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The Worst Things About Living in Iceland

I could go on and on and on and on and ON about how much I love Iceland and all the good things about living here. I actually have written about the things I LOVE about living in Iceland on two separate occasions.

But let’s be honest. It’s not all sunshine and flowers.

Here are the six worst things about living in Iceland.

Iceland is outrageously expensive

Let’s just state the obvious one.

I believe Iceland just passed Switzerland for most expensive country in the world.

This is terrible news for me and great news for I don’t know who.

What’s more expensive? Food, clothing, fuel, personal care items, furniture. These things can easily be two to three times as expensive as US prices.

If you’ve been to Iceland you know what I mean. If you’re still planning your trip – put aside some extra spending money!

I mean. It’s an island in the middle of the Northern Atlantic. Iceland has to import and tax everything.

Even if I order something online – I have to pay an import tax. My mom wants to send me a birthday gift? Taxed. Sometimes the tax on the item is almost as much as the item itself! It’s madness.

Ok I can’t say everything. There are two things I can think of that are cheaper – energy and cell phone plans.

The positive side of this: I shop less. I own less. I only spend money on the things that I need.

Stores are never open

Funny story. One weekend we needed to go to the mall. It was Sunday. We arrived around 11:30. The mall does not open until 1:00pm on Sundays. ONE O’CLOCK! I mean I love the whole work-life balance thing, but I was kind of surprised about this.

The hours at one of the main grocery stores are 11-6. At six pm they are closed!

And holidays like Easter, and New Year’s Day. Good luck finding a grocery store, gas station, or restaurant open!

The positive side of this: I plan ahead and appreciate that people are happy because they get nights and holidays to spend with their loved ones.

Food

Vegetables are pretty tough to find here. Iceland does a good job about growing what they can in greenhouses, but this is limited to tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and herbs. Anything else has to be imported. I am so tired of broccoli. I would do anything for fresh asparagus and green beans!

Berries? Don’t even think about it – waaaay too expensive.

Spices can be limited as well.

Do not even get me started on cheese. Being a Wisconsin girl, my cheese palette is very diverse. Iceland makes ONE kind of cheese – gouda. There are few other options – feta and mozzarella…but a good cheddar? Aged cheese? Pepper? Nope.

The positive side of this: I know exactly what I’m getting at the grocery store. No wandering around checking out new products. I’m actually quite overwhelmed with the selection in grocery stores when I return to the States. Why are there two HUGE isles for soda?!

Sidewalk and road maintenance

I have to say I am downright appalled at the road and sidewalk maintenance in icy and snowy weather. With the weather changing from rain to snow to ice every other day, I would imagine it’s tough to keep up with.

And I hear of people slipping and breaking bones all the time here! In public parking lots! If that happens in the US, the business would be sued immediately. I’ve never seen places salting or sanding a slippery walkway. I just see Icelanders walking very slowly and carefully and occasionally slipping on their butts.

Outside of Reykjavik it gets even worse. I experienced the worst road conditions in my life last winter. It was terrifying, please learn from my mistakes.

Dear Icelanders, please sand the sidewalks when they are covered and ice! Takk.

The positive side of this: I walk and drive more carefully. I use yak trax to walk into work and I have studded tires on my car in the winter. So, essentially Iceland has taught me more responsibility and personal safety.

The worst things about Living in Iceland

Weather

I mean, it’s Iceland. You don’t come to Iceland expecting warm temps and sunshine.

But what gets me isn’t the cold, or the snow, or even the long dark winter days or the 24 hour sunlight in summer. It’s the wind + rain combo. And even worse, the wind + rain combo in the winter.

It would be nice if we could get some “summer” days. Again, I’m not asking for 80 degrees F here. I’m talking 60 with sunshine – let’s go hiking and enjoy nature. Instead I have to pack for all 4 seasons no matter what time of year it is.

And when it’s winter I want snow! No this cold enough to snow for two days, and then it rains for the next 2 weeks. Gross. No.

Growing up in the Midwest, I really do miss the four seasons. Iceland pretty much only has winter and “winter lite”. The gray rainy days allllll throughout summer just don’t give quite enough break from winter proper.

The positive side of this: I don’t complain about the weather as much. I just have good quality outdoor gear instead. I can either sit in side in the most beautiful country on Earth, or get out there and maybe get a little wet.

Tourists

I realize the irony of saying this, coming from an Iceland travel blog heavily promoting tourism.

BUT. Hear me out.

I know tourism really helped turn the economy around after the 2008 collapse. I know Iceland is the most beautiful country in the world and people deserve to see it! I’m just not sure the government is doing all they can to control the excessive influx of tourists.

Tourism just surpassed fishing as the number one industry in Iceland. SURPASSED FISHING! Iceland’s claim to fame main source of income since the beginning of Iceland!

For a country of 320,000 people, having 6.8 MILLION foreigners running around your lands is quite the difference from 10 years ago.

Also, accommodation during peak season books out far in advance. (Book those places early people!) This makes it tough for locals traveling.

And the prices increase for tourists, but locals don’t get a break at all.

Not to mention the sights. I personally don’t travel to the main spots during summer – it’s just too crowded!

Lastly, I think *SOME* tourists can be incredibly disrespectful. I just did a whole live video last week in my Facebook group about safety and responsibility while traveling in Iceland.

The number of stories of tourists getting injured in Iceland is increasing every year. I want to make sure all of my readers are aware of the dangers you can encounter, and how important it is to respect the delicate nature!

I want you to return from your once-in-a-lifetime trip to Iceland in one piece and with great memories.

Be smart, people!

The positive side of this: I get to meet awesome people like YOU and help plan awesome (and SAFE!) trips to Iceland!

Time zones

Living in a country that is six hours ahead of my family and friends makes staying in touch just a liiiiittle bit harder.

The positive side of this: I get my work done in the mornings without distractions!

I probably sound like I’m complaining. I’m NOT! Again, here are one and two of lists of reasons why I LOVE living here! But it’s important to be honest and sometimes a girls just gotta vent!


Question: Did you have a gripe about Iceland during your stay?

 

 

 

 

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  • Jocelyn
    January 23, 2017 at 10:03 pm

    Breakfast! It was often $40 and I would take 1 piece of toast + an apple off of the spread of interesting? things … and paired it with the most mediocre coffee… but I loved Iceland so much (and used your website as a great resource for our 10 days around the ring) last September that I’m coming back in April and can’t hardly wait! =)

    • Danielle
      January 27, 2017 at 10:54 am

      I’m surprised by the coffee comment – I’ve always had great coffee and felt Iceland was well known for this! On my last two trips, I’ve bought coffee beans home with me.

    • Jeannie
      February 6, 2017 at 11:38 am

      Great point, Jocelyn! The Icelandic breakfast isn’t what most people are used to yet quite expensive. Happy to hear the blog has been helpful for you and you’re making a return trip! Where to this time?!

  • tom
    January 24, 2017 at 9:04 am

    Been three times, loves the place but only explored the main south west area thus far between Vik and Borgames and Thingvellur but will be back again as I want to see the rest of the country. if I was younger I would certainly consider moving there myself despite the fact that on my last visit in December 2016 as single doughnut cost me nine quid £9.00 at Keflavik Airport. @gtpattion

    • Jeannie
      February 6, 2017 at 11:41 am

      Hey Tom! Yes there is so much to see in Iceland outside of the South/West area. I hope you get a chance to come back and explore more. That price for a donut sounds a little high! But I wouldn’t be surprised at airport prices.

  • Sabrina Pavlik
    January 24, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    Funny, because even being there as a tourist, I agree with you about *some* tourists. Rude and disrespectful to both the landscape and other people. It would be a shame if they had to erect walls and barriers to keep people out of where they don’t belong, just because some people can’t use common sense. It would be a sin to turn that gorgeous island into something “touristy”.

    • Jeannie
      February 6, 2017 at 11:41 am

      I couldn’t agree more, Sabrina! I would hope that people would respect the nature and obey the signs, but unfortunately that is not proving to be the case!

  • Kaelene @ Unlocking Kiki
    January 25, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Oh the expensive price we pay to live on a pretty island! These are all spot on. I was dying laughing at the awesome shot of all the tourists at Geysir, that is a spot on way to show what the places around Iceland are becoming!

    • Jeannie
      February 6, 2017 at 11:44 am

      Yes, that photo is so funny because it’s so true! I’m still happy as a clam paying whatever price to live in this beautiful place 🙂

  • Danielle
    January 27, 2017 at 11:02 am

    As per my previous rant on another of your posts, its the disrespectful tourists that are my biggest bug bear or people who treat Iceland like Disneyland and expect everything to be within easy reach (planes crashed because they crashed, not to become a tourist attraction) – of both the environments and safety signs (don’t play in the water where someone got swept out to see last month!) I also think some social media accounts are irresponsible in posting photos of people standing in places for photos which are out of bounds to protect the nature, which encourages others to do it – I know it’s hard and I’m sure I’m not entirely innocent of it in the past, but after my last trip I am a lot more aware of it.

    The cost of things really has gone up in the past few years. The exchange rate for £ is pretty much what it was when I visited in 2007 before the economic crash, and compared to when I first went back after that visit in 2013, it really packs a punch. I mean I didn’t eat out much in restaurants anyway, but certain things, souvenirs or whatever went from “oh that’s a bit pricey, but I’m on holiday’ to ‘woah! I can’t pay that!”. I don’t know how the changes have affected $ as I think it’s always seemed expensive from the $ – especially gas – which is pretty similar price to what it is in the UK.

    I don’t know if you’ve read this book called “Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland” https://www.amazon.co.uk/Names-Sea-Strangers-Sarah-Moss/dp/1847084168 – but it certainly put a little perspective on my aspirations on living there. Aside from trying to learn the language, and that I’d be by myself so no support person, driving would scare the shit out of me. I’ve had a couple of bad experiences here in the UK and the thought of driving in Iceland weather kinda terrifies me!! I’d have to stay in RVK never leave for the whole of winter, lol.

  • Danielle
    January 27, 2017 at 11:03 am

    p.s. I am capable of forming paragraphs but they all seem to disappear when I hit submit!

  • Maggie
    January 27, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    I concur with the streets and sidewalks comment! I busted my arse coming down a hill from our apartment! And I was in snow boots and treading carefully!
    We also ran into the same problem of store hours, in general, and nothing being open on New Year’s Day. You would think that a country bustling with tourists would be more apt to cater to them – and locals.
    Question… I am curious about what kinds of ways you think government might better control tourism. Any ideas you think would work? It’s a very interesting concept to me… discounts for Icelanders? Cap on capacity at hotels, etc? Better information shared with tourists through tour companies?
    Thanks again, Jeannie! Love the blog!

  • Cynthia
    January 28, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    Really interesting to hear your thoughts on this!
    “And the prices increase for tourists, but locals don’t get a break at all.” – the same thing is happening in Prague right now – it’s quite awful! Now all locals avoid the city center at almost all costs… it’s a shame, but what can you do when it’s the 5th most visited city in Europe?
    I struggle with not being able to buy products I want here a lot… for example, when I was in Iceland, I made sure to take home chocolate chips since they don’t sell them here… and stock up on my Burt’s Bees 🙂 I am getting better at remembering to buy these things abroad or finding alternatives though.

  • Joe
    January 30, 2017 at 2:48 am

    Jeannie, I’ll send you some asparagus and whichever spices you want so that you don’t have to pay that import tax! 🙂

  • Rosie
    January 30, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    I visited Iceland in December, so I definitely get some of these. I was expecting Iceland to be expensive, but I’d been to Stockholm previously and everyone told me how expensive it was there, and I didn’t think it was that much more expensive than a UK city. So I expected the same from Reykjavik. HA! How wrong was I?
    We were there on New Year’s Eve and the Hard Rock Cafe was about the only place open. Inconvenient for tourists, but I thought it was wonderful for the locals. I wish more places shut on special days in the UK, rather than being open later. It’s nice that family and friends are seen as such an important thing in Iceland.

    What surprised me most was the lack of gritting on the sidewalks. Like the US, people would sue in the UK if they injured themselves because sidewalks or parking lots hadn’t been gritted. I just couldn’t believe that I didn’t see any salt grit all week.

    • Jeannie
      February 6, 2017 at 11:46 am

      Girl you are preaching to the choir about the sidewalks! SO dangerous! I hear your point about the holiday hours – the States has to be the worst with this, so I appreciate the work-life balance.