September 13th-16th, 2017
When Brett and I stumbled upon tickets from Austin to Iceland for $350 round trip (hi, I obsessively search flight deals!), we jumped on the chance to spend a long weekend exploring for our Trip #3 of our Twelve Trips in Twelve Months.
For this trip, I've broken up our itinerary by day, since we legitimately loved how we spent our short time there. Everything we did, I highly recommend. Also, September was the perfect time to go - no crowds and perfect weather. (And by perfect, I mean 30s to 50s. Which I'll happily take in the land of ice.)
I have a small roll-on cooler I got from TJMaxx that I always bring with me as a carry-on and fill with TSA-approved food that we eat throughout the day. I'm especially glad I did it this trip since the international terminal of JFK where we had our layover had limited food options and IcelandAir only had food for purchase. Plus, the cooler proved handy for our tour of Iceland, but more on that later.
Brett and I have a routine at the Austin airport that once we're through TSA (where, let me tell you, I always get pulled aside to get my cooler searched, and EVERY SINGLE TIME they are severely impressed. This time, I even got a marriage proposal. Just saying.), Brett goes and buys milk to eat his cereal, and I go buy ice. My cooler always has a few cereal cups for Brett, and I have two Ziploc bags where I can fill a bag halfway with ice and double/triple/quadruple bag it to act as a makeshift ice pack.
Also, on that note. paying for TSA Precheck is so worth it. One short interview and $85 is all I had to do to get five years of TSA Precheck. Which is so worth it for this Nervous Nelly.
We flew from Austin to JFK, where we had a short layover. I read this awesome article on The Kitchn about how you can totally carry-on bagged salad, so we tried it. So it was just delightful enjoying turkey sandwiches and salad in the airport....that, you know, didn't cost more than a day of parking.
Which, that said, TSA-approved mayonnaise packets are probably one of my best Amazon purchases. No judgement, y'all. Brett eats all. day. long. So the fact I was able to make him FOUR (!!!) turkey sandwiches was just magical. I'm pretty sure the loaf of bread, package of turkey, and mayo packets are what prompted that TSA gentleman's flattering marriage proposal.
Or maybe it was the olives, sliced cheese, summer sausage, grapes, and crackers that we had for dinner on our IcelandAir flight. But I digress.
Once we landed in Iceland, it was 11:50 PM. I know there is an economical bus line that takes you from the airport to Reykjavik, but once I've finished a day of travel, I'm ready for a snack, shower, and most likely a nap - and am not in the mood to deal with nagivation. So, I'm sure quite a few people disagree with me here, but I usually pay for airport-to-hotel transfer. We used Back to Iceland Travel for our airport transfers, and it was worth every penny.
Also, the famous cooler came in handy again when we got to our hotel at 1AM. We were starving, and had the loveliest, classiest dinner of sandwiches and Pringles.
We stayed at Storm Hotel because of its good location and included breakfast. Which, again, considering my husband is marathon training and hungry ALL OF THE TIME, this was an excellent choice. He was able to load up on oatmeal and hardboiled eggs and breads, while I was just content with my Cheerios and chocolate croissants. Seriously, it was an impressive spread and totally worth it.
Since we were in Iceland for such a short period of time, and we weren't sure if we'd ever get to come back, we wanted to see a lot of the nation's beauty. I booked a tour that specifically sees the Golden Circle and the South Coast - it was great because this specific tour hit all of the sights on our wishlist, but also is a long enough tour that deters most people. In other words, we were on a minibus with only one other couple.
Had we been stuffed into a mega bus with dozens of other people, I'm not sure if I would've enjoyed our day nearly as much. Most people pay to take just a general Golden Circle Tour, so be cautious of those. Unless being on a large bus with tons of other people is right up your alley. Which, if that be the case, power to ya.
Anyway, every 10 to 90 minutes, we'd stop and be given a time to meet back at the bus, giving us plenty of time to explore. Again, I'm glad we brought our cooler because although there were food options at many of our stops, I wanted to spend our time exploring, rather than waiting in line for food.
Plus, considering I'm such a picky eater, I can't take the risk of assuming places would have something I'd eat. Struggle is real.
We were also glad we packed water bottles from home, since the water is so pure in this country that you can fill up in both sinks and rivers alike.
Plus, we loved that between each stop, the charismatic, Icelandic bus driver told stories about Iceland's history, people, and landscape. Errr, Brett loved this. I have a bad habit of sleeping hard in any moving vehicle. But let me tell you, I had some incredible naps that day.
No matter how long you're in Iceland, you must do this tour.
We asked our tour guide for dinner recommendations, and he spoke highly of a fish and chips food truck.
Afterwards, we stopped by MicroBar for some Icelandic beer. (Note: two craft beers set us back almost $40. LOL. Super cute pub, though!) If we had been in Iceland for longer, we would've signed up for a brewery tour.
Brett's a coffee snob (a perk of his Chemistry degree), so we started the morning searching for Reykjavik Roasters.
Iceland is very much into their warm drinks, hot soups, and fresh bread - all of which I can get on board with. The amount of tea and hot chocolate I ingested in four days was pretty impressive.
I also read five books and used twelve hand warmers. Statistics.
Also, I'm a picky eater, but if there's something that seemingly everyone raves about, I'll give it a shot. And take it from me - you have to order these hot dogs with everything on them. The combination was good.
It is also important to note that our tour guide called Bill Clinton a noun synonymous with not-brave for trying this famous Icelandic hot dog establishment and only getting mustard. So yeah.
I will also note this is my favorite travel bag ever. It fits everything - hand warmers, camera, iPad, travel guides, snacks, battery pack, my thousand chapsticks, etc and can be zippered shut. And, you know, it's pink and monogrammed. The important stuff.
(Wait until they have one of their delightful 35% off sales. Just lovely. But not lovely for my bank account.)
It's hard to pick a highlight of our trip, but if reallyyy pressed, Brett and I might pick our Warm Baths and Cool Lights Tour. We were taken to Laugarvatn Fontana - a geothermal bath - where we were treated to an Icelandic buffet dinner, and then had several hours to soak in the baths. Which, naturally we did with some Icelandic beers.
The saunas and steam rooms weren't too shabby, either.
Also, two things you must know about baths in Iceland: you either bring your own towel or pay to rent one (I think I paid an absurd $8 per towel because HELLO TOWELS TAKE UP VALUABLE SUITCASE SPACE), and you must take a fully-nude shower in the public showers before entering the water. I feel like that should be mentioned. Because the latter was definitely a first for me (Brett: "Wait, you didn't do it for like, high school football?" I know it's shocking, but I did not play high school football.)
But then, the Northern Lights came out to play while we were in the baths. IN THE FREAKING BATHS, Y'ALL. OH MY WORD.
Even better (can it get any better?), the rest of the evening was spent exploring the Icelandic countryside searching for the lights. Our driver was very knowledgeable and knew the best watching spots. Out in the country, there is no light and there were clear skies - AKA perfect conditions.
And, not like a grainy iPhone photo will even begin to do this justice, but I'll leave it here regardless. To say it was an amazing evening is an understatement.
And again, because we did a very specific tour, we were on a mini bus of only a handful of other people. I saw a pickup location for a general Northern Lights tour (without the dinner and geothermal bath), and it was dozens upon dozens of people loading a huge bus. Which, I predict, would not have been as magical. But that's just my two cents.
Also, this is my PSA about the most amazing rain boots. I love the look of Hunters, but cannot afford them. Enter my favorite pair from Amazon. FORTY DOLLARS. You're welcome.
Since the famous Blue Lagoon is between the airport and Reyjkavik, it is recommended that you go when you're leaving the airport, or on your way to the airport. Since our flight wasn't until 5PM, we chose to go before we traveled back to Texas.
I had read reviews about how many people enjoyed soaking for hours in the warm waters before boarding a plane. Which was really all the convincing I needed.
I booked a transfer with Back to Iceland Travel, which, again, was worth every penny. I didn't have to worry about bus depots, or rental cars, or luggage. While we were at the Blue Lagoon, we didn't have to pay for the Blue Lagoon to store our luggage - our bags were safely kept with our Back to Iceland Travel driver in our private minibus. I can't recommend this decision enough.
And, Blue Lagoon - oh my word. I know there are plenty of people that are out there that complain about the cost and, yes, it is expensive. We did the Comfort Package, which included the face mask, a towel (again, with the towels), and one free drink.
But we really, really enjoyed this date. We spent two hours soaking in the healing waters, sipping cider(s) and beer(s) from the swim-up bar, and wearing face masks. They really know what they're doing here.
Make sure during your nakey shower you lay the conditioner on thick and leave it on upon entering the Blue Lagoon - the silica that makes the waters oh-so healing is apparently really destructive for hair.
Also, those people that are able to get precious Blue Lagoon photos without the face mask getting in their eyes? I'd love to know their secrets.
Maybe next time I'll get a better picture.
Yes, next time.
We'll be back.