Iceland on a Budget: Dirty Vagrant Style

Between the two of us, we’ve been to Iceland 8 times (both before and after the economic collapse). Raphaela is currently in Iceland, and I (Lehua) am going to be in Iceland within three weeks. It’s much cheaper now than it was then, but traveling here can still cost you a pretty penny. If you want to see Iceland on a budget, here are some tips to stretch your krona.

So beautiful it hurts my eyes

Iceland’s ethereal beauty makes it a bargain at any price, but if you don’t have money, any price is still too expensive.

1. Couchsurf! Couchsurfing began in Iceland, and the scene here is fantastic. Also, Reykjavik is so small that any hosts you meet are likely to live within walking distance of anywhere else you’d like to go. Also, they probably have friends or relatives in other parts of the country who would be happy to host you…everyone knows everyone here.

Yeah, free! But what is a stoff?

Icelanders are very hospitable and generous. Also I have a scavenger hunt for you: this site is somewhere in Reykjavik.

2. Consider taking advantage of Iceland Air’s sweet deal for extended layovers in Iceland at no additional cost. You can stay up to a week in Iceland en route between North America and Continental Europe. Is a week enough to see Iceland? No way – but it’s something, and it doesn’t cost anything. You must buy the ticket from Iceland Air’s website, not from a third party broker (expedia, orbitz, ect.).

3. Hitchhiking and ride sharing is always possible, and it’s much safer in Scandinavia than anywhere else. In the US very few people hitchhike because our moms teach us that someone would be crazy to pick up a hitchhiker and no one wants to ride with a crazy. In Iceland it seems like everyone hitchhikes and no one thinks it is dangerous or crazy at all. Totally normal people are willing to pick you up: people with kids in the back seat, white collar guys, couples, old people, young people, anyone. (A note from our overzealous lawyers and my mother: Not that we condone hitchhiking. Hitchhike at your own risk.)

4. Get involved with Food Not Bombs in Reykjavik – help prepare or serve some meals and you will get to eat free.

5. Work and Volunteer. Iceland has super lax limitations regarding foreigners’ ability to come and volunteer (or even work). Hit me up if you want specific recommendations (and cautions).

Not related to the topic, but isn't this a great picture of an Icelandic sunset?

6. Camp for free anywhere that isn’t fenced in. Iceland, like other Nordic countries, has laws in place which secure the right of passage on undeveloped land. You are allowed to pick berries and mushrooms, walk through, or pitch a tent on any undeveloped land that isn’t fenced in with a keep out sign. You don’t even have to ask, as long as you are camping in a place that you won’t disturb anyone. But you can only legally stay in the same place for one night without asking, and you can’t have a campfire. If you are really out of the way the one night rule can be ignored, but the moss can be quite flammable so the campfire rule should always be followed unless you can find a previously used campfire pit.

A fairy campsite?

This cairn may mark the home of an Icelandic elf (think Lord of the Rings, not Santa Claus). Know the risks if you decide to camp here, as the elves are known to be horny and excel at sex, according to at least one Icelander: (Vice’s Guide to Icelandic Elf Sex)

7. Remember, with imported food you are paying for shipping too, so eat local as much as possible. Cheese, milk, and yogurt (skyr) are cheap, and fruit is expensive. Iceland only devotes .01% of their landmass to growing fruits and veggies, so there isn’t much local selection. Locally grown fruits and veggies include currants, blueberries, and potatoes. Maybe onions. Budget for it or expect to eat a diet low in vitamin C. One possible workaround for this problem is to learn which seaweeds are edible (many of them!) or pick your own blueberries and crowberries (the little black flavorless berries) if it is the right season. On the plus side, seafood is relatively cheap, as is mutton. You can try your first seabird egg, harvested from the coastal cliffs! A yummy and locally brewed alcohol is their spicewine. It is made of moss, berries, and angelica. A non-yummy and locally brewed alcohol is their Brennivín, also known as Black Death.

Preparing the traditional Icelandic breakfast of speckled pebbles

For bonus points, you can blow the innards out of these beautiful speckled cliff-bird eggs, eat them, and present the gorgeous outsides to friends and family as souvenirs.

8. Alcohol is EXPENSIVE in Iceland, so stock up at the duty free store in the airport. Really. Iceland’s government has a monopoly on alcohol sales, so taxes are insanely high once you get into the country. Plus there is a fairly large tee-totaling movement, so there is a lot of support for raising booze taxes ever higher.

The banks crashed, now this is how Icelanders put away their savings.

This fully stocked bar cost someone more than I have in my life savings. Also, the liquor on the far right is a local licorice liquor called Opal.

9.  In the US it is considered OK to go 5 mph over the limit, most cops wouldn’t pull you over, but going 5 mph over the limit here (or 8kph) costs 7500 kr. I didn’t realize this until too late, but there are many cameras that capture your car’s plate if you are speeding, especially in south Iceland. This is for any amount of speeding from 95 kph and up. The price goes up for every 10 km you go over, and it can get QUITE steep. Your car rental company also charges an extra fee on top of that. The reason for the strictness is that the road sometimes switches to gravel suddenly, and there are also many roundabouts. Be aware, it may make your perfectly budgeted trip suddenly cost way more than you expected. (Addendum 9/21/12)

Have you been to Iceland? Have any other ideas for budget traveling here? Leave them in the comments, below.

16 Comments

  1. kent says:

    Hi, I don’t see an email link to ask about this:
    Iceland has super lax limitations regarding foreigners’ ability to come and volunteer (or even work). Hit me up if you want specific recommendations (and cautions).

    Even for Americans this is true for work? Are there many jobs? Thanks if you can give some info.
    -Kent

  2. Raphaela says:

    Hi Kent,

    Yep, we’re both Americans, and we’ve both worked (legally) in Iceland. What sort of jobs are you looking for? The economy isn’t great right now (obviously) but the unemployment rate is still far, far lower than it is in most countries in the world. If you tell me a little bit about your skills/interests, I might be able to point you in the right direction!

  3. joe says:

    This is a sweet website.

    zl,
    jb

  4. Raphaela says:

    Thanks Joe! We do our best :)

  5. Tejas Naveen says:

    Lehua,
    I visited Iceland a few weeks ago and stayed for 3 days. I used Iceland Air’s free stop over. It worked out for me. Also, remember to get their frequent flyer card. They have partnered with Hertz and couple other companies. So, you can accumulate good points.

    I stayed in a hostel in the heart of Reyjkavik, and it was very convenient. But what I saw other backpackers do was camping in the outdoors. There are plenty of camping sites.

    Regarding food, I carried a pouch of Protein Powder. You need plenty of energy when you are in the outdoors. Also, its cost effective when you substitute it for a meal(breakfast/dinner) along with some fruits.

    Have fun!

    Cheers!
    Tejas

  6. Victoria says:

    Really getting a huge kick out of your site. Thanks for putting it together!

    And the Vice link? Salubriously super awesome :)

    (I lopped off the first part of the ‘dead’ link to read simply http://www.vice.com/the-vice-guide-to-sex/icelandic-elf-sex in the browser since the entire link as coded didn’t *quite* work http://dirtyvagrant.com/serious-budget-travel-in-iceland/www.vice.com/the-vice-guide-to-sex/icelandic-elf-sex)

    • dirtyv6 says:

      Thanks! And also thanks for the warning about the link. Hopefully it works now. I love that video, I hope I meet that woman when I am in Iceland next week. I already met and stayed with one of the stars of another Iceland vice video (the one about mushrooms)

    • Raphaela says:

      Thanks Victoria! It’s super awesome getting comments like yours. Also, the Icelandic vice video stars are awesome.

  7. Robyn says:

    Rephaela.
    Have you gone dog sledding in Norway, Sweden or Finland.
    I went 5 yrs ago woth my family with engholm husky. I was amazing and beautifully put together…but far too expensive. We have some friends who are looking at going to Norway and want to do a dog sled trip over a couple of days camping tin the huts in the nationals parks. I’m sure that there must be better deals than the one we got. I see some very toutisty options on the net but thats not really what we are looking for.

    more a private excursion over sa couplle of days i the finmark plateau. any suggestions

    • dirtyv6 says:

      Hi Robyn!

      Unfortunately (as you’re aware) Norway is really expensive, and all the dog-sledding excursions you’ll find will be really touristy, since it’s really only something that is done for tourists. I think it’s a good example of an experience that’s worth splurging on. I don’t have any specific recommendations for more affordable trips, but when researching options, they’ll want to find out how long the trip is for, whether they will actually be driving sleds or just passengers, how much area they’ll cover, and what accommodation options they will have. Norway is so beautiful – I’m glad you had a good time with Engholm Husky, even though it was expensive!

      By the way, we just wrote a Norway/Svalbard-specific budget travel guide, which might have some useful information for them: http://dirtyvagrant.com/serious-budget-travel-in-norway-and-svalbard/

  8. Yelli says:

    Hi there! Very interesting post! Thanks for sharing
    Im actually in Iceland, been here for 2 months and im looking for a small job since i have to stay 3 weeks more. I would love if you could point me in the right direction, thanks in advance! :)

    • dirtyv6 says:

      Hi Yelli, Lehua here. I asked my boss (I’m working at a hotel in hvolsvollur right now), and she said that she doesn’t need anyone right now because the season is over. for the next week we only have one room rented out a day. I have heard rumors of foreigners getting jobs in Reikjavik by asking around, but I think it would be tougher with the end of tourist season nigh. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help! Good luck.

  9. Adam says:

    Hello and thanks for sharing! I fell in love with Iceland a few years ago when I did a stop over and now am looking at returning for a longer period of time. I am looking at Volunteering for one of the sled dog companies and have had a difficult time determining what is legal and not. They claim they pay a small stipend to work there aside from room and board, but I would rather just decline this if it is going to get me into trouble. Any thoughts? I am an American btw.
    Thanks!

  10. carl olson says:

    hey im just wondering about finding host families i can work for just to pay for the room and board is there anything like that ? just for a week im willing to do any type of labour work

  11. carl olson says:

    im looking for a host family who can put me up for room and board for a week within the next few months and i can work for it do you know of anything ?

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