Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Iceland on a Budget

Iceland is the 5th most expensive country in the world.
 It also might be one of my favorite countries we've visited so far.

When we decided to visit in June 2014 as our first stop on our trip around the world we were a little worried. Would we be forced to sink a chunk of our precious savings before we even made it to continental Europe?

 We discovered Iceland is actually doable on a budget- if you know how to do it right. Mind you, not a hut-in-Thailand budget, but a relatively cheap backpacker budget. Relatively being the key word.

Iceland is wee island which means it has to import most of it's goodies. Their seemly endless fields are littered with thousands of sheep and horses, but a packet of six slices of unexciting cheese from the budget grocery will cost you around 1200 ISK ($10.30) or more.

Likewise, a standard boring beer in a restaurant will cost around 1000 ISK ($8.55) and filling up our tiny rental sedan cost us 12423.20 ISK ( a whopping $106).

Wanna guess how much this cost?
Despite some pretty crazy prices, we actually spent on average more in Paris, France and Belgium, 13th and 15th on the list of most expensive countries in the world. I can't believe it, but visiting Iceland in summer was cheaper than places on the well-trodden backpacker route.

When Tom and I break down our expenditure it ends coming down to four categories: accommodation, transportation, food, and entertainment. All costs are broken down to per person per day.

Accommodation is where most people's budget would be destroyed in Iceland. One night in the cheapest hostel we could find in Reykjavik cost us $36 a person per night. Now to many $36 is a reasonable price for a bed in a dorm, but add on all the other costs of living and you would be easily spending $200 a day or more.

What to do instead:

1) Go Camping:

Iceland has wonderful camping laws. Essentially you can camp on any public land unless stated otherwise. This means you really can camp next beautiful waterfalls, breathtaking iceberg lagoons, or bubbling thermal pools.

Casual campsite
Apparently you can even camp on farm land if you ask the land owner's permission. How you'd go about finding the one little house that the land owner lives in out in the vast green expanse of the Icelandic country side, is another question altogether.

If you bring your own camping gear, the cost for camping is often free. If you choose to camp in one of the many many well-equipped campsites it can cost up to $10. If you don't have your own equipment there a few places to rent for a decent price. 

All possible campsite
We rented from Iceland Camping Equipment. We rented a two person tent, two sleeping bags for cold weather, a GPS, and extra blankets and pillows for a whopping $12 dollars a person per night.

COST PER DAY: Free to $22

2) Go Car Camping:

This is what actually ended up doing. We rented the cheapest car rental we could find and rented our camping gear. It had been raining quite a bit so we ended up returning the tent and just slept in the car with our sleeping bags.

We rented from SADcars rentals near the Reykjavik airport. Thinking about SADcars always cracks me up. Firstly their name doesn't inspire much confidence. Secondly, their premise is pretty unconventional. They buy beat-up cars for dead cheap and then fix them in house and rent to tourists like us. Our rental cost us $312 for five days which broke down to $31.20 per person per day.

Our car/house and a possible spot for the night
If you are a taller human like Tom or in a group of more than two people you may want to think about so of the camper van rentals in Iceland. We saw tons of amazing converted vans complete with curtains for those endless scandinavian summer nights.

Yep it's this dark at night time- Bring eye shades
Free or cheap showers visit some of the many thermal pools and public swimming pools. Icelandic people love swimming. They also believe in a through wash before and after swimming so making us of public showers is a great way to stay clean.

COST PER DAY: $31.20 + $9 for camping gear.

3) Try Couchsurfing:

Couchsurfing is definitely always an option. We attempted to Couchsurf for our first night in Reykjavik but we were a little too late to actually find a place. Instead try sending out messages a week before and have a backup plan if everyone is busy.

COST PER DAY: Free plus a gift for the host

Us actively not making any friends
This comes in second for most likely to tear apart your budget. There is no constant reliable public transport really that we could tell, so often visitors join a tour bus group that takes them to some popular sites.

What to do instead:

1) Rent your own car or camper van:

This again is my number one choice. Not only do you save on transportation costs but you can choose your own itinerary. Often a lot of the interesting places in Iceland are not crowded at all, but by taking a bus tour you add a mandatory twenty plus people that are intruding on your visit.

Traffic jam
Iceland is pretty much road tripping paradise. The main road, the Ring Road runs in a large circle all around the island. It's easy to find and and most people are happy to point it out to you if you do get lost. The drive itself is easy because there is not much traffic (except for the occasional brave sheep), and is just stunningly, jawdroppingly gorgeous.

Pretty terrible view right?
The biggest plus is that your accomodation cost and transportation cost are one in the same.

COST PER DAY: $31.20 and up

2) Hitchhike:

We saw plenty of hitchhikers during our five day road trip around the southern coast. We even picked up a a couple of people that needed a ride in our direction.

The pros of hitchhiking are simple. It's free, and the wild camping laws mean you don't have to make it to a certain accommodation at a certain time. It's also incredibly safe. To be honest I'm not so comfortable hitch hiking, especially in the US, but I would hitchhike in Iceland without a second thought.

The cons include being stuck waiting in the sometimes wet and cold weather as well as having to wait quite a while for a ride. We picked up an Australian hitchhiker who had been waiting for ages for ride. There was no sign of civilisation for two hours either way of where she was standing. After we picked her up, she explained that an Icelandic farmer had picked her and misunderstood  the nature of her trip. He thought she was just walking around the whole ring road and dropped her off in the middle of an isolated moss field. Whoops.

Just a weirdass moss field for miles
Another con is not having anywhere to store your belongings if you want to visit an attraction away from the road. We saw a couple traversing a huge, smelly, slippery patch of mud with their huge packs and were not jealous at all. Funnily enough we later ended up giving them a ride.

COST PER DAY: Free or $9 for camping gear rental

Eating out in Iceland is just extremely expensive. We did have one meal out in the lobster fishing town of Hofn. That meal, while so wonderfully delicious, is still our most expensive meal to date at $121 for only two mains, one drink, and one dessert that we shared between us. 

What to do instead:

1) Shop at the budget grocery:

Many of the items in the local budget grocery, Bonus, seem much more expensive than their counterparts stateside. Still Bonus is going to be the cheapest place to buy food. Their store mascot, a an inexplicably cross eyed goofy ass pig, makes the store easy to find.

To keep our costs down we perused the whole store before deciding what to buy. In the end cream cheese seemed to be the cheapest cheese and we found some sandwich meats and salad makings. So essentially we ate a thousand sandwiches. We had sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for many of the days. Our initial grocery shop cost us $41, followed by two more replenishing stops at about $18-$20 each. This price was for two people however.

COST PER DAY: $8-$16 depending on what you buy

2) Eat Icelandic hot dogs (they're delicious):

Icelandic hotdogs have a pretty different flavour than typical hot dogs. They are a little sweet, a little crunchy and one hundred percent delicious. The topping includes a sweet mustard, crispy onions, and fresh onions. Our favorite was the popular Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur stand in Reykjavik. At about 580 ISK ($4.39) the hotdogs are a great hot snack.

Tom seems to like them
They are pretty cheap and you can often find them at gas stations on the road if you are craving something warm in the sometimes chilly Icelandic weather.

COST PER DAY: $5 and up depending how many you get.

Entertainment is one of the easier aspects to control in Iceland. Much of the entertainment is marvelling at the natural wonders that the island has to offer.

As a volcanic island so far north, it not only contains countless geothermal heated pools, springs, and flowing rivers but also contains the largest glacier in Europe, iceberg lagoons, and some of the largest and most powerful waterfalls in Europe.

You can of course pay for extremely amazing entertainment. Scuba diving between the tectonic plates in the Sifra rift, snow mobiling on the glacier, glacier hikes, horse riding, boat tours on the lagoons, amazing spas, the phallogical (penis) museum, and the Blue Lagoon spa all come to mind. These things are simultaneously expensive and fabulous so it really depends on what you like to do.

Tom and I opted out of all of these activities and still fell hard for Iceland.

COST PER DAY: Free to a bajillionzillion dollars.

So Iceland can be done on less the $100 a day.
But it really depends on the traveller. You can be a bare minimum hitchhiking-tent pitching-backpacker and spend your money on the $8+ a day it would cost to feed yourself. You could be a middle of the road car camper like us and spend $60 a day on a car rental, camp gear rental, and food. You could get even sassier and rent a camper van with your friends (yay more people= more people to split costs)

My final reminder would be try and keep a good balance between staying true to yourself and being adventurous. Do you absolutely 100% hate camping? Would you feel weird about hitchhiking? Don't torture yourself.

Seriously, get to Iceland, get out to the country side and be ready to have your breath taken away.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Best Beaches We Visited in 2014

 We leave for the Philippines in an hour.

I am beyond excited. Not only do we get to visit a country I've been dying to visit for years and see a childhood friend, but it also marks the beginning of the second half of our trip around the world.

For the next three months we will be traveling with some of my favorite people and romping around SE Asia, before we move on to New Zealand, Australia, and Japan for our last two months.

 In this next portion of our trip we will be visiting some of the most beautiful beaches in the world like the islands around Siargao Island in the Philippines and Koh Tao in Thailand.

While the first half of our trip was more focused on urban adventures and culture, we did have couple chances to visit some beaches as we went, including one heavenly week on Menorca, where all we did was hit the beach (thanks Monica!) and drink rum punch.

These five beaches stand out as my favorite or 'best' beaches of 2014. Not only are they stunningly beautiful but they have some quirk that I loved.

1. Cala Escorxada, Menorca, Spain-September 2014

The first time we tried to visit this beach we couldn't find it. At all.

Cala Escorxada is only reacheable by boat or a two-ish hour hike. Somehow we didn't bring a boat with us, so we hiked into the juniper and pine forests of Menorca in the direction of the beach. We hiked along one of the many horse trails that stretch across this equestrian obsessed island. The trail started at the more popular Macarella cove and was supposed to follow the coast.

It was really hot and the soon I was covered in a thin layer of trail dust and sweat. Delish. As the hours passed I was becoming more and more concerned. According to my compass, we were heading inland, but we were too afraid to leave the trail. Three and a half hours in we decided to call it a day and turn back before it got too dark.

We made it for a dip in the Macarella cove (see below) just as the sun was setting.

Obviously, we did make it eventually. We tried another route from the eastern side. We drove to the resort town of Platja Sant Tomas, grabbed, and drink from the beach bar and followed the signs for the hidden cove. The path took us over huge cliff faces, scrambling up rocks and through the forest.

The water was a stunning teal. And almost everyone was naked. You gotta love Spain.

2.  Dyrholaey Beach, Iceland - June 2014

This is not your normal swimsuit-and-sunshine beach.

The water is freezing cold, and the volcanic sand is black. I was wearing my version of winter gear complete with rain coat. We walked along the beach, looking for puffin in the jagged black cliff faces.

This is one of my most favourite beaches. This if one of those places that photos don't do justice. The raw and wild beauty of this place is just crazy.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Carry-On Makeup Manifesto for Traveling Beauty Addicts

I am a full-on beauty product junkie.
I am also a light weight carry-on only traveler.
It is possible to be both. 

Those of you who know me well know I love experimenting with makeup. Actually, those of you who know me well are probably wondering how I even manage living out of a carry-on bag.

Still, I knew before we left for the trip that I wasn't going to try and fit into the the typical backpacker stereotype. I wasn't willing to give up all of my girliness but I knew I didn't want to yank around a bunch of stuff. So far I feel like I've found a decent balance between necessary function and personal expression.

 I love makeup, especially in our prior home of New Orleans, where every adult I know has a costume box. While I've switched out my costume box for my backpack, I still enjoy whipping out a full face for days I want to feel a little more put together.

Some previous looks ranging from Normal to Star Trek-ish
I'd like to say that living with only 10 kilograms of stuff has completely reformed my love for beauty products, but to my wallet's dismay, I am still addicted.

That being said, I've changed my habits drastically. I don't buy new products often and I only carry half a kilogram of beauty stuff.

 Through a lot of trial and error, I've figured out what products work well for those who like to travel light and also like to wear make up. By 'work well' I mean products that are multi-use, stay put, save space/weight, and save time. I've also learned a bunch of tips and tricks that really extend the use of my products.

The Case

By choosing a smaller makeup case, I limit how much I can bring with me, I limit my overall pack weight, and my temptation to buy things and spend my hard-earned cash. This little case is just a little bit bigger than my hand and fits neatly in my daypack. I like this case because of it's rectangular shape, waterproofness, and compartments. It helps me keep my pack clean and organised.

Hand for scale

The Products

So this is going to be the long part in a already long post- Sorry.

When choosing products I really thought about what I'd actually be doing on my trip. I knew I was going to be hiking and car camping. I also knew we were going to a wedding and would be visiting really nice restaurants in urban Europe. Basically, I packed for what I was going to be doing, which was...everything. 

From the top left corner: Revlon lipstick in Rasberry Pie, Inglot lipstick in 44, Maybelline Ever Fresh concealer in Medium Beige, Benefit Erase Paste concealer in 2, Maybelline Eyestudio eyeliner gel in Blackest black, brushes by Eco Tools, Revlon and The balm, eyelash curler by Revlon, Z-Palette holding blushes, bronzers, eyeshadows, and eyebrow powder, MAC contouring brush, NARS tinted moisturiser in Groenland, Mini primer by BECCA, Maybelline Full' n Soft mascara, Maybelline Define A Lash waterproof mascara Make Up Forever HD powder.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Photo Diary: Paris in December

We spent our last couple days of the European leg on our trip in Paris.

It was the beginning of December; cold and wet. The air was crisp and the trees were leafless. I'm not a huge fan of cold weather but I was down with wet winter Paris; I think I found it even more romantic than muggy summer Paris.

We spent our three days hanging out with friends, eating delicious meals, visiting a couple of museums, walking a ton, and playing with our Airbnb hosts' fat cat. So basically we just stuffed our selves and laughed our heads off the whole time.

We had no rush to see sights or check things off a list. For most of the time we just hung out with my dear college roomie Emilie or wandered and ate.

On our first day we stopped in a little cafe near our Airbnb in Pigalle for  a quick coffee. The tiny cafe was crowded with impeccably dressed Parisians. And the smell. We salivated all over the bar as we watched the lunch plates as they came out from the kitchen. After some serious eyeing up of everyone's lunches, we decided to sit and eat.

We had a table by the window, the food was excellent, and the meal was shockingly cheap for Paris. My beautifully done pork pate plate was only four euros and Tom had a massive plate of roasted duck over smashed potatoes in duck gravy for ten.

After lunch we visited Tom's favorite museum in Paris, the delightful Musee du L'Orangerie (thanks Kiki!) and took a guided tour. I fell hard for Monet's masterpiece, his water lily installment.

From Tom:

"Monet took the last 30 years of his life to paint the 8 massive panels depicting scenes from his personal flower garden in Giverny, France. Each panel is inspired by the same space, but each has its own personality and feeling. Monet also designed the architecture of the exhibit, which consists of 3 oval-shaped rooms. The first room contains no paintings; its blank white walls act as a palate cleanser, preparing you to enter what Monet intended to be a peaceful sanctuary in the middle of a major city. The other two rooms each hold four of Monet's water lily paintings, which take up most of the space on the walls. Monet's design was truly genius; the shape of the room and scale of the paintings really makes you feel immersed in the environment he created, almost as if you were in an aquarium. Monet also wanted the painting to be "alive". He achieved this by designing the rooms to be naturally lit, so the experience of viewing these paintings changes with the weather, the season, and the time of day. The paintings on their own are absolutely beautiful, especially if you like impressionism, but what makes this exhibit truly awesome is the attention to details such as light and space. The execution of the presentation is what elevates these beautiful paintings into Monet's greatest masterpiece."

The next day with Emilie we ate at the delish L'As Du Falafel in the Marais, where we also did a little thrift shopping. After lunch we visited Canal St. Martin and stopped in a cafe for a cafe gourmand. Getting cafe gourmand is Paris is one of my favorite pick-me-ups. A little coffee and an assortment of random sweet treats is such a fun way to end a meal, especially because you have no idea what you are going to get.