Forget tropical holidays, sundresses and straw hats. The new country in fashion calls for just about the opposite. You’ve seen it, you’ve heard of it, you might have even dreamed of it. Yes, it’s Iceland. It’s the breathtaking, ever–changing, untouched views of nature, the northern lights, the wildlife, the rarity of it all. A small country with a population probably inferior to your closest city’s, but ever so much to offer in other aspects.
Sounds perfect, and it is. But we can’t have it all! Visiting this strange little paradise comes at a cost, literally – Iceland is VERY expensive. As a student, I had Iceland on my bucket list for years and the only reason I never went was due to budget restrictions. One day I saw cheap tickets and took the plunge; the challenge made it all more exciting.
I spent a total of 12 days in Iceland with no plan, no car and a student budget. Here are some of the things I did to make it work.
Iceland on a Budget: Flights
I had a price alert set on a flight price comparison platform ever since I decided to take the plunge of going this year. Having done a bit of research I worked out that taking two separate flights with different airlines would be a lot cheaper than direct flights. If you are in Europe, flights from the UK with WOW air are usually quite affordable. The total of my flights added up to around €300.
Iceland on a Budget: Getting around
By car: If you can afford it, rent a car – this way you have total freedom of where and when you want to go somewhere, and you can share ride/costs with other travelers along the way.
By bus: Relying on buses isn’t necessarily the cheapest option or the easiest, as public transport in Iceland is limited and ridiculously pricey. In my case I got a bus to Akureyri, as I wanted to get as far as possible without driving myself. The bus from Reykjavik to Akureyri cost around €70 one way, for which you can usually get a domestic flight for cheaper if you book in advance.
Hitchhiking: Meet people along the way, ask where they’re going and they’ll usually be happy to have you and share costs. For me personally this was perfect as I had no set plan and was happy to tag along with theirs. This way I could see the main stops in the Northern region, including Myvatn Baths, and in the south, the Snæfellsnes peninsula. My main tip here is to ask around in hostels as most people will have a similar plan in mind.
Guided tours: If you have a time limit and little resources, I would recommend Bus Travel Iceland tours, a well–rounded, informative and relatively affordable company.
Iceland on a Budget: Where to Stay
Here comes the trickiest bit for me. For months, I rummaged through couchsurfing forums and Facebook pages for shared accommodation or a travel buddy. For some reason there wasn’t a very active community for the time I was going (April), so I decided to book the first night at a hostel and sort of test my luck from then on.
Hostels: The cheapest and best located hostels I found in Reykjavik were Hlemmur Square and Bus Hostel, both modern hostels with affordable (Icelandic standard) prices, here I stayed in a 6 and 24-bed dorm which catered for everything I needed. I found that Bus Hostel had a more backpacker–hip feeling to it but was further away from the center. In these places prices usually start at around 20 euros. In Akureyri I would recommend the Backpackers hostel.
Couchsurfing: If you know of anyone in Iceland, and I mean ANYONE, a friend of a friend, a fellow couch surfer, try to stay with them even if it is on their couch. This is the best way to explore the country like a local and to get the best tips. You will also save a fair amount of money.
Camping: In the summer months, one of the most popular choices is camping; you can either wild camp or camp in designated areas which you will only pay a small fee for. Note, that you are not allowed to pitch your tent wherever you please for reasons of nature preservation. Find more info here.
Iceland on a Budget: Food & Drink
If you are on a budget, you are bound to suffer a bit in this area, but think it’s only temporary and well worth it. If I didn’t want to fall out of my budget I wasn’t able to drink anything other than tap water or refillable coffee and tea, which most places offer.
WATER IS FREE and safe to drink from the tap! Don’t buy bottled water as this is an unnecessary expense and is bad for the environment.
Read: 15 Ways to Travel Green
In terms of food, my go to was shopping at Bonus supermarkets which are the cheapest according to locals. If I wanted to treat myself to a real meal I would either eat the university bar which offered full meals for around €10 or eat at a hostel.
During my time in Iceland I mainly lived on pot noodles, bread, cheese and pasta – not the best but something I was willing to endure in order to make the most of my time.
Iceland on a Budget: Sightseeing
The great thing about Iceland is that most sights are free and natural. Some, of course have a fee, such as swimming pools, hot springs and nature baths. However, as a student I often benefitted from discounts!
When it comes to Iceland I truly believe that if there’s a will there’s a way. Stay open-minded and don’t forget: þetta reddast – it will all work out okay!
This is a guest post by Ana Del Canto.
Ana has lived pretty much everywhere else other than her own home country, sparking her interest and love for discovering new countries and cultures, tasting each place one cup of coffee at a time. Having recently discovered her love for solo traveling through her trip to Iceland, she will continue to document her adventures on Instagram @ana.dc!