How to Turn a Travel Disaster into a Mini-Vacation

For college students looking to travel on a budget Wow Air provides affordable flights to popular European cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Barcelona out of major U.S. airports. This Icelandic airline is based out of the country’s main airport, in Keflavik, forcing all passengers on European bound flights to stop on the island and board a connecting flight before continuing on their journey. Unfortunately, Icelandic weather is incredibly unpredictable, and severe fog, rain, and snow can suddenly descend upon the airport in a matter of minutes. This causes frequent delays and cancellations of flights, stranding passengers in Iceland for 15–24 hours. For students armed with hotel and meal vouchers commonly provided by the airline, this travel inconvenience has the opportunity to be turned into a mini Icelandic vacation. Airline provided hotels are often located about an hour from the airport, on the outskirts of the capital city of Reykjavik, giving you the chance to explore many of the city’s main attractions.

View of Downtown Reykjavik and Hallgrímskirkja Church from Tjornin Pond

If you’re looking to see as much of the city as possible during your visit to the island, the best way is to give yourself a walking tour. Stroll down the waterfront looking out at Reykjavik’s Old Harbour until you reach the famous Harpa Concert Hall, with its unique and beautiful glass architecture. Stop into any local restaurant and try some of the country’s famous seafood. Explore cozy coffee shops and artisan boutiques to pick up a souvenir. Make sure to be on the lookout for the stunning and eclectic street art found splashed across the city’s buildings. On the far end of the city stands Hallgrímskirkja Church, one of the tallest structures in Iceland. This historic church is visible throughout much of the city and is one of the country’s most well known landmarks. Its unique architecture is based on the country’s famous trap rocks, geological formations created through the release of lava inside of glaciers. These landmarks are free to visit and open year round, making them the perfect stop for visiting students.

Viking inspired sculpture along Reykjavik’s waterfront looking out at the harbor and Mt. Esja
My adorable mother in front of Hallgrímskirkja Church

For those looking to experience some of Iceland’s natural wonders, the most famous and popular destination is the Blue Lagoon. This unique geothermal spa, located 45 minutes outside the city, consists of a series of pools filled with mineral-rich blue water surrounded by black lava rock (setting the scene for the perfect instagram shot). Between cancellations and late night booking times, your chances of getting a last minute spot at the lagoon are relatively high. If you’re unsure of how to go about booking a trip, check in with your hotel concierge desk and they will be more than happy to book it for you. The smallest spa package and entrance fee costs about $60 and provides full access to all swimming pools, a towel, a silica mud mask, and a complimentary drink from the bar.

Wall Art from Downtown Reykjavik

With its welcoming tourist culture, compact capital city, and a drinking age of 20, Iceland provides the perfect destination for an unintended layover. If you are lucky enough be traveling between September and April you might even catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis glittering above city late at night. If you plan on flying Wow Air or any other Icelandic airline and have a connecting flight out of Keflavik, be sure to pack a warm jacket, socks, sneakers, and a bathing suit so you can make the most out of any unplanned vacation changes. Traveling can be incredibly stressful, especially when things don’t go as planned. Budget airlines like Wow can put even more pressure on you with their additional fees and lack of amenities. However, if you are willing to be flexible and roll with any changes the weather may throw your way, you can make the most out your short Iceland experience.

Aurora Borealis above Reykjavik Harbor

About the writer: Sabrina Daley is a Cornell junior studying Environmental and Sustainability science with minors in marine biology and climate change. She is from Arlington, VA right outside of Washington DC and has previously worked with Tetra Tech and the Environmental Defense Fund on issues involving marine policy, aviation, and climate change. Her favorite cities are Bogota, Colombia and Reykjavik, Iceland.


About Guac: Guac is an award-winning travel publication run by an interdisciplinary group of students at Cornell University. We aim to inspire our readers to celebrate cultural diversity and view the world with an open mind through delivering unique stories from people around the world.

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