Driving in Iceland

You should drive Ring Road (the big number 1 road that goes all around Iceland).

If you have a fear of driving in foreign countries, you should get over it. They do have a lot of public transportation in Reykjavik (Iceland’s capital, where most of the people are) so if driving in a foreign country spooks you out for whatever reason, you do have other options–they’re just narrow ones. I suggest you get over whatever fears you have of foreign steering wheels and give the country a go.

They drive on the right side of the road after all and have a lot fewer streets than America. It’s incredibly easy to drive there (when the roads are clear of snow and ice, that is–spring and summer time). Noah and I made it around the entire island using a wimpy Ford Fiesta (we rented a car from Budget, but there are a lot of rental car options at the airport. Do your research beforehand in order to reserve a car you need for the cheapest price). Not all of Ring Road is paved, and sometimes the winds are so strong that you actually have to use two hands on the wheel (also, when semi-trailers pass you, your car might move), but the sights you see when you get outside of Reykjavik are entirely worthwhile.

Rent a car. See the country.

Now that that argument is settled, let’s get to the serious stuff.

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How to Navigate

Before I went to Iceland, I had no idea how we’d find our way around. For whatever reason, there was practically zero helpful information that I could find about driving in Iceland.

Noah made an itinerary of all the places we wanted to see and what day we’d see them, but neither of our phone carriers supports data usage outside of the States (without an extravagant fee), so we couldn’t actively use a GPS while we were there. From googling it, I’d read that Google Maps sucks in Iceland (because it’s missing half the roads; it turns out that Waze is much better), but Noah ended up downloading the roads of Iceland onto his phone from Google Maps so he could use a GPS offline, and we just hoped for the best.

Turns out that’s what we ended up using the entire time.

When we had wifi, I would double check some of our more confusing routes on Waze and screenshot the directions, but Google Maps was fairly reliable. It’s less helpful with smaller streets and specific addresses (like AirBnB hosts and tiny towns), but it can get you around the country pretty easily and we only had minor issues with it a couple of times.

In the end, I recommend downloading Google Maps on your phone, having Waze as a backup, and skipping the physical copy of a road map because it’ll just sit in your glove compartment (yes, I bought an actual roadmap and now we have a souvenir). (Also, you could just use Waze if you can figure out a way to download a map on it! Obviously, I didn’t do that.) (Another option is that you can pay to have wifi in your car and use whatever you want, but that’s a big expense and kinda ruins the fun.

 

Learn What the Road Signs Mean

They have all different ones. Not only are their road names a million letters long and in Icelandic, but some roads are randomly one-way and their yield, do-not-enter, warning, and no-parking signs are entirely different (but their stop signs are the same, for whatever reason). Sometimes you can pass other cars and sometimes you can’t. Sometimes roads are legit closed and other times they’re “closed” but you can proceed at your own risk. There are signs that show the difficulty of the road, tourist attractions, scenic places, city maps, and more. Check out this post for some helpful information!

Learn What the Lines on the Road Mean

There are no double yellow lines. There are no single yellow lines. There are only white lines on the road. The dashed white line that separates two lanes on the same-direction highway in America marks two different directions on the Icelandic highway, so be sure to keep to the right “lane.” Sometimes you can pass, sometimes you can’t (passing is so much more common in Iceland; you’ll see it practically always and you’ll become good at it), sometimes the bridge coming up is a one-lane bridge and you’ll have to wait for oncoming traffic.

Just get used to it being a little different. It’s not that bad.

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Expect Some Crazy Tunes

The music you find on the radio is crazy. It goes from Coldplay to western to opera to Rhianna to classical to Icelandic covers, all on the same station. It makes no sense. But it’s fun to listen to!

Expect Some Insane Gasoline Bills

When we were there, it was about $50-$60 for a full tank–and we were driving a very small car (it works out to be around $10 per gallon. That’s what happens when everything is imported).

Don’t Speed

We sped a little maybe (we’re American, we can’t help it), but we tried not to. Especially in the towns (where more police are). Speed is measured in kilometers, so it’s more or less unclear exactly what’s “America-speeding” and what’s “Iceland speeding,” but they have speed detectors everywhere (they make a sad or angry face if you’re speeding and a happy one if you’re going the speed limit or below). The reason I say “don’t speed,” however, is because of something a friend told us before we left, which was…wait for it…don’t speed.

And here’s why… Because so much of the traffic in Iceland is from tourism (i.e., people leaving the country soon), Icelandic police ticket you for speeding and demand you pay the fine right away. They take your credit card and swipe it immediately because they don’t want you leaving the country without paying. Not only is there no opportunity to dispute it, but Iceland is two to three times more expensive than the States, so your $100 ticket just became $300. What a fun time!

(We didn’t get ticketed. Neither should you.)

Expect Bad (or at least annoying) Weather

Be it snow, sleet, rain, or wind. Iceland weather can be turbulent you’ve just gotta prepare for it. Sometimes the roads are closed and they mean it. Sometimes the roads are open and you snake up an ice-covered road that twines through two mountains. Sometimes the winds are so strong you can’t open your door. (Don’t freak out–sometimes it feels like spring and you won’t notice a difference from home! Just don’t expect that absolutely everywhere or you’ll be caught off-guard. Since Iceland is volcanic, the state of the roads can change seemingly without reason [or change in elevation] thanks to heat tunnels or whatever.)

Off-roading is Illegal

Okay, so, Iceland is cold, and the plant life is fragile. Much of it only has a little bit of a chance to survive thanks to the dramatically changing seasons and temperatures, so when you drive over it, you could kill it forever (don’t you care about nature? Iceland does, even if you don’t). Because of this, it is illegal to drive off-road in Iceland. They give out sky-high fines or even imprisonment for offenses, so you might want to take that one seriously and keep to the roads and marked trails.

You Might Get Stuck in the Snow

We almost did. And we helped a car full of Italians out of a snow drift that they’d been stuck in for who knows how long (they gave us beer as a thank-you; what great people). Basically, don’t drive in snow that’s deeper than your car can handle (or through the snow at all, if you’re in the wrong kind of car). If you’re inadequate at driving in snow in American, then you’ll be a joke driving in the Icelandic snow. If you’re okay with it, however, then feel free to go where the cool kids go–just be smart about it. Believe the signs that say something like, “if you go beyond this point, you might get stuck, and that’s your fault.” Just remember that not everyone will help you out of a ditch for a beer and towing prices (like everything else in Iceland) are pricey.

 

Other then that, it’s just like America.

Sort of.

Just go have an adventure.

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Iceland Packing List

Maybe you’re not that organized of a person and would rather just throw some junk in a suitcase then make a packing list and pack everything on it (*cough* Noah), but if you do that with Iceland, then you’ll end up having to buy a few things while you’re there (like gloves or deodorant, perchance?). Packing lists are just a smart idea, especially in cold places where you’ll be for an extended period of time.

So, disregarding the normal packing list that consists of “pants, shirts, underwear, toothbrush” (I’m hoping you can handle that part), here’s my Iceland packing list with the things you’ll need but maybe didn’t think of!

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  1. Layers. I’m talking short sleeves, long sleeves, light sweaters, heavy sweaters, light jacket, heavy jacket, jacket or sweater with a hood, warm socks, etc.. The weather in Iceland can change drastically throughout a day so you want to be prepared for its crazy-intense winds in the morning as well as it’s Michigan-springtime weather in the afternoon and then the snow at night.
  2. Gloves, hat, and scarf. Depending on the time of year you go, these are valuable accessories. Not only is Iceland cold, but the winds are strong, so when it would otherwise be a fine temperature, the wind makes it chilling. You’ll want to be warm.
  3. European outlet adapter. All the plugs in Iceland are going to be different from the ones in the U.S.A., so you’ll want to be sure you have an adapter in order to charge your devices. (Here’s a link to the ones I got off of Amazon, but you can find them in most Walmarts. I just like the one I got because it was a 2 in 1.)
  4. Chapstick. If your lips are like mine and tend to get chapped while traveling, you’ll want chapstick for this trip, no exceptions. If you don’t tend to get chapped lips, you still might want to bring some chapstick along because of the high winds and cold–it’s just a recipe for chapped lips, and why buy that in Iceland?
  5. Spending money. Like I’ve maybe mentioned before, everything in Iceland is expensive–2 to 3 times more expensive than the States. So if you plan on bringing back any souvenirs, eating out a lot, or hitting the bars, be sure you have some extra dough set aside for the trip.
  6. Wipes. Okay, so, bathrooms in Iceland can be scarce to come across, and when you do come across them, most of them you have to pay to use (they’re called water closets in Iceland, and most of them are marked with a “WC”). This in no way means that you’ll have to go to the bathroom without a toilet, but when you’re in the middle of a 5-mile hike and there’s been no bathroom for the last four hours, you just might just have to use nature as your bathroom (you also might not, but bring wipes just in case!).
  7. A water bottle. Water isn’t free there–even many restaurants charge you if you want a glass of water–so it’s a smart idea to bring along a water bottle and fill it when the water is free (like at your hotel room). Beware that the water often smells like sulfur (or rotten boiled eggs), but it’s cleaner than any water you’ll find at home. Drink it. You’ll be fine.
  8. Travel toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, etc. In case you didn’t know, the airport won’t let you bring your 15.6-liter shampoo bottle on the plane. You’ll have to buy travel sized everything that’s even somewhat liquid. This is common sense, but some people forget about it. So don’t forget!
  9. Some kind of navigation. Check out my post about Driving in Iceland for more details!
  10. Good hiking boots (preferably waterproof). There’s so much walking to be done in Iceland if you truly want to explore it, and a lot of that walking is around waterfalls or snow-covered mountains (or melting-snow covered mountains). You’ll want your feet to be comfortable and dry.
  11. A decent camera. I don’t think I need to explain why.

In the end, just remember where you’re going: a cold place that’s more expensive than home with a lot of breathtaking things to see. Be sure you prepare yourself to see it!

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Spy Rock

Spy Rock, Massies Mill, VA 22976

Here’s one picture of Spy Rock for you to look at. I’ve been there once, completely forgot to take more pictures, and now you’ll just have to wonder about the view, the hike, and if it’s worthwhile or not. (Hint: it’s worth it. I remember loving this hike because the summit is so different. It wasn’t busy whatsoever when I went.)

Maybe I’ll go again, maybe I won’t. (Hint: I probably will.)

ICELAND

Where to begin?

Yes, it’s cold. Yes, there’s ice. Yes, they speak English (as well as Icelandic). Yes, some of the natives probably believe in trolls (I might, too, if I grew up there. You’ll have to go to understand why).

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Iceland is a volcanic island rich with waterfalls, caves, sheep, and fish jerky. They drive on the right side of the road, don’t really care about customer service, and close the roads when it snows instead of wildly salting and plowing them.

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Black sand beaches, reindeer sightings, hot dogs (or pizza, which is actually their current craze), craters, hot shower water, and breathtaking views. Iceland does not disappoint.

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With a rising population at a modest 334,200, 66% live in Reykjavík, the country’s capital, leaving a scarce 100,000 to be speckled about in the tiny towns throughout the country–Vik, Höfn, Ísafjörður, Selfoss, and more even harder to pronounce.

Tourism is responsible for over 30% of the country’s income.

 

I’ll be writing many posts on Iceland in the near (or far–I haven’t really decided) future, posts ranging from a focus on transportation to food tips, different sights to hiking spots, hot springs to the native language, sheep crossings to cellphone service–and probably more.

Iceland is an amazing experience and I want to talk about it. So stay tuned?

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Once, I said I’d write a follow up on Sharp Top Mountain featuring Buzzard’s Roost. I don’t really know why I didn’t just include Buzzard’s Roost into the Sharp Top Mountain post because it’s not like they’re two separate hikes. Or that Buzzards Roost is even a hike…

But this is me following up.

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Instructions for Buzzard’s Roost is very simple.

  1. Begin hoking Sharp Top
  2. At the top of the mountain, turn right (towards Buzzard’s Roost instead of Sharp Top)
  3. Walk 600 feet
  4. Climb to the top of Buzzards Roost

That’s about it!

Sharp Top is incredibly impressive, so I suppose I understand why people would skip Buzzard’s Roost (they’re going to another cool place, duh), but I wouldn’t skip it. To me, it’s two really lovely views for the price of one upward climb. Why would you skip it?

Beware of the wind and don’t climb to the top if you don’t know how to climb rocks. But don’t skip it. Walking 600 feet really isn’t all that far.

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