I'm 25 & This Is How Much I Spent On A Mother-Daughter Bonding Trip To Iceland

Welcome to Travel Diaries, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week's travel diary: A 25-year-old aviation scheduler spends six cozy days in southern Iceland with her mom and sister.
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Age: 25
Occupation: Scheduler at an aviation company
Salary: $41,000 + average of $12k in OT/year
Annual Number Of Vacation Days: 2 weeks (not including sick and personal days)
Hometown: Portsmouth, NH
Trip Location: Southern Iceland
Trip Length: 6
Travel Companions: My mother & older sister
Travel Companion Salary: Mother – Variable due to freelancing, and sister makes about $38,000
Travel Companion Number of Vacation Days: Mother: freelances, N/A. Sister: 10 days
Costs: Drove and parked my vehicle at the airport, airline, and rental car. I booked our airlines November 27th, and yes! My birthday was the following week so I originally hatched a plan to travel for my birthday— instead I decided on the week before, as tickets were most affordable. My family and I had flexibility this far out as none of us had requested days off through work yet, so we weren’t set in stone date-wise.
Parking for my vehicle: $99, which my mom paid for in advance.
Flights: $1077 for all three tickets round-trip through IcelandAir, departing out of Boston, plus $55 for a pre-purchased checked bag on the return (you get 20% off if you buy up to 2 weeks before)
Rental Car: $269 for the week (a winterized 4x4 was absolutely 100% necessary, and we saved by choosing a manual rather than automatic.)
First night: Gesthús Selfoss $102
Second night: Hotel Skógar $180
Third and fourth nights: Airbnb in Reykjavík: $448
Total: $730
Pre-vacation spending:
Blundstones: $160
Assorted Grid Pouches: $13.99 for 10, used like packing cubes
Merino hiking socks x2: $32
Amazon Basics lightweight mini tripod: $7.00
Excursion to Blue Lagoon: $294
Total: $506.99
Do you have credit card debt as a result of booking this vacation?
I do not— we paid for nearly every expense with my credit card because it has no foreign transaction fees and made it easy to tally up everything at the end. I also bought many of my sister’s souvenirs with my card, but my mom used hers occasionally for herself and gifts. I had enough in savings to pay the whole trip immediately and not carry a balance. My mom later reimbursed me a lump sum for 2/3rds, and my sister is on a repayment plan with her. I paid for my own airline, my mom paid for her own, and I gifted my sister her flight for Christmas. All souvenirs were divided up at the end of the trip toward each person and my sister has a balance with me of approximately $250 in souvenirs that she'll repay to me.

Day One

3 p.m. – My 10-hour shift at work ended and my mom, who came to town for the weekend, picked me up in my car. We met with my Dad, his girlfriend, and my sister, who came several days earlier as well, to get the three of us settled into my car for the drive to the airport. I’ve been up since 4:00 a.m. and am looking forward to sleep! Thankfully, my unique work schedule meant I didn’t have to use a vacation day today because our flight was so late in the evening. We stopped at Panera Bread where my mom paid for the three of us to get some sandwiches before being trapped at the airport.
5:00 p.m. – We parked my car at a facility near the airport and will pay for it with a voucher that my mom purchased online beforehand. When I travel out of Boston, I typically take a bus to the airport, but because my family came out for the weekend, we brought my car to store anything they brought with them that doesn’t need to come to Iceland. IcelandAir limits you to a 22-pound carry-on and personal item, so we had to pack strategically! We got to the airport and breezed through security because I had Global Entry/TSA Precheck, so all our tickets qualified. I tried to get a little nap in before boarding, but I was too alert to sleep.
9:00 p.m. – We boarded! I got us the entire middle row of three seats, so we could relax on the short five-hour flight. We weren’t even wheels up by the time I’m fast asleep.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

6:05 a.m. – It felt as though we landed only minutes after I fell asleep in Boston. I was exhausted and we had a full day ahead of us. We made it through inbound customs in 20 minutes and headed to the rental car counter only to realize I had made a mistake by booking the reservation for an 8:00a.m. pick-up, as I thought it would take us much longer to deplane. They were sympathetic but couldn’t help us until around 7:30 when they might have had a car ready for us. So we parked our bags and settled in for a wait. I brushed my teeth and washed my face in the restrooms (and dried it on my sweater after realizing there were no paper towels!) and applied some Bioré watery essence sunscreen (my HG), some BB cream, blush, brows, and mascara.
7:15 a.m. – We were in luck and they helped us get a car earlier! I took obsessive photos of the exterior of the car to document every nick and scratch, as I didn’t pay for additional insurance through the rental car agency. I familiarized myself with the car and the clutch sensitivity, and got us on the road to Reykjavík.
8:30 am – My sister browsed Maps to find a restaurant that was open for breakfast and settled for a little bakery called Bergsson Mathús. We ordered 3 coffees, a breakfast plate (yogurt with muesli and berry compote, a soft boiled egg, prosciutto, cheese, salad, fruit, hummus, sourdough, and OJ,) a bread plate (sourdough, soft boiled eggs, cheese, and prosciutto), and grilled sourdough with smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, and salad. $55.35
9:15 a.m. – We poked around town for a bit and my sister and I picked up some postcards, stamps, and a pair of gloves for my sister on my card, ($49.02). I composed a postcard to my boyfriend’s cat and addressed it to my boyfriend, then dropped it in a nearby post box. We also got some travel packs and a full-size box of tissues, lip balm, and some blister cushions at an apothecary as well ($21.61). We decided not to spend too long wandering around Reykjavík as we will be back later in the week, so we hit the road to head west toward the Golden Circle. $70.63
11:30 a.m. – We made it to Þingvellir National Park (that funky letter is pronounced like the Th in “thing”) and took in the views! It was overcast but still beautiful. My mom had a hip replacement last year, so after a while she decides to rest in the car and take a nap to help with the jetlag. She gave my sister and I the green light to make a two-hour round trip hike to a waterfall, and during that hike we crossed over both the North American and European continental plates. I was ravenous after the hike, so I ate the purse granola bar that I’ve been carrying around for months until the perfect moment. It’s this moment.
3:45 p.m. – We made it to Gullfoss and the weather had deteriorated terribly. I was thankful I lived in the Northeast and was used to driving in awful snow and wind. We saw Gullfoss for less than 10 minutes because it simply wasn’t enjoyable and headed back to the visitor’s center to get a quick bite. My mom and I got simple toasted ham and cheese sandwiches and my sister got salami, cheese, and cucumber baguette. It’s been a long day, so we began to drive to Selfoss to our accommodations. We passed Geysir and decided not to stop as we want to get to Selfoss before sunset. $23.32
5:25 p.m. – Once in Selfoss, we stopped for a few groceries at the local Kronan. We got a variety of apples, Skyr, crisp breads, cookies, parmesan chips, and water ($33.64). I also really wanted to try Icelandic hot dogs, so we stopped at a “Pylsur Vagninn” (hot dog wagon) for 3 lamb hot dogs ($12.40). $46.04
6:15 p.m. – We are beat. We checked into our cottage at Gesthús Selfoss, showered, and fell asleep around 8 pm.
Daily Total: $195.34

Day Three

10:00 a.m. – We all slept hard and packed up our cottage. This place was quaint and private but a little cramped for three. We opened the door as we packed to let the fresh air and sunshine in and the manager’s pup came to greet us, 10/10 would pet again. After browsing Maps for somewhere to eat, we settled on Þrastalundur, a restaurant that had rave reviews about the food and views. We ordered three coffees and three breakfast platters, which include fried eggs, root vegetable hash, baked beans, pancakes, sausage, bacon, and a warm apple. $60.20
12:00 p.m. – We stopped into several local shops while in Selfoss, including the local handmade store, Handversskurinn, where I buy a set of handmade buttons as a gift for a friend back home ($15.80). My mom buys my sister a Lopapeysa (Icelandic wool sweater) as a gift ($180). We also go to a glass blower studio, where my sister buys a handmade bowl ($60.61) and a fiber shop, where I’m embarrassed to admit I ran my credit card for a 43 cent purchase. I misunderstood the conversion and thought it was more expensive. Lesson learned: Always carry at least a bit of local currency with you, even in places where cards are widely accepted. We topped off the car before continuing west ($45.15). $301.99
3:20 p.m. – We stopped at Seljalandsfoss and paid the parking fee, then took a short walk to the falls. Because it was so slippery and rainy, only my sister and I decided to walk the loop behind the waterfall, and we came out soaked! We kept driving around Eyjafjallajökull toward Skógar, pulling over often to take in the scenery and once to pet some sweet, fluffy Icelandic ponies! $5.80
5:00 p.m. – We checked into Hotel Skógar. My sister and I wanted to hike to a nearby geothermal swimming pool in the mountains, so we quickly packed up our swimsuits and headed out, leaving my mom to happily rest at the hotel. The pool was a 10-minute drive from the hotel, and another 15-minute hike after parking. The hike was worth it! The man-made pool, Seljavallalaug, is fed with geothermal water, so it’s a comfortable temperature year round (though certainly not warm!) We chatted with a pair of nice Greek tourists who were also there, but otherwise had the place to ourselves. It’s so murky and spooky, I was actually glad to not be there completely alone. After 30 minutes we started to get chilly, so we dried off and hiked back to our car.
7:15 p.m. – Dinner time! The hotel had a restaurant on site that was quite good, so we ordered two of the arctic char dishes, a lamb dish, and a glass of wine for myself and my mom. After dinner, we enjoyed a dip in the hot tub, a sit in the sauna, and eagerly greet our pillows. $126.25
Daily Total: $494.24

Day Four

8:00 a.m. – Breakfast was included with our hotel stay, so I had coffee, Skyr, muesli, fruit, and a pastry. We cycled through breakfast, showers, and packing up to get on our way.
9:30 a.m. –We arrived at Reynisfjara, my favorite site of the trip and it’s stunning. The basalt columns are austere, the black sand is curious, the sneaker waves are terrifying (several tourists have drowned in past years after being caught in the waves), and we took our time indulging in the visuals. Afterward, we worked our way to Dyrhólaey, the Coastal Arch, and took photos to our heart's content.
12:10 p.m. – My mom, sister, and I are all avid crafters: We knit, quilt, sew, weave, and everything else in between, so naturally we made a stop at the Skógar Museum, the local folk museum. It’s a worthwhile visit even if you’re not into fiber arts! There’s excellent historical artifacts, art, and tools from the viking era to today. They’ve also transplanted original moss huts from the region as well as churches, school houses, and other dwellings. Worth it! $50.16
1:45 p.m. – We went to Skógafoss quickly because it’s nearby but didn't spend too long there. Because it was sunny, the mist from the falls made a rainbow, so we enjoyed the sight then kept going. We stopped at a little fish & chips stand called Mia’s Country Van, where I ate the best fried cod of my life. The owner gets whatever is fresh from a nearby fishmonger and it’s spectacular with some smoked flaky sea salt ($38.46). On the drive to Reykjavík, we stopped briefly at the LAVA Centre but decide the admission is steeper than we’d like to pay. My sister bought a wool-encased ambergris bar of soap and two post cards at the gift shop, however ($18.89). $57.35
5:00 p.m. – We found our way to our Airbnb in Reykjavik and check-in was a breeze with a keypad entry. I’m considering making this feature a new requirement for myself for future bookings, it’s an underrated convenience. The Airbnb was on the 3rd floor, so we had a great view of the street below yet also plenty of privacy, and it was immaculate, chic, and well-appointed. We relaxed for an hour until my mom and I headed out for dinner, as my sister wasn’t feeling well. We went to a restaurant across the street called Staff and got, you guessed it, Icelandic lamb! Their preparation is delicious, we both ordered the same dish so we didn’t have to share! We also got two beers and a soup to go for my sister. $94.89
8:30 p.m. – After dinner, my mom and I walked a couple blocks to the iconic Hallgrimskirkja, which is lit up beautifully at night. We split a plain belgian waffle from a street vendor, Vöffluvagninn, and it was spectacularly crispy and sweet, despite being unadorned. We wandered home, making mental notes as we browsed the windows of shops we’d like to visit in the morning. $5.41
Daily Total: $207.81

Day Five

10:00 a.m. – My sister and I slept in, and woke up to my mom coming back from a trip to the grocery store down the street. She brought us muffins and bananas (they were a very long way from home, she said) and we made coffee with the grounds and French press left in the cabinet of the Airbnb ($12.35). We shopped all morning and bought lots of yarn ($119.74), a hat for my sister, ($46.60), two locally-designed tea towels for my mom and I at Scintilla ($24.80), two beautifully-designed tins of flaky sea salt for mom and I ($29.14), a tall-sized handmade lopapeysa for myself at the Handknitting Association of Iceland, ($213.18), and pair of shot glasses for my sister ($21.47). I received a tax-free form on the receipts of my yarn purchases and my lopapeysa, which will entitle me to a refund if I file at the airport. $467.28
1:45 p.m. – We stopped for a light lunch at a deli called Ostabúðin. We picked a seafood soup, a plate of fried camembert, smoked goose, ewe filet, goose pate, and freshly baked bread. My mom paid to treat us. More shopping and browsing follows, of course. $79.70
4:00 p.m. – The weather was nice so we parked on the far side of the harbor and took a walk along the waterfront enjoying the view of the Harpa music hall and the calmness of the water. We stopped into a shop to buy my sister a small carry-on suitcase on sale, which she had been planning to buy soon anyway. I also bought a book of cat poems for my cat-dad boyfriend and a series of 4 postcards by a local artist. Afterward, we relaxed at our Airbnb until it started to get dark. $113.19
8:00 p.m. – My sister checked the aurora forecast and saw that the aurora activity was projected to be moderate with a clear weather forecast. Hoping we’d have a chance to see it, we headed toward the lighthouse and were glad we left a little early, as the small parking area fills up quickly and the activity starts as soon as it’s dark enough! I’m happy I bought the mini tripod for my camera as it allows me to capture a few good shots once I tweak my camera settings. I only have a Sony a6000 point-and-shoot camera, but it works just fine for my needs.
9:45 p.m. – My sister and I were craving something cozy after watching the aurora in the cold for so long and head to Icelandic Street Food for a bowl of lamb soup for me and seafood soup for my sister. My mom stayed behind in the car as she wasn’t hungry. The soup was delicious and we quickly ate two bowls as the refills were free! They gave us a free beer vouchers for the bar they own nearby, but we declined so we could get to bed. Maybe next time! $33.80
Daily Total: $693.97

Day Six

7:00 a.m. – We woke up early to eat a small breakfast of leftover grocery items, tidy-up the Airbnb by loading the dishwasher and taking out the trash, and get on the road early enough for our Blue Lagoon reservation for the 8:00 a.m. hour – we can arrive any time between 8:00 and 8:59 for our reservation to be honored, so we planned to arrive around 8:30 am.
8:45 a.m. – We made it in time and got checked in for the lagoon. The basic ticket included a towel, beverage, and a silica mud mask. I got a green juice as my chosen beverage, and my mom and sister picked a local cider. We masked-up and relaxed and, thankfully, it was not too busy because it was so early in the morning.
11:20 a.m. – After soaking all morning, we got out to shower and get dressed for our noon reservation at the Blue Lagoon restaurant, Lava. PSA: The silica mask, in my opinion, is SO DRYING! My skin felt like paper for the rest of the day and despite lathering my hair with conditioner before getting it, the crunchiness persisted.
12:00 p.m. – Lunch! We opted for the mix & match prix fixe menu, which included three courses of either traditional Icelandic or Seafood dishes. I chose the Seafood menu and got a creamy langoustine soup for a starter, cod with barley and fennel as a main, and salted caramel mousse for dessert. My mom and sister chose the birch & juniper cured char for a starter, lamb fillet as a main, and the same choice as mine for dessert. We all felt quite dehydrated from the soak, so we chose to only have water, and lots of water at that. $193.65
1:30 p.m. – We stopped for gas on the way to the airport at Olis Gas. Maybe it’s TMI, but I was in desperate need of a tampon but, of course, the station we navigated to was stand-alone pumps only! $50.16
2:00 p.m. – We dropped off our rental car and took a shuttle to the airport. While my sister was checking her prepaid suitcase, I went to the tax-refund counter to file the two receipts I had, so hopefully I will get approximately $40 back on my credit card in a few weeks. I got through security as quickly as possible and went straight to the duty-free apothecary to buy tampons and met my family at the gate afterward. $5.11
3:00 p.m. – While waiting for our flight, I bought a selection of Icelandic nips from the duty-free store and I was most excited to try the rhubarb spirits ($17.01) I also bought a package of Icelandic hot dogs after the store rep reassured me that they’ll be okay unrefrigerated to Boston ($6.74). Then a sandwich, juice, and brownie for the flight ($15.86). I end up giving my mom half my sandwich once we were on the plane as I was not super hungry. $39.61
5:15 p.m. – Our flight departed! I couldn’t sleep for any of it, and watched Ocean’s Eight and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (my favorite!) with headphones my mom and I split.
7:10 p.m. – We arrived into Boston and breezed through customs. We waited for my sister’s bag, then hopped on the parking shuttle that comes every 10 minutes to pick up my car. My mom and sister had early flights out the next morning, so we booked them at a hotel near the airport in Boston, as it doesn’t make sense to drive back to my place in between. I helped them up to their room and we said our bittersweet goodbyes, then headed home myself. $230
Daily Total: $518.53
How did you prepare for this trip?
I prepared with TONS of Instagram browsing, looking at hashtags, location tags, and Iceland-related accounts to decide which highlights inspired us for our itinerary. Then I browsed a variety of blogs for a realistic itinerary, and I found I Heart Reykjavik to be the most helpful as a starting point.
I have traveled a bit more extensively than my family, so they were very hands-off in the planning, allowing me to create a general itinerary and working with their input whenever it was offered, though they were quite happy to let someone else worry about the logistics!
I created a Google Doc itinerary that was incredibly helpful in helping us sort through the things we wanted to see each day, then subsequently made a Google Sheets spreadsheet with all the joint expenses upon returning so we could see everything split.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
It’s pretty cliche, but the views were out of this world. The landscape is so alien, it feels like another planet! Specifically, seeing Reynisfjara, the black basalt column beach, was my favorite landscape highlight.
What was the best meal or food you ate while you were there?
The lamb soup at Icelandic Street Food was the tastiest, most valuable bang for our buck! The broth was so clear, yet also very rich and aromatic. This restaurant also offer UNLIMITED refills and free bread, which was refreshing considering how expensive several other meals were. It was the coziest way to warm up after watching the northern lights on our last evening. Icelanders say Icelandic lamb is the best in the world, and I can’t say I disagree!
Is there a tourist trap you wish you had avoided?
Many of the “must-see sites” are crowded, even in inclement weather, and it’s difficult to take in the beauty peacefully. While I wouldn’t have avoided them, I’d just say to be prepared for crowds, and obviously be considerate and respectful while you’re there, because they’re worthwhile sites. At Reynisfjara, there were tourists climbing all over the columns and sitting for a long time, ruining the chances of everyone else there to take a photo and enjoy the scene without people in it.
What advice would you give someone who is travelling to Southern Iceland?
Prepare for stinky, eggy showers! The sulphur water will haunt you. Or you’ll just get used to it like the locals. (I didn’t!)
Is there anything about your trip you would do differently in retrospect?
I did extensive research about where I could fly a drone (no national parks and many other major sites,) but figured I could get some amateur footage in legal, off-the-beaten-path places. Unfortunately, however, it was too windy to fly it the entire time! I have a small DJI Spark, but it still took up a lot of space in my luggage.
Would you stay at your hotel or Airbnb again?
While all three were pleasant, we especially loved Hotel Skógar and our Reykjavik Airbnb. The staff at Hotel Skógar were so kind. When we asked if they had laundry facilities, they said no, but because we only wanted a few leggings and socks washed, they took our laundry home and washed it with theirs, bringing it back in time for breakfast. The views at Hotel Skógar were excellent too! And the Airbnb was immaculate, chic, centrally located, well appointed with everything you could need, and very convenient with a keypad entry.
Where were you located in the specific city and would you recommend staying in that part of town?
I found our location in Skógar to be a spectacular base from which many of the Golden Circle sites are close by and accessible. While there weren’t very many dining options there, the proximity to natural features and scenery was unprecedented. If we stayed longer, my family and I agreed that Hotel Skógar would be where we’d extend our time.
Do you feel like you were there for the right length of time? Would you have come home sooner or stayed longer given the chance?
I was pleased with the amount of time we were there, though I would have maybe extended by 1-2 days to see more of Reykjavik, and a bit more of the countryside north of Reykjavik on a day trip as well. I didn’t feel as though our schedule was too crammed, and, as the driver, none of the destinations were too fatiguing to get to in terms of lengthy drives etc. There’s obviously a considerable part of the country that we never saw, but we did see most of the Golden Circle highlights, where much of the country’s scenery is concentrated.
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