Exploring Iceland on a budget
Back in early April 2018, myself and partner, Dan, took an eight-day road trip around the enchanting south and west coast of Iceland.
I get that it's a pretty popular destination for photographers and film-makers but there's a reason why that reputation exists. Iceland has, without a doubt, some of the most bewitching, rugged and diverse landscapes I have ever had the pleasure of exploring. I urge anyone with the same compulsion to create art, whichever medium that may be, to pay a visit to this mesmerising country at least once in their lifetime.
Since posting the images we shot on social media and also as a collated image gallery on this website, I have had quite a few inquiries as to where we stayed and how much the whole trip cost. As we tend to do our trips on a bit of a budget, I thought this blog post would prove handy for anyone thinking of doing the same.
Flights & Car Hire
We used a site called Skyscanner to find the best price for flights from Luton to Keflavík. As we had a lot of gear to take with us, we opted for an extra 23kg baggage allowance on top of our cabin luggage. The price for the two of us came to £169.20 and the extra baggage was £47.98. We also paid to leave our car at the airport whilst we were gone, which was £58.99 for the eight days.
We decided to hire a small 4x4 from Geysir Car Rental as it didn't require a credit card to order the car and it was just a short bus ride from Keflavík airport. The bus was a free service from the airport and basically drove around the surrounding industrial park where each car rental company was clearly signposted, making the whole process relatively painless at 6am in the morning!
We initially paid €343 for a Suzuki Jimny but were fortunately upgraded last minute (for free) to a Dacia Duster. I'm glad we did as the Duster provided a lot more boot space for our luggage and made roadside clothing changes a lot easier. Of course, with any car rental service, there were a bunch of extra things to pay to ensure we weren't liable for any damage. We added a collision damage waiver (CDW) and gravel protection, which came to €245. Iceland is quite prone to sandstorms so that's another option but we decided to risk that one. When we returned the car it did have some marks on the headlight from the gravel but thankfully our CDW covered that.
We decided that in order to see as much of the island as possible during our eight days, we would stay in a different Airbnb each night. We roughly plotted out our route and tried to space each booking apart so we didn't double up on the driving too much. Fuel isn't too cheap out there.
Just click the images to view their Airbnb pages, simple. They are also listed at the bottom of this page.
This cosy wooden cabin was where we spent our first night of the trip and it honestly couldn't have been more perfect. It was preheated on arrival, which was a blessing after very little sleep the night before and several soggy hours exploring. It was also just a short walk from the beach too, though we didn't get to check that out because I passed out from exhaustion.
This cabin is in a great location for anyone wanting to explore any of the south-coast hot spots such as Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, the Sólheimasandur plane crash site and Reynisfjara.
One last thing that I'd just like to mention. It might not be a big deal to some but they also had Ikea mattresses! As that's what we have at home, we slept like bloody royalty! I wish we had booked a couple of nights here instead of just the one. Mainly because it was amazing but also because Vík has its own little climate going on so weather conditions in the area are a little temperamental and we could have done with the extra time to explore.
This modern roadside guesthouse was the next stop. Think rural Icelandic Travelodge and you'll not be far off. Although it wasn't as charming as the first cabin, it had mountain views (from one side at least) and an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast included in the price. This came as a complete surprise to us, which made up for the fact the walls are pretty thin and our neighbours were less than considerate. It was pretty reasonably priced for Iceland though, so I can't complain too much. It also boasted one of the best showers I have ever had the fortune of using.
This guesthouse is in a good location for anyone wanting to explore the south-east coast, especially Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Diamond Beach and Vestrahorn Mountain (you will need to pay a few Krona in the Viking Cafe to access it but it’s a must in my opinion).
Next up, another little cabin tucked away in the Golden Circle this time. It’s a little more inland then the others so it was a bit of a trek back from the south-east coast. It had panoramic views of the mountains surrounding it and a bloody huge bed!. Once settled, we found out (via the guestbook) that there was a waterfall just a short walk from the Airbnb called 'Faxi', so we went to check it out and were pleasantly surprised.
Faxi waterfall wasn't somewhere we had originally earmarked to see whilst on our trip, but it was wonderful to spend a warm evening there with nothing but the sound of gushing water as the sun set behind the pine ridge. This taught us that we should leave a little room for spontaneity on a very scheduled trip as it's in these moments that the magic memories are made.
Next, we travelled west to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula to stay on a horse ranch nestled at the foot of the mountains. This day turned out to be freakishly warm for April in Iceland and the lodge was super insulated so we had to air it out quite a bit. It was quite an open plan space and had great cooking facilities as well as views right down to the sea.
This lodge is in an ideal location for visiting any of the places the Snæfellsnes Peninsula has to offer such as Buðir Black Church, Lóndrangar Basalt Cliffs, Svörtuloft Lighthouse, Mt. Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss.
We decided to book this modern apartment five days into our eight-day trip for a touch of luxury. We figured that by day five, we'd be feeling a little jaded and boy were we right! Honestly, a dip in the outdoor hot tub followed by a high-carb meal and the deathly hallows box-set was exactly what we needed that night.
We were hoping to see the northern lights whilst floating in the hot water, with the steam dispersing up into the misty cold air above. Sadly the cloud cover made this impossible but if we were going to see them, that would have been the best time for it.
This apartment is in an ideal location for visiting any of the Golden Circle goodness such as Gullfoss, The Great Geysir or Kerlingarfjöll (if the mountain roads are open). It's also only a thirty-minute drive from the Secret Lagoon.
So those are the Airbnb's that I managed to document visually on our trip but we did stay in two more locations. One of them was a last-minute apartment in Selfoss as I cocked up one of our Airbnb bookings. The apartment was only £46 for the night but also housed a couple of other apartments in the same block. If you want the link, feel free to get in touch with me but as I don't really want to recommend it (I legitimately heard the guy in the next room throwing up at 3am after fumbling with the door lock for what felt like an eternity), I think I'll leave it out of the blog.
Lastly, we stayed in a little handmade cabin just eight minutes from the airport. This place is perfect for either late night arrivals or early departures. We actually went to The Blue Lagoon on our last night and caught our plane early the next day. Therefore, we only really slept there but I can't recommend it enough. The owners were probably the most attentive of all the places we stayed in and you could see there was so much care in everything they had put together. There was even sanitary products supplied in the toilet, which is a big deal for us ladies.
I'll leave the link to what I'm calling the 'airport cabin' below in the 'handy links' section.
We used Monzo cards for all our expenses whilst out in Iceland as they don't incur any international transaction fees like most debit cards do. You can also top them up using your normal bank account via the Monzo app. The money transfers instantly and can be done at any time, which makes sticking to a daily budget really easy. The app also gives you live notifications of what's been spent in your own national currency, which is super handy if you've just dropped 5,000 Krona at a service station and have no idea what that actually is.
As we were covering quite a lot of ground, our main expense was fuel. A lot of the stations out there were unmanned and work by selecting the amount you want to pay first and then the pump stops when you've hit your limit. For the most part, this was ideal, but we did find ourselves trying to guess how many Krona would fill our entire tank.
There was a 'fill tank' option but this takes a deposit of almost £200 because the pump can't automatically detect what size tank you have. In hindsight, we should have asked Geysir how many Krona would fill the Duster's tank before we set off by hey ho, now you guys know.
I guess food is the next biggest expense but we had heard beforehand that Iceland can be quite pricey in that regard so I packed some food items in our luggage to keep us going. Mostly noodles, veggie broth and energy bars but it did help to keep the costs down.
We only ate out once (as we were on a budget) at a charming little pizza bar in Höfn. Two medium sized margarita pizzas, a beer and a lemonade came to £43.51. We also shopped at Kronen supermarkets for the bulk of our food. I’d say we probably spent (on average) about £40 for a couple of days of food (including travel snacks as there was a LOT of driving) and did this three times throughout the trip.
The Secret Lagoon was a very spontaneous decision as we couldn't visit Kerlingarfjöll as planned (the mountain roads were closed that time of the year) so we needed something to lift our spirits a little. It cost us around £19 each to go for a dip but it was just what we needed at the time. A word of warning for those unknowing like myself, the changing rooms are split via gender but are open areas and you are required to shower butt-naked before entering the pool. I had my trusty towel poncho with me by chance so I did manage to retain some privacy whilst changing.
The Blue Lagoon is a lot more expensive at roughly £62 per head at the very basic level but it was a 30th birthday gift from my parents so we didn't need to worry about it. Whilst I found some parts of the lagoon quite pretentious, it was a lovely experience, especially when it started to rain. My advice would be to go at the end of the day so you can watch the sunset whilst bathing. Also, ladies, try and keep your hair out of the water, mine felt like straw afterward and it took several conditioning masks to get it back to normal.
So there you have it...
A complete rundown of our eight-day DIY trip to Iceland. I hope this has been helpful to some of you in your planning. I just need to mention that some of the pricing is based on the exchange rate at the time and obviously the accommodation rates will fluctuate based on the season but it should give you some idea as to what you should expect a trip like this to cost. I'm sure there are even more cost-effective ways of doing things too but we opted for private accommodation rather than shared for a bit of comfort when moving every day.
The Nitty Gritty
Below is a simple cost breakdown (based on two people in April 2018) of everything and the links to each of the Airbnbs we mentioned for reference.
Flights - £217.18
Airport Parking - £58.99
Car Hire - £526.59
Accomodation - £761.69
Fuel - £308 (ish)
Food - £150 (ish)
Travel Insurance - £14 (ish)
Secret Lagoon - £38 (ish)
Blue Lagoon - £124
Total = £2,200 (ish)
Skyscanner - https://www.skyscanner.net/
Geysir Car Rental - https://www.geysir.is/
Mid Hvoll Cottages - https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/23569736
Seljavellir Guesthouse - https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/12487789
Heidi Cabin - https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/14183310
Stóri-Kambur - https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/20115266
Golden Circle Cabin - https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/18895843
Airport Cabin, Njardvik - https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/23856749
The Secret Lagoon - https://secretlagoon.is/
The Blue Lagoon - https://www.bluelagoon.com/