I love to travel! It’s one of my favorite things to do and something that for me is worth spending money on. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever taken a vacation just by picking a place I want to visit and then spending full price on flights, hotels, and other accommodations. Instead, I maintain a travel fund so I’m ready when the right opportunities and deals arise.

That’s exactly what I did last September when I went to Iceland with a couple friends who found great deals on flights.

The Details
I traveled to Iceland with two friends. We spent 5 days there and had an amazing time. In Iceland, you can rent camper vans and are allowed to pull over and park for the night anywhere, for free. This makes traveling very easy. If a week ofexploring nature and living out of a van sounds at all adventurous and exciting to you, I definitely recommend it. I honestly wish traveling this way was a viable option in most countries!

That said, the idea of sleeping in a van every night may not sound like a vacation at all to you. That’s okay – you can still find ways to travel to Iceland and other places without spending a ton of money. I think it’s all about spending money on the highlights of any given place and saving money in the other areas, as well as being flexible and open-minded. Here’s how we did it in Iceland.

The Big Five
When I think about traveling, I think of five big buckets as far as expenses go:

  1. Transportation to your Destination
  2. Transportation within your Destination
  3. Sleeping Arrangements
  4. Food
  5. Excursions

Here’s how we covered each of The Big Five in Iceland:

1. Transportation to your Destination

We found a great deal, which was the impetus for the entire trip. All in, including a checked bag, I paid $439 for my round-trip flight. This flight was direct from Baltimore to Iceland, which was also very convenient for me.

Total costs = $439, or about 42% of the total trip cost.

2. Transportation within your Destination and 3. Sleeping Arrangements

We accomplished both items 2 and 3 by renting a camper van. And before you say that sounds terrible, let me tell you that I LOVED it. (Again, not for everyone though.)
Iceland is all about exploring nature and enjoying the outdoors. Several parts of the country are very remote, meaning food and a place to stay can be difficult to find. We opted for focusing on the true highlights of Iceland – the natural beauty – which meant we wanted flexibility. If we saw a waterfall, we wanted to be able to stop. A long hike we just had to do? Again, we wanted to be able to stop, without worrying about checking in to a hotel or hostel by any specific time. An unexpected adventure off-roading? Absolutely.

The camper van meant both our transportation within Iceland and our sleeping arrangements were always taken care of. There were no time limits to our adventures!

In addition to renting the van, costs in this bucket included gas, one toll, and one bus ticket.

Total costs = $451, or about 43% of the total trip cost.

Note that we’re up to 85% of total trip spending. A big benefit to traveling in Iceland is that after securing transportation and sleeping arrangements, the country is yours to explore with very few other expenses to worry about!

4. Food
Iceland is not known for its food (leading up to the trip, the food recommended to me most, both by friends and from reading travel blogs, was gas station hot dogs – no joke!). So, to provide us with the most flexibility and time to explore, and without feeling like we were missing anything, we opted to buy groceries on the first day to last us all 5 days. The van had a sink with running water, a cooler/fridge, and a gas stove (which we didn’t use), so keeping fruits, vegetables, sandwich stuff, and drinking water cold was not a problem. This meant when we found an amazing hike or place to explore, we would put some snacks and sandwiches in our backpacks and not have to worry about finding food in a remote town or getting too hungry or thirsty a few miles into a hike.

Total costs = $50 on food in country, or about 5% of the total trip cost.

For full transparency, I’m including all trip-related expenses. That said, it could easily be argued that this shouldn’t be included because no matter where I am, I have to eat, and I could easily spend $50 in 5 days on food in the US. Still, there you have it.

5. Excursions
Because even the national parks are free (though there is talk that this might change as tourism becomes more and more popular in Iceland), and certainly waterfalls on the side of the road are free, we just didn’t spent that much on excursions.

Total costs = $46, making up another 4% of the total costs.

The last 6% comes from gas to and from the airport in the US, a Target run to pick up some snacks and toiletries ahead of time, and dinner at the BWI airport on our way out. Again, I wasn’t spending money on gas, food, entertainment, etc. in the US during this time, so count these if you will. I’m just including everything.

Total costs = $64, the last 6%.

The Spending Breakdown

Note that expenses above are for me only. We split the camper van, gas, and tolls evenly among the three of us, so I’m only reflecting my portion.

A Few More Details

  • We flew Wow Airlines.
  • We used Camp Easy for our van.
    • While it is roughing it somewhat, it’s definitely glamping (that’s glamorous camping if you weren’t sure). I think the van is pretty sweet! (Have I said that already?)
    • They’ve removed one row of seats to give you space for your “work station” so you can easily access the fridge, sink, etc. and have space for your stuff.
    • The back rows fold down into pretty comfortable “beds”, complete with Ikea down comforters and bedding.
    • The van is solar powered and set up so you can run a heater at night.
  • The water in Iceland is great to drink, and every gas station was willing to let us fill up on water for free whenever we needed to.

The Highlights (A Video)

I definitely recommend traveling to Iceland, especially if you love being outside in nature. It’s beautiful and the scenery dramatically changes from place to place within the country, meaning you experience a lot of different views and landscapes as you continue to explore. I don’t think I can even come close to describing it in words, so if you’re interested in traveling to Iceland or want to get a taste of what I’m talking about,here’s the video I made to document our trip.

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