TRAVEL BLOG: Madaz’s Mad Excursions – Iceland

One of the biggest perks of trading is the fact that you can take your work with you anywhere you want in the world. As you guys may have noticed, this is something I take full advantage of as I’m probably on the road a good 3 to 4 months out of the year. Making money is awesome but spending it to enjoy life is very rewarding. I’d like to share you guys my experiences as well as some insider tips and tricks for those of you who want to travel to these same locations as well to optimize your trip, and keep more money in your wallet (and trading account) by not getting ripped off buying unnecessary things.

Saving money is just as part of the hustle as making it, in my opinion.

For those of you who haven’t read my blog post regarding my mobile trading setup, click here.

WHY ICELAND?

Iceland is one of most beautiful places on the planet. Due to it’s characteristics of being volcanically active and located near the Arctic Circle, it contains some of the most unique and biodiverse nature in the world, including being of the locations where you’re able to see the Northern Lights. As a testament to Iceland’s gorgeous environment, The producers of the show, Game of Thrones, chose it as one of it’s filming locations. There are a ton of variety of things to see here It is definitely a very nice escape for anyone who wants to get away from the hectic city life and spend some time in peace with some breathtaking natural scenes. It is also a photographers dream with endless photo opts. The best part? It CAN be a very affordable trip (if you know what you’re doing).

TIP: If you want a full experience, I’d recommend allocating 10-14 days for your trip.

TIP: A lot of the tours are no longer offered after the end of September due to weather conditions. At the same time the Northern Lights are most visible when there are is mark darkness. For this reason I’d recommend travelling to Iceland towards the end of September so you can kill two birds with one stone.

1. GETTING THERE

If you’re on a budget, you’re in luck because you can literally catch a flight from several U.S. Cities to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, for less than $300 round trip with Iceland’s discount airline, WOW Air (the cost of a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle). The usual concepts still apply if you want a cheaper flight such as picking a date with lower demand and not splurging with add-ons. Although, if you’re cutting corners by going with these guys, expect very minimal service and by that I mean, no in flight entertainment, no food, no water, and seats that aren’t the most comfortable thing in the world. If you want those amenities, expect to pay a premium (I think they charge you like $15 just to RENT an iPad to watch movies on for the duration of the flight. Water was $5 for just a small bottle).


TIP:
If you’re quite the scavenger, you can occasionally actually find some coupons that reduce the cost of the flight on certain dates even more by 20-30%! Just google “WOW Air Coupon” and try all the codes and see which one works.


TIP: Bring your own laptop or iPad to watch movies. Bring your own food and water and bring a head pillow if you have one, if you want to save money.

2. ROOM

Staying in a hotel ranges from moderate ($150 per night) to on the verge of pricey ($200+ per night). You can save money by staying in a hostel, which could be more fun as you get to meet and hang out with others if you’re travelling alone. There are some hostels that are as cheap as $30-$50 per night so you’d save a substantial amount if you went this route. If you’re really adventurous, you can also camp to save money on room and board. I lucked out here as I was able to crash someone’s place the entire time.

TIP: Save a ton of money by staying at a hostel.

3. CAR RENTAL

While you can explore most of Reykjavik on foot, you’re going to need a car to see most of the natural wonders as they are located much further away from the city. After shopping around, I ended up at a place called Sixt in Reykjavik. They were the cheapest and most local to where I was staying. If you’re going on a trip where you’re driving on regular roads of the time, the cheapest car (which is going be one of those tiny hatchbacks like a Honda Fit), will do the job for about $35/day. If you’re planning on doing camping or going off-roading, you’re going to have to get a Jeep-like vehicle which is going to run you about $100/day. Gravel insurance is offered for about $20 per day, which I would recommend if you’re doing some hardcore off-roading because there are A LOT of rocks on those roads. Also, note that the gas here is very expensive at around $7-$8 a gallon!

TIP: If you got Fast and the Furious-like manual driving skills, you will save a few bucks vs. renting an automatic vehicle.

TIP: Be sure to return your car to the same location you rented it. Unlike most car rental companies in the US, if you return the car to a different office location, they’re going to charge you a ~$50 fee or so.

TIP: Unlike in the United States, You can’t make a right turn on red lights in Iceland.

TIP: The Sixt office location in Reykjavik had a really good coffee machine where you can get free coffee, take advantage of it.

4. FOOD

I’ll be frank, the food here is ridiculously expensive. I’m assuming it’s because a lot of things have to be imported, so that’s just how it is. Eating out is absurdly overpriced. Outside of a few special Icelandic delicacies, such as whale, shark, or puffin that are particular to Iceland, you might want to stay away from the $30 burgers or the $100 sushi if you’re on a budget. Groceries, however, while still more expensive than in the States, was more sensibly priced. It was no uncommon to see restaurants completely empty even during peak dining hours whereas the grocery stores were always packed. Alcohol is also pricey ($7-$10 for a regular pint of beer) and it was quite funny to see people sneak in beer that they brought from home into bars just to save money.

TIP: Save money by limiting eating out and buying groceries to make your own food at home instead. It is very common for locals to sneak their own beer into bars to save money (I’m not making this up! Look it up it’s on the Reykjavik Wikipedia page). No shame in doing that if you’re trying to penny pinch.

TIP: Lots of places offer free coffee including car rental offices, groceries stores, and tourist information centers. Don’t pay $5 at a coffee shop for the same stuff you can get for free. It’s literally the same stuff from the same machines.

5. SIGHTS

Now for the fun stuff: the sights. Even though I was here for a total of 13 days. I still didn’t get to see everything, but I squeezed in what I could to at least get the jist of what wonders Iceland had to offer. Here are some highlights from my trip.

a. Local Sights in Reykjavik

Reykjavik is a very small city. You can literally walk from one side of the main part of the city to the other in about an a little over an hour, which means it’s very pedestrian friendly and for the most part a car is not needed to explore it. All the museums and restaurants should be at most a 30 minute walk away. The museums are fairly small so you’d be able to see everything in each if you allocate about 2 hours there at most. Most of them open around 10-11AM and close around 5PM. So you can realistically see 3-4 museums in a day if you’re efficient. I’d recommend getting a Reykjavik City Card which will run you about $37 for 24 hours (it’s cheaper on a per hour basis if you buy the 48 or 72 hour variation). You will save money if you plan on visiting a ton of museums as entry to each museum is can run away from $10 to $20. Including with the Reykjavik City Card is unlimited bus rides for the duration of which you buy the card for as well as free entry into several geothermal public pools (typically around $10 to get in) and discounts to restaurants. So if you go to 3 museums, take the bus multiple times, and go to a geothermal pool, you’d already get your money’s worth. The Iceland Phallological Museum AKA The Penis Museum is a very popular destination and provides some comedic relief on your trip.

Here are some recommended spots in Reykjavik:

  • Tjörnin Lake (pictured above)
  • National Gallery of Iceland
  • National Museum of Iceland
  • Reykjavik City Museum
  • The Reykjavik Art Museum
  • Reykjavik Thermal Pools (there are several of these scattered across the city)
  • The Iceland Phallological Museum
  • Laugavegur (the main street in Reykjavik)

TIP: Save money by buying a Reykjavik City Card if you plan on visiting 3 or more Museums and plan on visiting a geothermal public pool on the same day.

TIP: Have a student ID (and still actually look like a student)? You can get discounted entry to museums if you show it.

b. Landmannalaugar

My first trip outside of Reykjavik was Landmannalaugar, which means “the people’s pools” in Icelandic. Beautiful hiking trails and views so beautiful that they look like oil paintings or fake CGI movie backdrops even in person! Expect a long drive there was you need to drive off road for a good hour plus in addition to a 2-3 hour drive on regular roads.

This was the only trip where I traveled with a tour because I felt like the off road drive was too difficult for me to attempt. As a matter of fact, the tour bus in front of us got stuck in the river, thankfully for them we were pretty much already there but they still had to get the bus out of the river.

The hike itself takes about 2-3 hours if you take the easy to moderate trail. There is a hot spring there where you can bathe in as well.

TIP: Tours are pretty expensive. You will save a lot of money by planning your trips and exploring on your own.

c. Northern Lights

One of the most spectacular experiences ever was seeing the Northern Lights. The only way to describe it was that it looked like colorful dancing ghosts floating around in the sky. The spot that I went to see them was the parking lot near the Grótta Island Lighthouse in Seltjarnarnes, Iceland.

TIP: You need perfect conditions to be able to observe the Northern Lights. Check online for forecasts which tell you when the best chances are to see them.

d. The Golden Circle

This is the most popular trip for tourists in Iceland and includes most of the variety of things you’d see here and can be completed in a day (about 9 hours), and doesn’t require an off-road capable vehicle.

The first stop is Þingvellir National Park, site of Iceland’s first ever parliament, a huge fissure caused by the splitting of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, and also the filming location of the some “beyond the wall” scenes from Game of Thrones.

The next stop is the Geysers at Geysir (where the word Geyser actually comes from). The sulfur smell of rotten eggs dominants the air here but the erupting geyser that goes off every 5-10 minutes is a cool sight!

There are two waterfalls here at Gullfoss. One flows into the other and they are massive and absolutely stunning in person.

The last stop on my Golden Circle trip was the Kerið crater, which was as a result of a collapsed volcano and the rising water table has created a lake. You can walk down a makeshift path down to the lower level to hang out in the lake. It costs about $4 to enter the area.

e. South Coast Tour

The waterfalls at Seljalandsfoss was an awesome experience as this was the only waterfall I saw where you can walk around behind it and out the other side. If you plan on doing this, bring rain clothes or a poncho because you will get wet!

The waterfalls at Skógafoss provide a nice photo opt as you can capture some stunning pictures along with a perfectly placed rainbow if you’re lucky!

A short drive away is the glacier at Sólheimajökull. You can actually go glacier walking here if you choose to but I decided not to because I didn’t have time for it, but I did walk pretty close and snapped a few selfies!

The end of the South Coast Tour was the black sand beach at Solheimasandur. The black sand comes from the tiny fragments of lava that occupy the area, making it a very unique feature that you’d only find in volcanic areas. Apparently there was also a plane crash site nearby that I missed.

f. Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon needs no introduction. Some people go to Iceland just to go here. It is absolutely stunning in person and is a must if you’re going to Iceland. The moment you step into this natural geothermal spa rich with minerals, you instantly just feel cleaner, not to mention it’s the perfect place to just relax and take in the sights.

TIP: Definitely get the package with the mud and algae mask, which will run you about $80. You can easily run up the costs though if you end up eating at the restaurant, buying lots of drinks, or getting the $100-$300 massage but if there’s one place to just relax, have a good time, and not worry about money, this is it.

6. Things I Didn’t Get To See But Would’ve Liked To

a. Ring Road Drive
This drive takes 10-14 days in itself (as you will make several stops along the way) so I didn’t have time for this but this drive will allow you to travel all around the entire country of Iceland.

b. Akuyeri
The second largest city in Iceland is Akuyeri which has interesting things to see such as one the largest waterfalls in Iceland, as well as the cave where they filmed the Jon Snow bathing scene. It’s location in the North Central part of Iceland made it tough for me to fit it in the itinerary as it is a 6-8 hour drive jut to get there, but you plan on doing the Ring Road Drive, this is one of the stops along the way.

c. West Fjords
A very mountainous region with marvelous sights of the fjords located in the most northwestern portion of the country. It was too far of a drive for me to plan this trip in the time that I had.

d. Jökulsárlón
A large glacier lake that I could have visited if I kept driving on the South Trip route for a few more hours but due to time constraints, I didn’t go. You can also go glacier walking here and this was also the setting for several famous movies including two James Bond flicks, A View to a Kill and Die Another Day as well as Batman Begins.

7. Concluding Thoughts

I had an absolutely incredible time in Iceland. This is a trip I highly recommend to anyone looking for an affordable getaway and get lost in the stunning natural scenes. Living in an urbanized area, we tend to lose touch with the fact that places like this exist in the world. I would definitely consider coming back and do the Ring Road Drive and go camping or glacier walking!


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Affiliate Disclosure: I know what you're thinking. Madaz, ya sneaky bastard, trying to sneak in some affiliate links. Any compensation I may receive from this will pay for big macs on days where the market isn't feeling so charitable. For a more complete version of this mumbo jumbo, please click here.




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