It’s no secret that the food in Iceland is expensive. But if we’re being honest, most travelers are going to Iceland for the adventure, not necessarily for a culinary experience. If that’s you, we can conclude two things from this statement.
1. You will be burning through a lot of calories with all the hiking and exploring you’ll be doing so your food needs to be nutritious and long-lasting.
2. You’re probably more keen on meals that you can take with you in your travels versus sitting down for a fancy meal at an expensive restaurant.
If you’re both smart and crafty about it, neither of these will be difficult to achieve. If you plan out your meals ahead of time, you will save a whole lot of money.
Below are some examples of ways to cut food costs during your Icelandic adventure!
1. Bonus Supermarkets.
Seek out the drunken pig! You’ll find the lowest prices on groceries at this supermarket chain and you can find one in just about every decent-sized town. Not only is it accessible but it’s affordable too! The key here is to think long term – look for items that are sold in large quantities and are versatile in different types of meals. It’s also important to consider your living arrangements. If you don’t have access to a fridge, be careful you aren’t purchasing anything that will spoil.
We found it beneficial to compare the cost of food in our home currency to determine whether or not it was a good deal. If the prices are similar to what you’d pay at home, it makes the cut. This is important because most food items are imported into Iceland and will endure the subsequent markup. You can work around this by seeking out special sale items or bulk packages.
2. Choose Airbnb Over Hotels.
Now that you’ve got your groceries, you’ll need a place to store and cook them. Most hotels don’t have this option available to you. Instead, they’ll charge you way too much to dine in their in-house restaurants. Or feed you low-quality breakfasts that leave you hungry hours later.
Instead, choosing an Airbnb location will give you access to a fridge, a stove and all the utensils you might need to create a healthy, nutritious meal that tastes delicious! Not to mention, lodging in Iceland is also very pricey and there aren’t many ways to avoid these costs without having to bring your own bedding. So why not get more for your money and rent an entire house instead of a single hotel room. This option is even more appropriate if you’re traveling in a group, with the ability to split the cost.
We took it one step further and packed our own spices in tiny containers which used very little space in our bags but took our meals to another level.
3. Pack your lunches and meal prep.
This is a game-changer. Now that you’ve got groceries, you can plan out every meal and base it around your plans for the day. For example, if you plan on trekking up a mountain, you should plan to have highly nutritious meals to keep your stamina up. You don’t want to find yourself at the bottom of a mountain, starving with only a granola bar to keep you going.
By planning out each meal, you automatically avoid having to take desperate measures like buying an overpriced sandwich in the middle of nowhere.
4. Get Crafty with Your Containers!
You might be thinking “okay great, I’m on board but surely you don’t expect me to pack Tupperware to carry all of this around!”
Not necessarily. While there are plenty of solid options out there for travel-friendly collapsible containers, we like to pack as light as possible. When we went to Iceland and started prepping our meals, it quickly dawned on us that we were without any containers to transport our food.
Fortunately, we put our heads together and came up with some crafty options, reusing disposable things we had around the house. One example is reusing the bowls that Skyr yogurt comes in. This allegedly delicious snack comes in a re-sealable bowl. They were easily washable, had a solid lid and best of all, it came with a disposable spoon! We bought Skyr once, didn’t like it that much, but got our money’s worth out of the container. Another option we discovered was using the large size water bottles as a quinoa container. Just seal it up and cut it open or shake it out when you’re ready to eat.
I’m sure you can come up with some even better ideas.
5. Quinoa and Pasta are Your Best Friends
Earlier I mentioned favouring foods that are high in nutrients and sold in bulk. Well, quinoa and pasta are the perfect examples of getting the most bang for your buck. Not only were they inexpensive (or at least comparable to prices back home), but they were so versatile! You can combine with pretty much any vegetables or meats that happen to be on sale that day and make it into a great meal. Quinoa in particular will also keep you full for hours on end and keep you strong on the trails.
Not to mention it tastes just as good cold as it does hot.
6. Water All the Time
This should go without saying but it’s often overlooked. Water is extremely cheap and you can buy it in large bottles (we went with the 1.5 litre, in a six pack). It’s essential to maintain proper hydration levels in order to keep your body going and having a giant bottle of water nearby will make it happen. You can drink straight from the bottle or use it to frequently refill a small water bottle.
Not only that, but it’s of course cheaper than buying sugary juice or pop. These drinks won’t do much for you (unless its actual real fruit/veggie drinks… but rarely is that the case) and they’ll cost at least twice as much.
7. Avoid Imported Foods
Sheep and fish are plentiful in Iceland but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily inexpensive. Unless you compare it to imported meats like beef. Cows aren’t really a thing here so in order to enjoy a burger, the meat has to be shipped in from somewhere else. You can imagine that there’s a hefty price tag that comes with that. And you can bet it’s not the highest quality either.
So avoid it! Shop around and you’ll find other options. If we did choose to eat meat, we went with frozen items for pasta or fish as it was generally a good price. But truly, if you want to save your Krona you’re better off just avoiding meat altogether.
8. You Don't Need Meat
As with anywhere, vegetables will be inexpensive compared to meat.
You can get your protein from other foods like beans or quinoa and they will last you over several meals. If you follow just this step, you could easily cut your food costs by 30%, assuming you’re getting your food from the grocery stores and not restaurants.
9. Be Wise with Restaurants – Especially in Remote Areas
This one is important. Nothing beats packing a lunch and enjoying it at the top of a mountain you just conquered. And nothing is worse than being hungry in a remote area, and feeling forced to pay the inflated price for a meal. I remember one pizza place in the middle of nowhere was charging $30 for a personal sized pizza. That’s three day’s groceries in one four-slice piece of bread and sauce!
That said, it’s important to enjoy yourself and not be a prisoner to your bank account. You should enjoy a restaurant meal here and there so long as you include it in your meal prepping. Don’t let your impulsive side get the best of you or your food budget will quickly dwindle.
We made a point of choosing lunches at restaurants rather than dinners. There are generally lunch specials. This way you still get to enjoy the vibe of restaurant dining and explore some local eats, but at a fraction of the price you’d pay at dinnertime.
Bonus Point: Thai restaurants are very affordable if you aren’t looking for traditional Icelandic foods. Always be aware that prices will inflate if you’re looking for “authentic” foods.
Bonus Life Tip: If the restaurant calls itself “authentic,” chances are it isn’t.
10. Pack Granola Bars and Assorted Snacks
Before you depart for Iceland, grab one of those giant freezer zip-lock bags and pack it tightly with granola bars and any other snacks that you enjoy. You have no idea how grateful we were to have this during our long road trips. We had miscalculated the length of one particular trip and by the time we reached our destination, the grocery stores had closed. Having backup snacks in the car kept us from starving on the road.
But miscalculations aside, if you have snacks at hand, you’re less likely to make stops for them. As per the trend, even gas stations snacks are pricey. You’ll be glad you did because when the moment comes along when you decide to explore a road you hadn’t planned for, you will need something to bridge the gap to your next planned meal.
And your fellow car-mates will be over the moon when you break out the snacks as a surprise.