There are many things that we want to get done before visiting any country. Planning places to visit, hotel reservations, activity reservations, the list is endless. However, there are a lot of considerations that you have to pay attention to when planning a trip to Iceland. Iceland is DIFFERENT. Other than the fact that it is drop-dead gorgeous, there are a significantly large number of natural factors that you have to consider. There are more volcanic mountains here than any country that size, the delicate flora and fauna, ash coming from the mountains, winds etc.
Let me make it a little easier by giving you a checklist you need before you embark on your gorgeous Icelandic vacation. Now when I say gorgeous, it’s not like those pretty places like Switzerland, Canada or Hawaii. Iceland is rugged, it will test you, it will make you walk long distances, but the rewards at the end of all the hard work are stunning waterfalls, icebergs, pitch black sand beaches, cliffs, and auroras.
The first few are general tips for any country in Europe and then followed by specific tips for Iceland.
- Check if you require a visa.
Now, this tip is valid to travel to any country in Europe or pretty much any country in the world. For citizens of certain countries, a Schengen visa is required to visit Iceland. Make sure you have given yourself adequate time to apply for the visa, set an appointment for the interview. Also, gather all documents required for the visa application. You will require documents such as flight return tickets, hotel, and car reservations, bank statements etc. Get the list of docs required here: http://www.utl.is/index.php/en/application-basic-requirement
For countries that do not require a visa, you will require a passport that is valid for a minimum of 6 months. So check your passport accordingly.
- Check your airlines’ baggage policy.
When you make your flight ticket reservations, pay attention to the fare rules and regulations. Specifically when you are booking through a third party travel website, be very careful. I had booked a ticket wherein I was allowed 1 checked baggage on my trip to Iceland. While coming back, the airlines asked me to shell out money for the checked bag. Since I booked through the third party the airlines didn’t give me any refund. However, the third party website after a few phone calls and social media reviews got in touch with me and refunded me the baggage fees. Apparently, the website gave me the lowest fare which included an Economy flight one way and Economy Basic flight (that doesn’t allow free checked bag) while coming back. However, since my ticket didn’t show 2 separate tiers of booking, they refunded me the baggage fee. So just a word of caution, when you are booking through these websites, you should be vigilant.
- Pre-book your rental car/RV.
Iceland gets sudden changes in weather ranging from sunshine to rain to wind and snow in a matter of hours. Getting a Four Wheel Drive (4×4) is the best way to avoid getting stranded. There are some roads in Iceland where only 4WD is allowed. You have to respect that; not only because you should follow rules, but also because a 2WD will be unsafe on those roads due to the weather and land conditions. Personally, I liked the SUV we rented as it was spacious, it allowed me to keep my food, bags and camera equipment segregated. Also, I was able to dry my swimsuits on the back seat-haha!!!
- Get car insurance
Get ‘ash and wind coverage’ because reportedly there have been incidents of car doors flying off with the wind…I didn’t believe this until the day my car door slammed shut on me while I was trying to get inside. Always hold the door firmly while getting in and out of the car if you want to avoid heavy penalties from your rental insurance. Also, since Iceland has a lot of volcanoes and some of them have on-going volcanic activity, there can be ash damage to the car. Most car rentals offer a combo of coverages, so select the one with ‘ash and wind coverage’.
- Pack a lot of layers.
Iceland is cold, windy, rainy. So pack in as many layers of clothing as you can. Start with a warm thermal wear as a base layer, followed by a regular shirt, followed by a warm jacket/ sweater and finally a rain or wind jacket. A windbreaker jacket is the best investment I made for my Iceland trip (Check it here). It protected me from the rain and the cold weather.
Another important piece of clothing you will need is water resistant pants. The last thing you want is to get soaking wet during your hike in the cold weather and getting sick. These pants on Amazon (check here) are super comfortable, water and stain resistant and have an amazing fit. They are my most loved pants and I wore them all over Iceland. I wore jeans only on one day when I was in downtown Reykjavik.
I would surely not recommend wearing jeans on your hikes, strolls, adventure activities because they would be super uncomfortable, get soggy wet if you end up getting drenched in rain and would be extremely hard to dry.
Having an infinity wool scarf will keep you comfortable and is easily removable when you are in the warm comfort of your car/van.
A few other pieces that I had worn were warm long socks, beanies, ear muffs, good sunglasses to protect you from the glare of the snow and water-resistant hiking boots.
- Using credit card/cash in Iceland
I did not carry any local currency in Iceland. Credit cards are widely accepted in Iceland from the most remote towns to local boutiques. So you don’t have to worry about carrying cash with you during your trip. However, it is advisable to buy a gas card which you can either buy with your rental car company or the local stores such as N1 who also sell them. If your credit card does not have a pin number, then you won’t be able to use it to pump fuel at the gas station. In that case, you can go get it from the store selling the gas. However, to save time and efforts, getting a prepaid card is easier. Also, at night, most stores would be closed, so having a prepaid gas card would make sure you don’t get stranded without gas in your tank.
- Carry car chargers, USBs, whatever you can.
You are going to take tons of pictures, so your phone, camera, drones, gimbal, etc need to be fully charged. We would be out at 6 am and return to the hotel at 8-9pm. So having a car charger was a smart decision. Also, you would need European adapters for your chargers. Do not forget to take multiple memory cards for your camera/phone as they will surely run out of space.
- Pack a lot of food.
If you are allowed to check in free luggage in your flight, do it. Take a lot of food from your home country. If you don’t like the food (I don’t think that could happen, but if you are with dietary restrictions). Usually, I am all about trying local cuisine. However, because most Iceland restaurants make extremely fresh foods, it takes quite some time. Also, they are on island time, they are never in a hurry. You have a set schedule and itinerary. If you have given yourself 2-3 hours for lunch/dinner then it’s fine. However, if you don’t have adequate time on hand and want to go from one place to another, eating in your car is the best option. I carried a thermos with hot water and would make coffee/tea on the go. Usually, we would have one meal in a sit-down restaurant. But most of our lunches were in the car. I bought bread, jams, butter, deli meats, fruits in a local store called Bonus (cheapest and you will find everything here). We would normally snack in the car, and eat one meal in a sit-down restaurant, mostly at the end of the day. Also, carry a lot of protein bars to keep yourself full. Some places may require you to walk more than what you thought, so having something at hand to eat is a good idea.
- Check the exact address for your hotels/farm stays etc.
Connect with the people with whom you will be renting your accommodation whether it’s a hotel or farm stay or Airbnb. They are the locals and would be able to help you with the exact location of their farm/barn/hotel/Airbnb. Google maps were messed up especially in Northern Iceland. It took us to the wrong spot multiple times. Finally, the owner stayed on the phone while we drove to his farm. Especially, if you are going to reach late, let them know so they can guide you accordingly. Since some towns are not as developed, there may not be any street lights, hence plan on reaching such places early. The above experience we had was in Vermahlid, where we stayed on a barn, but there was no light whatsoever on that road and we kept missing the entrance to the barn. Also, you may not get good reception at certain locations in the country, so written directions, are the way to go.
- Carry at least 2 swimsuits
There are a lot of natural springs in Iceland. You would want to try at least a few of them. So if you are going to jump from one to another, you don’t want to wear a wet swimsuit. Some famous ones such as the Blue Lagoon, have changing areas and rental swimsuits. However, most secluded ones, may not have changing rooms. It is better to wear a swim-suit underneath your clothing. One such place where you definitely want to wear your swim-suit beforehand is the hot river in Reykjadalur. They have small stands to change clothes, but it is mostly open. Thankfully I had the swimsuit on beforehand so, it was not a problem. However, while leaving I had to do some shenanigans to remove the wet swimsuit and wear my clothes without anyone noticing..haha!!
I hope these tips help you make planning your trip a little easier. If you have any questions feel free to comment below and I will answer your questions to the best of my knowledge.
Here is a checklist for your convenience:
Check if you require a visa.
Check your airlines’ baggage policy.
Get car insurance.
Pre-book your rental car/RV.
Pack a lot of layers.
Using credit card/cash in Iceland.
Carry car chargers, USBs, whatever you can.
Pack a lot of food.
Check the exact address for your hotels/farm stays etc.
Carry at least 2 swimsuits.
The links for products mentioned above are not sponsored and I do not receive any remuneration for suggesting them. These products have been bought by me. I have liked them and hence I am recommending them.