Tag Archives: Iceland

Flying to Iceland

If you’re like me, you’ve probably seen a lot of deals for flights flying from Toronto to Reykjavik on the internet lately.  They advertise flights starting from $240 CAD, depending on the dates you go.  I was taken by these advertisements and ending up going to Iceland considering how cheap these flights are.  But before you start buying, I want to let you know about the hidden costs by flying with these deals (usually these flights are offered by WOW Air).

1. Flight prices change quickly

        I never knew this, but apparently airline companies can monitor how many times you’ve looked at their flights.  If you view multiple times, they know that you’re interested in buying a specific flight and will suddenly bump up the prices.   In my case, me and my friend were both buying seats on the same flight to Reykjavik.  My credit card was malfunctioning, so she bought her ticket first.  After I had refreshed my page, the flight price had jumped up $100 CAD! I tried to call the company to see if there was a mistake, but I was informed that flight prices are variable.  I ended up having to pay quite a bit more for my flight than my friend because of a few second difference in our purchasing time.  And in this situation, I couldn’t even refuse to go, since she already bought her ticket.  Sneaky airlines.

2. Hidden Baggage Costs

Flying WOW Air means very strict baggage rules.  They only allow one small carry-on free of charge.  A small carry-on is defined as a size of 42 x 32 x 25 cm, weighing a maximum of 22 lbs.  I even had a school backpack on, and they were questioning if this fit the size requirements.  That’s how small the carry-on allowance is.

A large carry-on will cost $55, whereas a check-in will cost $60.  We opted for a check-in split between 3 people to put the rest of our luggage in.  Also take into account that these costs are for each flight ‘leg’, meaning you will have to pay again for your return trip.  I know.   Capitalism.  Be sure to pay for all your luggage costs online before arriving at the airport.  It’s cheaper to pre-pay, costing almost double to pay at the drop-off area.  Also keep an electronic or paper copy of your receipt.  They did not find my purchase in their system, so I had to find proof of purchase.  Thank goodness for smartphones.

Also note that in Canada, they will check that all your bags are the right size at the baggage drop-off section.  So, you have the ability to rearrange your items, and put more things in your check-in if you have to.  They will then give you a tag for all your carry-on to let the attendants at the gate know that it is an approved size.  This is not the case in Iceland.  They will let you know AT THE GATE whether or not your carry-on meets baggage requirements.  This means that AFTER you have given away your check-in luggage and RIGHT BEFORE you get on the plane, you can be told that your baggage is too large or too heavy to be free, ending up shelling $135 CAD to purchase a large carry-on fee.  That’s right, $135, not $55 because you purchased this at the gate.  Not online or at check-in which would’ve been cheaper, but you didn’t know that your baggage was too large until the gate.  It’s a scam waiting to happen.

We saw this happen to quite a few people, and there’s really nothing you can do about it.  Your flight is leaving in a few minutes and you just end up paying the money to avoid the hassle of fighting it.

A quick tip: The attendant at the gate was checking each carry-on to see if it met the size requirements.  We had not taken off our baggage tags from our flight from Canada to Iceland, and she took one look at our tags and thought that we had paid for ‘large carry-ons’ and let us in with no trouble.  So keep your luggage tags on.

3. Food Costs

Nothing is included at WOW Air.  We were expecting a meal of some sort, but there was nothing.  No snacks, and not even drinks.  Everything had to be paid for.  It was strange that they didn’t even offer us water.  What if I was dying of thirst, or a diabetic.  I would have to pay at least $5 to save my life.  It’s a tough decision.

4. Entertainment

There are no in-flight televisions on WOW Air.  No plugs, nada.  You can rent an Ipad for $20 with pre-loaded movies and games, but if you don’t, you’re stuck twiddling your thumbs for 5 hours.

5. Seat Assignment

If you want to sit with your travelling companions, you will have to purchase $15 per flight leg to choose your seat.  You are allowed to request a preference of aisle or window at the time of your booking for free however.  And, you can switch seats with other passengers if they are willing.  We didn’t end up sitting together, as it was just a 5 hour flight.

6. Other Grievances

On the flight from Iceland back to Canada, WOW Air did not have their own flight terminal.  We were crammed into a bus with the heat turned up, waited for 15 minutes to arrive at the plane and walked in the rain to get to  our airplane.  You get what you pay for.

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                                                                           (lol, I kid. Our plane was much worse)

So although I was advertised a flight costing ~$350, I ended up paying $500 for the flight itself and $40 for baggage (already split between 3 people).  It’s still a good deal, but just be aware of these costs before you start buying.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever fly WOW Air again, maybe if there are good deals, but I will always budget at least $100 more for all the hidden costs and fees that incur.

 

 

 

Iceland

My trip to Iceland was very spur of the moment, decided and booked only a month before departure.  Wow Air had advertised deals starting from $200 CAD roundtrip and so we jumped at the chance to go.  (Flight was actually $499 CAD with $60 baggage fee one way; not as cheap as advertised eventually, but see footnote below for details)

The trip was a total of 10 days, 9 nights and a total expenditure of $1700 for this week and a half.

I went in mid-October, which isn’t the best time to go, as the weather is gloomy and rainy most days.  The benefit is that you get to see the Northern Lights without going mid-winter.  We were lucky that we had a few days of sunshine when we needed it and it rained on the days that we were driving mostly.

South Iceland

Gljúfrafoss

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The tourists all go to Seljalandfoss, but often miss Gljúfrafoss a short drive away.  A short, steep climb allows you to get right up to the falls.  The climb itself was just as fun as the view you get at the top.

Dyrhólaey

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The windy day and the waves crashing on the rocky shore made Dyrhólaey truly terrifying. There’s even a sign that tells you to proceed at your own discretion before you climb the rocky incline, but the view is breathtaking.

DC-3 crash in Sólheimasandur

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You’ve probably seen JBeebs skateboarding down this plane, but the DC-3 crash in Sólheimasandur is eerie and isolated at the same time.  They recently closed down the driving road to get here, so you have to park 4 km away and walk in order to reach this site. The entrance/parking to this site was difficult to find as well, but the site is very photogenic especially with the landscape in the background.  *No one died when this flight crashed*

Black Sand Beach

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You can sit on the vertical rock columns and watch the sunset at Black Sand Beach; where the sand is actually black (more like pebbles).

Fjaðrárgljúfur

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Fjaðrárgljúfur is a canyon is pretty well hidden.  When we first arrived, we looked around and didn’t see anything.  It’s only when you walk a little closer that you notice the depth of the entire thing.  The entire route is 2 km.

Svartifoss waterfall and Skaftafell glacier

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Svartifoss is a waterfall where the Skaftafell glacier is located.  I would recommend looking at the hiking trail map before going up, in order to get to whichever waterfalls you want without getting lost.

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The hike to Svartifoss and Skaftafell (the glacier) is breathtaking.  Both routes eventually lead back to the starting point, although Svartifoss is on the left and Skaftafell is on the right.  We went to Svartifoss and doubled back to the fork in the road to get the Skaftafell.  I would recommend doing both those routes. Definitely worth it.

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This is the epic Skaftafell glacier.  (The tail end at least).  We just see a bit of the whole thing.

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I guess the view walking down was okay.

Jökulsárlón

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Next stop! Iceberg lagoon aka. Jökulsárlón.  This lagoon has icebergs that flow from a rapidly receding glacier.  We also took a boat ride through the lagoon costing around $60 CAD and got to taste a piece of the iceberg (our most expensive excursion).

*All these photos so far have been from Southern Iceland.  Although we did the entire island on the Ring Road, southern Iceland had by far the most interesting attractions.

North Iceland

Grjótagjá

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Grjótagjá is an underground cave that used to be a popular bathing site in the 1970s.  Now it is illegal to swim in the water due to unstable and changing temperatures.  Its a tiny climb down an unassuming entrance and looks straight out of scene in LoTR.

Troll Cave in Dimmuborgir

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Upon hiking in the Dimmuborgir lava fields, we stumbled on a cave that looked like it had been lived in.  There were blankets on the floor, laundry hung up, pots and pans and even some money on the table.  It was pretty creepy especially because the cave is a kilometre off the main road and nobody else was there but us to see it.

Myvatn Nature Baths

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Similar to Blue Lagoon, but much less populated (cheaper too) is Myvatn Nature Baths.  The water is baby blue and you can even feel the moss and rocks underneath your feet.  It really feels like you just took a dip in a random hot spring you just happened to stumble across.  Around $40 CAD.

Akureyri

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The second largest city next to Reykjavik.

Selfoss and Dettifoss

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These two waterfalls you can only get to by driving down a rocky gravel road.  Its a difficult road for a normal car to get through, since there’s a lot of potholes and rocks.  It would be very easy for a 4×4 car, but you’ll have to decide whether it is worth the unpleasant ride and possible scrapes to your rental car to venture out here if you don’t drive a 4×4.

Northern Lights

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Now, fair warning, the Northern Lights definitely look better in photos.  Do not be disappointed because even though these look very bright and strong, they were much fainter to the naked eye.  That’s not to say that they weren’t still beautiful.  There were 2 or 3 times where the lights were very bright and no photo could ever match that kind of brilliance.  They do also appear more white than green to the naked eye, but we have seen them green-tinged and even purple.  Usually they are just streaks in the sky, but we have also seen them dance.  We were only able to see the lights in North Iceland, and it had to be a fairly clear night (which was quite rare).  There are Northern Light tracker apps online that are very helpful to see if you’ll have a good chance of seeing them in the region you are in.

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So that’s my week and a half in Iceland! I didn’t talk about most of the very touristy locations (except the ones that were too nice not to talk about!) and chose to show just the highlights of my trip.  Places like Blue Lagoon, Skogafoss are talked about in most travel blogs, so I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about those.  I have another blog about more tips and tricks to saving money and how we managed to keep under 2 grand for this entire trip!

P.C. Jason Tam

Tips and Tricks to Iceland

Iceland is an expensive country.  There’s no doubt about it.  Almost everything that’s sold in Iceland is imported from other countries, making food, gas and basic living expenses skyrocket.  So, how do you travel Iceland on a budget?

First things first.  I travel.  I do not go on vacation.  If you go travelling with the mentality that every day is going to be a great experience and filled with fun and excitement, you’re going to be disappointed.  Travelling taught me to change my perspective because there are going to be those days when things aren’t going right.  Even when it’s not an ideal situation, and even when you’re not having the time of your life like you ‘should be’, this should teach you patience and humility.   You will come back home not only with new experiences, but with an intense appreciation for the comfort you experience on a daily basis.

That being said, sometimes the way I save money on vacation is to ‘slum it’.

Accomodation

We spent less than $800 CAD on living expenses alone.  (Divided by 3, that’s… ~$267) That’s for 9 nights, averaging $30 a night. Yes, I am that good at math.  How did we do that?

  1. We slept in the car for 2 nights

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This lovely car was actually quite comfortable for 2 nights (and 3 people).  We brought our own sleeping bags, reclined the seats, and had quite a good night.  We read online that you can park or camp anywhere in Iceland (as long it isn’t someone else’s property); but a local told us that overnight parking/camping can only be at designated campgrounds.  I don’t have a definite answer for you, but some open campgrounds charge only 10s of dollars for you to use their washroom and cooking facilities.  It’s actually a pretty good deal, because you don’t realize how much you need running water to feel full and clean.

Most campgrounds in Iceland are closed by the end of September, so you can park or camp there for free.  If you go to Iceland during the summer, I would definitely recommend camping the entire way.  There are some campsites near the bases of waterfalls with spectacular views to wake up to.

  2.  Airbnb is your friend

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Airbnb is probably the best the cheapest accommodation in any country.  It’s a site that lets people rent out their houses/apartments or rooms to strangers (like a bed and breakfast).  I find that I learn so much about the culture of a country by staying in places that the people of that country actually live in.  You are able to talk to them about recommendations, things to watch out for and just have some normal social interaction. (Yes, internet. It’s good to converse with other human beings).   Most of all, the kindness of strangers always makes me have faith in humanity again.

Airbnb in Iceland is definitely  more open than other countries I’ve stayed in as every single Airbnb did not lock their front doors.  With Iceland being the 2nd safest country in the world, it’s no wonder.  We walked into one of our last airbnbs (at a farm actually) and started to make food and have dinner, all without our host being there.  They walked into their house with 3 strangers already settled in and making themselves at home.

I’m not paid to say this, but I only have good things to say about Airbnb.  Even in bad listings, the company is very helpful. 5 stars. Confetti. Hurrah.

3. Hostels

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We stayed in one hostel during our trip and it was in a town called Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland.  It was called Halfaldan Hi Hostel and was clean and had a very comforting, homey feel to it.  Many people think that hostels are the cheapest way to go, but they are not; especially if there is more than 1 guest.  Hostels charge by the bed, not the room.  So, if an average hostel bed is 30-50 dollars, it’s usually cheaper to even go to a hotel that’s priced at 100, because you will split the bill between 3 people (hotels sell by the room).

That being said, although this hostel was our most expensive accommodation ($150 for 3 persons), it was still the cheapest place in that location.  This hostel was top notch!

Food

Food is EXPENSIVE. I tried to buy a cup of soup at a touristy restaurant and it was over $20. $20!!! For a cup of SOUP! I wanted soup so badly, but alas, I was soupless.  In the major cities of Reykjavik and Akureyri, we did end up splurging and eating at nice restaurants only to be disappointed.  Not many things are fresh in Iceland, as they have to be shipped across the country and you can taste the difference.

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This was a $50 meal of whale.  It tastes like beef, but a bit more rubbery and gamey.  It’s worth a try, but only once.

So, for the rest of our meals, what did we do?

  1. We bought groceries

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Doesn’t that look appetizing? Shut up.  It was actually really good.  The cheapest grocery store by far is Bonus, which can be found mostly in large cities.  Since we rented a car, we were able to stock up on food before we started our road trip.  What I’ve realized is that a bag of pasta can be sufficient for many meals, preserved meat tastes delicious when you’re cold, wet and hungry, and you need to eat your vegetables to stay regular *ahem*.  All of our Airbnbs had kitchens and so cooking was never an issue.

Although Bonus is the cheapest, some items can still be considered quite expensive.  There are some cheese products that can cost upwards of $20.  But, there are certain brands are within a reasonable range ($6).  Just keep looking. Don’t buy the $20 cheese.

    2. Hot Dogs

I really though I had a photo of these amazing hot dogs, but I don’t think I could wait anytime I had my hands on one of these.

Hot dogs are highly recommended among tourists and residents of Iceland.  These ones have crispy fried onion and then raw onions on the bottom of the bun, then a nice long sausage (..) and 3 types of sauces on top.  Ketchup, Sweet Mustard and Remoulade.  And yes, remoulade is french for delicious.

You can get these hot dogs at any gas station and specific hot dog stands in the big cities. They are usually around $5 CAD.

Transportation

For our trip, we planned on travelling around the entirety of Iceland on the Ring Road. This road is paved, well-maintained and stretches out for 1330km.  We rented a 2 wheel drive car for this journey and for the most part, had no issues.

One thing to note is that there are many gravel roads branching off from the ring road, that make it difficult for a normal 2 wheel drive car to travel on.  Therefore, there are going to be places that are inaccessible to people driving this type of car.  If you are planning to go more inland to see mountains in Iceland, you would have to rent a 4×4.  Another thing to note is that everyone in Iceland usually drives a manual/stick-shift car, so you’ll have to pay extra to rent an automatic car.

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Places like Selfoss/Dettifoss, Grettirs Pool, Aldeyjarfoss are only accessible via gravel roads.  There are even other places that have signs preventing you from driving further without a 4×4 because of the dangerous terrain.  We did end up driving to Selfoss/Dettifoss, but the road was full of potholes and rocks.  It’s an uncomfortable ride as well as a slow one, because you want to minimize any damage that could happen with gravel hitting the car.  If you look on Google Maps, you can determine which roads are gravel, and which ones are paved.  The Ring Road, as I said before, is completely paved and outlined in yellow.  The gravel roads are outlined in white.

Our car rental for 10 days cost just under $600, resulting in $200 split between 3 people. I do have some grievances with the company that provided the car rental, which I’ll explain in another post.  Other than that, I feel the best way to travel Iceland is by driving the Ring Road.  There are the occasional buses that will leave Reykjavik and go to town along the way, or tours that can take you to the most popular spots, but these options give you no flexibility and cost more than they’re worth.

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Gas is expensive.  Prices range up to $2 CAD per litre, doubling the norm in Canada.  It’s important to fill up frequently, we rarely let ourselves get below half a tank.  Gas stations either conglomerate in one location or are far and few; and it would be impractical to be stranded due to running out of gas.   We spent a total of $450 CAD for our 10 day driving trip.  (split between 3 is $150).  The car rental place also gave us a gas card that would get 3 ISK off each litre (around 3 cents) at certain gas stations.

All the gas stations we went to also did not accept our credit cards at the pump.  We had to go inside to either pay, or buy a gas card to use at the pump.  Gas cards are usually in the 1000, 3000 and 5000 ISK level.  Gas cards also have their affiliations with the station they are bought at.  So OLIS gas cards can only be used at OLIS stations.   Keep in mind that gas stations are not open 24/7 and if your credit card does not work, you can not fill up gas if the desk is not open.

Wifi

The most beneficial expenditure by far was our wifi router, which we purchased online before going on the trip.  I have had experience with wifi routers since my trip in Asia, and was happy to find that they have a similar device in Iceland as well.  The wifi router allows wifi access for multiple devices and is small and portable.  The access is surprisingly good everywhere on the Ring Road.  Our router was from the Trawire website and we purchased the Trawire Basic plan for $10 USD a day.  This includes a 4G modem and unlimited usage (I would recommend unlimited, so that you don’t have to worry about exceeding anything).  We had no issues with the wifi, neither the speed nor the connectivity.

To return the router, they charge a base of $15 USD and include an envelope with postage already, so that you can drop the router in any post-office box and it’ll be mailed back to them.  Don’t worry, there is a post-office box in the airport.

Having a wifi router allows more flexibility in planning your day to day activities, as well as gives you security in finding the locations you want to go.  It lets you use your phone GPS and allows you to communicate with people back home for free.

Highly recommended.

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You’re all set to go! Happy travels and comment below if you have any questions!