Iceland: Tips for the budget traveler

With $20 for a fast food meal, $37 for a pizza and $10 for a real bear ($3 for a fake one at the gas stations) – traveling to Iceland can be very expensive.  Here are some tips for saving money while in Iceland.

  1. Save your water bottle from the plane and refill it from the tap.  They hand you a bottle of Iceland water as you board Icelandic Air.  The water all over Iceland is basically fresh from the glacier so drink it rather than buying other drinks. (In most first world countries tap water is completely drinkable and was done so before the whole “bottled” water trend where bottlers convinced us we had to buy water in a bottle).
  2. Shop at the grocery stores such as Bonus or Netto.  The prices in the grocery stores aren’t too bad.  Avoid eating out as much as possible.  I suspect the meal prices include tips, taxes and a high minimum wage as well as high food costs for importing food to the remote Island nation.
  3. If you must eat out, grab a hot dog – the national snack food of Iceland.  They are about $5 or less and come with crunch onions and a grill press bun.
  4. Try camping instead of hotels.  We camped all around the Ring Road in a rental camper.  It wasn’t cheap but we save on having to buy meals.  Seems like the locals were all camping.
  5. Skip tourist traps such as The Blue Lagoon and seek out local pools.  Instead of $60+ for a swim at The Blue Lagoon, a local pool will be less than $10.
  6. Skip the expensive tours and “experiences”.  The scenery, national parks, waterfalls, trails and beaches are all free.  The only natural attraction we paid for was a crater that charged $4.  Take in the natural scenery for free and skip the boat rides, glacier walks and caves.
  7. Take public transportation rather than renting a car.  If you have the will and time, figure out the public bus system that reaches all parts of the country.
  8. Share meals.  Some of the portions are huge in Iceland so if you are a light eater you can share an order of fish and chips with a friend.
  9. We saw a lot of hitch hikers.  Hitchhiking is not uncommon in Iceland, but you might be waiting for a long time and it can ruin your plans.
  10. Don’t tip.  Locals don’t tip. But feel free to do so if you feel like it.