by Michal Ann Morrison
Iceland is one of the most bizarrely beautiful, arrestingly empty, and quirkily minded countries I have ever been to and you should go there.
Ok so now that we have that out of the way, some things to know for when you decide to go (because I know you will)!
- If you are going to go explore the Ring Road, you must rent a car. It’s undoable by bus, and incredibly dangerous to do it by bike, and when you rent your car, for godsake get a jeep. Don’t scrimp here and try to save money by getting a small car, get the biggest, baddest, four-wheel drive monster truck they got. A lot of the places off the main highway that you will want to go see require miles of unpaved trekking that at some points of the year are actually impassable because of what their insane weather has done to the roads. You don’t want to come all this way to Iceland and get stuck in frozen mud in your little inexpensive Honda Accord now do you?
- Speaking of getting to Iceland at all, check out Wow Airlines. That’s right, it’s not some terrible English translation gone wrong, it’s actually called Wow. It’s sort of like the Ryan Air of Iceland, only way more reliable. Even locals take flights with them. You can get a flight from Boston or DC for $175 round trip, and no, you are not reading that wrong. Price doesn’t have to keep you from going on this trip! Plus it’s just fun to say.
- Speaking of arriving on Wow airlines, you will fly into Reykjavik. Oh wait, no, sorry, you think you will, but then you’ll land in Keflavik and be confused, like I was. Keflavik is where the airport is and it’s a 45-minute bus ride into Reykjavik, so just know that so you don’t freak out, like this one did. DO NOT take a taxi. No one does because it will cost you a month’s rent to take a taxi from Keflavik airport into downtown Reykjavik. Everyone zips around on a bus, and you should too. It’s like $7, you will most likely sit next to a brooding Nordic musician coming back from his vacation in Spain and you will fall in love for the first of many times on this trip. Take the bus.
- Reykjavik has the best/craziest nightlife I’ve ever seen. You can check out what is going on in the city at all times of the day through a free and very entertaining publication called The Grapevine. It has listed, by day, all the bands playing, all the shows showing, all the DJ’s spinning, all the artshowsrestaurantopenings
tourshappeningbooksreleasingpartiespartying that you could want to know about. And if you go during the summertime, even if you are not a night owl, you will find yourself at a bar at 1 am and it will not be dark yet, and you will be, curiously, not tired. Just keep an eye out for all the inevitable bachelor parties from London that just arrived.
- Naturally you will want to make the most of your trip while you are there, so as an upstanding citizen of the world, you will bring a guide book with you. I brought Lonely Planet’s guide to Iceland, and my companions and I regretted it several times. We found at least 5 mistakes, and then we just sort of stopped believing the book. And that’s not what you want when that book is your lifeline to understanding how to get out of The Middle of Nowhere, Iceland, where you find yourself at least once a day. Unfortunately there isn’t a great alternative, as Rick Steves has said he is not going to make a book for Iceland. I cannot tell you how much that breaks my heart, as my heart belongs to Rick Steves and every travel tip he’s ever given. The point is, do your research before you go, and consult multiple sources when making your travel plans.
- Speaking of The Middle of Nowhere Iceland, that is nowhere you want to be when you have run out of gas. A good general rule of thumb is when you see a gas station, stop and fill up, even if you did it only an hour ago. There were times we drove literally all day and didn’t see a gas station. It’s terrifying, yes, but there’s no point in them installing them when there are so few people who go out to these remote places, much less live in them. Also be aware that half the gas stations you will see will just be a solitary pump in the ground, no store to go into with a bathroom, and no person manning a cash register should you not be able to figure out how to pay for the gas or put it in your car. Buy the little plastic gas cards that come preloaded with money on them, and figure out how they work while you are still in Reykjavik where there are people to ask.
- Bring hiking boots with you. It is actually impossible to see Iceland without them. Sneakers are not an acceptable substitute. If you are the kind of person who either hasn’t seen the need for hiking boots thus far in your life, or turns up your nose at the thought of them, seriously. Iceland is not for you. If I could have packed any differently I would have probably just brought two pairs of shoes, my hiking boots and some cute booties to walk around Reykjavik in so the aggressively fashionable models who all live there wouldn’t judge me. Tennis shoes are obsolete, and any kind of sandal won’t protect your tootsies from the shocking weather. Even my sturdy Birkenstocks felt flimsy, and that is the last word any person who has seen a Birkenstock would normally associate with them.
- Given a week or so, you will feel that you are the sort of person who could pull off those big wool sweaters all the burly, adorable fishermen/poets wear, like Gunnar, who you recently fell in love with, and you will find yourself wanting to buy one of those sweaters. Be forewarned that the cheap ones run about $180. Yes they are cool, yes they transform you into an intellectual looking farmer, and who doesn’t want that, just be prepared for what it will cost you and for the fact that it is probably hot where you live at home, and those sweaters are so intense it is said that a fisherman wearing one can fall in the water and not even get wet. You, on the other hand, will drown in it at home. Maybe buying woolen socks is a good alternative.
- A cheap beer in Reykjavik costs $9. And that’s their equivalent of Bud Light. Anything imported, and they have to import a lot of stuff, is going to be expensive. So be smart and get little liquor bottles in duty free to take with you on your way in.
- See the puffins in Vik, and the black beaches.
- Take a picture with a lamb.
- Ask a local where the nearest ‘hot pot’ is, and go find it.
- The Blue Lagoon is worth it, even if its touristy, and you can easily fit it into your trip by taking your visit a few hours before you get on your plane home, as its very close to the airport. You will be all refreshed and relaxed for the trek ahead of you, zenning you out for your transition back to life in America, where there are no puffins or hot springs or cool beaches.
Wait, none of that last part is true. There are puffins in Maine and hot springs in Colorado and cool beaches in Florida…go to Iceland and have the time of your life, and then go back to wherever it is you live and make it a point to enjoy where you are! The world is beautiful wherever you go. Iceland just happens to be one of the prettiest places out there.
Michal Ann Morrison is a traveler, writer, and lover of books and restaurants that serve cheese plates. When she is not in her home base of Austin, Texas, she is traveling the Mediterranean working in archaeological research. You can follow her adventures on instagram at @michalann!