Most travelers are never truly prepared for a new destination. From the wrong clothes to awkward interactions with locals, no trip is flawless, but reading up on your destinations can help for a smooth transition. The mysterious Iceland, the land of fire and ice, is a place of wonder that attracts travelers from around the world. However, it is isn’t your run of the mill vacations. The unique culture, tricky language and unforgiving terrain are just a few of the challenged travelers face. As we made our way around the entire island, we encountered a few things we didn’t expect. If you are going to travel to Iceland, here are a few things to keep in mind as you explore this breathtaking country.

Look Up At The Night Sky

things to know before iceland

Typically the northern lights occur between October and March, but they have been seen as late as August. These magnificent displays of color occur when gaseous particles from the Earth and the sun collide with each other. The colors depends on which specific gases are interacting. This beautiful display is just one of the amazing sights in Iceland, and if you have a cloudless night be sure to go outside to periodically check and see if you can see them.

Bring Your Credit Card

I didn’t find any place that didn’t take a credit card, even cab drivers take cards. It makes it convenient and less of a hassle than trying to exchange money. Be sure to check the exchange rate before you go so you have an idea of what you will be charged with each transaction. Also, don’t forget to contact your credit card company before you leave and make them aware of your travels so you don’t get your card turned off while you are traveling.  

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Be Ready To Spend Some Money

things to know before iceland

While you have your credit card out, make sure you have plenty available on your line of credit. Basic necessities from snacks and souvenirs to meals will be more expensive than what you might be used to paying. Be ready to fork over more than you think for anything you buy.

Always Have A Map

Always have a paper map. If you are driving yourself around, always have a physical map just in case your GPS fails. Iceland is not the place you want to get lost. The are miles of nothing but lava fields and not many landmarks to help you figure out where you are going.

Don’t Get Pulled Over

If you are driving a rented car, familiarize yourself with the street signs (most are pretty self-explanatory), and obey speed limits. It may be tempting to drive as fast as you want on the large open roads, but there are in fact cops, even though it may sometimes seem like you are the only person in the world. We did see a few people pulled over. Also, out of the cities, most of the bridges only have enough room for one car to pass. You have pay attention to oncoming traffic as to avoid a collision on the narrow bridges.

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Drive Carefully

things to know before iceland

If you stop while driving, always pull off in a designated area. All of the roads are elevated with steep sides (that might not seem steep, but they are) in order to prevent snowdrifts across the pavement. I made the mistake of driving down what I thought to be a very small incline only to realize I couldn’t get out…After a lot of sliding and thinking I was going to roll the car, we eventually made it back onto the road. If you are there in the winter, you better know how to drive in snowstorms and icy roads. The weather can be brutal, and if you are traveling outside of the regular tourist areas, you won’t find nearby help. There are long empty stretches with nothing so you better be a self sufficient, confident driver.

You Can Pay Parking Tickets At The Bank

Ask a local about parking permits if you are parking in the city. In one larger city we parked in a designated parking lot but couldn’t find anywhere to buy a pass or pay. Thirty minutes later we had a parking ticket. If you aren’t sure, ask. If you end up with a ticket, you can pay it at any local bank.

Learn Some Local Phrases

Most people speak english so it was easy to get around, but as with any place you travel, it is always appreciated to learn at least a few local phrases. The language is a bit confusing with epic spelling and unfamiliar letters, but thank you and I am lost are always good to learn…And maybe, I need a beer, please.

Be Aware Of Cultural Customs

The Icelandic Sagas are epic stories that tell many tales of Iceland’s history. Many believe the Sagas to be true or at least partly true, and they are filled with powerful men that survived near impossible feats, sorcery, witches and trolls. Even today, many Icelanders believe in trolls, and they don’t disturb the areas where trolls are thought to live. Before you go to Iceland, learn a little about the Sagas and the interesting cultural customs. Not only is it fascinating, but it might also help you avoid offending anyone while you are there.

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