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Frosted Tips

09 January 201802:15PMviking-raidtravel

It's about 9pm in a guesthouse kitchen. I've just had a fairly potent Icelandic stout, and Lochie and I were gearing up to do some dishes.

As we filled the sink, he turned to me and asked, "Hey - what do you think your top five Iceland tips would be?"

(Lochie watches a lot of YouTube - I swear the clickbait title is all his doing and came up entirely naturally.)

"Get a car," I replied instantly. "Can you imagine how miserable we'd be if we were stuck on buses?"

He nodded.

And the rest of that conversation is lost to the mists of time. Apparently the stout was a little stronger than I anticipated. What followed was a very confusing exchange where item two and three on the list changed places several times, and eventually Lochie "just stopped listening."

Except I think that's actually a pretty useful thing to share. There's definitely some stuff I wish I'd known about going to Iceland before I came, and especially about how to do it relatively independently and relatively cheaply. So what follows is the best reconstruction I can give you.

1. Get a car.

Just because it's technically Europe, doesn't mean they have public transport. Iceland is all buses, and outside of Reykjavik they're all private buses. That means you're locked into their itinerary and their schedule, and you're paying through the nose for the privilege. No thanks.

I'm not sure how the maths works out on price, but in terms of control and independence you're way better off being able to drive yourself to things and explore at your own pace. Some of the best experiences we had came from being able to take our time and explore somewhere that looked interesting, or wait for the sun to come out so we could see it better.

what a car is... what icelandy really is... is freedom.

Seriously. Get a car.

2. Cook for yourself.

Iceland is expensive as heck, and nowhere is that more noticeable than the food. If you're eating out every night and buying lunch every day you'll spend a lot of money on pretty mediocre food. Sure, go do something fun like eat fermented shark or whatever. Just don't fall into the trap of having every meal in a restaurant.

By the same token, make sure you're shopping for groceries in supermarkets and not convenience stores. It's tricky to tell the difference sometimes because some of the former get quite small and some of the latter get quite large, and Google lumps them all in together. You probably want places called Kronan or Bonus, and not places like 10-11 or anything with Express in the name. Once you find the good places, the prices aren't that different from Perth.

3. Stay places you can do #2

That is, with a kitchen. Hostels are good, if that's your jam. We've also had some luck with "Guesthouses", which are basically exactly what they sound like.

4. Learn to take a decent photo beforehand

Iceland is amazing. The country does most of the work for you, but it's still nice to be able to put in the extra 10% to bump your photos up from cool to awesome. I had just enough time to familiarise myself with my camera before I left, but not really enough to learn how to take a nice photo. I cannot think of a nicer, more glorious place to be learning as I go, but I wish I didn't have to.

taking a photo

(Grace took that with her iPhone, and ironically I like it much more than the one I was trying to take.)

5. Be prepared to do your own interp.

Interp (or visitor interpretation), if you'll forgive the jargon, is the bit of an experience where they explain what you're looking at and what it means and why it's important. Sometimes it's a guide, sometimes it's a sign.

In Iceland, the signs aren't great. Not terrible, just not great. It looks like there's a lot there, but it's only because there's about 8 languages. If you do your research and know what you're looking for before you go and what you're looking at once you get there you'll have a much better time. Doubly so if you're opting out of the guided bus tours.

Some of this is a bit generic and not very Iceland specific. Which I guess is probably good! You're much more likely to be visiting literally any other part of the world. If you do end up in Iceland though, this is the kind of thing you want to be thinking about before you go.

Save travels, and I'll see you in Scotland!

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