6 Ways to Maximize Your Budget Iceland Adventure

Iceland may be a tiny country but don’t let that fool you! This little island has mastered the art of packing as much natural beauty as possible into as little space as possible. If you’re visiting Iceland and you’re limiting your trip to Reykjavik and guided tours, you’re missing out on the best parts of this unassuming yet larger than life destination.

If you want to do this trip properly and affordably, these tips are going to ensure you’re set up for success. 

Let's dive in.

Let's dive in.

1. Choose the accommodations that are right for you.

Once you’ve locked in your cheap-as-can-be flight, Icelandic Trip Planning tradition states that you will then exert a ghastly scream when you first look at the price of accommodations. 

It’s really expensive. 

But the good news is that there are plenty of options and if you do it right, you can offset other prices in the process to keep your budget in check. The main factor here will be how many people, if any, you will be splitting the cost with. 

Camping: individual or more

What better way to observe untouched nature than from a tent in the mountains? Iceland offers 170 registered camp sites throughout the country that will allow you to pitch your tent carefree. Alternatively, in the case that a campsite is not nearby, the law actually permits you to camp out on a stranger’s property so long as you respect specific regulations. There are more details here.

If you’re more of a free-spirit or you have a limited budget then go for this option! Just don’t forget to account for the extra weight of a tent on your back and remember that camping is only an option during the summer months (generally June to September). 

Hotel: 2 people

There is some worth in exploring this option but I do find that AirBNB gives you far more bang for your buck. Generally, you might consider looking into a hotel if you’re traveling in twos. It’ll likely be too expensive on your own and if you’re a group of three or more, your costs may double as most rooms are based on double occupancy. 

AirBNB: 3 people or more

This is my top recommendation, for a number of reasons. With a price similar to that of a hotel,  you get SO much more for your money! More space, a full kitchen, a direct contact with a local, and most importantly, the opportunity to split housing costs with multiple people. 

The most valuable advantage to booking through Airbnb is the fact that you can now store and prepare your meals rather than dining out. With food costs being unbelievably pricey, having a kitchen at your disposal offsets the cost of your Airbnb with the amount of money you’ll be saving in your food budget. 

Iceland prices will make you say "whaaaaa?"

Iceland prices will make you say "whaaaaa?"

2. Plan your meals.

One of the easiest ways to trim your budget is in the way that you plan your meals. It’s about finding a balance between dining out and eating in. 

Iceland offers some unique and delicious dishes and you mustn’t visit any country without tasting their local food so this isn’t a hard rule against restaurant meals. Rather, divvy out specific times and money to spend at a well-researched restaurant of your choice. Reducing the amount of restaurant food you purchase will both knock down your costs but also make those meals far more special and memorable. 

But in order to really maximize your food budget, utilizing that Airbnb kitchen is going to be essential. Note that while this may be trickier to do in a hotel or while camping, it’s still very much possible. 

Once you’ve determined your daily itinerary, you can work your meal planning into it. Throughout your adventures, you’ll always have food readily available and you’ll also open up some unique opportunities like eating your lunch at the top of the Hverfjall Crater. 

Here are some more tips on cutting food costs in Iceland. 

3. Drive it Yourself.

If you’re serious about getting to know Iceland, then don’t leave the fate of your trip in the hands of a tour company. Sure, you’ll see a few things and hear a few tidbits of history but you’ll be missing so much!

You can still see everything you would have on these tours if you wish but instead you’ll be in full control of how you get there. Moreover, it’s now possible to go anywhere, see anything and take as many detours as you choose. 

The cost to rent a car isn’t cheap, of course, but you have to consider how much value you gain by doing so. If you limit yourself to taxis and tour buses, you’re limiting your experience to the distance they’re willing to take you, which is simply unacceptable when it comes to Iceland.

There are options for every budget. From the very low (and concerning) end, there is a company called Sad Cars that offers older vehicles for low prices. It goes up from there but for peace of mind, we went with a mid-range reputable company like Budget. 

Don't chain yourself down to one place!

Don't chain yourself down to one place!

4. Travel in Fours.

This isn’t going to be relevant to everyone but it’s worth mentioning for those that can. 

We determined that when it comes to finding the most cost-effective way to travel Iceland, the ideal number of people in a group is four. Or multiples of four (if you can get a group of eight or 12 travellers together, sign me up!). 

In theory, you’d think the more people in your group, the lower the costs become but that’s not necessarily the truth. Here’s why.

If you’re driving yourselves and sticking to a budget, you should be driving a smaller car. With four people, you’ve got plenty of room to stretch out, organize your road trip essentials, and not impede on the personal bubbles of your companions. 

Once you add in a fifth member, you’ve got a tight seating arrangement in most vehicles. If you get a bigger vehicle with more than just a middle seat for your extra friend (and for 6+ hour drives, trust that you’re not going to want to sit in the middle seat), you’re already spending more than you would have even with the additional person to split with. 

The other alternative would be renting a second car and that doesn’t become cost-effective until you’ve got an additional four people to occupy that vehicle. 

This issue extends further as most accommodations seem to work in multiples of two. Since it’s unnecessarily expensive to travel as a duo, a group of four solves both issues nicely. 

5. Go North.

The blogs and the reviews and the brochures will all tell you to explore the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon. Sure, they’re safe bets and they’re beautiful. And they’re close enough to Reykjavik that you’re never far from the airport. 

But where’s the fun in playing it safe?

I’m not saying you should avoid those areas but it should be a side note in your trip, not the main feature. Because if you truly want to see what Iceland has to offer, I encourage you to drive north!

To drive this point further, I’ve put together a road trip itinerary for you to follow. It’s safe, beautiful, and full of adventure!

Iceland Road Trip: The North
and if you're interested...
Iceland Road Trip: The South

A wise traveler wakes up when the fishermen do. 

A wise traveler wakes up when the fishermen do. 

6. Wake Up Early.

There’s a reason why, no matter where you go in the world, popular sightseeing areas are crowded with people at 2:00 in the afternoon. Most people just don’t like to wake up early. 

“It’s vacation!”, they’ll say, as they lazily hit the snooze button one more time. 

But you’re better than that! You plan ahead and get some sleep the night before so you can wake up and hit the roads before the tour buses fill up.

I assume you didn’t come to the land of infinite adventure to sleep in, right? My guess is you want to discover as many crazy, out-of-this-world experiences as you can while you’re there, yes?

So wake up early! Visit the most popular areas before 11:00 am and you’ll get a better view, better photos, and more time to indulge in those experimental detours en route. After all, that’s why we decided to drive ourselves, right?

Iceland travel

Now get out there and explore this glorious, unbelievable country!

10 Ways to Cut Food Costs in Iceland

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.

For example, a simple noodle bowl will cost you over $15. And believe me -- it was a simple dish. 

For example, a simple noodle bowl will cost you over $15. And believe me -- it was a simple dish. 

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.