If you follow my blog you know that I am always looking for the best travel deals. I love traveling well (not 5-star but not bunk beds in hostels either) and Airbnb is one of the best sites I know for doing that. I’ve take 8 trips in the last 12 months with Airbnb.
Yesterday I was doing some shopping on Ebay when I stumbled upon this great deal: Buy a $110 Airbnb Gift card for only $100! I went ahead and bought one but am thinking about buying several more since its basically a 10% discount for free! I’m not sure when the sale ends but I wanted to pass it along.
If you have never used Airbnb, its basically rooms or entire houses that people rent out to travelers. So you can stay in a comfortable homey environment instead of a hotel for a price that is normally much better than hotel. I use it a lot for groups of people when we all want to stay together but need a lot of room. If you’ve never used it before use my link for and extra $40 credit on your account for your first booking!!!
There are quite a few other options out there as well. I recently spent a few nights in a rustic cabin in Moab, Utah for $25/night with an external bathhouse (hot running water, heat, showers, etc) to be shared with other cabin campers. It was a cute, cozy cabin with a heater, nice bed, end table, lights, window, free parking, and a chair. The separate bathroom wasn’t far at all and kept quite clean. For the price it couldn’t be beat.
Some people enjoy using Couch Surfers. This is sort of like crashing on your friend’s couch while your in town, except with a stranger. It seems to work well for attractive women as there seem to be many young men willing to host them. My experience is limited but mostly involved emailing 7 people looking for a place without getting a single response. However, I know a number of young single women who have had positive experiences with the community and even the enjoyable spontaneous hook up.
I dislike the lack of safety checks that even Airbnb has (though Couch Surfing has worked to improve these and has a good review system in place), the lack of privacy, and the lack of establishing a means by which to ensure the availability of your stay (if your a stranger offering me a free place to crash, I can’t really get upset if you cancel last minute or stand me up).
If you have a large social media following and influence you can often get places to let you stay for free in exchange for some social media marketing or a good review. Research the place first to make sure you can in good faith give them what they are asking for. I see so many travel bloggers sharing photos on Instagram about their lovely stays at such and such a villa, and I can’t help but feel the knowledge being shared in being diluted by advertising. But if offered, I would certainly do the same while ensuring that my readers knew it was a paid endorsement so as not to be misleading.
Nepal has a lodging option called Tea Houses. These are often small hotels or rooms in people’s larger homes that may be rented by wayfarers and often include meals or have a restaurant associated. During off-season you can sometimes stay for free if you buy your meals from the owner. A private room may only cost your $10, but if probably won’t have hot running water or a private bath. Certainly an adventurous way of travel that I intend to use in the near future.
Airbnb is a similar concept to staying with friends and family except you are staying with strangers. You can often get the whole place to yourself which is a huge plus. Prices are economical especially if you look hard enough. I recently stayed in a lofted apartment in Austin Texas, 2 miles from downtown, with free parking, for $50/night. Since this was split between two people, it was right at my $25/night budget and extremely private and convenient. I have rented shared spaces for even less.
There are basically 3 types of Airbnb options, shared spaces, private rooms, and entire dwellings. Shared spaces are most like hostels. Maybe a couch, a shared bedroom, or some other public room in the house. You will probably share the bathroom with at least one other person and hopefully get a share of the kitchen.
Private rooms allow you your own private bedroom while not necessarily guaranteeing that anything else is private. Sometimes you can find one that at least has its own bathroom giving you an equivalent to a hotel in privacy minus the sound proof walls 😉
When you rent an entire place you are taking over someone’s entire home. This may be a small loft for two people or a huge 5 bedroom house (I’ve don’t both depending on the group I’m traveling with). I planning a trip to Iceland with several other couples in a large 5 bedroom house with lots of living space, parking, hot tub, and a huge kitchen, that’s going to cost us about $35/person per night. I think that’s a steal given what we are getting. I’ve gotten private rooms in Portugal as cheap as $26/night.
Airbnb is great in the US and more expensive European countries. Its often more personal the hotel and certainly can be much more private than a hostel or staying with friends. The main drawbacks include having to work with someone else’s schedule to check in and perhaps the lack of standards the hotel industry is supposed to have.
When solo traveling, hostels may still be cheaper if you are looking for a bare bones budget, but with two or more, Airbnb is often your cheapest and best bet.
Reykjavik is the little big city. Its official population is 119,000 people with about twice that living in the surrounding towns. In the US or most of Europe this would be quite a small city; however, Reykjavik really pulls off a bigger town feel.
Almost everyone in Reykjavik speaks decent English so communication shouldn’t be an issue if you know that language.
The city is very navigable with a couple of larger roads but no real highways. There is plenty of free parking if you are willing to walk a few blocks which I always am! The city is quite walkable once you park. There are also public buses which will get you from place to place; however, they don’t come that often and were a bit hard to figure out for me.
I recommend Airbnb. I paid about $40/night to take a private room for two in an apartment. We had full range of the apartment and hardly saw the owner. Another visit we did use a hotel which was under $100/night for 3 people and included a large delicious European style breakfast. My upcoming trip I have rented a 5 bedroom house for a large group of us for about $350/night.
Food is quite expensive in Reykjavik. Going out to eat at an average restaurant that might cost $10-20/person in the US would be about double that in Iceland. However, shopping for your own food is reasonable, sometimes cheaper than the US, but still more expensive than most of Europe.
Because of this I haven’t eaten out much in Reykjavik. There are plenty of other blogs where you can learn more about the cuisine there, but if you are budget traveling like me, you may want to skip it.
Two recommendations I can make: Omnom Chocolate: got a bunch of free samples from them and loved it. Quite delicious dark homemade chocolate bars. Reykjavik Roasters makes some awesome brews. They are located in a quaint red house that really sets that perfect coffee house mood.
Shops and stuff to see:
Most of Reykjavik’s shops and restaurants are located along Laugavegur street and its side streets. Here you will find numerous bars, restaurants, locally hand made products of all sorts, clothing shops, and more. Much of it is touristy of course so prices may be a bit higher than elsewhere. We discovered some cool pottery shops and lots of wool clothing stores on our last visit.
For its size Reykjavik has amazing nightlife. Both times I visited, I took one night to go out on the town and had an amazing time. Tons of people out including many locals not just tourists. Last time I met a guy who recognized me from my Instagram where he had seen photos from my previous visit. We also met some random Icelandic guys who showed a great time, skipping the line to get into a more exclusive club. One of the most fun bars in Reykjavik is the gay bar, Kíkí Queer Bar, fun music and a great mixed crowd. We also enjoyed Lebowski Bar, Kaffibarinn, and Austur.
Because drinks are expensive in Reykjavik ($10/beer, $15/cocktail), I’d recommend a good pregame to get the night started. Drinking age is 20 and there are bouncers but they are pretty chill. Icelandic people love to drink and party (or so they have told me), and from what I’ve seen they seem to be right. Most of the bars are off that same main street with all the shops and restaurants. Just walk up and down and go bar hopping. You will have a good time!
Like most towns there are all sorts of tours including free walking tours. I’ve never done one in Reykjavik but I know that in some towns the system kind of rips off the tour guides, so make sure you tip well and maybe read up on the way the tour guides work before going on one.
Whale watching is tons of fun and a good way to enjoy the nearby natural beauty. I recommend Elding Adventures At Sea, whom I went with and quite enjoyed. They have their own museum about whales as well.
There is also a large swimming area (well lots of them but one in particular) in the city, taking full advantage of the thermal waters underneath Iceland. Every pool at this swimming park is somewhat warm and there are multiple hot tubs of various temperatures. The park is called Laugardalslaug and is open to the public.
Another popular tourist attraction is the Hallgrimskirkja, a large church deigned to resemble the natural volcanic rock formations found in Iceland. It is quite beautiful and offers a great view of the city from the top.
The best thing about Reykjavik is you can do all this stuff in just a day or two, giving you tons more time to see the rest of the nature on the Island.
How do I afford housing while I am traveling? Especially when I am usually paying rent on at least one place in the US during the same time?
One of the first places I look when friends complain about not being able to afford travel, is at how much they spend on hotels. I rarely spend more than $25/per person per night when traveling. And yet I see people who will literally spend $300/night on a weekend in LA and who can’t seem to understand how I travel so much more than they do. If I spent that much per night traveling, I honestly don’t think I could afford more than 3 weeks a year if that!
I’ll be honest, I don’t need anything super fancy when I travel. I don’t find that the return on investment is usually worth it. Most of the things I want to do don’t involve the place I am lodging in. I’m not one to spend hours relaxing at a resort.
But I also like my privacy. I’ve done the bunk beds. I’ve done the couches. They work for a time. But they aren’t my favorite option. I prefer a bit of relatively clean place to unwind at the end of the night.
Thus most of my suggestions focus on this niche: people who want to travel economically, who want some privacy, who want something clean, but nothing fancy, nothing over the top, no extra champagne perks if you will.
There are basically five ways to stay when traveling: hotels, hostels, Airbnb, Camping, and with friends or family. If course there are more which I will briefly cover, but these are the primary ones that I use. Let me explain how I use each one to its fullest potential in the following articles which I will post over the next few weeks! Stay tuned 🙂
My last three posts (part 1, part 2, and part 3) covered the basics about traveling to Iceland from how to get there to what to eat. Go read those if you haven’t yet 🙂
Quick pro-travel tip: Use Airbnb to book and save money while contributing to local economy and meeting amazing new people. My link will give you $35 off your first booking 🙂
Now I want to talk about the very best part of Iceland: the natural wonders. Iceland, is pack with waterfalls, glaciers, mountains, rivers, beaches, and wildlife. If you had a week to drive around the island what would you not want to miss?
Let me start by simply describing (with photos) some of my favorites spots in the country. In the future (if I am motivated enough), I may actually write a day-by-day blog describing how to drive the Ring Road and see most of Iceland’s most beautiful scenery in 7 days. Each destination is linked to the Google Maps location!
Godafoss in located just off the Ring Road on the river Skjálfandafljót and boasts crystal clear blue glacier water and plenty of spots for epic shots. The clouds were perfect on my visit last summer, however, a dirty lens ruined most of my photos. This shot is from the lower section which is smaller but still beautiful. While still quite touristy, this waterfall feels more isolated than the more popular Gullfoss in the southern part of the country.
Kirkjufell is perhaps that most famous and certainly most photographed mountain in Iceland. It is a beautiful cone shaped peak located on the north side of the stunning peninsula called Snæfellsjökull which is in and of itself well worth the visit.
This small mountain is actually climbable via a small goat trail that wraps around the mountain. However, this is no easy day hike. At spots old ropes wrapped around large boulders are your main support as you scale 10 meter cliffs on your way to the top. The trail is also hard to find and parking is limited.
A larger parking area is right across from the mountain by the picturesque waterfall Kirkjufellfoss which is pictured above with the mountain in the background. This is a fun and easy waterfall to climb around and get some impressive shots of both the mountain and the falls.
This spot is a small canyon with a hiking trail along the rim and some spectacular waterfalls. However, the most beautiful spots are in the canyon itself. To get there you must be willing to wade through some ice cold water which is up to your knees even during the summer. The views are well worth it!
This Geyser is so famous they simply named it Geysir! Beautiful, hot, blue water erupts every 5-15 minutes from this renowned spot in the Golden Circle. Less than an hour from Reykjavik, this touristy spot is worth the crowds.
Pingvellir is where the North American and European tectonic plates meet and are separating slowly every year. A large lake, waterfalls, and clear deep water, make this spot a must see. There are areas where you can literally straddle two continents with crystal clear water beneath you (see my jump in the photo above). The water is so clear that people often go snorkeling and scuba diving here.
Check back for more must see spots in Iceland soon.