Let’s one thing straight: Iceland is an expensive country. I'd be lying if I told you anything different. And rightfully so, because almost all goods have to be imported to this volcanic island in the north Atlantic.
Here's the blunt truth... Iceland is the most expensive country we visited in our 10 and a half month journey around the world. We spent about twice as much per day in Iceland as we did on average anywhere else on our travels.
But there certainly are ways to save money and make it an affordable destination, even if your budget is small. We both agree that Iceland was such a beautiful and worthwhile country to explore, and we would advise you not to be too concerned about money.
In this post, we will share exactly how much we spent on our 6-day trip to Iceland and will break it all down for you by category.
First things first... How are we able to keep track of all our expenses and stick to our budget? We're so glad you asked!
With Our Favorite Money Saving App, Of Course!
Wherever we travel, we keep track of every single penny we spend using an app called Trail Wallet. It was created by travelers for travelers to monitor your travel budget. We're hooked and know that we wouldn't be able to stick to such a small budget without this app. (Plus, it gives us some pretty awesome data that we can share with you!)
Camping is by far the cheapest way to stay in Iceland, especially when many campsites are free to stay (for the exception, see Accommodation section below). Hostel dorm beds start around $35 USD per night and budget hotel rooms start around $75 to $100 per night. And why not sleep under the stars when you in one of the most scenic countries in the world.
In Iceland you can legally camp anywhere you want, but there are some caveats to this statement. If you camp on someone’s property, you must get their permission before you pitch your tent.
I suppose you could spend the night just off the road, but no one wants to hear the sound of cars all night long. The best places we found to stay are at campgrounds and there’s typically one in every town.
Many campsites are free, but some have a fee. Simply check at the gate or reception when you enter. The only campground we had to pay for was in Reykjavik. It was well worth the price because with all the amenities they offered, we were basically glamping! There was an indoor cooking area, game room, bathrooms, showers, dish washing stations, barbecue grills, and there were even laundry services available.
Because we were coming from almost a year of travel, we weren't carrying much gear and we knew we needed to rent a lot of stuff. We searched online for the cheapest equipment store with the best quality material and we found Iceland Camping Equipment Rental. They carry name brand gear for reasonable prices and are located right in heart of Reykjavik. Here’s the cost breakdown of what we rented and the campground fees:
Sure, there are ways to cut cost here, but since Iceland was our last stop after almost a year of travel, we had to rent a few extra things we didn’t carry with us backpacking. You could easily fit sleeping bags or a small tent in your luggage if Iceland is your only destination.
*We decided that the 4 items at the bottom of the list marked with asterisks are things we could cut if we were really pinching Kronas. But on second thought, you really don’t want to see us in the morning if we haven't had coffee...
The best way to get around the country is to rent a car. No one wants to free like cattle on an overpriced bus tour, getting on and off according to a schedule. The local buses are not exactly convenient just stopping a few places and traveling only at certain times of the day.
With renting, you get the freedom to go wherever you want and stop whenever you see a photo op, which seemed to be every 5 minutes.
We had a very happy experience using SADcar rentals (love the irony!). This company loans out slightly older cars that are still in good condition for a discounted price. We paid $247 USD for our 6 days of driving around Iceland, which works out to be just under $42 per day (the best deal you'll get in Iceland!) Plus, if you pre-pay online, you'll automatically get 15% off.
Note: Manual transmission cars are typically cheaper to rent. And additionally, if you are traveling not during peak season, your price will be slashed even lower. The prices we're referencing here are during the busiest (and therefore most expensive) time of year!
You can't drive a car very far without gas, and unfortunately it is hella expensive in Iceland. (Yeah, I just said "hella".) Gas cost about $6.27 USD per gallon ($1.66 per liter). $6 PER GALLON. Yowza!
Note: Your gas cost may be higher if you rent a large car.
Note: The cost of flights is not included in our budget because it will be different for everyone, depending on where you are traveling from. Plus, the cost of airfare will vary greatly if you are visiting Iceland on a layover or if it is your only destination.
Both Icelandair and WOW Air have layover programs that can be cheaper than a direct cross-Atlantic flight. Find out how inexpensive it can be from your hometown to Iceland using Skyscanner. Icelandair even has direct flights to Minneapolis. Shout out to MSP!
Food and Snacks
We were pretty happy that we spent less than $50 on meals for two people for our whole 6 days in Iceland. We cooked all our meals at campsites or made them on the road.
For breakfast we ate muesli and yogurt with fruit. Lunch would typically be a Cup of Soup and peanut butter sandwiches. For dinner we'd have a little more time to cook so we made cous cous with veggies and other hearty meals. (For a whole list of Iceland meal inspiration, check out #5 on money-saving tips for travel in Iceland.)
And the items in the snacks category are the evil necessities in our life such as coffee and chocolate. You could cut these if you really wanted to… but do you?
Iceland has high taxes on alcohol, so the cheapest way to have a night cap (or two) is to buy your supply in the duty-free shops at the airport (or bring it from home). We bought a bottle of Disaronno (just because it was on sale – we actually had no idea what it was!) and had a few drinks to celebrate the last country of our trip.
Miscellaneous and Water
This category includes things like baby wipes that we used to clean off with after each day (just like we did on our Everest Base Camp trek). Not every campground had shower facilities, so our "poor man's showers" made us feel surprisingly fresh.
Also, we made the mistake of buying a big pack of bottled waters, thinking they would be useful for the week. It turns out there’s delicious, free water right out of the tap at every campsite so these were not needed. Bring your own reusable water bottles and you can eliminate this expense.
Grand Total Expenses for Iceland
There you have it. We spent a grand total of $912.45 for the 6 days and 5 nights we spent in Iceland. We saw everything we set out to and didn't feel like we missed out on anything by sticking to a tight budget.
I’d say we did a fairly good job in this infamously expensive country keeping our expenses low and our experiences high. At just over $76 per person per day, we proved that you don't have to be rich to visit Iceland!
Wow, Iceland doesn't have to be all that expensive. I want to start planning my trip now! Where do I start?
If you want to see more pictures, head to our photographic journey of Iceland. And if you're ready to start planning your own trip to Iceland, be sure to check out our complete 6-day itinerary for Iceland.