Warning: This trip was not planned beforehand. The tickets were purchased two weeks before departure and car rental was purchased the day of departure. Risky, I know.
Honestly, the only response I have is: My companion wanted to be in the dark. Darkness is exactly what I got. During the winter, there are only about 4 hours of sunlight.
Mistake #1: Arriving at Iceland before
your check-in time. Actually, any time before 11AM is just a bad time.
My plane arrived in Keflavík International Airport around 5 AM. My companion and I wandered around the airport for an hour, and arrived by bus to Reykjavik around 7:30 AM. Shockingly, it was still pitch black outside. In Iceland, the sun does not rise until around 11:30 AM in the winter time. We wandered around Reykjavik and squatted at the very few open and expensive cafes for seven hours! Why? Our Airbnb check-in time was at 2 PM. Lesson learned: Come after 11 AM because that is when most stores open and when the sun actually rises. Below are pictures from Reykjavik, as you can tell, I like graffiti art.
Tip: Rent a car.
Despite renting the car last minute, I still managed to get a pretty good deal. I got a seven day rental (with premium insurance, GPS, unlimited mileage and a 4G WiFi router) for around $350 USD. The most convenient and fun way to travel around Iceland is by car.
Tip: Go to the Blue Lagoon.
The Blue Lagoon was the only event planned before I headed to Iceland. It is a geothermal spa in a lava field in Grindavík (approx. 20 mins drive from the airport). It is essentially a large outdoor pool but the warm waters are filled with rich minerals like sulfur and silica. Go there and watch the sunrise, it is absolutely breathtaking. You’ll be outdoors but warm, only from the neck down. However, the lagoon does offer saunas and steam baths. It also offers free Silica Mud mask. Take advantage of their masks because the slimy and think texture felt amazing while massaging it on to my face. Who else enjoys a struggle of washing the facial mask off without ruining their make-up? Definitely, worth going.
Tip: Go to Selatangar (to see the black sand beach!)
Come on, black sand and a beach in the winter? Aren’t those two words the key to your heart? I found this beach on Google Maps, while on the way to our next Airbnb. Our car was unable to handle the tough road of rural Iceland, filled with pot holes (first photo below is where we ditched our car.) Yes, we attempted to hitchhike 2 km (1.24 miles) while it was ferociously hailing on us. It was so cold that my companion had to use socks as gloves! If you go, come prepared with thick coats, hiking boots, and especially gloves. We got lucky and were offered a ride to the beach by a group of friends, who were also from the U.S. So much for not going into a stranger’s car, sorry Mom. Imagine standing on a black sand beach, surrounded by an endless lava field covered in green moss. It took my breath away.
Day 5 & 6
Tip: Go to Selfoss, The Great Geysir, Gullfoss, Urriðafoss Falls, and Skógafoss.
If you want to see some great scenery, go on a long drive, and see waterfalls, head to the places named above. The Great Geysir and Gullfoss are approximately 7 minutes drive from each other, and Urriðafoss Falls is 10 minutes away from the city Selfoss. Selfoss is a touristic city, so if you’re looking for good food outside of Reykjavik, this is the place to be.
Mistake #2: Watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Disaster Artist in Iceland.
The one thing I did not expect when I went to watch movies was Icelandic intermissions. Yes, there are such things as intermissions during a movie. It cuts the movie off exactly halfway, not caring if it’s in the middle of a sex or action scene. When the intermission happened, the screen went completely black and everyone got up from their seats. At that moment, I was filled with frustration and confusion. I thought “That is it?!?”
Tip: So, do not be surprised when the screen goes completely black.
I truly enjoy going on this trip without planning every little detail. It allowed me to hitchhike in the hail, get caught off guard at movie theaters and learn to just adapt and plan day by day. So go out there, make mistakes, and do not be scared. You will look back in five years and laugh about all the silly decisions you’ve made. Who knew headaches can bring waves of laughter, right?
Happy New Year!