Iceland – Part 1

Here we go, the story of my adventure to Iceland.

As previously mentioned, it took a few years to get to the point of committing to Iceland. I’ll never understand why I waited. The magic and beauty of that country will forever a hold a place in my heart. I had two friends join me on the trip: Chris and Miles. I almost went alone, and will probably do it for other trips, but splitting costs is definitely advantageous.

We booked our flights through WOW Air out of LAX, which is an 8 hour drive from Salt Lake City. (Article for the airline coming soon!) The only reason why we were okay with this option, aside from the killer $360 flight deal, was because the Friday we landed, our overland truck group had a weekend trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon planned. First camp was just outside of St. George, UT… which was conveniently on the way. Two adventures. Nine days.

After booking the flight we tossed around a few ideas for camper vans. Despite being the “off” season for tourism in Iceland due to winter, this did not really make renting a camper van any cheaper. Especially from the head rental groups in Iceland like happycampers or kukucampers. Saved us maybe $100. So I kept digging. Turns out that Airbnb does camper van rentals. I had no idea! And at a MUCH more affordable cost; plus renting from a person, not a company, proved to be worth its weight in gold… err Krona (Icelandic $).

If you plan to visit Iceland in the winter months and are considering the camper van route, listen up! We got EXCEPTIONALLY lucky to snag a rental in December because I know for a fact that Airbnb camper vans hold on rentals for the winter months. Probably a combination of winter driving conditions and higher up-keep costs. All the ones we found were unavailable except for one, which coincidentally, was only available December 4 – 8,  the same week we were there. As if that wasn’t crazy enough, come to find out, the owner named Matthilda had mistakenly entered a week later on the winter shut down timeline, leaving it mistakenly available to rent, which is where we swooped in.

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Our Icelandic home on wheels

I cannot recommend Matthilda’s rental service enough. If you want to check it out, here is one of her listings. As you’ll soon discover in my story, working with an actual person from the beginning to the very end was invaluable. She answered all of our questions by email days before the trip. Plus the van was loaded with everything we could ever need, which saved massively on luggage. Everything from sleeping bags, pillows, and blankets, towels for showering and hot springs, secondary battery for on board heating, to cookware, plates and utensils, a cooler fridge and even on board WiFi (hands down, best thing you can add if traveling outside of the U.S.. More details later.) All we had to bring was clothing and camera gear. We would stock up on food from a local grocery store once we got there. I had read many blog articles that all recommend this trick and I would support this a hundred percent.

My packing list will be another article, soon to come. There were many purchases and refunds made to dial in my list.

With flight booked, camper van reservations made, clothing and gear list done, route and sites pinned on the map, we were ready. So lets begin the story.

Friday December 2, 2016

The plan was to leave by 2 p.m.. I put in some hours at work that morning while Chris and Miles went grocery shopping for snacks for the flight and freeze dried meals for Iceland. We found these inexpensive, just-add-boiling-water meals at Walmart made by a local company here in SLC. They had some good selections so we stocked up, fully intending on packing them in our checked bag. We met at Miles’ place closer to 3 p.m. and realized our checked bag was severely over the weight limit. Four sets of cameras with tripods plus the freeze dried food tipped the scale around 60 pounds. It had to be 40 pounds. Not to mention with all of that stuff the zipper barely zipped shut. Uh oh.

Due to the drive ahead of us, we decided to throw everything in the truck and deal with it in the morning before our flight. I dibbed first to drive and we hit the road around 4 p.m., an excited buzz setting the tone. Miles sat shotgun, downloading episodes of Expedition Overland for our 9 hour flight while Chris satisfied his munchies with the treats we had intended to take on the flight.

“Chris! Get your hands out of the cookie jar!”

Busted.

We refueled the truck and our bellies in St. George, Utah. We made a quick stop at Walmart to purchase earphone jack splitters with the intent to have all three of us watch XO episodes at some point. Miles was our entertainment that evening as the excitement of the trip made for some hilarious banter and shenanigans roaming the isles of the store. We were all giddy; grins from ear to ear. This made the 8 hours to LA bearable. We reviewed all the things we wanted to see,  watched a few Youtube videos, and talked about the daunting task of getting the bag under 40 pounds, which we would still put off until morning. Driving that lonesome desert between Vegas and California was not so bad in the dark. However, pulling into LA at 2 a.m. local time definitely was. I had somehow decided to remain the driver the whole leg of that drive and I was exhausted, barely able to stay awake the last 10 minutes of the freeway. We arrived at Chris’s friends place pretty late, which was a short drive from LAX. We would leave the truck with him for the week which saved us so much on airport parking fees. We dragged everything inside to deal with in the morning, I went up to the guest bedroom and was out as soon as my head hit the pillow. We discussed pulling an all-nighter to sleep on the plane but I just couldn’t do it. Miles and Chris stayed up for a while after me before also surrendering to slumber.

Saturday, December 8, 2016

7 a.m. came early but the anticipation of adventure woke us right up. Time to deal with the bag. We had to leave some gear behind, specifically a camera. I had one, Chris bought one for the trip, and Miles brought 2, having borrowed a nicer one from a friend. This made the obligation to take it evident, although I voted it off from the beginning. Since that borrowed camera and mine were both Canon we decided to leave the borrowed one behind, but I would take a lens to appease the borrower. Sorry Dante. We put some extra camera gear in our personal bags and stuffed Miles’ carry on with the freeze dried meals. The weight was still too close for comfort, but we were going to risk it.

LA traffic was not too bad for a Saturday morning. We had planned two hours extra for traffic and airport drama but arrived with no delays. We said goodbyes and into the airport we went. Next came flight and baggage check-in.

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We were all a bit nervous for this part. WOW Air is exceptionally strict on their baggage rules, which is how they get you to pay even more for such a cheap flight. We decided to stuff Miles’ bag even more, added some to mine, and started praying for a miracle. The lady behind the desk was all but thrilled to be working that day. Oh boy. I got through with no hassle; my carry on bag with all my clothes fit perfectly in the sizer they have. If it fits in the front sizer its free. The second one will cost you. Looks something like this..

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If it’s in the free category, you get a band around your item that says “You shall pass” (Pictures of Gandalf with his staff raised high ensues).

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Chris took care of the checked bag with all the camera gear. It was 2 kg over weight. Oh you’ve got to be kidding. We pulled if off the scale and started shoving other items into other bags. Weighed it again…. under weight. Phew!

Miles’ carry on was now pretty large. It fit the second sizer just fine but we had no intention of paying extra for that bag as well. In typical, goofy Miles fashion, he began stuffing his bag into the first sizer. At one point we was standing on his bag to smush it down, jumping off the bag and pointing out how it ‘fits’. The ticket lady just rolled her eyes, a smile beginning to crack on her face and exclaimed that the handle was still showing. Miles was quick to stuff that in as well, again gesturing to how it barely fits. Still shaking her head but with a smile on her face she passively asks me if he was the class clown while withdrawing the “You shall pass” band. She gives Miles the ‘okay’ on the bag, wraps the band and we are on our way, Chris and I dumbfoundedly laughing. To this day, I’m still amazed he pulled that stunt off.

Would you agree that going through airport security is an absolute nightmare? Especially through LAX. I appreciate them keeping us safe but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. We get through with freeze dried meals, but Miles is stopped for his bag of powdered Gatorade… which is white and looks suspicious. For the second amazement, he gets to keep it. We find our gate, fill up our water bottles (another trick to know!), buy some sandwiches for the plane, and before long we are boarding. There were definitely more people than I expected. Unless you purchase an assigned seat, seating is random selected when you check in. We were nowhere near each other. They assign the plane from the back of the plane forward, no first class on this flight. We got settled into our seats. I sat isle seat, close to the little common area where stewardesses restock supplies, next to a young gal, about my age, heading to France. Plane departs and we say our goodbyes to U.S. soil, even though we were about to fly literally across the entire continent in the next nine hours.

Less than an hour in and Chris and Miles are already stir-crazy, standing in the plane “common area” and looking out the door windows in the middle of the plane. I joined them and we chatted for a bit. Not too long into the flight, Miles was able to pinpoint exactly where we were… Right smack-dab over Utah, following the I-15 freeway. That was cool. The next few hours were a collage of chatting, eating, attempting to sleep, more chatting, walking the plane and so on. Luckily WOW airlines lets you stand and walk about. The three of us eventually met an Armenian with the most wild stories, his “girl friend” (who was a cute, young traveler from Mexico that he latched onto from the airport, despite being supposedly married), and a very drunk German fellow that was from California.

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The storytelling Armenian

Swapping stories and having a few laughs with this group made the next couple hours fly by… literally. It was dark at this point and most of the plane was sleeping. I had attempted to do so the last hour or so of the flight.

Sunday, December 9, 2016

Next thing we knew, we were coming in to land in Iceland at about 4:30 a.m. local time. This side of the world was fast asleep while we were still quite awake. We unboarded the plane and were herded into shuttles to take us to the airport customs area. Leaving the plane, I was immediately surprised with how NOT cold it was. Here I was expecting more arctic temperatures to greet us and was delightfully surprised to realize that Salt Lake City was much colder than Iceland, even at five in the morning.

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This is the infamous Iceland airport banner that greets you. If you have been to this airport, you know it well.

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After Chris and I grabbed a quick coffee to wake up a bit we hopped onto a bus that took us into the city of Reykjavik. We were planning to meet Matthilda at the Viking hotel to pick up the camper van at 6am and found her with no troubles at all. Excitement creeping back into our tired selfs, our second wind began kicking in. We were in freaking Iceland!! The adventure of a lifetime was about to begin.

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Notice this van looks a little different than that fist van? Find out what happens in Part 2.

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