More Excellent Adventures: Tripping Together

It’s a big risk taking a trip together. For some couples (as we both know) planning a trip, packing to leave, and spending 10+ days in close company can expose real differences in a relationship. It can be brutal. But it can, as was the case with us, show how compatible you are with someone, and how the other’s strengths can make the trip a lot better.

My job was to plan, and hers was to organize. I’m just not that organized overall (hence the distractible description). I tend to pack last minute and perhaps forget things, but as long as I have my wallet, I can always buy more stuff. Beth…she started packing 3 weeks before the trip and made sure I had rain pants, bug netting, and warm underwear (each of which came in quite handy). I, on the other hand, like to dream about the trip, find all the possibilities, and choose which way we are going. I am a professional decision-maker (it’s what doctors do), so while I try to make the best decision possible, I don’t linger over things very long. It stresses Beth out to be in charge of those decisions (although she often has great suggestions and input). It worked out great: she is relaxed when she has things organized, and I am happy when I can dream and plan.

Pre-Trip Details

The Flight

In planning the trip, the first important thing to decide is where to go. This decision was easy, as we both had this on our bucket list, and I found us some low-priced airfare. I shop for flights using Google and I always make sure I check all area airports for their prices. Usually, the big hubs (Atlanta and Charlotte around here) are the cheapest. But it turned out that the cheapest flights to Iceland were (drumroll please) out of Columbia (yeah, I know), which was about $200 cheaper per person than the flights from the hubs. Don’t forget to add in the fact that parking is way cheaper in smaller airports, and even cheaper if Beth’s son Jack drives you and picks you up from the airport (which I’m sure he’d do for any of you). Jack’s a nice dude.

Transportation Options

There are a number of options to experience Iceland once you get there, each with its strengths and weaknesses. The first option that caught our fancy was actually a smaller cruise ship that took you around the island. This option was appealing because it’s way simpler: meals, transportation, and lodging are all included in a single swipe. This was a pretty nice ship, and the price didn’t seem that bad. But the more we looked into it, the less we wanted to do it. The beauty of Iceland is the land, not the water around it. To experience the inland we wanted to see, we would have to pay extra for inland excursions. These added up, and at the price it just didn’t seem worth it.

A second option (which we did not at all consider) was to go on a guided tour. There are lots of these in Iceland, many of which focus on the “Golden Circle” (attractions around Reykjavik) and southern Iceland, but some which do the whole Ring Road. We ran into a lot of these tours on our trip, and I get the appeal: you have an expert to find you the “best of the best” and give you inside information that you otherwise might not get. Also, you don’t have to plan meals, lodging, and other itinerary items, which can be difficult. But one of the appealing features of Iceland is its wildness, the open roads (many of which you are more likely to see sheep than other cars), the ability to enjoy the beauty outside of a crowd of people. I was glad Beth didn’t see this as appealing. She likes to plan, she likes order, but she doesn’t like to lose autonomy. Yay Beth!

The last two options were a harder choice: Car vs. Camper

Iceland is awash in campers and camper vans. It’s a veritable Cornu-Camper-ia. Kind of a weird mental image, but you get the idea: lots of folks travel around the country in a van or a bigger camper (we saw few big RV’s though). There are a bunch of companies that supply them, many of which had interesting (and humorous) decorations.

The appeal of camper vans is the absolute freedom to spend however much time at each place, letting you have autonomy to explore and discover without worrying about getting to your next lodging. We’ve several friends who chose this option, and perhaps we’ll do it in the future. But this was our honeymoon…and something about sleeping in the back of a van and not being sure about showers and bathrooms…just didn’t feel right for this vacation. It is tempting, though, and apparently the towns throughout the country are very camper friendly.

We chose to rent a car and book hotels/AirBNB’s around the way. We found a number of websites detailing Ring Road itineraries of varying lengths. We read up on them, making the life-altering choice of clockwise versus counter-clockwise, and decided on Rick Steves’ itinerary as our base plan. We bought the book, which was actually quite useful in giving us a blow-by blow description of what we’ll encounter on the road, and alerting us to off-the-beaten path things we otherwise would’ve missed. Rick recommends clockwise, and that made our rule-following hearts go pitter patter.

I found a reasonable car rental, and we didn’t start our rental until day 3 (after taking tours in Reykjavik on days 1 and 2), to save us a little.

We booked some AirBNB’s that looked nice (and really lived up to their descriptions), as well as a few hotels when BNB’s weren’t as easy to find. Our travel credit card (Venture X) gives a ton of points for booking through their website, and the prices weren’t lower elsewhere.

We were happy everywhere we stayed. And happy with clockwise.

Tours

While we valued our independence, and sometimes (with understood hypocrisy) complained about “those tourists” from tour busses, we did not do everything independently. Our first tour was a “Foodie” tour in Reykjavik that got all sorts of good reviews. Our thought was to book it on the day our flight arrived, because we probably would be tired and want some guidance along the way. This tour did not disappoint. The guide was engaging and knowledgable, and the food…it was amazing.

Now, don’t get the idea that native Icelandic food is magical and delicious (like Lucky Charms). Not many edible things, plant or animal, thrive in the cold of Iceland. Fish, sheep, horse, and potatoes are the main native foods people lived on for many years (with very few seasonings). I mean, these are the folks who got so desperately hungry that they figured out a way to ferment poisonous shark meat and eat it (despite it tasting like ammonia). This is also the country that made it legal to buy beer in 1989 (I know, there should be someone in government who did jail time for that). But this tour gave a very good variety of different foods (and beer, thankfully) that made us very happy on our first evening in the land of ice and fire. And we met some very nice people (despite them being “those tourists”).

We booked this tour ahead of time, so we wouldn’t have to do much thinking on the first day there. We also booked these other tours (which I’ll discuss in future posts):

  • A Golden Circle tour
  • Whale Watching
  • Glacier Lagoon zodiac boat ride
  • Hike on a glacier

We had the option of cancelling all of the tours up to 24 hours ahead of time, but thankfully never had to exercise this option. Each tour was worth what we paid.

Structure vs Freedom

For us, the perfect balance was to have structure and freedom. We wanted a plan, but also wanted to be able to change that plan if something seemed interesting. We ate some meals in restaurants, but mostly ate food we bought from the local grocery store, Bonus. It’s the supermarket with the smirking pig. It’s not cheap to buy food there, but way cheaper than eating out.

So we drove our little Romanian car around the island, went to Bonus, and explored together. And we didn’t fight at all. I appreciated her making sure I was wearing warm socks and making yummy sandwiches. She appreciated that she didn’t have to do planning. It worked wonderfully. It was kind of amazing to both of us, actually.

And I got a t-shirt with a smirking pig on it. I think it’s rolling its eyes at me.

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