I spent my birthday on a cow farm, but a smelly snowy, cold cow farm so I think its safe to say I am an expert on what not to do in Iceland.
I’m a person who hates the cold but like really hates the cold, so who knows where my thinking was going when I booked 5 days in Iceland. After the holiday I still hate the cold. However, the white sheets of snow, the steamy baths, the crystal clear pools hidden in the quaintest of caves, the trolls, the powerful waterfalls cutting through the earth leading into majestic rivers kind of made up for the constant shivering.
When someone asks me what I thought of Iceland, the first thing that pops to my mind is EXPENSIVE (like everyone else). I’ll be honest I don’t think I experienced it as well as I could of and I’ll go on to explain why so you can avoid my mistakes.
I didn’t know where to start with planning this trip, so I took the convenient route and booked a tour from secret escapes. Our flights, transport, accommodation, and itinerary were all included. Meals and additional entrance fees where not. So your typical tour service. Companies like Contiki, Topdeck, and Busabout are more for the younger crowd, while the tour we went on was generally for the older generation. We were definitely the youngest couple there.
Do not book a tour bus
It sounded like a dream trip and to some extent it was. But as with most group tours, you spend more time on the bus traveling than actually experiencing the area. The list of sights we were going to see on this whirlwind trip sounded amazing. That’s the thing with bus tours they sell you the dream and yes you go and see all these places. But you don’t actually experience them which is what I call a photo stop holiday.
Our trip started off with us almost getting left behind by the bus, running with a hot cup of coffee, trying not to spill it with a suitcase in tow. All through snow, in a foreign car park trying to catch up with our tour leader and 30 other people who all managed to make it on time. I’m clumsy at the best of times so imagine my first encounter with real snow and all the above happening, I was not impressed.
Once on board the trip had officially begun and according to our jam-packed itinerary, we had a lot to see. This is your first clue that you will not be experiencing anything to its full value and that’s my main problem with tour buses. I’m sure they are not all like this, however, I think you will find many are. Just be wary as to how much they try to sell the idea that you will be exploring half of Iceland in four and a half days. If you have a car do the trip yourself it will be cheaper and a more enjoyable time frame.
Do not have high expectations
You know when you’re a kid and your parents promise to take you to the zoo and you have been looking forward to this all day and when you finally get there, its closed. Yea that same crushed feeling you felt as a child, don’t do that to yourself.
You need to manage your expectations if you didn’t realise by now a lot of the activities are weather and luck dependent. This is true with a few excursions, in my experience that was whale watching and northern lights sighting.
I have never been fascinated by whales but thought it would be a nice thing to see them. Off we went, all shuffling on the boat (more like slipping) and sailed away all wrapped up in our specialised body suits which felt like a warm hug. The bodysuits were actually there to make sure that if you fell in the water you wouldn’t die straight away from hypothermia, which is somewhat reassuring. We had done this trip the night before looking for the northern lights so I was very underwhelmed by the whole situation.
What made it most exciting was our tour guide, she was passionate (I wish I had her passion for anything) about whales, but REALLY passionate. After about an hour we managed to find a whale and we chased her around for about another 20 minutes. Being someone who is blind at the best of times a whales tail in the distance was hardly something to get excited about. My point is don’t over hype yourself as you will just set yourself up for disappointment. If I had no expectations for this activity I might have found it a highlight to my trip.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, the fact that I was in Iceland on a boat looking for whales is an experience in itself. But come on guys you know what I’m getting at when your expectation is higher than reality.
Do not call the horses ponies
I’m not a horse person, frankly, they scare me. The horses in Iceland however, I love. Their beautiful fluffy coat resembling all things warm and good, their height not being overbearing, their friendly nature and curiosity makes it all pretty hard to be fearful of such a creature. Like all things in Iceland, they have a magical air about them.Which makes you feel like they came straight off the set of the Lord of the Rings (their fur would rival that of the feet of a hobbit)
The Icelandic Horse is one of the oldest and purest breeds around. To keep them healthy and keep the breed pure
Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported into the country and exported horses are not allowed back into Iceland. They are on the small side, coming up shorter than most other horses. They are however horses in their own right, so do not call them ponies. We don’t want them getting offended and developing a complex over their height ( I should know I’m pretty short myself)
Relative to size they are actually the strongest breed in the world. To boot they have a great personality too. They tend to be very friendly, docile, easy to handle and have fond feelings towards us. So make a friend in the next Icelandic HORSE (not pony) you meet.
Do not make fun of their beliefs in magical things
Legends and myths are a part of every countries history, but in a land, so naturally beautiful, it is understandable that there are a few different stories coming out of Iceland.
Many believe these stories to be true and I am not there to judge if they are or not (I’m secretly hoping some are). Although I probably will never find out if these stories are true, I understand why many believe in them. For some its an explanation to mother nature, for others its hope. These stories can mean many different things to many different people.
My task to you is to seek out as many of these tantalising tales and to appreciate and be entertained by them. Please never make fun of these stories, it’s just not nice and I’m pretty sure your mother taught you better than that.
Do not let the cold and expense get in the way of having a good time
The weather is a big factor of enjoying a holiday, imagine going on a beach holiday only for it to rain on you the whole time.
The weather in Iceland was not my ideal situation to be in, yes I knew where I was going beforehand but it was still a shock. Despite me feeling uncomfortably cold most of the time I embraced it and once I had done that I actually started to enjoy my time and actually appreciate the beauty of winter.
The lesson here is to be a little more tolerable and understanding of the things you dislike and by doing that you’re exposed to new experiences. At the end of the day, that’s what travel is about- exposing yourself to a new world (and hopefully enjoying it too).
Iceland is an expensive country, this is a well-known fact doesn’t mean I came prepared for it. When a cafe charges you for a cup of hot water after you have ordered a whole meal its hard not to get bitter. Don’t allow the money to ruin your holiday or be a major factor in how you see things. Most countries you will visit have an expensive side but with a country so naturally rich I’m sure you can find cheap or free things to do!
That’s the list! Oh, one last thing don’t go to a cow farm if you have a sensitive nose 😉
What’s on your ‘do not’ list? let me know in the comments below.
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