We’re back! We landed back at home from Iceland on Wednesday night and have since been recovering from jet lag and hanging around home before going back to work on Monday. We were all sick over Christmas and the cold lingered for the start of our trip, but we otherwise had a fabulous time.
We spent eleven days and ten nights in Iceland, and we’re now already talking about wanting to go back again for a summertime trip, as it would be a completely different experience. No matter what, it is definitely a country we would like to return to someday.
Thanks to the queue of blog posts I had ready before Christmas, this is my first full one I’ve written since a few days before the holiday. I have to say, taking a winter break from the blog was really nice, and I think I will make an annual tradition of it. I adore this blog and I do love writing regularly, but taking a few weeks of break was more needed than I realized. Even if half of it wasn’t spent sick and/or traveling, it will allow me to lean in to the holidays in a way that regular blogging doesn’t leave time for.
That said, it feels good to be back and writing down my thoughts once again. I plan to write a full post later with more details on the trip (as well as costs, once I’ve finished rallying them up), but for now, here are the Friday’s Frugal Five: Iceland Edition.
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Friday’s Frugal Five
1. My husband and our roommate checked one suitcase each, but the kiddo, Bob, and I traveled with carry on luggage only. Icelandair has a particularly steep cost for checked bags – close to $100 each, round trip – so we decided to make it work without.
They also have extra small carry on size restrictions, but the kiddo and I were able to borrow two pieces of luggage from my mom that fit the smaller size. Otherwise, we each brought a small day pack as our personal item to fit under the airplane seat. Boots and jackets were worn, as they were the largest items we brought along.
I did laundry throughout the trip, either in the washer that we had at our first Airbnb and in the sink at the later places we stayed. Accepting that we would do laundry a few times throughout the trip meant we could pack lightly, and it wasn’t a big deal to hang clothes to dry after washing (Iceland is generally heated by hot water radiant heaters on the walls, and they make excellent drying racks).
2. We stocked up on drinks at airport duty free store, as we were told that it was the cheapest place in the country to buy alcohol. Watching prices, that was absolutely the case by a good half. They do limit the amount you can buy per person, and we still had to walk to our Airbnb once getting off the bus, so we didn’t buy as much as we could have. 20/20 hindsight, the prices were so much cheaper we likely should have bought our limit.
We did buy a few drinks out (and happy hour when it was available), but for the most part, we shopped at the state-run liquor stores and enjoyed our drinks back at the Airbnb for a fraction of the price. And of course, we had to try the local beer while we had the chance. Much of it was very good.
3. We didn’t rent a car for the days while we were in Reykjavik, as we’d booked an Airbnb near the city center. It is an extremely walkable city, and we lucked out with weather in the 30s to low 40s over our days there, so we explored the city entirely on foot (it got a lot colder for the rest of the trip). We’d expected to take the bus some, but found that we didn’t need it at all because we were staying so centrally.
My husband and I did end up taking the city bus back to the airport to pick up the car for the rest of the trip, which saved quite a bit of money over the special airport shuttle bus. The standard city bus itself, while more expensive to get out to the airport than around town, was also a very nice long range type bus and very comfortable.
We then picked up the rest of our group and headed on to a cabin outside of Reykholt, then a ferry to Vestmannaeyjar (The Westman Islands), and then to Keflavík to finish out our last few days in Iceland near to the airport.
4. Over the week and a half we were in Iceland, we cooked and ate about two thirds of our meals at the places we were staying. For the most part, we did our grocery shopping at Bónus, one of the country’s budget grocery store chains. We actually love checking out new grocery stores while we travel, so it was fun getting to do the shopping for our meals.
We made ourselves a big New Year’s Eve meal of schnitzel, pasta, red cabbage, blood sausage, and plokkfiskur, all purchased from the local grocery store and fish market and then prepared at our Airbnb before heading out to watch the fireworks at midnight.
Reykjavik does the New Year right, with fireworks all day long and then well into the night. We ended up walking along the harbor and joining a large bonfire manned bsome local guy and otherwise had a heck of a night, capping it off with a champagne toast once we got back to the condo just before 1AM.
5. Our last three nights in Iceland were spent in Guesthouses (hostels where we booked “family” rooms – one bedroom with a bunch of beds for the five of us and shared space otherwise), one on Vestmannaeyjar and one in Keflavík. Thanks to the very off season we were traveling in, we had the first cottage to ourselves the whole time and the second to ourselves for our last night there.
We were still able to cook and prepare meals there and hang out in the central living area, but ultimately we had chosen those places to help keep the cost down and stretch our dollars – and credit card points. Since our goal was not to sit inside for most of the time, we cared less about the place we were headed to sleep as long as it was clean and safe.
Even so, the Guesthouse in Vestmannaeyjar had an absolutely stunning view and was a short walk from downtown. The one in Keflavík was more basic, but worked well for our purposes. Instead of spending a ton of money on transportation and lodging (thanks to travel hacking, we saving it to spend on food, which was well worth it (with moderation and lots of cooking for ourselves).
This was definitely not our most frugal of vacations, but for a tenth anniversary in an expensive country, it still was fairly cheap, and 100% worth it. We moderated the costs where we could, but I don’t feel that we skimped or skipped on anything due solely to the price.
If you haven’t stayed in an Airbnb before, I would highly recommend it. We love the flexibility it gives us while traveling as a family – full kitchen, laundry, and extra bathrooms, and it’s usually considerably cheaper than a hotel, especially when you travel as a group. If you’re new to Airbnb, here’s a link for $40 off your first stay.
We did a ton of walking on this trip, even in the snow and wind when it arrived. Thanks to the cold (especially the cough that went with it), I didn’t go running until almost a week into the trip, but I did manage two runs in the snow at the cabin near Reykholt, which were totally fun. Thanks to all the walking, I had my highest step count last week since the beginning of September.
Have you ever been to Iceland? Is it on your list?
35 thoughts on “Friday’s Frugal Five (Iceland Edition)”
Awww. Love this so much. Good to about buying the alcohol at the airport. Iceland is on my bucket list. Just waiting until I get my license to go. Happy New Year!
It was such an awesome country.
it’s really expensive to drink out in bars and restaurants in toronto and montreal too. it’s good you alleviated that to some extent. we love trying the foreign-to-us regional meats when we travel, even in the u.s. blood sausage is da’ bomb.
there’s a movie set in iceland i really liked by a director i have always likes. it’s called “no such thing.” you might enjoy it if you ever come across it and hal hartley has made a few other quirky films with some of the same actors. welcome home. i’m glad you enjoyed it.
The blood sausage was SO good.
Cannot wait to hear more (and see more photos!) of
Iceland ! My partner went years ago with his parents and is keen for us to go together one day.
It looks stunning in all photos I’ve seen so far!
It sounds like you did a great job of balancing the budget while having a good holiday 🙂
I would highly recommend a trip 🙂
been there a couple times, it’s so unique and beautiful. And it’s fun to try to pronounce things. The Icelanders made us feel so stupid since they were so fluent in English but their language seemed utterly impossible!
Their language is SO stinking hard! We started to get decent at understanding the basics but pronunciation, not at all.
Wow, I bet you took a thousand photos! It looks absolutely gorgeous there. I have to say, Iceland is creeping up higher on my list of places to visit! A gal I know got to take an expenses-paid trip there as a wedding photographer recently, and her photos looked stunning as well. Thanks for sharing a bit about your trip; so glad you all got to enjoy such a memorable experience together!
SO many photos! So did my husband and roommate, so I’ll likely share some of their pictures too.
Welcome back! What an awesome place to celebrate New Years. Glad you had such a great (and affordable) trip! Iceland is on my list, so I appreciate the details and pictures. I hope you return soon to experience summer there!
I will definitely write a longer post all about our experience!
Sounds like you guys had a blast in Iceland during the holidays. Can’t wait to read your trip in more detail hopefully soon.
That’s a great job being efficient with the car rental. Figuring out when you wouldn’t need a car during the trip then renting the car when it’s time to need it. I know some who book the rental car during the whole trip even knowing that a few days of it they wouldn’t need it.
It was actually great not having a car too because it forced us to explore on foot and stay local that whole time.
I really, really cannot wait to hear about your trip!!! Iceland is our dream trip — we talked about trying to make it happen a couple years ago…but quickly realized it wasn’t a trip we could just…make happen in a few months. Curse you, Canadian dollar! Some day!
Yeah, it definitely took a while on the planning/travel hacking end of things to keep it reasonably affordable.
It was such a weird experience to research for us…mostly because I swear, there was this brief period of time when it felt like all our friends were heading to Iceland and saying it was affordable. I’m starting to think I must have dreamed that up haha because that was not our experience. Anyway, can’t wait to hear all about it!
Ha yeah, I’ve never heard anyone say it’s an affordable trip!
I loved Iceland. One of my favourite destinations ever. Glad you enjoyed the trip
I’d have to agree there.
We loved Bonus when we visited! We cooked most of our meals from the stove on the back of the van when we visited, and the grocery stores definitely helped keep the cost of food down. Plus it’s just nice to cook.
Great photos, too! We visited a lot of the same places and it’s nice to bring back those memories. Glad you had a great trip!
I totally want to do a summer van trip now.
Ahhhh! Somehow I missed this post last week. So thrilling to hear more about your Iceland trip! (That is definitely on my destination wish list!) Welcome home!
It’s going to be so hard to narrow down photos!
What a fantastic trip! We’ve honestly never had Iceland on our radar, but it looks gorgeous. Looking forward to your more in-depth post in the future.
It was a completely awesome trip.
I am just playing catch-up on this now, but WOW! So happy that you got to experience this beautiful country. We visited in summer and have always thought it would be incredible during winter, although a little concerned we would be more limited due to the weather. How much day light did you have? Looking forward to hearing more about the trip!
The daylight really wasn’t that much different from home, surprisingly, because it takes SO long for it to get dark after sunset (the sun would technically set around 3:45 but not be full dark until 5).
What perfect timing to come across this article! Iceland is on our list for 2020. More photos please 🙂
I’m hopeful that I’ll get out my full post this coming Monday, or the one following at latest 🙂
Love your pictures and travel tips! I’m so excited to go to Iceland in the next couple years!
It’s a magical place, for sure.