Planning a trip abroad doesn’t have to be complicated anymore, it can be as easy as that special trip “up north” we Michiganders love so much. Whether you’re feeling like fleeing the country to immerse yourself in another culture, finally checking off that bucket list destination of your dreams, or just simply looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Southeast Michigan, we’re here to help. With all these travel agencies, hidden fees, day tours and excursions just a click away, it can be tempting to go with the first offer you see, but more times than not it can get quite pricey. I’ll show you how I traveled to Iceland from Detroit with three of my friends, drove around the entire island country, and did everything we wanted to do for a fraction of the cost that you might think.
Where do I start?
Every time I take a trip the first thing I do is look at which dates I’d like to go then search for flights based on those dates.
TIP If you want to go somewhere in August, pick your dates and search for flights to anywhere based off those dates. Pick which destination is most within your budget (and makes you the most excited). I’ve been using skiplagged.com for a while, and it’s always the cheapest fare across all airlines.
If you don’t already know, getting to Iceland and Europe from Detroit is cheaper than ever! The Iceland based airline, Wow Air, just came to Detroit in April and offers flights at a fraction of the cost as other airlines. Think as a ‘European Spirit.’ As Wow is a budget airline, you’ll only have one personal item included with your ticket (you can get away with a backpack), so if you like to bring the kitchen sink, you’ll have to add as checked bag (don’t forget to add it for departing and returning flights). But, if you can handle slimming down on your luggage, it will be loads easier getting around the airport as well as while you’re on your trip. We decided to go to Iceland for seven days after picking our available dates and found our flight on wowair.com for $320 round-trip. If that doesn’t get you excited, see where else you can go. You’ll be surprised at how affordably you can fly with minimal baggage.
You booked your flight, now what?
You might be thinking, “Why book a flight without an itinerary? Where will I go? What will I do?” I’ve learned that all of these things can come after booking your flight as flights can vary from inexpensive to astronomical depending on the days you’re traveling. So, if you book hotels or activities without first checking the affordability of flights, you’ll get stuck with whatever the airlines are charging for those dates. So take a deep breath, the most important step is over, now you can plan your trip.
Always rent a vehicle
I always rent a vehicle when I travel because it gives me an immense amount of freedom at a reasonable cost. And by the end of the trip, that cost will be justified by avoiding taxies.
TIP I don’t stick with one search engine for car rentals (i.e., Kayak or Priceline). Take the extra moment just to search ‘affordable car rentals in… (insert destination).’ Almost always there will be a cheaper option on a third party or mom and pop site. Be careful though, as this is where you’re trading research for bucks saved, so read everything thoroughly, check customer reviews, and make sure you’re watching for automatic vs. manual transmission. We found a great company called Lagoon Car Rental (lagooncarrental.is) where we found the cheapest rate on a 4×4, diesel, manual transmission Dacia Duster mid-size SUV for seven whole days, and that came out to an affordable $408 USD. Mind you, you can split that with the rest of your traveling group. So for the four of us, it was only $102 each for the entire week. Not a bad deal!
TIP There’s a popular new app called Turo, where people rent their vehicles to others for days or even weeks (think Airbnb for cars), and most of the time it’s cheaper and less of a headache than waiting for your car at the rental counter in the airport. I found it to work flawlessly when I used it to rent a Subaru Outback for a trip to Denver, Colorado earlier this year. Pick up and drop off at the airport, no waiting in line, or getting hit with those hidden fees from the big rental companies.
Now I’ve got my car, where do I go?
You’ve booked your flight to your dream destination, you’ve got a hot set of wheels for your trip, next is the best part, planning your trip! We spent several hours booking and planning our route around the great country of Iceland after we secured our flights and vehicle. In 2018 mapping out a travel plan doesn’t have to be crazy complicated or require a travel agent and extra costs.
First, it’s always a good idea to print a map of the country or area you’re traveling to. The airport isn’t always where you’d expect, and it makes it much easier to pinpoint where your MUST DO adventures are. We knew we needed to circle the entire country along the main highway to see and do everything we wanted, and after doing some research (key to any budget-friendly trip), we found that for the days we were traveling our accommodations would be the cheapest by going counter-clockwise around the country.
We drew on the map all of the destinations we wanted, how long it takes to drive between destinations and where would make the most sense to stay the night in-between. Keeping in mind how many people you’re traveling with and what extra amenities you just can’t live without (a.k.a Wi-Fi), I recommend searching Airbnb first (often you will find spectacular one-of-a-kind accommodations at the same cost or even cheaper than a stuffy old hotel room). Next, I recommend hotels.com (once you create a free account, you earn rewards every time you book. Every ten nights equals one free night!) Keep in mind they don’t just have hotels; you can find amazing hostels, cabins, and penthouses as well! With the four of us, we ended up choosing two secluded Airbnb’s, one guesthouse on a farm, one cabin in the woods, a dorm-style hostel, and a spare apartment space. All together, that came to $950. Split four ways, that’s $238 per person and $40 a night. Not bad at all for one of the most expensive countries in Europe.
You’ve gotten all that research and booking out of the way, your flight is next week, what about cash? Depending on where your destination is, almost everywhere in the world can charge a Visa or MasterCard, but it’s not a bad idea to bring physical currency. If you belong to a big bank, you can usually utilize their currency exchange service. I had U.S money transferred into Icelandic krona and delivered to my local bank in only three days at no extra cost. It’s usually cheaper to do this at your bank before you depart, instead of at the airport where there’s no telling how much they might charge.
If you have a smartphone no older than five years or so, that has a built-in GPS you should be able to download the latest version of my favorite app, Google Maps. This map can show you right on your phone your precise location, even when you’re not connected to cellular service, because let’s face it, you’ll probably lose signal more often than not. This is the most important utility to have so you don’t get lost reading foreign signs or turned around on backcountry roads. This app also allows you to save or star any location you choose, so when you need to find that waterfall again, that good coffee shop, or, most importantly, your cabin that night, it’s saved right on your map and stays there even when you lose signal.
Eating out can easily be the most expensive part of your entire trip, and if you’re like me, eating is one of the best parts about traveling to new places. But there are some ways to keep the costs down. Go grocery shopping right when you get your rental car. I am a huge supporter of eating in the car while you travel (especially in a rental) you save big bucks when you stock up at the beginning of the trip and avoid eating out every meal, plus you’ll never go hungry! We researched the cheapest grocery store in our area and around the country, saved it in our map app, and filled the car full of quick meals and snacks to take on the go.
TIP It’s always a good idea to make sure your accommodations have use of a kitchen, that way you can save money and make your favorite meal right where you’re staying that night.
Look up the local/tradition foods at your destination, find a reasonable place that looks mouthwatering and give it a try while you’re there. The first restaurant on our journey was Pakkhús in the southern harbor city of Höfn where they’re known as the Lobster, or langoustine Capital of Iceland, where we had a generous portion of exquisite lobster with a local craft beer for around $70. So it’s also okay to splurge a little if you live for the atmosphere and fine dining experience
(I won’t tell, it’s more than worth it once in a while).
I hope I’ve inspired you to see more of Iceland than you may have thought existed, and how to travel abroad more affordably.
The D Profile