First trip to a new destination is always nerve-wracking especially when traveling with kids. However, if there is enough pre-planning, it will reduce a lot of unnecessary stress and headaches. Here are my top 10 travel tips before traveling to Iceland that will be very helpful in making your trip just a little smoother.
1. Decide where to go in Iceland
Deciding where to travel in Iceland is very dependent on when you are going and of course, weather conditions. My ultimate trip in Iceland will be to do a road trip around the entire Ring Road. However weather conditions from October to April could be harsh and thus making some of the Ring Road impassable or just terribly icy. We went on April 1 and some of the roads were still closed to traffic. So due to time constraint (we only had 6 days) and weather conditions, we decided to travel just the Golden Circle and the South Coast. Maybe someday we will be back in the summer and explore the entire Ring Road.
Our final itinerary will be posted soon.
2. Decide how you want to travel
Once we decided where we were going, it was time to decide how we were going to travel. We could either rent a car and self-drive or we could just book local tours. There are a lot of local tours leaving from Reykjavik. We decided to self-drive because we can then be more flexible in our timing. Tours are nice because you don’t have to drive but there is not much flexibility to the timing.
3. Decide on the car rental company and type of car to rent
Once we made the decision to self-drive, it was time to find a car rental company. There are a lot of horror stories about car rental companies in Iceland and their ripoff scams especially with rock / gravel chip damage. We finally decided on BLUE CAR RENTAL because they have positive reviews. But take note that no matter which rental car company you end up with, make sure that you inspect your rental car very very carefully before signing off. Take photos with your phone of every damage to the car, no matter how tiny they are. We ended up having a really positive experience with BLUE CAR RENTAL.
As for the type of car to rent, it really depends on what your plans are. We rented an SUV just because the roads were still a little icy at some places and it is a lot more comfortable for the 3 of us.
4. Book accommodations
Now that the destinations and car rentals have been decided, it was time to decide on accommodations. Accommodations in Reykjavik were easy to find. It was just a matter of how much you want to pay and where you want to stay. However once you leave Reykjavik, it was more difficult to find accomodations. Many places are also closed for the winter and in the summer, it is peak tourist season, so book ahead or you might not be able to get accommodations.
These are the hotels that we ended up staying during our trip
- Reykjavik – Ice Apartments Reykjavik
- Hveragerdi (Hveragerði) – Frost and Fire Hotel
- Vik – Icelandair Hotel Vik and Hotel Katla
5. Know your pin number to your credit card (yes, not debit card!)
This is very important tip! In Iceland, there are some places especially the gas stations that require you to input the pin number when you use your credit card. We do not need them in the USA, so I only had the pin number to one of my credit card. Unfortunately I ended up losing that credit card (Duh! I actually left it at Dunkin Donuts in Reykjavik!) and while I had other credit cards to use, I did not have the pin numbers. So I could not use it at the gas stations. We ended up having to buy the prepaid gas card (see #7) to use at the gas pumps.
6. Buy Prepaid Gas card
It is better to buy the prepaid gas card to be used at the gas pumps especially at the unmanned gas stations. You can also use credit cards instead of prepaid gas card but if you plan to use your credit cards, make sure you have the pin number! (See #5 above). The common gas station that you will find around Iceland is N1.
7. Calling card or wifi
Another option is to rent a portable wifi. We did that in Japan and I really liked it. Some of the options available in Iceland are
8. Bring minimal cash
Iceland is very credit-card friendly (except for the gas stations – see #5).So there is hardly any use for cash. We brought along USD$100 and barely used it. We did used a little of it when we didn’t want to use the credit card to pay for a $1 cup of coffee.
9. Don’t rush it
Iceland is all about gorgeous nature. Between the amazing waterfalls, glaciers, mountains and hot springs, there are so much to see and do. I think we could have spend a month there just hiking and enjoying the nature.
10. Be flexible with your plans
Like I said, Iceland is all about nature and that means Nature is boss! That means weather could change anytime and you need to be flexible with your travel plans to accommodate the change. For example we had to cancel our plans to check out the Reynisfjara beach when we arrive at Vik because it was hailing and there was a crazy windstorm. We finally did end up exploring the beach 2 days later when the weather was awesome.