How to travel in Iceland on a budget

I just came back to Europe from New Zealand, Hawaii and California, where everyone was raving about Iceland. Icelanders seem to have invested a lot in marketing their island. Since Iceland’s experiments in banking ended in a fiasco, tourism took over as the next big thing. It’s not hard to attract people to Iceland – it is easily one of the most beautiful places on earth and the culture is OK too:) Tourism always means easy money for some locals, but, hey, that’s not MY money and let it not be yours either.

Landmannalaugar is very popular and crowded. Lónsöræfi is similar but a lot quieter.

Landmannalaugar is very popular and crowded. Lónsöræfi is similar but a lot quieter.

First, for those who don’t know: I spent six full years in Iceland plus a few summers and I know the country inside out more or less. On the other hand, I haven’t been there for a year and a half now but my information is mostly up to date. I am going back this summer and I am excited.

Iceland is generally quite expensive and inaccessible and I have been thinking for a while about writing something for the budget traveler so here it is, at the start of the season. I hope it’s going to be useful and its also going to generate some clicks on my blog this summer:) If you are looking for 5-star hotel recommendations, you are going to be disappointed. If you are looking for a million star hotel (read camping) recommendations, read further.

In Iceland you can walk on glaciers but don't do it by yourself unless you really really know what you are doing. People (read Germans) have died trying this on their own. If you save enough money using my tips, go on a guided tour for this.

In Iceland you can walk on glaciers but don’t do it by yourself unless you really, really, REALLY! know what you are doing. People (read Germans) have died trying this on their own. If you save enough money using my tips, go on a guided tour for this.

First of all, to get an idea of how I like to travel –> I believe the whole world should have allemansrätt. Allemansrätten (“every man’s right” in Swedish) is something typical of the Nordic countries. Namely Sweden, Norway and Finland (not the Åland islands though – shame on you, Åland!) have this type of law that says that every person has the right  to roam, camp and – very importantly – pick mushrooms and berries as they please, even on private property (with few restrictions). In Iceland I have only seen some edible mushrooms around the university campus, but don’t eat those while hitchhiking please! Save them for when you are camping and need to talk to the flowers! (more…)

Tambora: The Big Bang in Practice

Exactly 200 years ago, as I am writing this, the most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded history had just started, blowing almost 2,000 meters off the top of a mountain called Tambora on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia. It was a devastating event for whole world. The eruption caused the “Year without Summer” in the northern hemisphere when it snowed in London and New York in July and crops failed all over Europe, North America and China. There was famine in Switzerland (they must have cut down on the fondue over there). The more indirect effects include the birth of the Frankenstein story and Mormonism, some pretty works of art, real estate bubbles, cholera going global and Arctic exploration.


Tambora from above (Nick Hughes, June 2008)

On April 10, 1815, Tambora woke up, blew up and completely destroyed its immediate surroundings. Whole cultures were wiped out, including the Tambora people and their Tambora language that was the easternmost non-Austronesian (Papuan) language at the time (little known fact, you are welcome!). Alas!


Memories of the tropics

Having my last tropical breakfast in Port Vila.

Having my last tropical breakfast in Port Vila.

I’m sitting here at the airport in Port Vila, Vanuatu, waiting for my flight to Auckland. It’s going to be 15 degrees in New Zealand. First thing to do on arrival: buy some shoes.

It’s been one day and 13 months since I arrived in India to join a yacht as crew. The idea was to sail all the way to New Zealand. I jumped ship already in Malaysia and since then it’s been a wonderful tropical adventure through Myanmar, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. I will miss most things, but most of all the generous people, thirst quenching coconuts and “drinking” pineapples and mangos!

Some selected moments:


On the Annapurna tragedy or Why the government of Nepal is full of it

Unfortunately a couple of weeks ago a bad snowstorm cost the lives of around 40 trekkers in Nepal in the area of the Annapurna peak – the world’s tenth highest. I was there some three years ago. The tragedy happened on the Annapurna Circuit Trek that goes around the mountain. The trail includes a pass at about 5000 masl – where the tragedy happened. I did the Annapurna base camp trek – that climbs to the base camp at 4200 masl and takes shorter time.


Nepal is by far one of the best countries in the world for trekking. The landscapes are absolutely fantastic, it has some of the best bits of the Himalayas and it is quite affordable. However, it was easy to see right away how disorganized everything was.


Now the Nepali government very obviously failed to warn trekkers, guides, hut keepers or national park guards (if there are any on the mountain itself) of the coming storm. Simply because the government of Nepal does not care about these things. Now they are blaming it on the backpackers who went there without a (proper) guide and want to restrict budget tourism:

It is better to have less tourists who pay more than thousands who come but flout rules,” said the tourism ministry’s joint secretary, Mohan Krishna Sapkota“. (Reuters)

Here is how trekking works in Nepal (more…)