Travel

What to Do on Your Stopover in Iceland

Iceland

Iceland is more accessible now than it’s ever been!

If you’re flying across the Atlantic on either WOW Air or Iceland Air, you can stopover in Iceland at no additional charge. Let me tell you – absolutely worth the extra time off! We decided to do a stopover on our way home from France last October. First thing to know: on our shuttle from the airport to Reykjavik, we spotted 6… SIX rainbows! It’s like, the luckiest place ever! We’ve even talked about going back for a long weekend some day because we enjoyed it that much!

We only had a few nights on our stopover, but it was perfect for our first trip to Iceland, and the end of a long trip to France. Here’s how we spent our time:
**Pinnable image at the end!**

 

AirBnB

We are huge AirBnB fans! And with everything in Iceland being so expensive, we opted to stay in an apartment. It was clean, safe, cute, and in the most perfect location. We really got lucky, because a lot of the tours pick up at a hotel right down the road. Reykjavik isn’t huge, but after driving around on one of the tours, it was clear that we could have ended up far from the restaurants, shops, etc. Another plus is that the water was about a 2 min walk, and one night we stood outside and watched the Northern Lights over the water (honestly, I have no more words!!) So, so gorgeous.

 

If you’re looking for a place to stay, here is our accommodation – Kristján was a perfect host! If you have not used AirBnb before, you can use this link to get $40 off of your first trip! (and I receive a $20 credit! Win-Win!).

 

 

Food

Did you know that Iceland is known for their hot dogs? Yes, hot dogs. There is a hot dog stand called Baejarins Beztu Pylsur that always has a line down the street and around the corner! Seriously. Hot dogs. I cannot attest to this, but according to Trip Advisor, some of the most famous guests at this particular hot dog stand include Bill Clinton, and James Hetfield. Who knew? Having said all of that, we actually ate at a different hot dog stand because the line was too long! There is a cute little park-like area in the middle of town that has 2 food stands and an open area with a water fountain, surrounded by shops. Super cute, and highly recommended!

 

Icel

 

For dinner, grab some fish! There are a ton of fish restaurants, but our two favorites were:

 

Reykjavik Fish Restaurant 

 

 

Icelandic Fish & Chips

 

 

Drink the Gull and Viking Beer! Not very high in alc content, but still… do as the Icelanders do! Also worth noting: you can only buy booze at liquor stores. Liquor stores close around 6pm. Bars are open until 4am. If you miss the liquor store, you can only buy non alcoholic wine and beer at the convenience stores. But why?!

 

Northern Lights

As you probably know from reading my post about planning a trip to Europe, I’m serious about planning. Seeing the Northern Lights has been on my bucket list since I was a child, so I did everything I could to make sure we would see these suckers. What I learned is: you really can’t plan for it. The Aurora Borealis are happening constantly, due to solar wind – electrical sun particles smashing into the Earth’s atmosphere. However, you need darkness: Iceland is so far north that you should go between September and March, when it actually gets dark; and you need clear skies: it rains a lot in Iceland. Another factor is that each night has a different Aurora Forecast. That’s right… just like the weather. The forecast measures the geomagnetic activity, ranking it from 0 (non-existent) to 9 (crazy high geomagnetic storm). They refer to this ranking as ‘kp’. The locals keep an eye on the kp because the geomagnetic energy can interfere with Iceland’s electrical system! If a geostorm is too strong, it can overpower electrical grids and cause power outages, internet interference, down satellites – a whole mess! We went in October (so the days and nights are about the same as Chicago), and were very lucky that the two nights we were in Iceland, the kp was at 8! The night before we arrived, the kp was near 6 and a lot of the tours weren’t able to find the lights. This kind of goes without saying but, Iceland is cold. If you’re planning on searching for the Northern Lights, bundle up! Because it wasn’t very cold in France (which was our other destination), we needed a packable winter jacket, which is pretty hard to find. We took these Columbia jackets! Highly recommend!

 

Iceland Thule Travel(photo via Thule Travel)

 

Finding a Tour

As I mentioned, I did a lot of research prior to arriving in Iceland. What I found were a lot of pricy Northern Lights Tours that I wasn’t really willing to commit to. Obviously no one can promise that you’ll see the Northern Lights on the tour, so we didn’t want to waste money. When we arrived in Reykjavik, we decided to stop by the Tourism Information Center and ask for recommendations (best decision)! The woman told us to go to their website, and just book with the cheapest tour. After all, the tour guide isn’t going to make the lights appear, and Iceland is big, but not that big. If there’s a chance you may not see the lights, why splurge on the pricier tour?

 

Enter: Thule Travel

We booked with a company called Thule Travel, and we ended up gong back out with them again the second night. We loved it that much. First, they have a lot of pick up locations so it is very convenient as they pretty much come to you. Second, the bus we were on was brand new, clean and comfy. The highlight: Our tour guide, Omar. He is hilarious and he knows everything there is to know about Iceland. I like to pretend that everything he told us was factual and not embellished, trolls and all. Omar used to be a fisherman and knows of a few hidden-gem locations where you can see the Northern Lights without other tourists (who all try to use the flash on their camera – it doesn’t work). Truly you, the sky, the other 10 or so people on the tour, and Omar. He knows how to hunt the Northern Lights so you don’t go very long without seeing them. Another perk of Thule Travel is that Omar is a fantastic photographer! He takes pictures of everyone on the tour with the Northern Lights in the background, and he will help you figure out the settings on your camera so you can take photos, too! He’ll post the photos on Facebook, and if you message him, he can send you the high res versions via email. It was such an amazing experience, I really cannot recommend this tour enough. That’s why I had to put it first on the list!

 

Iceland

Pretend Like You’re in Game of Thrones

We went beyond the wall, and my husband still won’t bend the knee :). A lot of Game of Thrones is filmed in Iceland! Our tour guide pointed out a rock formation near Þingvellir Park that was used as ‘the Wall’ in one of the recent seasons of Game of Thrones, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Upon a little bit of my own research, I discovered that the park was also used in Season 4 when Arya and the Hound are headed to Eyrie! Although this is all cool, it’s not even the attraction to this park. Iceland is being divided by two tectonic plates, and you can actually see them at Þingvellir Park! There is a bridge connecting the Eurasia Tectonic Plate and the North American Tectonic Plate. Another cool aspect to this park is that the president’s country home is here. Historically this was a location where chiefs would come to settle disputes, so it is fairly important to the history of Iceland, as well. (Another great nugget of info: Iceland was the first to appoint a female president via democratic election! You go, girl!)

 

Iceland Tectonic Plates

 

Gullfoss Waterfall

This waterfall is massive! And, you can get really, really close to it. There are multiple observation decks and places to climb around to get the full experience. It was beautiful and definitely a way to realize just how small we are! If you look closely at the photo below, you’ll see people in the upper right hand corner standing on a ledge. Look how tiny!

 

Waterfall

 

The Geysir

Our tour bus stopped at the Geysir for lunch and it was really cool! It’s the only geysir I’ve ever seen, so that’s partly why it was so exciting for me. The geysir is surrounded by a “geothermal field”, so there were tiny hot springs all around. Some of them have the bluest water I have ever seen! I’d definitely recommend coming for the “show”. Lunch – not so much. The area is a little touristy, but the natural phenomenon is worth it!

 

Geysir

 

The Secret Lagoon

We opted for the Secret Lagoon vs the Blue Lagoon because it was included in the Golden Circle Tour we wanted to do, and the Blue Lagoon would have been a whole other thing. The Secret Lagoon was beautiful! It’s a geothermal hot spring, and they sell beer. What more could you want? Surrounding the main pool are a few boiling hot springs and a geyser, which explodes roughly every 5 minutes! There’s a little shack on the edge of The Secret Lagoon from 1891 that people used to change clothes in, and this is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland! They used to teach swimming lessons here, which is pretty cool.

 

 

Have you been to Iceland? Do you have any tips for our next visit?

 



This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through these links, I may be compensated a small amount at no additional charge to you.

What to Do on Your Stopover in Iceland

48 Hours in Belize

Belize on the Beach

In February, my husband planned a Boys Trip to Vegas for his 30th Birthday. So, naturally, I planned a trip of my own to Belize!

My cousin is a flight attendant for Southwest, and was able to grab buddy passes for my uncle and I to Belize! We chose Belize based on the number of flights in and out of the country (since we’d be flying standby) and because it’s budget-friendly. Honestly, I don’t think we could have chosen a better location! We had about 48 hours of vacation, and I wouldn’t change a thing! Here’s what we did:

Where to Stay

We stayed in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, and I would highly recommend it! A lot of people also recommend Caye Caulker which looked cute as well, but based on my research, there’s a lot more to do on Ambergris Caye! We stayed at Sunbreeze Hotel which was perfect! One of the most blogged about restaurants is at Sunbreeze Hotel, the building itself is right on the beach, it’s across the street from the airport, and has golf cart parking. The island of Ambergris Caye is accessible from the mainland via plane (15 minute trip from Belize City) or by boat (1.5 hours from Belize City). The flights run anywhere between $60-$180 one way, and the water taxi is $28 one way, $38 round trip. The water taxi is a 20 minute taxi ride from the Belize International Airport, which cost about $25 one way.

What to Do

Belize is so beautiful and so unique! The mainland offers jungles, Mayan Ruins, caves, and wild life sanctuaries. The water offers amazing snorkeling and scuba diving in the second largest barrier reef in the world, the Great Blue Hole, swimming with sharks and the Split in Caye Caulker. Here’s what we did with our 48 hours:

Cave Tubing + ATV Jungle Tour

We did the Butts Up! Cave Tubing and ATV Jungle Tour – and because we weren’t part of a cruise ship, we had our own personal tour! There were two tour guides and three of us. It was awesome. They picked us up from the water taxi in a super comfortable truck and drove us to where they do the ATV Jungle Tours. On the trip there, they gave us some history about Belize, pointed out interesting places we were passing (like the “Sleeping Giant”, a mountain range that looks like a man sleeping on his back), and answered any questions we had.

The Jungle Tour

I haven’t driven an ATV in years, and I only got stuck one time! It was towards the end of rainy season, and the trail was pretty much a river. In some areas, the water was so high you had to pick your feet up! The jungle itself was beautiful with the sun was coming in through the trees – I wish I would have been able to look at it a little more, but I was too focused on not running in to the person in front of me :). Needless to say, we got pretty muddy. Make sure you pack clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty!

Cave Tubing

First and foremost: you’re required to wear water shoes (for good reason). If you aren’t able to pack water shoes, they do rent them there. I purchased these ahead of time and they were cute and really comfortable, I highly recommend them!  It’s about a fifteen minute walk to the cave opening where you actually begin tubing. While walking through the jungle, the guide told us about old Mayan traditions. If you see the Prickly Yellow Tree on your walk, ask your guide about it! The Cave Tour was relaxing and interesting. Our guide even stopped at a waterfall, letting us hike around and showing us the glittery calcifications and oddly shaped rocks. Because we weren’t part of a larger group, we had the entire cave to ourselves for most of the tour. It was very cool!

Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley Snorkeling Tour 

This might have been the highlight of the trip for me! The small group we were with was comprised of about 50% snorkelers, 50% scuba divers. Having done snorkeling tours in the past, the fact that this was at a “reserve”, and that we needed wristbands made me expect a park-situation, with facilities, food, shops, etc. NOT at ALL. The boat parked out in the middle of the water, where we showed the “ranger” our wristbands (he was floating around in his boat), and we hopped into the water! Right away we saw a conch shell, a sea turtle, and a sting ray.

The snorkeling tour lasts about 45 minutes before you hop back in the boat and take off for Shark Ray Alley. I’m not going to lie, jumping into shark-infested water was terrifying (they are nurse sharks, which they say don’t bite…). The guides feed the sharks so that you’re able to get a great view, and the sharks and sting rays swim right next to you! This tour is an absolute must on your trip to Belize!

Explore San Pedro

Rent a golf cart and drive around! We rented through C&S Golf Cart Rental and I can’t recommend them enough. They met us at the water taxi so we didn’t have to carry our luggage around the island! Most of the time that we weren’t doing tours, we were driving around exploring, eating, shopping, drinking… The locals say there are “no rules” when it comes to driving the golf cart, but be aware that there are one ways. (oops). It does cost a few Belize Dollars to cross the bridge and go north, but there are a few really cool bars, so I recommend it! We were told that Secret Beach is on the north end of the island, but it was too long of a drive for us.

What to Eat and Drink

Most important!

Blue Water Grill

As I mentioned earlier, Sunbreeze Hotel is home to one of the restaurants people typically blog about – Blue Water Grill.

This place was cute! The atmosphere was great! There was a band, it’s right on the water, and it’s home to the I <3 Belize sign you’ve probably seen on Instagram. Definitely worth stopping by!

The Palapa Bar

I really enjoyed this place! We had drinks, mozzarella sticks (odd, but they’re huge and delicious here, so definitely order them!) and conch fritters! The bar itself is open air, had live music, and TVs. Also, if you walk out to the end of their pier, you can relax on a lounge chair in the sun, or hop in the water and lay on an inner tube. They have a pulley system, so you can get a bucket of beer delivered to you while you’re in the water!

Pacos Tiki Bar

This is one of the two bars we stopped at that’s north of the bridge. It’s owned by an ex-pat and is right on the beach! The drinks were delicious, they have bags (cornhole?) in the sand, and a game I’m now addicted to called Shut the Box. They will even pay you if you can win the game in one turn.

The Truck Stop

Also north of the bridge, there’s a bar called The Truck Stop. It’s a seating area surrounded by a bar and two shipping containers, turned into a taco stand and an ice cream stand. They have bags, live music, and an instagrammable sign. They also have a pool in the back that overlooks the water, and they show a movie there at night! You can swim, drink and watch a movie at the same time. Such a great idea!

Average Joe’s Bar

This was our first stop when we arrived! We set off in our golf cart, the sky was blue, the sun was beautiful! Two minutes later, the sun was gone and it was a torrential downpour.. we even had to stop the golf cart because there was zero visibility. By the time we arrived at Average Joe’s, the sun was back out and the sky was blue! Rainy season, ugh! Obviously we needed a drink after that, and this place was perfect!

Other Things to Note

  • Belize dollars are 2:1 USD. You don’t need to go to Belize with BZD because everyone accepts US dollars, and they’ll give you change with a mixture of both. Be careful of some of the shops near the water taxi, they’ll give you a price which they’ll say is BZD, then when you check out they’ll try to sell it as USD.
  • If you’re planning on doing a mainland tour, I recommend staying on the mainland one night. The water taxi doesn’t sound that bad, until you’ve spent 6 of your 48 hours on the water taxi.
  • Pack an underwater camera! This was my first time bringing one and I’m so glad I did! I purchased this one, and this additional attachment. Beforehand, I did a little bit of research about how to get the best underwater pictures. I read that a red filter helps with some of the blue tint of underwater photos, and I’m really happy with how they came out!
  • Belize is surprisingly filled with Cubs Fans! Coming from Chicago, I found this shocking and awesome. There are Cubs flags and street art everywhere!
  • Don’t pack fruit for your trip. I had a zip lock of grapes for my plane ride and was immediately quarantined.
  • A lot of the popular food around Belize involves cheese and bacon. Perfect!
  • Souvenirs to bring back: Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce and something made of Conch Shell.

 

I hope this helps you plan your trip to Belize! And if you weren’t planning a trip to Belize, I hope you are now! If you’re looking for tips on how to plan your next trip, check out this blog post!

This post contains affiliate links to products that I make a small commission off of if purchased.


Pin this image:

How To Plan Your First European Vacation

Cinque Terre

Planning vacations can seem so intimidating. I feel you. In 2015, my husband and I decided to plan our first trip to Europe, and I wasn’t sure where to start, and tbh I was slightly scared. I didn’t want to use a travel agent, so I figured it out on my own, and now it’s a process I use every time we travel. Here are my 8 Steps to Your Dream Vacation! Make sure you pin the image at the end of the post!

1. Set Your Budget

This one seems pretty self-explanatory but check your savings account or set up a savings plan / travel account. You can figure out the details later on once you price everything out, but I think it’s best to start with an ideal budget in mind to help guide where you’re going (and plan to bring about the same amount you’re spending on flights and accommodations for eating, drinking and tours).

2. Time Frame

How long ya going for? I only had 10 vacay days at the time, so I planned on traveling for all of them in Europe, obviously. We decided to maximize our time by going over Labor Day weekend, making our trip a total of 16 days (plus an R+R day at home).

3. Location

We each had Bucket List Cities – I dreamed of going to Rome  (Lizzie McGuire Movie, hello) and he read a lot of travel articles about Florence online. So we picked those 2 destinations to visit at some point within a 16 day span. Now what?

4. Flights

The next question was, “Now how do we get there?” Our favorite website for flights and hotels is Travelocity.com because you pretty much get a free hotel with your roundtrip flights. So we kept our eyes on flights from Chicago to any big city with easy access to Florence (at a reasonable price) and Zurich was exactly that – so we booked!

5. Transportation

Everyone knows that the train system in Europe is the way to go, but when you type that in to Google  – it’s seriously intimidating (what? I don’t speak Italian!?). We found Rome2Rio.com and it is actually a website that we use every time we travel, now. It’s similar to Google Maps in the sense you put in your To and From Destination and it pulls up the multiple modes of transportation with the amount of time it will take to get there. But what’s better is they even show you the prices for the tickets – and you can click directly on a route and it takes you to the website of that train line to book. You don’t have to guess if you’re buying a ticket for the right train line, etc. We booked ahead of time because, personally, I’d prefer to take care of everything in English that I can! Plus, it’s hard enough when you get to the station and don’t know where your train is, let alone where to buy tickets. This was ideal for us.

6. Pinterest Pinterest Pinterest!

Once we put Zurich to Florence in Rome2Rio, we saw the trip was going to be 7 hours via train. That’s great and all, but since we had so many days to spend in Europe, we decided we’d rather split the trip up and stay somewhere in between. I looked along the train route on the map and started searching the larger cities on Pinterest! Seriously, Pinterest is such a great resource. There are articles describing hidden gems, photos of all of these beautiful places I wouldn’t have even known existed, and then – the Bernina Express. You know how we thought that 7 hour train trip was out of the question? Well, we signed up for a 10.5 hour train/bus trip instead. Thanks to Pinterest, we found a scenic train that went over the Swiss Alps, and took you from snow and glaciers to sand and palm trees. (It was amazing).

7. Accommodations

Thanks to Pinterest we were able to find our intermittent stop (Lake Como), and our last stop of the trip – Santorini (those photos tho, how could you not??). So now we have a timeline, destinations, and transportation… next up, accommodations! We are huge AirBnB’ers, so that was obviously where we looked and booked. If you are booking through AirBnB, I’d highly recommend looking as soon as you decide on a location. It always happens that the super unique homes or most conveniently located book up so fast. We started looking for our trip about 10 months early, so we had a lot of options. (I’ll post each destination in individual blog posts later on so you can check them out!)

8. Adventures

We love adventures! Laying out and relaxing is fun, too. But you can do that, on a catamaran, in the Greek Islands. Yes, please. If you’re looking for guided tours, I’d recommend Viator.com or Tripadvisor! We’ve booked through both before and have had success each time.

Go & Enjoy!

The last few tips that I have are:

  • Use Google Docs to keep organized – then share them with someone at home so they know where you’re supposed to be and when. With this being our first trip abroad, both of our moms wanted copies, with complete addresses and contact info for our AirBnb’s, etc… and it was reassuring for us too 🙂
  • Check out restaurants on TripAdvisor! But take the reviews with a grain of salt (as always).
  • Check to make sure your destination doesn’t require any vaccines (and if they do.. get them…)
  • If you have any trepidation about safety on your trip, know that there is a government program that you can enroll in and let them know which country you will be in and when, so if something were to happen in your area at that time, the US Embassy will try to contact you to make sure you are safe. You can read more here.
  • Don’t forget to tell your bank and phone provider where you’re at so you don’t have extra charges / a turned off debit card!

xo Megan