When you have the money to travel, you never have the time. When you have the time to travel, you never have the money. It seems like a cruel joke. Sometimes, though, you find yourself with just enough of each to take that trip you really want, but can’t find anyone to go with. If you’ve been in this position before, I feel your pain. Too many times, I let plans slip away because no one was able to come with me. Finally, I pushed my fears aside and did it: I tried traveling solo for the first time.
How I Chose Iceland for Traveling Solo For the First Time
When I saw $99 flights come out from Wow Airlines to Iceland, I couldn’t resist. Of course, I booked flights 5 months in advance so it was easy to be brave and say, “Of course I can do this on my own.” As the months ticked by and my trip got closer, I started to get nervous and tried to convince people to come with me. Couldn’t do it. With a few days to go, I just tried not to think too much about it and just took each minute as it came. Then, I was at the airport waiting to board my flight to Iceland.
Iceland was easy for me to choose for my first time traveling solo for the first time because I had been there before, on New Years Eve 2014 with James. We were only there for a quick 2-day layover on our way back to Spain, but I got a general feel for the lay of the land. It was enough time to fall in love with the country and realize I needed more Iceland in my life. I felt confident going back solo: I’d know exactly where to go and what to do. I wasn’t wrong.
Iceland ranks #1 safest country in the world by the Global Peace Index. I’m not sure what Iceland is doing right, but I never felt unsafe in Iceland, even walking alone at night (which lasts about 18-19 hours in winter) with no one around. Everyone is so nice, friendly, and helpful that it’s hard to imagine any crime in this beautiful country. If you’re a female traveling solo to for the first time, why not choose the safest country in the world?
Upon Arrival in Iceland
I arrived in Iceland by myself at 4:30 a.m. I knew from past experience that a rental car wasn’t the best idea because of the unpredictable weather in Iceland. Plus, without a gps or Icelandic SIM card, I’d probably get lost anyway. I decided to opt out of a rental car and just do tours. With tours, you’re never alone!
I chose two tours in Iceland: the Golden Circle tour and the South Coast & Waterfalls tour. On both of these tours, I found plenty of other people traveling solo and learned their exciting stories. It must be so normal for people to travel solo to Iceland because none of the locals ever asked me why I was traveling solo or made me feel weird or uncomfortable about it; only other tourists did that. I felt so at home and had such a good experience traveling solo for the first time in Iceland that I would actually prefer to travel there again solo.
Meeting other solo travelers on the tours helped me with my biggest concern: who would take pictures of me? (I know, my priorities may be a little off if pictures were my biggest concern…) Other solo travelers had the same concern, and we bonded and stuck together to take pictures of each other. We inspired each other. We had a wonderful time together.
Eating Solo in Iceland
Once I got over the fear of getting to my destination alone, and then got over the fear of sightseeing on my own, it was time to deal with the more difficult problem of eating alone. I was more nervous about going to a restaurant alone than anything else in Iceland, so I googled some of the best places to have a meal by yourself in Iceland before I went. Most of the places I found were a little far from where I was staying, so I kept them in the back of my mind while I searched for some other resources.
On the plane, I saw an Icelandic magazine suggesting we download Appy Hour, an app that shows you a map of places offering happy hour with prices, distance from your location, and atmosphere. How perfect! This was how I chose my solo dinner spot. The first one I tried, B5 (Bankastræti 5), looked very upscale, Miami-style with pink ambient lighting and white everything else. I decided to skip that one. The second one I tried, Kaffibarinn (Bergstaðastræti 1), was crowded with hipsters who stared at me when I walked in. With nowhere to sit and a tiny bar space, I left that one too. The third place, Bjarni Fel Sports Bar (Austurstræti 20), caught my attention with a sign that said Free Beer! (Well, in reality, it said FREE wifi, icelandic BEER, but it was still clever.)
Bjarni Fel had a casual, laid back atmosphere with plenty of bar space and great happy hour specials. The bartender and customers were perfectly friendly, but not all-up-in-my-space friendly. I had a great meal, great Icelandic beer, and made lots of new friends. I definitely recommend this bar for solo travelers.
Finally, no trip to Iceland is complete without a trip to Baejarins Beztu hot dog stand (Tryggvatagata 1). It’s a tiny stand that sells only hot dogs, with about 3 picnic tables. It’s not fancy, but it’s perfect for quick, delicious, famous Icelandic hot dogs and for solo travelers. A hot dog runs about 450 ISK ($4 USD) but it’s definitely worth it. This is a great place to use up your krona right before you leave Iceland!
Some of the other restaurants I researched that are great for solo travelers are Icelandic Bar (1a Ingolfsstraeti), Laundromat (Austuratraeti 9), Glaetan Cafe (Laugavegur 19), and Tapas Barinn (Vesturgata 3B). There are also popular chains like Subway and Domino’s.
Drinking Solo in Iceland
Icelandic people love to drink. Just about every Icelandic person I met stressed this important aspect of their lives. They will party until 5:00 a.m. I guess when it’s night for 19 hours a day, there’s plenty of time to drink without feeling like a degenerate. It also could have something to do with the fact that prohibition in Iceland lasted from 1913 until 1989, so only recently have Icelandic people begun drinking again legally.
However, with Iceland’s pure glacial water, you have to imagine that Icelandic beer would be pretty amazing. Iceland does have a brewery, and tour companies offer tours where they’ll pick you up at your hotel, take you to the brewery for a tour and tasting, and take you home again. Gray Line’s brewery tour is called Taste the Saga and it costs $59, with hotel pick up at 6:00 p.m. and drop off at 8:00 p.m. Unfortunately, my South Coast tour got back at 6:30 p.m. so I missed the Taste the Saga brewery tour. But I was set on trying an Icelandic beer before I left.
Luckily, Reykjavik has plenty of local bar options. I mentioned Bjarni Fel Sports Bar before for food, but I have to give it another shout out for its amazing 9:00 p.m. happy hour. Most happy hours are 3:00-6:00ish, but Bjarni Fel’s happy hour is 9:00-11:00. During happy hour, you can get buy one get one free beers, which really helps the wallet when beers are around $12-$15 US. I ended up going for dinner at 7:30 so I was too early for happy hour, but I was there when happy hour started and it really picked up – go early for a seat because it gets packed around 8:59!
The Lebowski Bar (Laugavegur 20b) is another fun night spot, based on the 1998 film The Big Lebowski. The inside has four themes: a southern-style porch, a bowling alley, a 50’s diner, and a 60’s playboy lounge. There’s a juke box during the day and a DJ at night who plays classic rock and roll songs. I made some new friends at Bjarni Fel and they introduced me to all their new friends and all 10 of us new friends made our way to the Lebowski Bar. There, we met an Icelandic crew out celebrating a birthday, and pretty much took over the entire 50’s diner section of the bar. It’s a great place for drinks with old or new friends.
No matter where you go, Iceland is a place for groups, couples, or singles. It’s easy to meet people around you, everyone accepts others, and everyone wants to be friends. Think about it like this: Iceland is a unique travel destination. People traveling to Iceland are looking for fun, adventure, and exotic experiences. Almost everyone who travels to Iceland is the same person. It’s easy to find new friends when everyone there is looking for exactly the same thing.
What About the Language Barrier?
In some countries, the language barrier is a real problem. In most big cities, there are enough people who speak English to make travel easy, but Iceland doesn’t really have any big cities. So what happens if you don’t speak Icelandic?
Well, no one else in the world speaks Icelandic either, so Icelanders grow up speaking about five languages. They are almost all completely fluent in Icelandic, English, Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish. If you speak any of these languages, you’re okay. Even police, gas station workers, fast food chain workers, and people in the less-visited part of the country all spoke English perfectly. I’m not talking fluent like they can carry a basic conversation but speak slowly; I’m talking fluent like they can use plays on words, make jokes, use inferences, and speak faster than half the people in America can. I never had a single problem with a language barrier in Iceland.
Perks of Traveling Solo
One of the best things about traveling solo is that there’s no one to fight with you about what to do, what not to do, or when to do it. I made my own schedule and changed it on a whim as I saw fit. I never worried about my plans going wrong and ruining someone’s trip. No one complained or told me I was too crazy for traipsing along Iceland in the freezing rain. No one made fun of me for taking too many pictures or was embarrassed by my over-excitement. I was on my own sleeping schedule and did things on my own time (which is usually jam-packed and rushed, which no one seems to like. Go figure).
My wallet really appreciated my solo travel too. Iceland is an expensive little island, but there are tricks to keeping costs down if you’re a solo traveler. Many hotels offer single rooms with a twin bed. These prices are about half of a double room with two twin beds. Single rooms are perfect for what I needed.
It’s much easier to meet people when you’re traveling solo than traveling with other people, in my opinion. When you’re solo, you’re more aware and less distracted by others. You might even be specifically searching out other people to ask for recommendations or hear a new story. You’re less intimidating as one person than as a group. It’s easier to attach yourself to a fun group as a solo person than as another group, although that’s not always the case. If you’re looking to meet locals or make friends from around the world, traveling solo is an easy way to do that.
Finally, the best part about traveling solo for me is challenging myself and overcoming my fears. I need to challenge myself. I put off for traveling solo for a long time, but I finally conquered that hurdle. Admittedly, I was nervous right before I got on that plane but during my trip I kept taking a step away from wherever I was physically and mentally and remembering that this was a challenge I conquered and I was happy. When I got home, I realized next time I go back to Iceland, I might just want to go solo again. Traveling solo made me stronger, less scared, and more confident.
Do you want to travel solo? Have you traveled solo? Where have you gone? If you haven’t done it yet, what’s holding you back? Let me know in the comments!
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P.S. You might also enjoy Iceland and 10 Reasons Why Living Overseas Makes You A Better Person