Whoohoo! This past September was my first time in Iceland and my first time being by myself in another country. The trip started out with my cousins who then left a couple days before I did. There were so many things I was unsure of while doing research for the trip but the "just wing it" part of me helped get me through.
This post is going to be a bit more of the helpful informational parts of the trip that can hopefully help anyone who is planning. I am working on the silly stories and fun stuff from the trip for a later post.
Before choosing our car, we did do some research whether we needed a 4x4 but decided it wasn't necessary at this time. It was September so we didn't have to worry about snow.
We rented a compact Hyundai i10 from Geysir. It fit the three of us, a check-in size luggage, a carry-on luggage and a bunch of backpacks just fine. We had to fold down one of the back seats to fit both luggages but that wasn't a problem. The check-in went in the trunk and the carry-on went on top of the folded seat.
Favorite part? Heated steering wheel! And heated seats.
Recommendations/ Things Learned
- Have waterproof everything! The rain may be quick but it was usually really random and sometimes very powerful.
- Rent a pocket wifi/hotspot - We rented one from the car rental company. I have T-Mobile - I was suppose to have at least 3G data but after the first day or so, I couldn't get a connection. The pocket wifi definitely saved us when we needed to look up directions or places to go next.
- Food everywhere we tried was average so this would be a good place to save money if you are on a budget. Fast food was pretty pricey compared to places in the U.S. If you are really on a budget, get hot dogs at the gas station or stop by a grocery store to make your own meals.
Don't just bring one big jacket, bring a variety of layers. And definitely bring a waterproof outer layer. Having a light, thin waterproof layer was really convenient. If it looked like it might rain where we were visiting, I could just throw it in my backpack just in case.
The temperature when we went were about 50°F-40°F (11°C-4°C). My daily attire consisted of a long sleeve shirt, a sweatshirt, a down vest (sometimes), a fleece jacket and a light rain jacket (sometimes).
Don't bring too many pairs of shoes. We brought hiking boots, sneakers and shower flip-flops. We did not even take the sneakers out of the bag. Most of the places we visited was better suited for boots. Even in the city, we just stayed in boots because of the unpredictable rain - having something waterproof was a better decision.
No Cash, Just Card
- You really don't need cash. Even in the more rural areas we were in, everywhere we went took credit cards without a minimum limit. The only place we used coins was for meter parking outside KEX hostel. If you don't have coins, don't worry, drive around the block and you will probably find somewhere with the newer parking machines that accept credit card.
- Regardless of what you might have read a few places online or what the car rental guy tells you, you will need a card with a pin at unmanned gas stations. Luckily, my cousin had cards with pins. When they left, I bought a gas card. Do some research as to which gas companies are available where you are going.
- Parking: free; big area outside the main building
- Breakfast: included
- Wi-Fi: free
- Price: $30 USD/per person/per night in a 4 person dorm
- Favorite: Being surrounded by the mountains and being right by the ocean
Our first accommodation in Iceland was a windy beautiful experience. We arrived just before sunset. The guesthouse is surrounded by a hill on one side and across the road, the ocean. The sunset was right in between both! We went outside after unpacking to try to take sunset pictures but it was so strong we didn't stay out there long - check out the little video of this!
The guesthouse was clean, comfy and offered plenty of peaceful solitude since it was not located in a town. We booked this stay through Booking.com and had no trouble checking in and out. Our room had two twin size beds, two sofa seats and an open drawer to hang things. Bring shower shoes! The bathroom had a curtain but no tub, just a drain in the room floor. So after a shower, if you want to use the bathroom, the floor may still be soaked.
The guesthouse has its own restaurant where they serve dinner and complimentary breakfast. There are no other restaurant or shops in the area unless you are willing to drive. Breakfast consisted of bread, cold cuts, fruits and vegetables and different spreads.
If you enjoy a peaceful view and don't mind being in solitude, this is the place for you!
- Parking: plenty of paid meter parking in the area
- Breakfast: additional cost
- Wi-Fi: free
- Price: $57 USD/per person/per night in a 6 person dorm
- Favorite: Being walking distance from major locations and attractions
Look for a big brown door with a small sign that says KEX. There are usually people outside waiting to be picked up for a tour so you could always ask someone if you're not sure. Make your way up to the second floor and turn right. The reception desk is on the left of the restaurant/bar. At night, there are shows and concerts in this area so if you're a light sleeper, grab a pair of their complimentary ear plugs from the counter.
Try not to bring a huge suitcase if you are staying here unless you want a workout. The rooms are on the third and forth floor with no elevators. We left our luggage in the car and just carried what we needed for the night and next day in our backpacks.
We stayed in a co-ed six persons room on the third floor for two nights. The lockers in this room requires a key/code you can purchase from the reception desk. Or if you get lucky, the person using it before you might not close it and you'll have a locker to put things as long as you don't lock it.
For one night, I stayed in the 16 persons dorm on the fourth floor. I didn't think I would be too comfortable with this but it was much more spacious and had more natural light than the smaller room making it more comfortable to me. The lockers in this area are free to use. Bring your own lock. Blankets and lining are not included in this room. You can purchase them at the reception desk or being your own. Note: The wall outlets for the top bunks only works if the lights in the room are turned on.
The women shower rooms on the third floor was definitely better than the forth. It was a lot roomier and had lockers. There are private showers you could use if you are not comfortable showering with strangers. But hey. Everyone has the same parts. They are probably too busy showering to judge you. If not, maybe you'll get lucky and still get the big shower rooms to yourself like I did.
We got to meet some cool people with different stories and backgrounds staying at this hostel: three solo guys from Australia, Chicago and France, a couple on the start of their three month Euro trip, a girl that has been traveling since February with the original plan of only traveling a couple weeks - her parents are still wondering when she will be back. When I was eating by myself at Islenski Barinn, a girl next to me striked up a conversation. Her and her husband was on their honeymoon Euro trip and Iceland was their last stop. Turns out they were staying at KEX as well!
- Parking: neighborhood parking
- Breakfast: bring your own
- Wi-Fi: free
- Price: $34 USD/per person/per night in a 6 person dorm
- Favorite: All the natural light coming into the dinning room
The only way to really start describing this hostel is that it is kind of what I imagined a hostels would be like until I went to one. First, when you put the address into the GPS, you are actually taken to a dead end residential area that is not the right location. I went up and down the block trying to look for anything like the pictures online but no luck. When I finally saw something that said hostel, it wasn't the right one. I was about to just go in and book a night there instead because at this point in the trip, I was by myself and was tired from driving all day. Luckily, two ladies were outside their house so I asked them about the hostel. They said to go another block over until you see a yellow and blue house, turn right between them then left and there you are.
Okay, found the hostel, now what? I opened the door to the house and saw a bunch of shoes on the rack but could not find a soul. There were post-it notes that said to go to a different hotel a couple blocks away to check-in or pay for a night. What.....? At least this hotel showed up correctly in the GPS. There was a lady at the front desk here who checked me in and told me which room I would be in back at the hostel. I could pick any bed and the live-in staff will bring me a pillow and blanket.
I dropped some of my things off then went to check out the Sugandisey Lighthouse. I got there and was having an emotional breakdown. A whole mix of feelings from being scared being by myself in another country for the first time and missing those close to me. I ended up parked on top of a hill outside Stykkisholmur's water museum, Vatnasafn, crying in the car. Well.. After all that was out of the way, I was cold but felt much better.
I headed back to the hostel and got a better look at the place. It wasn't as bad as I initially thought. The staff member had stopped by and left a pillow and blanket on the bunk I left my things at but I didn't see her. Next to my room was the dining room with lots of natural light and the sun was finally coming out even though it was time for sunset.
The bunk beds were really hard and made a lot of nose whenever you move. I understand that since it's a shared room that the locks didn't work but the door didn't close either. There was be a crack left. It was also freezing at night. I didn't realize until the morning I was leaving that the window was open at the top.
There is one bathroom that was roomier than the rest. The shower doors in that room would not close completely though so the floor was a bit wet after a shower.
In the fridge, there was a shelf for people to leave food they no longer wanted or was willing to share. That's a nice idea.
Mission: Try Icelandic hot dogs
I've read that the hot dogs in Iceland - Pylsa or Pulsa - are not only a cheap alternative but also really good! The first one was not too impressive. It just felt like it was a less salty hot dog from back home. A couple of tries in different locations afterwards and I'm convinced. Turns out the first location did not offer put the raw and fried onions everywhere else did.
During a night walk through Reykjavik, we randomly came across Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. I remember reading about this hot dog stand in a blog. Apparently it's the most famous one in Iceland and is a must try. We lucked out with no line. I am going to have to disagree that it is the "best" hot dog in Iceland because I had the most delicious deep fried hot dog with fries in it by a gas station along the way towards Reykjavik coming south. But those two are on different playing fields. One is traditional while the other is deep fried. Either way, both was good!
If you have any additional questions that I could possibly answer, just leave a comment or send me an email!