Updated: Jul 29, 2020
What are you thinking of? Cold. Ice Cold. The kind of cold you are trying to avoid because you rather be on an island. Well, that was my mentality for a while as I traveled to the Caribbean every February. However, this February was different. I finally took that leap and so should you! Before you take that leap, be prepared!
Keep reading this blog post as I will answer the following questions to give you tips you should know for your first trip to Iceland:
How should I prepare for a trip to Iceland?
Should I exchange money before I travel to iceland?
What should you avoid in Iceland?
What to pack for Iceland?
Packing for Iceland in a carry on -- what does that look like?
How do I prepare for Iceland weather?
How much time do you need in Iceland?
How much should I budget for Iceland?
Is tipping in Iceland an insult?
Is it easy to get around in Iceland?
Check out my Iceland Travel Advice by reading 9 Mistakes to Avoid when Preparing for Iceland Trip:
1. What should you avoid in Iceland?
Mistake 1: Buying Bottled Water!
Iceland literally has one of the freshest tap water since it is sourced from the glaciers. My fiance was very weary at first but he caved in once I made him drink water from a bottle and told him afterwards that it was tap water. So do not waste your money as water bottles (well everything) are not cheap in Iceland!
TIP: Make sure to bring a water bottle that you can reuse during your time there.
2. How do I prepare for Iceland weather? What to pack for Iceland?
Mistake 2: Not dressing properly for the inconsistent weather!
The weather in Iceland is unpredictable, especially in the winter! One minute it can be sunny and clear skies and then the next minute there are strong winds that appear randomly. The wind hits differently in Iceland, which makes snow storms more intense than in the USA.
As a result, be prepared. For example, dress in layers that you can remove. I hear that in the summertime, this is still important as the temperature goes no higher than 50 degrees, so don’t be fooled! I was super prepped (and made sure my fiance was too, since I bought two of everything)!
Top Wear: I wore a long winter coat, a hoodie, and a T-shirt under the hoodie. I also had a poncho I would wear over the hoodie on colder days. In addition, I wore a long, massive scarf that also served as a mini cover-up too. Some days, I did not need the scarf.
Pants Wear: In terms of pants, I stuck to jeans. However, on some days, I would wear leggings underneath.
Footwear: On my feet, I wore winter boots, especially for traction as some roads near the waterfall can be slippery. I wore thicker winter socks and some days I also wore massive thermal socks over my regular socks. I would recommend buying tractions that you can add to your boots for super icy nature explorations. This is the one thing that we did not have, but our tour guide had a box to lend everyone!
TIP: Make sure that you have a waterproof layer, especially because it can snow randomly or mist from the waterfall.
3. How much time do you need in Iceland?
Mistake 3: Cramming In Too Many Activities.
A map gives the illusion that Iceland is small -- and as a result, gives the false hope that you can see everything in a few days. Many people travel to Iceland for just a long weekend. I would advise against it, however, depending on what you are trying to do. One reason is that things are a lot further than you think. Many of the nature spots you will want to see are somewhere between 2-4 hours each way from Reykjavik. Also consider time that may be wasted from a tour bus potentially showing up late, driving to pick other people up, or driving narrow roads through unpredictable weather. Also, because many tour excursions are long (anywhere between 8-14 hours starting early between 8-9 AM), you will be tired. You want to leave time for some breathing room. Also, you want to leave time for your body to adjust to the time difference and jet lag.
TIP: Travel to Iceland for the week. That way you do not have to stack your excursions. Read my blog post, “Exploring the Land of Fire & Ice: A Week Long Comprehensive Guide to Iceland.” to see how I organized our itinerary for the week.
4. How much should I budget for Iceland?
Mistake 4: Not being aware of expensive costs
Things are expensive. Really expensive. If you are used to traveling to Scandinavian countries, then you know. Iceland is not officially in Scandinavia, but it has a strong Scandinavian influence as they were colonized by Norway at some point. In fact, Iceland is ranked number one in the most expensive countries to live in (for context, Norway is 3rd). To quote, “the cost of living in Iceland is about 40.21% higher than that of the United States (rent not included). In addition, rent in Iceland is 15.57% higher than that of the United States.”
That should bring perspective. Expect your bank account to feel emptier or have a higher credit card bill than if you were traveling elsewhere. However, it is worth it!
TIP: To save some money, I would recommend being strategic about food. For example, eat one large meal a day so you do not need to eat both lunch and dinner. Also, if you are traveling with someone, ordering small plates to split allows you to sample more and spend less. Pack lots of extra snacks so you do not have to buy that there.
5. Is tipping in Iceland an insult?
Mistake 5: Tipping At Restaurants
Right before I paid for my bill at my first restaurant in Iceland, I discovered through an online search tipping is not a thing in Iceland. That is because all bills already take that into account, so locals do not tip. As a result, there is no need to tip. This will save you some money!
TIP: Always search what is customary around tips when you travel to another country. In some countries, it is offensive to give tips. In other countries, it is what workers completely depend on. This is important in order to know how to act accordingly.
6. Should I exchange money before I travel to iceland?
Mistake 6: Exchanging currency
In Iceland, it is not necessary to convert to the local currency. All places that we went to took credit cards, which makes it easier.
TIP: Use a travel credit card so you can earn points while paying for things! Ideally, use a credit card that does not have a transaction fee.
7. What should you avoid in Iceland?
Mistake 7: Skipping The Shower Before Swimming
This is something that Iceland makes a big deal about. At every lagoon that you go to, you will see a sign instructing you to shower completely with soap -- and naked -- before going into the geothermal baths. This rule applies to everyone and everywhere! This took me aback as in the states, showering naked in public is not customary. However, do not be concerned! The Blue Lagoon has private showers for you to use. At the secret lagoon, there was a public shower, but everyone showered in their bathing suit.
TIP: Wear your bathing suit underneath your clothes when you plan to go to the lagoon. It makes it a lot easier to just remove your clothes and head to the shower since you will need to change in public spaces.
8. How should I prepare for a trip to Iceland?
Mistake 8: Getting Your Hopes High for the Northern Lights
I do not want to discourage you, but it is not a guarantee that you will see the Northern Lights. Even when the forecasts predict that it will be a good night of activity, there may be cloud coverage. However, there are steps you can take in order to increase your chances and be prepared for the experience.
TIP: Book your Northern Lights excursion early on in the trip. If you can, book it for the first night. Many companies will allow you to try again if you did not see the Northern lights the first time. We had that opportunity, but did not take advantage as we found the experience long and cold. You are in the middle of nowhere for a couple of hours from the city staring at the sky. As a result, make sure to follow step 2 and layer, layer, layer!
9. Is it easy to get around in Iceland?
Mistake 9: Taking Taxi
As with everything else, taxis are expensive. Also, taxis are not readily available. Many places are walking distance in Reykjavik! However, if you do not want to walk in the cold, use Iceland’s bus system called Strætó (very bright yellow in color). There is no metro, train or ferry service in Reykjavik.
TIP: The best way to access the bus system is to download the Strætó app and buy a ticket before you hop on. The bus costs 470 ISK (3.40 EUR) per ride.