We went to Iceland for two weeks over the winter break. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to write in this blog about it, but someone on somethingawful just asked me for some tips, and my reply seems kinda interesting, so here it is:
Hey, really random, but saw you mention in the EV thread you just got back from Iceland, got any winter travel tips? I’m going in a few weeks, and I think pretty much everything I’ve read is focused on visiting in the summer.
I overpacked because I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I didn’t overpack by much. I brought:
- A pair of insulated water-resistant pants (lined with fleece I think, sort of like ski pants). Wore them everywhere.
- Two pairs of wool socks
- Waterproof boots: mine were Danner, my wife had Sorel
- two long-sleeved wool t-shirts
- two wool sweaters
- A waterproof parka with a hood
- A wool hat
- Warm waterproof gloves with the thing so you can still use the phone touchscreen (this was so great to have)
I had planned to buy one of those Icelandic wool sweaters when I landed, which I did, so I could have done without the second sweater I brought. The Icelandic one was crazy warm: I found myself stripping off the coat and sometimes the sweater while driving, to prevent overheating.
We only did little walks, like a short one to take a photo of Sólheimjökull, a little one through Þingvellir. And lots of walking through snow in Reykjavik and other rural places we stayed. The stuff we packed was totally adequate. I did use the coat’s hood way more than I thought I would, and was glad to have it. El Cheapo crampons like YakTrax would have been a good idea for Þingvellir if we’d wanted to go further, but once we saw the sign saying “if you get stuck past here in the winter, we won’t come help you”, we turned around and found another less-icy path. We weren’t prepared for glacier climbing on a nature trail.
We traveled with another family, who had the smart idea to buy food at the grocery store and prepare meals. That saved us a ton of money and I would highly recommend doing it. Eating out was incredibly expensive. Groceries were also expensive but more manageable.
For driving, just know your limits. They have these pullouts on the roads, marked with a sign and an indication of how long the pullout is. If you are even idly considering turning around, take the pullout and have a nice calm think through that. I wound up seeing one, thinking “hmm, maybe I should turn around”, and then doing a K-turn on the freaking highway during a whiteout blizzard. Nothing bad happened, thank goodness, but it could have gone very badly for me, and I wished I had just taken a couple pullouts to discuss with my wife whether we wanted to keep going. So take those pullouts.
Snow on the road is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed in the Rocky Mountains, and when they say “difficult driving conditions” in safetravel.is, pay attention. It’s not “if you’re from California you’ll have a hard time with this”, it’s “if you’re from any other country”. We quickly learned to respect their suggestions.
Lastly, the N1 fuel pumps wanted a PIN on my credit card, which I didn’t have. I think I could have used an ATM card, but instead we just asked the other family to buy fuel for us, and we paid them back when we got home. Maybe bring an ATM card and know the PIN! There were other gas stations where I could use Google Pay on my phone, or Visa’s tap-pay thing, with no problems. And inside the N1, I could also use Google Pay. It was really just the pumps at the N1 stations. Incidentally, you should pop into an N1 if you pass by one. It’s a real trip. You can even plan to have a meal there: I saw hot bars, salad bars, frozen yogurt bars, nice custom sandwich things…
Overall the trip was great! We especially liked the westernfjörd area. The south, near Sólheimjökull, was super touristy and I wouldn’t go there on a subsequent trip. I’m glad we got to go, and I hope you have a great time!