Iceland is a unique beauty.
Let me start by saying that if you can afford to stay for longer, I would highly recommend it. Iceland has endless sights to see, mountains to hike, beaches to stroll on and waterfalls to climb to the top of. This post is just geared towards those traveling from the States (Chicago) to Europe with a long layover (like I did), or those wanting a little taste of Iceland on a limited budget.
First, I flew with WOW Air. It was not sponsored at all. It's just a really good airline; new planes, friendly staff, new seats and the best prices around. $370 round-trip is the average price. Sometimes less! You just need to bring your own snacks and entertainment with you. For example, I edited on my computer and played games on my phone the entire time (when I wasn't sleeping). I'm very much into puzzle or problem-solving games where you can race against a clock. So it was between Sudoku, Crosswords, Unblock Me, Flow, and a new game I just started playing on plane rides called Disney Emoji Blitz (thanks to going to Disney a few weeks ago and my friends playing it constantly while waiting in line for the new Pandora ride at Animal Kingdom).
And for packing, make sure to just put your clothes in with your camera bag because it's cheapest to have only one bag with you on WOW air. Your jacket, jeans and boots are all that are needed daily and can stay the same. Just switch up the undergarments, sweaters, scarf, tees and beanies for different looks. And basic knowledge...always wear your chunkiest jackets and shoes when flying if you must pack multiple. And don't forget a swimsuit and a towel!
When I arrived in Iceland, Ross met me at the airport. His flight to Iceland from Scotland was even cheaper with WOW Air than mine was. Then we both flew back with EasyJet, which is another very inexpensive airline to cheaply travel around Europe.
From the airport you must either take a bus to Reykjavik to hire a rental car, or just hire one from a closer rental company. The bus could be the price of one day of a rental car, so go with something near the airport. They all usually have shuttle services even if they aren't located directly in the airport, but nearby. Lagoon Car Rental was who we went with. They have such a wide range of vehicles for different price ranges. They have an airport pick-up service with someone waiting for you when you arrive with their logo on it. Like anything, the more people you go with, splitting a rental really helps cut down on costs. Another fun fact is that Lagoon Car Rental cars come with a wireless router for you to have internet on your travels. I never needed to use it though, because one... I was barely on my phone in the short amount of time I had to cherish the scenery, but two... I have T-mobile and I had fast 3G data the entire time I was roaming around iceland at NO extra charge (and every country I've been to thus far). So good job, T-mobile! It is seriously the best phone company for those who travel often, for work or for pleasure. (not sponsored...I've been with my family using T-mobile since I had my first phone with the Snake game on it and the t-9 buttons were memorized when I was 14).
For lodging, go with a rental that has seats that can lay down, or a tent attachment that comes with it. This will also save you from any additional lodging expenses and give you the freedom to park your vehicle anywhere (legally, of course) to wake up to the most beautiful views. You can also just drive through the night to see as much of the scenery as possible and keep switching drivers if you have an automatic (so you both can drive and rest equally).
For food, we headed to a local grocery store in Reykjavik for a ramen-like meal for dinner and oatmeal for breakfast. Both meals you just had to add hot water to, and it was the perfect amount of food. And from the plane experience, we already had plenty of granola and cereal bars in our bags as snacks. Ross brought the pot to boil water and we needed to find a small gas canister to heat up the local water you use or the large bottle of water you buy. One of the locals who worked at the tourist office told us to just go to a hostel or hotel and ask for one because tourists leave them half-full, since they can't bring them on planes. So you can start there to save a few dollars... or you can just buy one to save time. They really are not too pricey and the grocery store and camping store are both walking distance from Reykjavik Coffee Roasters (the original location), which is where we grabbed two cappuccinos before setting off on our long and beautiful drive across the south side of the country.
For coffee breaks, we also brought an Aeropress so we could have some of our friend's coffee (locally roasted in Edinburgh), called Obadiah. And let me tell you, no coffee tastes better freshly ground on a cold morning in front of the bluest icebergs I've ever seen.
Also, for anyone wanting to go to the Blue Lagoon, unless you are going on your honeymoon, it can be fairly pricey for the average traveler, so bring some all natural or organic face masks and enjoy them while soaking in one of the natural hot springs all over Iceland... for free. The views are all stunning at the hot spring locations that I've seen, and you'll be surrounded by way less people. And in some locations you will have the hot spring all to yourself!
The main highway is the route we took in the southern region, as there are plenty of sights right near the road to maximize your time if you don't have very long. We were able to visit all of the places in the images below with under 24 hours of daylight and driving in the dark during the other hours. And it was all worth it.
I can't wait to go back and properly explore some more. So if you only have a little bit of time or a small budget... you can definitely visit Iceland!
Can you find the little yellow jacket roaming around? This waterfall was huge.
That pipe on the bottom left is what heated the hot spring, as well as a light hot stream running off the mountain to the left into the pool. This pool is more warm than hot...unless you hang out by the pipe...like me. :)
We, or I should say Ross, drove throughout the night for hours through intense wind and rain. It was worth it to see this as daylight arose. location - Jökulsárlón
Also, some may be amazed or not surprised, but the image above and the two images below this text were all taken by me standing in the same exact spot and just turning from side to side. location - Dyrhólaey
Just remember, when getting close to Skógafoss, the smallest gust of wind will have your whole body soaking wet. And you will have to change and your hair will be drenched like you just hopped out of the shower. Memories. So only get super close if you have a change of clothes.
Below is my "what would people on ANTM do" faces. Probably missed the mark, but the sunset on the black sand beach was the most beautiful one I've ever seen.