November 21, 2016

Car Hire In Iceland - Idiot's Guide To Car Rental

Our recent adventure to Iceland seen us make a difficult decision on how we were going to explore this amazing island.. Fork out $$$ for boring tour buses or take the plunge and hire our very first rental car. Thankfully, we chose the later and today I'm sharing my two pence on how we went from idiot to savvy in everything car-hire-101 and why you need to know this if you're hiring a car in Iceland...

If you want to experience the true Iceland, you need a car. Yes, tour buses are effective and get you to the things you want to see, but having a rental car allows you the freedom to travel this beautiful island in your own personal and unique way - your own company, the freedom to stop at every possible photo opp, the freedom of however long you want at each new amazing place and the comfort of personal space for hours on end of driving each day.

We experienced one guided tour for The Northern Lights, and although enjoyable to be taught about the myths and legends of the Northern Lights in Iceland and Nordic countries, the exceptionally limited leg room and irritating company of loud and over-enthusiastic fellow travelers took some enjoyment from the trip. The very thought of spending 7-8 hours a day for the whole of our trip in this style made me thank my stars we thought carefully about our adventure. So if you are wise enough to hire a car, make sure you've got all of this advise on board before you do.

We used to find and book our car. This website made everything extremely easy - we entered our trip and driver details and available cars appeared in order of price. Bingo.

I also want to quickly mention that the minimum age for car rental in Iceland is 20, a year younger than most other European countries. So don't rule yourself out if you think you're too young!

For Iceland, cars range from small vehicles to SUV's. A small and cheap car will do the job for this trip for most of the year, but perhaps check out details of road conditions in Iceland's deep winter months, as a smaller car may not be the best mode of transport for the islands inches of ice and snow, A 4X4 or SUV might be more the style for Winter months.

Originally we booked for a "small car", the cheapest of the range of vehicles available, but on arrival we were upgraded to a "medium car", a Hyundai i30. This was both a blessing and a curse - a blessing in that a "small car" might have been a little too uncomfortable for the 8/9 hours of driving we were tackling each day, so a slightly bigger car made the journeys a little quicker and smoother.
However our upgrade meant we were given an automatic car. This again, was another bitter sweet moment. For Scott's first time driving on the right side of the road having an automatic car was a blessing, meaning Scott could focus on keeping us between the hedges rather than controlling a foreign gear box. Although, when Iceland presented hills which were honestly almost vertical upwards, we chugged our way up those hills. Not cool.

Booking A Rental Car - The Ins and Outs
To book a rental car you will need a credit card. This was Scott and I's first experience of car rental, so thankfully Scott's parents were on hand to help us, who, in my eyes, know car rental like the back of their hands, so all of the information you are about to indulge in, comes only from experience...

The short of needing a credit card for car rental is as follows:
> You will need a credit car in the main drivers name.
> The credit card must have a credit limit of at least the excess of the car rental. (explained later)

To find the ideal car within your budget a couple of factors apply:
> Firstly, find a car rental price that suits your budget price per day. Check for prices.
> Check the review score of the Rental Company on www.RentalCars.Com or google reviews
> Check the excess on the car - for the most basic of cars this is usually £1600 or thereabouts.
> Preferably look for a car rental with unlimited mileage so as to ensure there are no extra hidden costs

What is excess and why does it matter?
In a nutshell car rental excess is basically a form of insurance for the hire company to ensure that if you damage the rental car or it is stolen, they have the funds from your pocket to cover the costs. Generally speaking, the higher the excess, the more luxurious the car.

Car rental companies will only accept this excess payment from a credit card, meaning you will have to obtain a credit card in the main drivers name with a minimum credit of the price of the excess of the car, plus possible fuel costs. (Explained later)

When you go to pick up your car the hire company will take a copy of your credit card, and in most situations, will reserve the credit amount of the excess from the card, meaning you will have no or little credit on your credit card (more commonly known as, your card has been "maxed out") for the duration of your hire, until the credit value is released back onto the card after the car has been returned damage free, however it can take some weeks for the credit value to clear back onto the card.

If, unfortunately, it is the case that your car is damaged or stolen, your car hire company will keep the credit value of the car rental excess that they reserved on your credit card, meaning you are now out of pocket. So, how do you cover yourself?...

So how do I insure myself? Especially if I damage my car?
So now you're wondering about insuring yourself? offer a "Full Protection" cover when checking out, meaning that you can purchase temporary fully comprehensive insurance in the case that your car is damaged or stolen. In idiot free language, this means that if you do damage your rental car or it gets stolen, and the car hire company charge you the excess fee for your car, e.g £1600 from your credit card, if you have fully comprehensive cover, will have you covered and will pick up the costs of the damages by repaying you the £1600, so you are never out of pocket. Simples.

The Final Cost
Theoretically speaking, the only payment you should make for your car hire is the upfront payment on, for example, £120 for a three day rental. This can be paid by debit or credit card.

The credit value on your credit card is "reserved" meaning you can't spend it or max it out on ASOS, but your card is never really charged for it, unless your car is damaged or stolen, in which case you're still covered if you have fully comp insurance. So even though it may seem you are paying almost £2,000 for a basic car rental, you are only ever charged the upfront cost on Rental Car, unless you don't have fully comp insurance, and I wouldn't recommend renting a car without fully comp insurance.

Covering Yourself
 Rental car companies have a famous reputation for scamming it's customers for all they're worth. So to stop yourself from suffering any additional and unnecessary costs there are a few things you have to do before you waltz off in your new wheels.

> Check your car for ANY damages - inside and out. When you find them, take photos of them and date and time stamp the photos. This is in the case that your rental company accuses you of damages that were there when you got the car, so with your photos you can prove they were, otherwise they have every opportunity to charge you your excess.

> Your rental car might come with a damages sheet, showing damages which have already occurred to the car. When you get this sheet check off the damages that are on the sheet and take a photo of it. If you find any additional damages return to the rental desk before leaving and inform them with evidence of additional damages by time stamped photographs.

> DO NOT delete the photographic evidence until the credit value has been restored onto your credit card and the rental company have signed off on the car to agree that it is damage free on return.

This can consume some time before you even get to leave the airport, but it it ensures that you don't get charged $$$$ in excess, then every minute is worth it.

Fuel Policy
When booking, we opted for a "Full to Full" policy, meaning we received the car full of fuel and returned it full of fuel. The rental car company may offer you to pay an upfront fee for fuel so you can return your car with as little fuel as you want without having to take a visit to the pump before drop off. Either way it's your choice which you choose, but we preferred the full to full policy.

Bear in mind that if you opt for full to full, like us, your company may hold an additional fee on your credit card for fuel in the case that the car is returned without a full tank of fuel. In our case this was an additional £80 on top of our excess fee that was already reserved - so your credit card value will have to be the excess fee plus a fuel excess. (Fuel excess is the cost of a full tank of fuel for your rental car with the local fuel rates).

Street Parking in Reykjavik
Luckily we found free street parking on the next street from our hotel, which we were very lucky with, although sometimes it was hard to come across a free spot. Remember that blocking an entry to a drive way or building entrance is not allowed and you can have your car towed, clamped or receive a parking ticket for doing so.

In the city centre parking is ticketed and you must pay a ticket toll with coins or card, but this is only in the case that you are lucky enough to find a spot. When we visited the city centre we parked in the Hallgrimskirkja Church car park, which (I think??) was free.. Or at least we escaped without a parking ticket...thankfully.

All in all my first experience of car rental was a positive one, and with the experience and tips I have shared here I'm hopeful it will always be this way! If you have any more questions about car hire or our experience with car hire please leave them in the comments. Also don't forget to check out my guide to Planning A Trip To Iceland and My Top Recommendations On What To Do In Iceland! If you haven't already then check out my Iceland travel diary here to see it all in action!


Things You HAVE To Do In Iceland!

I mentioned in this post how Iceland is totally having a moment right now, and I am all for it! *insert raised hand emjoi*. After my recent adventure to the land of the vikings, I've put together a top list of things you absolutely have to do while you're in Iceland... You haven't done it right if you haven't checked out these things...

First up is the Blue Lagoon. There are not enough words to describe my awe of this place, and the magical-ness of it all. In my opinion, you simply cannot visit Iceland and not take a trip to The Blue Lagoon. I advise getting "Premium" tickets, which allows speedy entry, complimentary bath robe, towel, slippers, a free drink in the Lagoon bar and an additional face mask. A little pricey but totally worth it, and the complimentary robe means you can take a while in the lounge area over-looking the Lagoon and not get frozen alive. Bonus.

Since The Blue Lagoon is so close to the airport, (around 15/20 minute drive) I recommend hitting this place up on your way to Reykjavik, instead of on your way home like most other travel blogs recommend. My reason being that when we arrived in Iceland mid-day, we could head straight to the Lagoon and spend as much time there as we wanted because we were not rushing for a flight, but also afterwards we were both very hungry, wet and cold, (Despite the free hairdryers, I didn't have much energy..), so the thought of heading back to our hotel instead of a cold and busy airport was much more appealing.

We dedicated our first full day in Iceland to The Golden Circle Tour. This we done by ourselves by hiring a rental car, although tour bus guides are also available if you prefer that option. Check out here to catch why you need a car in Iceland.

For the Golden Circle Tour we headed on road number 36 out of Reykjavik using our Maps App on our phones. Once you start on the route 36, every tourist attraction is well sign posted and extremely easy to find, and the Maps App gives a step-by-step guide to your destination.

First stop on the Golden Circle was Thingvellir National Park. We didn't stop in the National Park, but the route drives you straight through it, opening up the breath taking views of the surrounding landscape. Along the road there are a lot of photo opportunities, so be prepared to stop a couple of times in lay=bys for photo shoots and mesmerising "ohhhs" and "ahhhhs". On the far side of the park we stopped near the surroundings of a mountain which suffered a landslide, we took time to take in the view and collect volcanic rocks from the bottom of the slide. This experience, although it doesn't sound like much, was a highlight of the trip, experiencing the soft and sinking earth around the volcanic mountain and studying the structure of what was once lava.

Straight ahead is the Geysers. These natural phenomenons aren't hard to miss due to the sign posts and large volumes of water shooting into the sky infront of you. With more than a handful of geysers to see, take your time to stroll around each of them and marvel at their beauty. But don't turn your back for even a second, there's no warning for when they're about to explode. Set your camera on video mode or take a time lapse to capture the beauty of the geysers, and don't just watch it the once, stay for a while to see the geysers from a few angles and stand near the edge to catch the warm water spray down after the explosion.

Last but certainly not least was Gullfoss, one of, if not the most "I can't believe I'm actually standing here" moments I have ever experienced. Photos and videos cannot even capture the essence of Gullfoss, so sit back and take it all in. To get to Gullfoss, drive a further 20 minutes straight from the geyser's, a car park and visitor centre will open up on the right hand side of the road... but don't be fooled, the 32m drop is just behind that cliff, you won't see it from the roadside. Pack waterproofs for this one, even though it could be sunny, the spray from the fall's creates a winter rain shower over the walkway.

Gullfoss is definitely up there with the best of my travel moments so far. An unforgettable experience that will make your head spin.

Day three was confided to Southern Iceland, more waterfalls and the famous black sand beaches of Vik. Road number One is the ring road around the island heading towards the South from Reykjavik. Using the Maps App head straight through a small, local town called "Selfoss", from here we drove straight to Seljalandsfoss Waterfall.

Seljalands isn't the only beauty to see here, once you have explored the waterfall head further down the less travelled path to the left of the fall (viewing from the carpark). Here we found the most amazing beauty.. A waterfall inside a cave. Standing underneath this waterfall I had a genuine lump in my throat and goosebumps at the wonder I was seeing. Getting into this waterfall is no mean feet, you will have to climb your way into the cave across stepping stones in the river, some slightly below the surface of the water, meaning waterproof hiking/snow boots are an absolute necessity. Just like Gullfoss, the spray from both of these waterfalls is enough to shower in, so make sure and wrap up with layers and top up with waterproof coats and trousers. Being around such open spaces and water makes the temperature drop dramatically, so always have gloves and a hat close by.

Further along route one, Skogafoss sheds it's beauty. This was the closest I think I will ever come to a real life Disney waterfall. Rushing tonnes of water over a square and straight cliff made me feel like I was in a dreamland. Piercing out from the cliffs, Skogafoss cannot be missed on the drive by, but signposts will direct you along the route. Climb the mighty flights of steps up the face of the cliff to the viewing point at the top of the fall. Luckily Skogafoss hosts great views from the top and bottom of the waterfall so get your walking shoes on to catch the sights.

To finish off our Southern Iceland Tour we tied up in the Black Sand Beaches of Vik. The view from these beaches will stop you in your tracks. The waves are meters high, the sand is composed of the smoothest, roundest pebbles I have ever seen, and giant basalt column caves hide in the mountains surrounding the coast. Dress warm and take a stroll to the furthest end of the beach to marvel at the eroded cliffs and stunning scenery of the island, chase the waves out of the water and collect stones to bring home. (Mainly because here you can get them for free, but in the airport they sell them as souvenirs for £20 a stone...) The drive to Vik is slightly nerving on a windy day, but brings breath taking views of the Southern Coast and Iceland's Glacier. (Unbelievable!)

Before catching our flight on Saturday morning we took a quick drive to snap a few photos of the Sun Voyager and the Harpa Hall, Iceland's famous concert hall. Unfortunately we didn't have quiet enough time to explore Reykjavik in all it's glory, but of course this is an excuse for another trip to go back..

This trip was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I cannot recommend that you visit this amazing island if you are ever lucky enough to have the chance. The natural beauty will astonish you and leave you left for words, it is a truly magical experience.

If you visit Iceland and check out any of the things we did then please let me know in the comments! Check out these posts for all things Iceland:





How To Plan A Trip To Iceland

Iceland, in all it's amazing glory, is totally having a moment. Everyone and their granny wants to take a trip (defs recommend), but Iceland is still trying to catch up with its new-found fame, and even attempting to find a starting point for planning a trip here can be a little nauseating... So, let me help.

First things first, you need to book yourself, a preferably cheap, flight to the island. Iceland has a host of amazing destinations, but the capital city Reykjavik is the place to be and provides a central location for adventures across the island.

For our recent adventure we flew with Easyjet. At the time this was the only airline who provided flights from our local airport and thankfully I snatched up a little bargain in the process. I bagged our seats for £90 each, return. Bargaiiiinnn. I recommend using Travel SuperMarket to find the cheapest flights to Iceland. You can find direct or layover flights, if flying from the UK layover flights (in my opinion) are a waste of time, even if they are a little cheaper. Think of all the time you will lose waiting around for a cheaper flight.

Once you've pinned down dates and a way to get there, second most important step is finding somewhere to lay your head. If you decide to head to Reykjavik you are more than likely going to have to pay a considerable amount of $$$ for some shut eye. Accommodation in Iceland is, generally speaking, a little expensive, usually averaging out at over £100/£120 a night depending on the season of the year.
We bunked up in the Captain Reykjavik Guest House. Comfy bed, fantastic central location, amazing breakfast and even more amazingly friendly and helpful staff, but being the high maintenance gal I am, I didn't love sharing a bathroom with other guests. £300 for a three night stay for a room which was pretty much just a box, this left us a little frustrated. From what I could pick up, the modern and typical touristic hotel scene in Reykjavik is a little more on the outskirts of the city centre. If you want something a little more upmarket and bang in the middle of the city you will pay for it. Use to find the best hotels and guest houses, or search Air BnB. We had an amazing experience in our Air BnB in Barcelona.

Next up, hire a car or grab a tour bus?
My honest advice here is to hire a car. I personally don't think you could get the full and best experience of the island from a tour bus. If you want more info on the ins and outs of hiring a car in Iceland check out this post, it will answer all of your questions. 
If you are certain you don't or can't hire a car in Iceland, then you can book tours through online providers, just google search "Iceland Tours" - everything you need will appear before your eyes. Check out this post for my recommendations on things you NEED to do in Iceland.

Icelandic currency was a funny one for us, and here's why... When you go on your Summer hols you make a dandy trip to the bank to pick up your euros or dollars, but with Icelandic Krona our local banks didn't provide it... they couldn't even order it in for us. *sad face* Luckily Tesco Bank came to the rescue, we could order our preferred amount of money for our trip, pay for it online and it was delivered straight to my front door the next day by signed delivery. All's good. If you don't feel comfortable ordering currency online some travel agents may be able to order you Krona or you can take English notes or American Dollars with you to Iceland and the currency exchange counters in the airport can exchange this for you.
For our 4 day trip we took 30,000 Krona which (at the time) was worth £220. This money was sufficient for food, car fuel and emergency extras, like when Scott needed allergy tablets because he forgot???? he was allergic to horses, or when we realised we forgot travel adapters. (They use European plugs btw). During the four days we pretty much ate cheap from grills and takeaways. If you want something a little more fancy you will definitely pay for it, so you may need to take more money.

The time of the year you travel is VERY important when deciding on your trip to Iceland. In Northern Ireland seasons come and go, and believe me, telling the difference is difficult because I still see hailstones in July. However in Iceland, season's are extremely different from one another, and here's why:
  • Spring - A nice time to travel if you just want to see the natural beauty of Iceland, although it's still pretty cold. Try hill hikes and maybe even paragliding during these calmer months.
  • Summer - Famous for the "Midnight Sun". Yes, it is exactly what it says.. All. Day. Sun. Sounds great, but when you're dying for a good nap, not so great then, but still a pretty cool thing to experience.
  • Autumn (September/October) - Northern Lights season and things start getting (a lot) colder.
  • Winter - freezing, freezing, freezing. Glacier hikes and tours open again (closed during Summer), waterfalls starting freezing over, driving conditions get worse and some roads across the country are closed for a few months, 
This in turn can make packing a suitcase a little difficult. I found Google, travel blogs and Pinterest the most helpful place when planning what I needed to pick up for my Autumn Iceland trip. I traveled at the start of October and these were the essentials I packed and most importantly, (and kind of disgustingly) rotated for my four day trip:
  • A well insulated, thick and waterproof coat. 
  • A fluffy and well insulated fleece. (I recommend Tresspass/North Face)
  • A second well insulated fleece to layer over top. (Trust me, it's cold at the top of Gulfoss.)
  • Hiking or snow boots - I took these boots, pricey but 100% worth it. I walked through rivers and not once did I have even a drop of water on my feet. Always warm, dry and comfortable.
  • Lots of long sleeve turtle necks
  • Lots of long sleeve turtle neck jumpers for over said turtle necks
  • Waterproof gloves (Tresspass/North Face)
  • Warm and preferably insulated hat (Not just knitted hat - this won't break the wind on your ears) and scarf for warmth around your neck and face, especially at waterfalls.
  • Lots of socks to layer for warmth purposes but also for comfort during long hikes in boots. (Secret tip...Layering socks prevents blistering)
  • Waterproof trousers. I actually forgot to bring these with me and it was the worst. The rain here will drown you like a power shower in aprox. 10 seconds, so waterproofs are essential. Bring warm bottoms - layer a few pairs of fleeced leggings under jeans or tracksuit bottoms and wear waterproof trousers over the top)
  • Bathing suit for the Blue Lagoon, obvs.
The moral of this long list is that layers are essential for a winter time trip to Iceland. As many layers as possible. Layering items also means it's easier to control your temperature when going to and from places when the heat varies, you can add or take away as you please.

Iceland is an unbelievably, amazing country and I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have been able to travel here and experience it all for myself. This isn't the average holiday trip, it is tiring, kind of exhausting actually, very early mornings and late nights, long days of driving and some weird food, but the unspeakable beauty of this place was worth every. Single. Minute. I can't really put my amazement of Iceland into words, I honestly just gush and cry when people ask me about it. All I will say is do it now. Like right now. Book a flight and go visit this amazing place. Instead of that weekly night out, save £20/30 a week and put it away for your next adventure.

That rounds it up for how to plan a trip to Iceland, check out my check list of things to do in Iceland and the 101 on hiring a car in Iceland to make sure you have got your trip covered. If you have anymore questions about heading to Iceland please leave them in the comment section below.



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