Iceland travel series: what I wish I knew before going

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Traveling to a different country with new social norms and ways of life can be a wake up call. Each country holds its own nuances and sometimes it’s hard to know what to expect when packing or touching down on that runway. Iceland has its own little quirks due to its location and landscape so keep reading to be prepared!

I traveled to Iceland in June during some of the longest days of the year, including the summer solstice when the sun technically never lowered below the horizon. We even started a hike at 8pm and came down around 11pm and it still felt like late afternoon. The constant light is a blessing and a curse because you truly feel like you can go forever with sunlight all the time, but trying to go to sleep at a reasonable hour is out the window (or tent in our case). Because we slept in a tent, it also meant our only way to block out light was with an eye mask. Sometimes we would crash by 8pm and sometimes we would be parking our car at 1am still trying to convince ourselves it was time for bed. Needless to say, don’t forget an eye mask! On the contrary, if you go during winter, be prepared for only 3-4 hours of any light at all during the day.

I spent two weeks in Iceland, which you can read about here, camping and exploring the entire country. Thankfully my friend and I decided it would be best if we stored food in an ice chest so that we could eat whenever was convenient on the road. We went out to eat a few times and a single meal, say burger and fries, would end up being $30-$40 each. Eating out is extremely expensive, so plan in advance and try your best to buy food from grocery stores or bring some snack from home to counteract eating out.

One of the best things about Iceland is the amount of geothermal pools that you have access to. Trying all of them felt like pool hopping through a country and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, however I was not expecting to take a shower and change in front strangers. Most places will have a gender specific open shower/changing room that you need to shower in before getting in the water. Washing off all the oils and dirt before diving into the geothermal water is crucial to keeping it clean and in good condition as people use it for years to come. At some locations, like the Reykjadalur hike (photo above), you’ll only have open changing stalls next to the river where there is hardly any privacy to change into your bathing suit. Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into and maybe wear a swimsuit underneath clothing to avoid some exposing situations.

If there is one thing Iceland is overrun with besides sheep, it’s waterfalls. There are some impressive ones that you’ll still be dreaming about 5 years later and some you’ll wonder why people are even there. I feel like we saw every waterfall in Iceland, yet we probably only saw a small percentage of them. Needless to say, I was pretty uninterested in looking at running water by the end of the trip. You don’t need to see every waterfall. Pick the ones you truly think you’ll be amazed with based on pictures and pass by the ones that look only moderately impressive.

We already knew about this one going into the trip, but it’s important to know. Rent a portable wifi hotspot. When I travel to international countries I put my phone on airplane mode, then turn on the wifi. I use free wifi wherever we are to iMessage, FaceTime, or scroll social media, allowing me to not have to pay for an international phone plan. We rented a portable wifi hotspot that we picked up from the airport and were extremely impressed with how much signal it picked up all through the country. Of course, there were a few patchy spots, but most of the time we were able to connect and search where we wanted our next destination to be.

I hope this helps you feel more confident flying over to the adventuresome island of Iceland. Leave any questions you may have in the comments!