Thursday, March 8, 2018

an arctic adventure…4 days in iceland

From volcanoes to glaciers to Icelandic ponies to cave hikes to chasing the northern lights to soaking in geothermal pools---somehow two poor grad students managed to visit one of the world's most expensive countries on a budget. 
We had a hectic 4 days in Iceland and I've enjoyed sharing bits and pieces of our adventure here from what we packed to what we did. So I thought I would finish out Iceland by sharing our exact itinerary and budget below. 

The Itinerary 
I'm still amazed with everything we packed into just 4 days of travel in Iceland. We had so many people think we were crazy for A.) visiting in winter and B.) trying to see a country in such a short time. But it's all we could spare with our busy grad school schedules. And it turned out to be the smartest decision. I loved our winter travels and the glimpse that it gave us of this amazing country. 

Day 1 The Golden Circle
We landed as jet-lagged as can be with arriving in Iceland at 6AM local time (1AM our time), but picked up our rental car and headed right out for a winter road-trip. We did Iceland's classic Golden Circle featuring some of the country's most exquisite geysers and waterfalls.

Day 2 Icelandic Ponies & The Northern Lights
Started the day with a sunrise ride with Icelandic ponies---a definite highlight of our trip. Then we spent the rest of the day strolling through the streets of Reykjavik and napping before heading out for a late night of chasing after the northern lights. 

Day 3 Spelunking in a Lava Tube Cave
Got a little black and blue with scrambling, climbing, and crawling along the volcanic rock in a lava tube cave. BEST DAY EVER! 

Day 4 The Blue Lagoon
On our final day in Iceland, we spent our morning relaxing and soaking in the geothermal mineral water of the blue lagoon before catching a late afternoon flights home. This was easily the best way to end a perfect trip. 

The Budget
With being one of the world's more expensive countries to visit, I didn't expect that Iceland would get crossed off our list any time soon, but we managed to pull it off. It definitely helped that we traveled out of season during the winter, which made the costs of flights, hotels, and excursions much more affordable. Plus, we did quite a bit of travel hacking to make everything fit into our budget. That being said, our little 4 day foray was definitely one of the most costly vacations that Tom and I have taken together. For simplicity sake, I've listed all prices in USD, but the conversion rate at the time of our travel was 1USD=102ISK. Also, all the prices listed are for two people. Here's how we did.  

Flights// $800 $0
If you're a regular reader around here, it will come as no surprise that we paid $0 out of pocket because I abhor paying for flights, especially when there are so many ways to get free onesWe flew round-trip Boston to Iceland for $400 apiece. We then used travel credit card points to cover the entire cost.

Other Transportation // $284
We always use public transport, shuttles, etc. whenever we can, but we ended up renting a car since its the gold standard for getting around in Iceland. We rented an SUV for a day to do the Golden Circle Road Trip. And on our last day, we paid for a shuttle to pick us up at our hotel, take us to the blue lagoon, then drop us at the airport. All other transportation was covered in the cost of paying for our excursions. 

Car Rental + Gas $200

Blue Lagoon Shuttle $84

Accommodations // $455  $0
We always plan out our flights to maximize our time, while minimizing our overnight stays. So while we were in Iceland for 4 full days, we only stayed 3 nights. Surprisingly, the accommodations were comparable to what we would expect to pay in the US with our hotel rooms ranging from $125-$180 a night, depending on the room type. We had one free night's stay via here and covered our other two nights guessed it---points via our travel credit cards. 
 view from our hotel room 

Excursion Adventures // $1,044
I think it's easy to understand why we spent the majority of our money here. When it comes to adventuring in Iceland, the options are endless. You can snorkel between the tectonic plates, walk behind waterfalls, hike along ice glaciers, even go dog-sledding. We were overwhelmed with all of the options especially within our tiny 4 day timeline, but I think we picked just the right ones for us. 

Golden Circle Road Trip $10
While we considered using a tour company, we wanted to do it all on our own schedule and most of the stops along the Golden Circle have little to no entrance fee. Because we're both experienced snow drivers, we felt comfortable driving in the winter conditions on our own. 

Icelandic Ponies $178 

Northern Lights Tour $300
This was probably a somewhat avoidable cost, but I'm glad we went with a knowledgeable tour because we had such a short window to find the lights and I don't think we would have found them on our own. 

Lava Tube Cave Tour $324 
Even after using a coupon code, this was by far our priciest excursion. But as avid hikers and explorers, it was worth the cost to us to have the opportunity to explore a volcanic cave. For the price, we had an intimate tour with just us, two other couples, and a guide to lead us through the volcanic labyrinth. 

Blue Lagoon $232 
We did the blue lagoon right with grabbing the premium tickets that included face masks, robes, slippers, and drink packages. Perfect relaxing adventure for fighting off jetlag.

Food & Beverage // $400 
You'd never guess it to look at our bottom line, but there were no fancy restaurants during our visit. Our days were centered around our excursions, so we typically grabbed breakfast on the go and had sandwiches for lunch. Then it was all we could do to search out a decent dinner before crashing at the end of the day. Thankfully, we stocked up on inexpensive groceries/snacks for the week right after we landed to help keep costs down, but food in Iceland is pricey. 

Miscellaneous // $40
We tried to keep our accessory costs to a minimum by picking up mostly free souvenirs--a horseshoe from our Icelandic pony ride and an assortment of volcanic rocks from our cave tour. But we did purchase a Christmas ornament, a souvenir we buy on every trip we take. We also had a few additional fees such as luggage storage and tips. 

Total // $3,023 $1,768 
Even with free flights and free hotel stays, our 4 days in Iceland by far falls into the category of our most expensive trips, only rivaling our honeymoon and our Alaskan Cruise. But if I had it to do all over, I would easily chose Iceland again and again. It was worth the months of saving to make this once in a lifetime experience possible. I'm happy with our bottom-line and how much we managed to save. 

This trip was actually Tom and I's 2017 Christmas gift to each other since we're big fans of collecting experiences, not things. I think that we definitely accomplished our goal with making the best memories together.  

More on Iceland: 

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