So you looked up from your desk yesterday and realized that summer is almost over and you never really went on that trip you wanted to go on. Fear not! In reality summer isn’t always the best time to go to a lot of the places on your list (too hot, too crowded, too expensive) and planning a trip now for sometime in September or early October might actually be a better idea.
Iceland, for instance, is obviously at it’s warmest in the middle of the summer, but we were there on a reconnaissance mission in early August and it was still only 60 degrees out! So why even think of it as a summer vacation when that’s what everyone else is doing, which means you’re in Reykjavik sleeping in a 3rd tier AirBnB at New York hotel prices.
That’s why you should be booking your trip to Iceland now, to arrive there in a month or so. In the summer there’s 20 hours of sunlight a day which means you can’t see the Northern Lights, one of the coolest natural phenomena, and one you’re only going to see from a few places on earth, Iceland being probably the funnest.
Northern Lights season starts in September and goes until about mid-April, which means late September or early October is one of the best times to go, because you can see the Lights and not freeze to death doing it like you would if you go in January or February.
OK, so now that that’s settled, here’s the thing, and it’s almost like a mantra you’ll hear for this trip from everyone you know that’s taken it: Iceland is crazy expensive. Because of that you’re going to want to get there as cheaply as possible. So here’s our guide to surviving your flight on WOW Air, the new kid on the block discount airline that will get you there and back for less than $300 bucks.
BEFORE YOU GO
Subscribe to the WOW newsletter. The whole point of going on a discount airline is to get a brag-worthy price on your tickets. Our VH mission left out of Toronto, direct to Reykjavik, and our tickets were $240 CAD round trip, taxes and fees included. That’s $185 USD! We got those tickets not by buying online the day we decided to go to Iceland, but by playing the waiting game, reading their weekly email, and jumping on it when they offered a price that was too good to turn down.
Seat Auction. Alright, so you’ve got your cheap ass tickets. You’re set. But if you want a little more space for your 6 hour flight, you’ve got a chance to change your mind. A week before your flight you’ll get an email offering you the option to bid on an upgraded seat. Not just buy one, but bid on one. That means if you’re flying with a plane full of cheapskates you have a very good chance of landing yourself further up in the plane with some room to stretch out for only a few extra bucks each way. Even if you’re not a giant, bid 10 or 20 bucks on a big boy seat and see if you get lucky.
Luggage restrictions. Wow is a real bastard for the luggage restrictions. Really. Included with your base fare ticket is one “personal item” with size restrictions of 17 x 13 x 10 inches. Missing that size cut off is going to cost you $30 USD each way to upgrade your bag.
Our flight at Toronto Pearson wasn’t allowed to check in online or with the kiosks at the airport, meaning everyone had to check in face to face with a WOW staffer. While the lineup was mildly annoying, our conspiracy minded brains figured that they might do it that way to be able to check everyone’s baggage allowance. We travelled 5 deep and two people got banged for having bags that were, really, I swear, only slightly too big. An extra reminder that if you like taking home souvenirs, especially the famous chunky Icelandic wool sweaters, you’re gonna have a bigger bag on the way home.
We travelled for a 10 day trip with the Topo Designs Y-Pack and had no problem with the baggage police. We also really like the Timbuk2 Blink backpack, which is a clamshell bag, meaning the front of the bag opens all the way up, which is great for digging a fresh pair of socks out of the bottom.
Eat before you depart. Whether it’s at home or even at the airport, you’re going to have a much better meal if you eat before you’re on the plane. While that pretty much goes without saying for most flights these days, WOW is definitely leading the pack as far as the category of cuisine known as “stuff you can cook in your dorm room without getting in trouble.” Offerings on our flight included cup ‘o’ noodle instant ramen type deals and a pizza described in the actual menu as, “Cheese on bread. For an airline pizza it’s pretty decent.” While loading up on overpriced airport beer we took down a surprisingly good and reasonably priced margarita pizza which kept us satisfied.
Gulls. A lot of WOW flights are overnighters or at strange hours. Our flight to Reykjavik left at 7PM EST, which doesn’t seem too back until you add the 4 timezones to the 6 hours of travel time, which meant we arrived at 6AM, and so, had somehow flown “overnight” on a “red eye” without ever getting tired or sleeping. Now there are many ways to deal with this sort of mind trickery, but the Vagabond Heart recommended model is to drink heartily. On the plane they offer a couple of local Icelandic brews. We suggest the 2 cans of Gull for $11.99 USD. Gull is a delicious, easy drinking beer. I heard it described at a pub as the Budweiser of Iceland. Drinking cans of Gull on the airplane will acclimate you pub life in Reykjavik. Enjoy them, but most of all enjoy the price. This will be the cheapest beer you drink during your entire stay.
Which brings us to Duty Free. Normally people buy something at the Duty Free at the airport on the way home from a trip. Maybe a bottle of Johnny Walker or a carton of smokes tax free, or maybe you’re bored and so you buy a pair of sunglasses or some perfume that you could have bought at home for basically the same price. Not in Iceland though! Here’s that mantra again, Iceland is crazy expensive. The nice thing is the Reykjavik airport allows you to buy Duty Free on your way into the country. This means you can grab a bottle of bourbon on your way to pick up your bag at the carousel, and use it to augment your evenings while cutting down on your bar tab. Think it sounds tacky? Take a look in the Duty Free as you go by. Literally every flight attendant on their way home from work is stopping by and grabbing something, because the locals know: This is the best deal in town.
Blue Lagoon. Sure the Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s most famous tourist site. And yeah, depending on your personal preference, there might be a better geothermal spa for you (while the Blue Lagoon is definitely a high end experience, we also visited Secret Lagoon Hot Spring which was a similar watering hole for 1/4 the price, and Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River which was free, though there was a hike involved.). But the location of the Blue Lagoon, directly between the airport and Reykjavik, means that it’s almost a must see. We booked (book in advance! For real!) ourselves in for 8AM, right when they opened, as a way to unwind and stretch out after our 6 hour overnight flight. We shuttled to the Lagoon, where we spent the next 4 hours soaking and floating, napping, and just generally feeling like we’d made an excellent decision in coming to Iceland. At noon our hotel was ready, and we took the shuttle in to the city, ready to explore.
ON THE WAY HOME
BONUS Bag. So you’re heading home and you’re totally broke because, your friends were right, Iceland is crazy expensive. For a cute souvenir stop by BONUS (you’ve definitely at this point gone to BONUS to grab some cheap snacks) and pick up one of their reusable grocery bags. They’re bright yellow, and feature and image of what we can only describe as a drunk pig. This will set you back about twenty five cents, and will start more conversations than an overpriced brick of smoked fish or a bottle of rank bitters that will sit on your booze shelf for the next 4 years untouched.
Iceland Patch. While you’re in the mood for a well priced souvenir don’t forget to get yourself one of our Iceland iron on patches for your (very appropriately sized) backpack or our Iceland stickers for your hard sided suitcase. Both are available with free shipping worldwide at www.VagabondHeart.co