sometimes laundry, and are much more comfortable when the weather is bad. There is typically an additional fee for bed linens, so bringing a sleeping bag or personal blanket will further keep expenses low.
Camping is by far the cheapest lodging option in Iceland, ranging $12—$22(ish) a night. Campsites are often just open fields with a building for check-in, restrooms, showers, and laundry. Laundry typically costs $10 to wash and dry, and showers around $5 for 10-20 minutes (though I had good luck on Vestmannaeyjar with a free shower and laundry). Most of the campsite offices had free WiFi available, which was a godsend for checking in with family/friends.
Camping, while the cheapest option, can be cold and not very comfortable. Iceland is windy, and temperatures range from mid-50s to 70s (Fahrenheit) in the summer. I got by with a puffy jacket and stayed mostly comfortable in a 15 degree down sleeping bag, but people not used to camping might have a harder time keeping warm and staying comfortable. Heavy duty tent stakes and guy lines for rigging are recommended because of the wind. I spent more than one sleep-deprived night fighting to keep my tent from collapsing in on me.
- Bring Your Own Food
Along with pretty much everything in Iceland, food is expensive. I managed to save a great deal of money by bringing my own food and snacks. Similar to what I would do for a backpacking trip, I brought several dehydrated dinners, nuts, trail mix, dried fruit, and Cliff bars to keep me full throughout the day. I also brought a small camping stove to boil water for tea in the mornings, which was a lifesaver after particularly cold or restless nights. I recommend bringing food from your country of origin, as even Icelandic grocery stores can be pricey.
Fuel canisters are illegal to bring on planes, but are relatively cheap (one $15 canister lasted me the entire week I was there) and can be found at most gas stations. It is possible to find them for even cheaper at a hostel or the campground in Reykjavik, where many people abandon their half-used canisters before heading on a flight home.
- Be Your Own Tour Guide
Although I had considered a few tours while in the planning stage of my Iceland trip, I decided to save my money and be my own tour guide. Iceland is primarily known for its stunning landscapes and incredible natural features, and many beautiful sites can be accessed without the need for a guide.
Before I left the US, I made sure to scour the internet for the most beautiful waterfalls, mountains, hot springs, beaches and ice lagoons in the country, and while I was not able to see everything Iceland had to offer, I did see a lot of cool stufffor free.
Google Maps has an option to download a map on your smartphone that can be used offline, so I was able to navigate without service or WiFi while I was traveling in Iceland. This was a lifesaver when I was searching for places to camp, eat, and when I needed to find a ferry to a nearby island.
- Rent a Car
Because I wanted to travel around a decent portion of the Ring Road (Hwy 1: about 800 miles of scenic roadway that travels the perimeter of the island), I opted to rent a car instead of relying on buses for transportation—although bus schedules did seem to be more favorable during peak season travel. I managed to find a rental car for less than $100 a day, even with an additional fee tacked on for drivers under 25. Frankly, I was just thankful they’d rent me a car at all.
The car was also great for charging electronics. I refused to buy an outlet adapter because I’d brought my new solar charger (review coming for that one soon), but it just wasn’t enough to keep my kindle, phone and camera charged. Using the car’s USB charger while I drove pretty much saved me for charging various electronics that I used on a daily basis.
My biggest regret was not purchasing additional insurance. On about day 5 of my trip, I followed too close to a car on a gravel road and ended up with a chip in my windshield. After three more days of varying temperatures, the chip cracked and spread. It cost me almost $900 to fix and would have been about $6 a day to insure. Do yourself a favor and get everything covered.
- Pay in Cash
Most credit and debit cards issue foreign transaction fees for withdrawals or purchases in another country. This can mean paying an additional 3-5% on top of some already inflated costs in Iceland. Knowing this ahead of time, I chose to bring a solid stack of cash ($200, which was about enough to pay for lodging, some food and a few trinkets for folks at home) and use my card for “emergencies only” (though of course this didn’t happen).
There are banks and currency exchange businesses that can change your USD into ISK (Icelandic Kronos) prior to leaving the US, but I found it easier to convert once in Iceland. Bringing cash from the US allowed me to avoid the foreign transaction fees, and it was free to convert my money at the airport. They also allow the option of a prepaid card, though there is a $200 minimum and a $15-20 charge to purchase the card. I didn’t think it was worth it.
Doing research and figuring out how to save money ahead of time was paramount in my being able to travel to Iceland for less. Flights, lodging, and food are generally the most expensive aspects of traveling, but it ended up being pretty easy to avoid unnecessarily high prices during my travels in Iceland.