If you’re looking into Icelandic budget travel, you’ve likely read that Iceland can be a bit of a pricey travel destination. Truth be told, depending on the list, Iceland often ranks in the top 3 most expensive countries in the world. I am a big believer of being budget travel minded while exploring the world, so I approached Iceland with that exact mindset. After a few visits, here are some of my budget tips and tricks.
Bring snacks from home
I know, I know. Precious luggage space can’t be wasted on snacks. But look at it this way. If you have the room for snacks, take advantage of it. That gives you built-in souvenir space on the way back home.
Additionally, depending on your budget, it might just be more economical to pack a bag of shelf stable goodies to bring with you. Definitely look into your carry-on and checked luggage allowance and don’t be afraid to pack that bag to capacity.
Since I have a fairly restrictive diet, I always bring snacks I know I can eat (and that travel well). This saves me both money and stress. Real talk, traveling and not being able to find food that you can eat is unnecessarily awful. No one needs to be traveling and hangry.
Skip the restaurants
OK, maybe don’t skip them entirely. Instead, be open minded when it comes to where you are eating or how your food is prepped. All over Iceland, even in more rural and less touristy areas, you’ll find grocery stores, bakeries and gas stations. If you are roadtripping at all, especially, these will be great options for you.
Bakeries in Iceland are delicious, affordably priced, and offer a variety of goodies from donuts and danish and assorted breads, to things like sandwiches. Gas stations will almost always have at least tasty hot dogs at an affordable price, but will often also have other assorted food items that are priced more modestly than most restaurants. Don’t be afraid to try gas station hot dogs, pizza, fries and ice cream. It really is that good.
Grocery stores are a great place to pick up daily snacks or to pick up ingredients for meals if you have access to a kitchen. We often stay in AirBNBs with kitchens so we’ll cook our own meals when we feel inspired to do so. Or we’ll acquire perishable foods, like Skyr and cheese, that can work as on the go breakfast.
Be On the Lookout for Value Deals
Iceland is an island that has challenging conditions for many crops (and animals). It has to import a decent percentage of its food. Be mindful of that when thinking about what you want to eat in Iceland. Iceland just cannot produce enough food to sustain its own population, let alone manage and account for the increased tourism over the years.
As mentioned earlier, you can get hot dogs, Skyr, and baked goods, some of Iceland’s most popular foods, which are also some of the most economical. Lean into those local specialties (which you can grab at gas stations and grocery stores).
Focus on places that offer great portions. Refillable bowls of soup, like Icelandic Meat Soup, which is also one of Iceland’s most popular dishes, will keep you satisfied and energized. (And warm!) Also, delicious Mediterranean food can be found across Iceland with great pricing and portion sizes.
Stay Off The Beaten Path
Hotel rooms can be quite costly and are also primarily only in the larger and more touristed cities. Lean into staying a little bit out of the way to find amazing accommodations for much cheaper prices. Reykjavik is considerably more expensive than other Nordic or EU capitals, by a margin of 30-45% generally.
Most blogs will tell you to stay in the capital because of easy access to things, like restaurants, tours, shopping, and nightlife. If you’re reading my blog, you know that’s not really my style, which means you know that won’t be my recommendation. In general, I recommend leaving Reykjavik fairly quickly and exploring the rest of Iceland because it is absolutely tremendous.
Lots of farms, guest houses, and hostels. You have private and shared accommodation options, as well. Iceland is considered one of the safest countries in the world, which makes us feel a bit better about venturing off the beaten path. That being said, I’m also a New Yorker, and just make sure you’re always aware of your surroundings and your Spidey sense isn’t ever tingling.
Please note, some folks will recommend sleeper vans and roadtripping that way while in Iceland, as a super fun experience but also as a more economical option. As of 2015, it is illegal to camp in tents, trailers, caravans, campervans, or anything of the like, outside of a designated campsite UNLESS there is written permission from the landowner. Make sure you follow the rules. Tickets of any kind in Iceland are absolutely no joke. Avoid them at all costs.
Bring Your Toiletries
Remember when I mentioned that Iceland has to import a lot of food and that they don’t have enough resources to cover their own population, let alone the tourist population? Well, this goes for more than just food. This includes things like toiletries. Especially brands that are not typically found in Iceland or Europe in general.
Make sure you bring all the toiletries you will need, including bandaids, antibiotic ointment, as well as anything you might need for hair, nails, skincare. These things are all way more expensive in Iceland, if they are even available. Read about how I almost ruined my hair while in Iceland.
I always recommend bringing travel-sized items in reusable packaging. This will reduce weight for your luggage, allow you to include in a carry-on if they fit parameters, and will also be a bit more economically friendly. Buy the bulk size for home and then refill the reusable containers for travel purposes.
Listen, this one sounds like a no brainer, but seriously, it’s a very important reminder. Iceland is not an inexpensive place to road trip along. Being smart about how you plan your route will save you time and money. And potential headaches. I highly recommend trying to plan any stops along the way out, as well, because road conditions definitely vary in Iceland. Which is another reminder, always make sure your vehicle can handle the route you’ve plotted. If you want to hop on a F-road, make sure your vehicle is rated for F-roads.
Additionally, fuel is expensive in Iceland. Yes, yes, I know you know this already. Driving efficiently will help you to keep your gas usage as under control as it can be. Eco-driving means not pressing hard on the gas pedal, maintaining a steady speed, driving slower in general, and coasting when possible. Also check in with your rental company to see if they have any gas discount options. And use self-service when available, since it is usually slightly cheaper.
Drive efficiently. Plan your route well. Avoid backtracking when possible.
Finally, avoid tickets at all costs. Do. Not. Speed. It is not worth the ticket cost and is just generally unsafe. Also, pay attention to parking rules. Those tickets aren’t worth it, either.
Be Mindful About Your Souvenirs
You know I love a good souvenir, but make sure you focus on quality over quantity. That relates to size, too. Truly, the experience in Iceland will be the best souvenir. As well as all the photos you take.
If you really love souvenir shopping, check out knitwear. They are adorable, knitting is a big deal in Iceland, and a small hat doesn’t take up a lot of space. And if it’s winter in Iceland and you don’t have a wool hat, you’ll want to grab one anyway.
Another great souvenir to bring back is Icelandic salt. Hop into a grocery store and grab a box as a gift for a loved one who is all about cooking. It is really that great.
Take Advantage of Free Restrooms
Try to use the restroom whenever you see a free one. Many tourist stops will have restrooms, but they will actually charge you to use it. I’m keeping this one short and sweet.
Don’t Buy Water
There are so many reasons to avoid buying water in Iceland. I’ll go over a couple here:
Plastic waste. Iceland deals with a significant amount of plastic waste. And so much of it is coming from tourists who admit that they drink more water from plastic bottles while traveling than while at home. But Iceland has some of the cleanest drinking water in the world. Don’t create more waste with plastic bottles. Bring a refillable water bottle with you. You’ll thank me. I promise.
Taste. Seriously, Iceland’s tap water is delicious. And boy, does Ieland have an abundance of the delicious water. Are you surprised? I mean, they have 10,000+ waterfalls on this tiny island. Water is at the core of Iceland’s identity in many ways, from geography to mythology. And not just the tap water. I straight up fill my water bottle from streams. Just make sure the water is running cold, because hot water will smell and taste sulfuric, due to how they heat the water.
Cost. Designer water bottles are not just wasteful and unnecessary, they are expensive. You will pay a premium for that plastic bottle of water. And, inevitably, it won’t taste as good as the tap water.
The Best Sights Are Free
While in Iceland, try not to load up on tours and activities that cost a bunch of money. So much of what is amazing about Iceland, its natural beauty, is free. If you are already committed to renting a car, explore Iceland on your own and avoid paying tour prices.
Want to hit up the thermal springs? Yes, Blue Lagoon is all over the internet, but Iceland is covered in different pools and springs and many of them are totally free. Want to see the Northern Lights? A tour group will not guarantee you can see the Northern Lights, but using their timing as a guideline, you’ll be able to help gauge when best to try to see them yourself. Also, there are a number of apps that can help this cause, as well.
Love the outdoors? Iceland is a wonderland for hikers, beginner or avid. Just make sure you pay attention and research the complexity of the hike so you can try to avoid getting hurt or overdoing it. Oh, and hiking is free! What about volcanoes? If you’re willing to hike to them and they are currently active, that’s another totally free activity that feels completely once in a lifetime.