I've wanted to go to Iceland for so long that it's hard to remember how it started. I *think* it might have been back at some point in 2016, when we saw that Bradt were having a sale on guidebooks and took advantage of the opportunity to stock up on a selection of books for countries which we might want to visit at some point in the future. The Iceland guidebook was one of the ones we picked up, and when I started looking at the photos and reading how exciting it sounded, I was hooked. In particular, I was attracted by the idea of travelling around Iceland's so-called "Ring Road"; officially known as Route 1, this is a main road which essentially circles most of the country and passes by many of Iceland's most impressive sights.
I remember looking into the prices and finding out that there are actually some fairly cheap flights available from the UK with airlines like WowAir and Easyjet... but then realising that that is the only thing about Iceland which could even be considered slightly cheap! There was also the complication that, whilst there are various bus services for tourists, they only run during certain weeks of the year, and so the guidebook recommended renting a car as the best way to get around the Ring Road. At this point, we had never rented a car abroad before, so we didn't know whether it was something we wanted to do. In the end, I shelved the entire idea as being too difficult and expensive.
Some time passed, and we had a successful experience with hiring a car in Tenerife last year. I also spoke to a friend at work, who had travelled around Iceland in a camper-van and recommended that as a potentially more affordable option. So when we started planning our holidays for 2018, Iceland came up as an option for discussion once again. The more we looked into it, the more tempted we were to go ahead and book the flights, and in the end we ultimately did But there were a lot of decisions to make along the way; I don't think I've ever been on a holiday which has required this amount of research and planning!
First of all - when to go? Iceland never really has anything which could be described as "good" weather, but the best is normally during six weeks in July/August. Those weeks therefore automatically become the busiest and most expensive weeks to travel across the country, so I soon discovered that we could save a significant amount of money by travelling in the shoulder seasons of June/September/October instead. We decided that we wanted to go to the Azores in June in order to try and avoid as much rain as possible there, so we debated for a while between September and October for Iceland. I went for September in the end, on the basis that the weather in October seemed more unpredictable and it sounds like when the weather is bad in Iceland, it can be really, really bad. The winds can be so strong that they blow the door off your car if you park it in the wrong direction (and there isn't any insurance you can take out that will cover the resulting damage!). It can also start to snow in October, and we definitely didn't want to find ourselves in a scenario like the one in the Icelandic TV series 'Trapped'.
Despite the fact that in theory there are cheap flights available for Iceland, we didn't manage to find them for the dates we wanted in September, and ended up booking with Icelandair from Heathrow, which cost £220 each return. That did include a baggage allowance of 23kg each though, and the flights aren't at anti-social times. Some of the cheapest flights I'd seen with other airlines involved arriving very late at night.
Once we'd decided when we were going, we had to decide whether to rent a camper-van or a car. The vans are more expensive up front, but you are paying for your transport and accommodation all in one. I researched various companies and spent a considerable amount of time watching videos of different types of van. Something like this would have cost about €200/day for the dates we were looking at, but would have been pretty cramped if we'd fallen out
The thing which really drives up the cost of hiring any vehicle in Iceland is the insurance. The more I researched it, the more I became familiar with a whole host of abbreviations including GP (Gravel Protection), TI (Tyre Insurance) and SADW (Sand and Ash Damage Waiver - it covers damage to the car caused by a sandstorm or ash from a volcanic eruption!). When I eventually moved on to looking at car hire, I found some websites where the cost insuring the car was actually bigger than the cost of hiring it.
Somewhat horrified by the coffin-like nature of some of the camper-vans, Tim joined in with the research at this point too, and we reached a particular low point when he suggested we rent one of these, which basically was a car with a tent on the roof! I like saving money as much as anyone, but there was definitely no way I was going to be climbing a ladder to sleep on top of a car
Part of the difficulty with the research was knowing how many days we needed to hire a vehicle for, ie. how many days we would need to drive around the Ring Road, as this obviously impacted quite a bit on the cost. The total length of the road is 828 miles, which one the one hand doesn't sound like that much, but then the object of the exercise is not to drive round it as quickly as possible, but to visit all sorts of things along the way. A lot of things I had read recommended that you would need a minimum of 7 days to enjoy the trip properly.
I decided to plan out what our potential route would be and how much ground we could reasonably cover in a day. This became a bit easier when Tim bought me a helpful Valentines' Day present
The book made things a lot clearer and we settled on needing eight days of vehicle-hire. Once I started looking at car hire, I found we could rent a small car, including all possible insurances, for around £520. While that's more expensive than what we paid in the Azores, it didn't actually seem that bad. The question was whether I could find accommodation around the Ring Road which would more or less equate to what we had been planning to spend on a van...
It took a significant amount of time on booking.com, but in the end I managed it, ending up with a collection of hotel rooms ranging from about £90 - £145 per night. This is way, way more than we normally spend on accommodation when we go on holiday, and the rooms we're getting for it are going to be somewhat smaller than what we're used to, but they will at least be more spacious than the back of a van!
Finally, everything was booked and sorted and I felt like I'd planned for every eventuality. That's where I was wrong A few days before we were due to travel Tim unfortunately lost his wallet, which contained not only the credit card we were supposed to pay for the hire car on, but also his driving licence There was a considerable amount of stress - and some points where I thought we were going to have to abandon the entire trip - but in the end he managed to get in touch with the car rental company, and they confirmed that they could accept an online version of his licence from the DVLA website and payment on my credit card.
Phew! It looks like our trip around Iceland will be happening after all