At some point during the last few months of my RTW trip planning, I was having dinner at my parents’ and my mom finally “got it.” We had actually let the conversation lapse from my travel plans for once, but suddenly she looked up and said to me, “This trip is like your baby.”
Planning a trip to the Land of Ice and Fire? Reykjavik is a great city for creative professionals, provided it’s in your budget. Iceland is a photographer’s dream and the capital city is teeming with cozy cafes where plugging in and getting a little digital nomad work done is a breeze.
I couldn’t have been in Reykjavik for more than two hours before I was mistaken for a local. A tourist in his late 20s to early 30s wandered past the duck pond I happened to be sitting by, and started waving his smartphone around and peppering me with fragmented questions.
Iceland’s certainly never going to be known as a budget travel destination, but I think I did alright for my first week of long-term travel.
Flight on Wow Air $215
Extra carry-on baggage allowance $40
Round-trip transfer from airport to Reykjavik $42.76
5 nights in a 14-bed dorm at Hlemmur Square $219.96
1 week’s worth groceries at Bonus $18.63
2 dinners at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur $7.25
2 lunches at Laundromat Cafe $28.61
1 dinner at Noodle Station $7.23
1 insanely overpriced sandwich at Primus Kaffi $26
Hallgrimskirkja tower admission $7.30
Wonders of Snaefellsnes tour with Reykjavik Excursions $153.93
Geysir, Gullfoss & Thingvellir tour with Reykjavik Excursions $73.24
Coke at a gas station $2.28
extra AA batteries $3.74
Average Spent Per Day $140.98
This is an especially high total because it includes my transatlantic flight, and a couple splurges on day tours, which I don’t normally take.
How I Saved
- Flying on Wow Air
- Wow Air is a budget airline, which to most Americans probably sounds like an oxymoron. Boyfriend has quite aptly dubbed it “flying a la carte.” You start with a super-low airfare. Want to check a bag? There’s a charge for that. Want to have a drink or watch a movie on the flight? There’s a charge for that. Manage your flight smartly, and you save a buttload of cash.
- Staying in a large dorm
- As an introvert, I pretty much never stay in anything larger than a 6 or maybe 8 bed dorm, so I was dreading the 14 beds at my room in Hlemmur Square. Fortunately, the hostel’s dorms are quite large and laid out so all the bunks aren’t in the same area, so I got to pay roughly $40 a night for a comfortable space.
- While I should have visited earlier in my trip, I did eventually make it to Bonus, Iceland’s discount supermarket, and so was able to cook roughly half of my meals.This made a huge difference! For less than $20, I picked up a pound of pasta, a jar of tomato sauce, a large bag of salad greens, a cucumber, a pint of cherry tomatoes, and several road trip snacks.
- Doing tons of research
- I spent an entire day holed up in a cafe researching day tours, partly for a writing assignment, partly for my own benefit. I looked not necessarily for the cheapest tours, but for the best values. My research really paid off when one of the tours I booked failed to pick me up at the appointed time and I had to come up with a Plan B on the spot.
- Staying out of museums
- Since I knew I wanted to take day tours to be able to explore the surrounding countryside, I made sure the things I did in Reykjavik had free admission. Spots like the National Museum of Iceland, the Saga Museum, and the Settlement Exhibition all have ticket prices in the $10 to $20 range, which can add up quickly.
- Not drinking
- The tax on alcohol in Iceland is approximately a floppity jillion percent. It is so high I had to make up a new number for it. Icelanders typically stock up on booze duty free at the airport, or pick up a slightly less expensive bottle at the liquor store and pre-game before going out. Taking a pass on Reykjavik’s famed djammid nightlife freed up at least enough to cover my hostel bed for a fifth night.
So far, I’m still under budget for July, but the month is young, and I did spend more in some areas than I originally planned. I’ll have to be vigilant in my next stop: Barcelona.
I’m pretty careful to avoid treating my RTW trip as an escape. Its seeds had been planted long before I even started the position I’ve just left behind. When I decided to bite the bullet and really make things happen, my situation even started to look up. Taking this adventure has always been more, and would always have happened, no matter my life circumstances.
But damn if it isn’t extra satisfying now.
Yes, that’s over 250 outfit options from fewer than 20 pieces. On my flight out to Iceland, my seatmate couldn’t believe the backpack I slid into our overhead bin was my only piece of luggage. And I have to admit, breezing straight past the baggage claim crowd at Keflavik as all those red-eye flights poured in felt really good.
I’ve spent months upon months finely tuning my packing list to balance traveling light, covering multiple seasons, and staying at least semi-fashionable part of the time. You can decide for yourself whether that’s an art or a science – I’m just happy to lead by example.
Many moons ago, a former boss returned from a family vacation with tales of kids who craved salads for dinner and inhaled celery sticks and sugar snap peas by the gallon at snacktime. They had spent an entire week indulging themselves with meals out to the point that they wanted something fresh, healthy, and homemade. Consider that one of those “Everything I need to know, I learned in kindergarten” moments.
If a six-year-old can crave green things after just a week, I probably will too.
For the vast majority of my RTW planning, spending a month in Istanbul has been one of my biggest safety worries. That concern was slightly mitigated by the fact that ISIS activity was primarily in other regions of Turkey. Keeping an eye on the news and state department warnings would be enough to assess the capital’s safety, and if I felt uncomfortable as October approached, I would simply re-route.
In the wake of attacks on both Istanbul and Brussels, however, I can’t help feeling naive. Reading the news and making a judgment call on a single city in my year-long itinerary isn’t enough. Because nothing is enough. Terrorism is a worldwide threat. Did anyone in Brussels expect to be caught in that nightmare? Of course not. No one ever could. Days like this will always catch us by surprise, on some level.
So what do we do? What do I do, when nowhere in the world is safe and I still can’t wait to be out in that world?
I’ve spent months refining my packing list. Back in September, I used the prize money from a photography contest to stock up on the essentials, but thanks to the generosity of friends and relatives and a few fortunate turns in my budget, a lot of items on my backpacking B-list (stuff I’d love to have with me but don’t necessarily need) have been fulfilled. And I’ve also now had time to do packing test runs and think more about what I really want to take on the road.
So how has my packing list changed?
While I’ve alluded to various aspects of my budget during my RTW planning, like what I’ll spend on flights and how I’ll save, it occurred to me that I’ve never broken down my full plan. And it’s best to stay accountable, no? So read on for how I’ll travel all year with less than $25,000.
This week is an important milestone in my RTW trip planning: I bought a one-way plane ticket. (And it was under budget, to boot!)
With my departure now secured and less than four months away, those milestones will only become more numerous and more frequent, and it will easy for me to stay motivated. But when I first learned about long-term travel, it was a few years that stood between me and that dream, not a few months, and motivation was a little harder to come by. The typical travel blog platitudes designed to sell e-books and blogging courses never really resonated with me. Vagabonding did.