Iceland Part 1: Planning a trip around the island and having two families meet for the first time
Eight years into our relationship my husband and I were faced with an interesting problem. While I had met Jonas’ family and he had met mine, our families had never met each other. After eight years, we thought it was time. But where should we meet?
We live in San Francisco, but we are both from Germany, so you’d think this is an easy task, but our families live on opposite ends of Germany. Even with the German train system, it is a 9 hour journey. Yes exactly — 9 hours by train to cross Germany from northeast to southwest. Seems slow — because it is slow. Suffice to say that it makes a meeting for coffee and cake in the afternoon impossible. So we were debating to spend a week at either place, or meet in the middle of Germany, or in the US… Nothing seemed right.
Since it was going to be a time commitment on all sides and involved travel for the majority of people, we figured it had to be a vacation for everyone. One day, we had the idea to travel Iceland. It was an instant hit! It was something that none of us would have necessarily done alone, but that everybody was interested in. So we planned a trip to discover Iceland by driving the Ring Road (also called Route 1) — and it turned out to be a great adventure for everyone.
Planning the trip was fun for me, because I just love a coordination and organization challenge. I hope these next paragraphs can give you some ideas for your trip to Iceland and what to look out for when preparing for it.
We decided early on to drive around the island and stay in AirBnBs. We wanted to explore the country with all its natural beauty and meet its people. After some research and thinking — we decided to travel Iceland counter-clockwise and end in Reykjavik for 3 reasons.
First, at the beginning of a new adventure you are full of energy and enthusiastic — so driving in the beginning is easier then at the end.
Second, while we were traveling at the end of August, the tail-end of the summer season, we expected there to be still many tourists close to Reykjavik and in the Golden Circle. We were hoping that the later we’d go there, the fewer bus loads of fellow travelers we would encounter.
And third, we were the most interested in the more remote parts of the island. Tourism is big in Iceland, but it is mostly centralized around Reykjavik and the airport in Keflavik. So we wanted get away from that area as fast as possible — and stay there for as much time as possible.
The next decision we had to make is how much driving we were willing to do each day. We decided a maximum of 3.5h driving each day would give us some time to explore the sights along the way, but also make enough progress so we could make it around the island. In the end we only had 2 days with 3.5h of planned driving and those were tough — especially towards the end it just feels longer. So I’d highly recommend this as a maximum.
Based on my internet research, I also had two locations that I definitely wanted us to hit: Myvatn and Flatey.
Myvatn is a lake area in the north-east of the island and a popular summer vacation destination for Icelanders. It also has a beautiful nature bath that is a less touristy than the Blue Lagoon. In this area I had found the Vogafjos Guesthouse and I was determined that we would spend 2 nights there— and we loved it.
Flatey is also a summer vacation destination, however it has very limited access and capacity. It is a little Island in the north-west that can only be reached by Ferry (twice per day) and no cars can be brought. Do not worry about that, Flatey is so small, you won’t need one. The island has a few sheep farms and summer vacation homes. During the summer Hotel Flatey is open offering accommodation and delicious food on an island where you can truly disconnect and relax. This was one of the most expensive parts of the trip, but well worth it.
Equipped with this information I started selecting our AirBnBs. I booked it one at a time, waiting for the confirmation, so I could adjust driving times to the next location if needed. 5 people is an odd number to book accommodations for (in fact, its also an odd number for any other context in this trip), and we needed multiple rooms or big enough houses for every night. I booked about 9 months before our trip and everything worked out well —but if you are 3+ people, definitely book early. In the end we had the following route: Keflavik — Vik — Höfn — Faskrudsfjördur — Lake Myvatn (2x)— Laugarbakki — The island Flatey — Laugarvatn(2x) — Reykjavik(2x)
So that left the rental car. There are plenty of rental providers that allow you to pick up in Keflavik and return the car in Reykjavik. We wanted to make sure that we had a 4WD and could fit all 5 people in one car, since only my husband and I could drive. Even if you have more drivers and could rent multiple cars, it is just more fun to drive together in one. Since we were 5 people, I spend a lot of time researching the exact type of car. SUVs don’t have as many seats as a bus, but 7-seater SUVs still exist. However, many of those that claim 7 seats have 2 fold-up seats that a) are not very comfortable for longer trips and b) reduce your trunk space to next to nothing. So in the end I went with a rental agency that let you book specific cars. Being able to do that seemed to good to be true, and it was. We ended up with a different car with exactly that problem — not enough space to fit 5 people and luggage comfortably. I generally hope for the best and plan for the worst. To make sure we had enough space, I also booked a roof carrier. That was a life saver and an absolute necessity, once I saw the car we got and the amount of luggage our families had brought despite our warnings about limited space.
Flights were already booked — most of us came from Europe, there are many connections. From the US we ended up going with Delta. It was before WOW air added their SFO flight, but even with WOW air’s low fares, the fees for taking luggage and carry-on etc. would have made it the same cost as Delta.
And with that, we were ready to pack our bags and embark on the family trip of our life-time.
Our trip in numbers:
5 people, 11 days, 9 different AirBnBs/Hotels, 1 4WD SUV with a roof box.
We flew in from 4 different locations, drove a total of 24 hours over 8 legs, spent 4 hours on a ferry and some of us spent 3hours on Icelandic horses. We hiked, read, played games, cooked together and sometimes even shared bathrooms. We explored restaurants and lunch spots all over Iceland.
Ultimately we took about 3,000 photos and made a million memories.
Before I end this post, a few more practical tips:
- Iceland runs on credit cards. So no worries about getting cash for the round trip. We never had issues paying.
- Iceland runs on European credit cards, meaning they like a PIN. That becomes crucial when you need to get gas in the remote locations, because they have unattended stations. You will not be able to get gas at those without a PIN for your credit card — our debit card did not work. Our German credit cards saved us here. I did some research afterwards and figured out that non of the standard US credit cards we owned actually would have allowed us to set a PIN for transactions and not just cash withdrawal. So I am not sure what a good solution is in this case, but do your research in advance.
- Traveling at the end of August was great since nothing was overrun. But you will have sunny and warm days as well as rainy and really cold days. So pack accordingly.
- Iceland is expensive. Even when we cooked at our AirBnB, meals weren’t cheap. We spent about 700EUR per person in Iceland just for food and other activities like the Myvatn nature baths. In total it was about 2500EUR per person. This trip wasn’t cheap and that likely won’t change. We just embraced it.
For us, it was the perfect trip to have our families get to know each other in a new, beautiful and exciting environment. We just had a great time together and I’d do it again in a heart beat.
So you want to know how the trip actually went? Stay tuned for Part 2!