Renting a Car in Iceland

Iceland, the land of fire and ice. It’s raw, stunning, dangerous, comforting, inspiring… and that’s just to name a few reasons why it’s becoming a popular tourist destination.

It can feel intimidating planning a trip to a wild country with developing tourism, but I’m here to help! Many people get overwhelmed in the planning process, and so it’s my goal to give as many practical pieces of advice that I can give. Traveling to Europe does NOT have to be overwhelming!

DSC_0483.JPG

 

I did a lot of online research about renting a car in Iceland. Truthfully, some of what I read stressed me out. People talked about high costs, dangerous roads, excessive insurances, and companies charging you extra fees after you leave the country. It left me feeling scared about what I thought would be a simple task; picking out a car and paying for it.
The truth of the matter is this; it’s all bologna! People are quick to leave online reviews when they have had a bad experience with a company, but the vast majority of people who have a good experience don’t go out of our way to help each company shine. So fear not, choosing a car can be easy!

CHOOSING THE CAR:

Think about what you are really going to be using the car for. You DON’T need a big vehicle unless you are going into the highlands. We did a fair amount of driving, using Reykjavik as our home base, and then ventured out to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Golden Circle, and the southern coast of Iceland for several days. With that being said, a car was a great choice.

The information online about driving in Iceland can be contradicting, so I’m here to tell you that small vehicles CAN drive on the vast majority of roads (excluding F roads). Keep your costs low by renting a small 4 door. They get amazing gas mileage, and even if you get blown around in the winds a little easier than a heavy car (and man oh man do they have winds), you will be just fine! One of the funny things that I noticed about vehicles in Iceland is that they are either huge or tiny. Nobody drives a midsize, so don’t spend the extra money on it!

AUTOMATIC OR MANUAL?:

We are from America and so we are used to driving automatic vehicles. Since that’s what we are most comfortable with, that’s what we chose to drive in Iceland. You can save yourself some money by picking a manual instead, but If you aren’t very confident in your skills, Iceland isn’t the place to brush up. If you go anywhere outside of Reykjavik, you will drive on steep inclines and come up to one lane bridges where you may need to downshift to slow quickly. Choose what you are most comfortable with.

 

WHEN TO BOOK:

Some rental car companies will give you a discount if you rent at least 2 weeks in advance. Whether or not the company you go with offers this, I recommend booking around that time frame. There are A LOT of companies to choose from, but each is priced very differently. To ensure you are getting the car you want for the price you want, book online, and book in advance. Even though they have so many car companies, the closer you get to your travel dates, the more booked up they become.

THE FINE DETAILS:

If you are planning on putting the miles on – or kilometers, since that’s how they measure distances – make sure the company you choose offers unlimited mileage. A lot of them do, but make sure it’s actually listed somewhere on their website so you know for sure. If you miss that, and end up having to pay for additional mileage, you might end up as one of the disgruntled reviewers that I was talking about earlier!

Go with a company that offers various insurances. Some of the ones you will need are gravel protection, sand and ash protection, Collision Damage waiver, and the insurance that allows you to lower the deductible if you are in an accident. In addition to those insurances, you will have the option to purchase theft insurance. All of them are necessary except for theft. I say that because Iceland is extremely safe. You of course still want to lock your doors when you aren’t in the vehicle, but it’s not common for people to break in. All of the different companies will offer you the chance to book each insurance separately, but a few will let you do an insurance bundle that makes everything cheaper for you. Theft will probably be included in the bundle, but purchasing them all together will save you some money, and so you are just lucky to have the coverage.

If you do research like I did, you will come across some third party rental sites. Although their prices were low, their terminology was so different from every other company that I decided to avoid those in the fear that you would have some additional costs once you actually arrived to Iceland. Most of the third party sites are showing you car rental companies that don’t actually have an office at the airport. They will sometimes charge you for pick up and drop off of the car from the airport. Don’t pay for it. There are A TON (you will see what I mean when you arrive) of companies that have their offices right next to the airport so you don’t have to pay a fee to pick up your car there.

There are a handful of car rental companies that give you a lower price for renting an older car. If you are fine with an older car, feel free to risk it. I knew that the possibility of a breakdown in a new country was something we wanted to avoid, and so when comparing costs, we still chose a company that offered new cars.

 

WHO TO BOOK WITH:

I did a lot of research about car rental companies, and we decided to go with Route1 Car Rental. They had everything we were looking for including new vehicles, great reviews, unlimited mileage, insurance bundles, great prices, and free pick up/drop off at the airport! They will send an agent to get you in the arrivals area of the airport, and it’s just a short walk to the parking lot where they keep their cars. They will go over the contract with you in the lobby of the hotel next to the airport and run your credit card right there. All you have to do upon returning the car is leave the keys with the front desk staff at the hotel! So simple.

Here is a list of a few other companies that we considered going with:

Go Iceland Car Rental

Thrifty Car Rental

Arctic Car Rental

 

Here is a list of a few companies we found unsatisfactory:

Budget Rental – Did not give you the option to book insurances upfront and therefore the additional cost of insurances would be unknown until arrival.

Hertz – VERY expensive compared to other companies

Sixt – No free unlimited mileage

 

Of course it’s up to you to do your own research and decide which company is best for you! Best of luck and enjoy your trip to Iceland!!!!

DSC_0370

Advertisements

5 Twin Cities Dates to go on this Summer

So you found that special someone did ya? I bet you want to take them out on some great dates too! Not to worry, I’ve done all of the creative thinking for you. All you have to do is follow the instructions below and enjoy your date. Oh, and by the way, I will expect an invite to the wedding since I am helping you out after all ;).

1. Longfellow Neighborhood Date:

Start the evening around 5pm with a stroll by Minnehaha falls, and then take a swing into Sea Salt Eatery for some great food. When you are finished eating their scrumptious sea food, drive a few miles to the Riverview Theater to catch a movie. I’m a lover of all things vintage, and this is my favorite theater in the metro because walking in is like taking a step back in time. When we took my mom there for the first time, she said that it reminded her of the theaters she grew up going to. Another reason I like it is because it’s easy on the wallet. Instead of showing the most current films, it plays the most popular movies that just exited the regular theaters. So go ahead, get your special someone some popcorn AND a soda… You can afford it ;)! Finish out the evening across the street at the charming Riverview Cafe to grab a late coffee, tea, or wine at their wine bar. You might even be able to catch some live music before or after the movie! Check Riverview’s schedule to see who is playing when you are planning to go.

2. Downtown Minneapolis Date:

I can’t get enough of the beautiful weather in the summer, so take a walk across the Stone Arch Bridge. If you have the time, consider setting up a tour of the Mill City Museum as well. When you are ready to go inside, head over to The Dakota Jazz club for an amazing dinner and to listen to some tunes. You will need to reserve your table and tickets in advance. Do this by clicking here. This will be a fun & classy evening that anyone would enjoy.

IMG_0882

3. Uptown Minneapolis Date:

This is a great date to have on a Saturday afternoon. Head over to Surdyk’s in North East sometime before lunch. Take a look around their their deli and cheese shop to pick out the perfect picnic spread (including at least 1 or 2 of their amazing cheeses). I recently went here with a friend and accidentally spent over $20 on cheese alone. It’s all just soooo good. Take your food to go and drive over to lake Calhoun. Rent a canoe, enjoy a paddle around the lakes, and eat your lunch together on one of the more secluded lakes for a bit of romance.

4. Stillwater, MN Date:

Take the half hour drive east to Historic Stillwater. Wander down historic Main Street together and look in all of the shops. At your scheduled departure time, head south on main street to where the riverboats are docked. Have a great dinner and enjoy the sights as you boat down the river. Surprisingly, you can get both the boat ride and dinner for only $30 a person! Book your tickets here.

 

5. Edina, MN Date:

Centennial Lakes in Edina may be man made, but it has a certain charm to it. Walk hand-in hand around the lakes, play some mini golf, and then head up the stairs to Pinstripes for dinner. To extend your evening, schedule a game of indoor bocce or bowling at Pinstripes, or relax by either one of their 2 outdoor fire pits.

 

Why You Won’t go on Vacation & Why You Probably Should

You could be in Amsterdam in eight hours. In Cape Town in sixteen. You could be scaling the Andes Mountains in Patagonia right now –while  wearing your favorite Patagonia coat. So why are you still sitting on your couch? Why haven’t you left your home state in twenty years? And why aren’t you living the crazy life you’ve always dreamed of? It’s a proven fact that people are happier when they have a vacation planned. It’s often said that a vacation gives you something to look forward to. This alone should be enough to convince you to start saving for a trip. However, it’s not always that easy, is it? If you are anything like me, practicality often gets in the way of adventure. Three of the biggest reasons people don’t take vacations is because of money, time, and flat out fear.

Addressing the “I don’t have enough money” mindset:

Have you ever put new tires before a Las Vegas getaway with friends? Or maybe a new lawn mower got in the way of that perfect getaway to Chicago. Whatever it is that stops you from saving for a vacation, it doesn’t have to take away from the exciting adventure that could await. Sometimes all it takes is a simple shift in mindset to make the unthinkable happen.

When Dan and I were first married we made very little money. I worked part-time while finishing school as Dan started his first year teaching. Our apartment was a one bedroom located in the bad part of Minneapolis. Despite that, we decided that traveling would be a priority for us. But how did we do it? We traded some things for others. So, I want to propose a question. What are the things in your life that you don’t actually need?  Consider dropping your cable to put that money aside for a trip. Do you need the newspaper when many are available to read online? Transportation is necessary, but does it have to be a 2016 model? Just start thinking about it. I could bet that most people reading this article could at least save $10 a month in a vacation fund. It’s a start!

33493_10150224029415640_4907201_n

 

Addressing the “I’m too busy” mindset:

Have you ever been so busy that the thought of adding one more thing to your schedule makes you feel like you’ll break? I have, and at this point a vacation isn’t just a want, it’s a need. You can only run on low batteries for so long before they run out. If the thought of laying on the white sand beaches of Aruba is cathartic, imagine how healing it would be to actually be there. Between the two of us, Dan and I work over 130 hours a week. Add a social life to that, errands, cleaning house… etc… we aren’t left with much extra time. Our particular schedule may look different than yours, but I know that we aren’t the only ones who have only a precious few hours to spend leisurely. That’s why you need to recharge your batteries. Our lives are so busy, that if we don’t slow down from time to time, we really could break. If you have enough PTO, use some. If your parents said they would watch your kids, don’t feel guilty, take advantage of the opportunity. If you think you’ve got too much going on at work, take care of the things that need attention right away, and leave the rest for later.

 

 

Addressing the “I’m too scared” mindset:

When you are at the end of your life looking back at all you’ve done, won’t you want to reflect on all of the seized opportunities, and revel in the fact that you took control of life? In the short life I’ve already lived, I’ve learned that some of the scariest experiences in life are the best experiences. When we were in the Cayman Islands a few years back, Dan made me hold a stingray while on a snorkeling adventure. I was terrified while I watched others pick them up, but I was also jealous of the life experience they were having. He saw the wistful look in my eye and encouraged me to hold one even though I was scared. I’m thankful for the push he gave me. That will forever be one of my favorite experiences in life. What are the things you have wanted to do, but you let fear stand in the way?

530971_10152039029285640_2058318107_n
Can you see the man swimming after the stingray :D!?

 

 

If you are still struggling to justify a vacation, I will give you a few more reasons to just bite the bullet and plan the trip:

  1. It’s a chance to invest in yourself.
  2. It gives you the break you need to recharge your batteries for life.
  3. If you’re married or dating, it’s a chance to invest in your relationship.
  4. It helps you expand your interests.
  5. It opens your world view.
  6. It’s a chance to invest in your family.
  7. It’s a chance to build new relationships.
  8. It can be a spiritual experience.
  9. Because accumulating experiences is better than collecting stuff
  10. It’s a chance to give back (missions or volunteer trips)

 

 

 

  • PS, I want to give a quick shout out to my husband Dan for doing an amazing edit on this post!

 

 

The Ultimate Guide to San Francisco

The song lyrics “I left my heart in San Francisco” played on repeat in my mind as our plane lifted off the tarmac to head for home. It has been playing in my mind pretty much ever since. Minnesota has been home for my entire life, but San Francisco takes a close second. If a city could describe my personality, San Francisco does it well. It has a sunny disposition, lots of quirkiness, good fashion, a love for good food, lots of energy, with a little bit of brokenness mixed in (let’s just be honest… none of us are sunshine and rainbows all of the time). I identify so strongly with it, it’s no wonder that it feels like home!
I had been asking my husband to go back from the moment we left our first trip, and he made that dream come true last month (side note… I married a really good man, and I’m so thankful he makes such amazing gestures of love for me…. All my single ladies, wait for a fella like that). Anyway, having just returned home from our second trip, I decided to finally write a blog about my favorite city. I could go on and on, but I’ll keep it simple by just naming a few places you HAVE to go while in San Francisco!

 

The Top 10 Things to do in San Francisco

 

10. The Western Addition Neighborhood:

This neighborhood is located in central San Francisco, and has easy use of public transportation. This is where we always stay when we are in San Francisco. On this last trip we found a hidden gem called the Chateau Tivoli Bed & Breakfast. I HIGHLY recommend staying here. Although they are off the beaten track from where all of the other tourists stay, they are close to public transportation, in a safe neighborhood, and two blocks from Alamo Square park and “the painted ladies” AKA the Full House houses. If you like soaking in vintage claw foot tubs, sleeping in beds that look like they belong in a palace, eating AMAZING breakfast (they do smoked salmon and capers), and chatting with amazingly friendly staff, stay here.

 

 

Neighborhood highlights:

9. The Wharf

Yes, it’s touristy, but part of the reason why we all love San Francisco is because it sits on that beautiful bay! This is a bustling area on the bay filled with street performers, tourists, sea food stands, shops, trolley cars, restaurants, museums, and seaside beauty.


IMG_1099

Neighborhood highlights:

  • The municipal pier for great views of the Golden Gate
  • Pier 39 for the heart of the action. Jam packed with restaurants, museums, and fun! You can book city tours and adventures here.
  • Boudin, for their famous sourdough bread
  • Ghirardelle Chocolate Factory
  • The Ferry Building for food and boutique shopping. Also take a ferry to the sleepy little towns of Sausalito or Tiburon from here.

8. North Beach neighborhood

This neighborhood borders Chinatown and the Financial district. You can sit and enjoy a cup of espresso while pretending you are in Europe here. Sidewalk cafes line the street in this neighborhood with Italian food, drink, and people.


Neighborhood highlights:

  • Columbus Tower/Sentinel Building – 900 Kearny St. – Visit this historic building if you love architecture.
  • Caffe Greco – have a traditional Italian espresso on the outdoor patio while watching the people walk by
  • Washington Square park – Pack a lunch and enjoy this green space that faces the beautiful St. Peter & Paul church
  • Grant Ave. – Wander in and out of the shops on Grant Ave. which is the oldest street in San Francisco. There is a great shop with vintage maps and prints where you can get a unique keepsake from your trip to North Beach. We took home a reprint of a poster drawn by a local North Beach artist. He drew the poster for the neighborhood in the 1990’s and makes prints just for that shop.

7. Chinatown

This Chinatown is the BEST in our country. I love that it’s a place for tourists to hang out, but that Chinese people actually live in the neighborhood and do life there. Walk down some of the side streets to see their laundry hanging out their windows, and visit their grocery stores to see the unique items that they eat. You can’t go wrong with pretty much any of their restaurants for some authentic Chinese food.

6. The Haight

Step back in time to a neighborhood that’s stuck in the 1960’s free love era. This neighborhood is a great mix of everything. See old hippies, several vagrants, but also some of the most well kept homes in San Francisco, and upscale shops all mixed together in this eclectic neighborhood.

Neighborhood highlights:

  • Amoeba Music – If you like to spin the vinyl, check out this huge record shop.
  • Parada 22 –  Serves the best Puerto Rican food you will ever eat. Their most popular dish is a simple meal that is eaten in Latin America everyday, but they cook it the way that everyone else wishes they could. Think about pork so soft that it melts in your mouth, a hot red bean salad with the perfect mix of seasonings, fried plantains, and fresh greens. Please, do yourself a favor and go here. I have dined at many wonderful places in my lifetime, and this is still my favorite restaurant. They prove my theory that something doesn’t have to be complex to be good.

5. Hayes Valley

This is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in San Francisco right now. It’s still small, but is lined with independently owned restaurants, and pop ups. The vibe is small town charm meets the city.

IMG_1109
  

Neighborhood highlights:

  • Patricia’s Green park
  • Blue Bottle Coffee – This small coffee shop is moving worldwide. Their flagship shop is in a small alleyway filled with plants and murals. Try their iced coffee with roasted chicory for something new.

4. Japanese Tea Garden

If you love tea, architecture, and Japanese plants, pay the small fee to get into this section of the Golden Gate Park. They have an open air tea room where you can have traditional tea and sandwiches.

3. The Mission

This neighborhood still has some dangerous spots, and so you want to be careful about where and when you go, but it also has some of the most vibrant murals, people, and food in the entire city. During our first trip, we completely missed the Mission, and after our second visit we realized that this area is where we should have actually been spending all of our time.


IMG_1075

IMG_1083

Neighborhood highlights:

  • Mission Dolores Park – This park sits on a hill and has some of the most spectacular views of San Francisco
  • The murals – Take a walk down 24th St. between Potrero Ave. and Mission St. to see some of the most vibrant and lively murals in the city. It’s not so cut and dry that all of the murals will be on this exact street, so be willing to veer off course a little bit, or walk through some of the alleys!
  • Dynamo Donuts – This shop has made from scratch donuts and an amazing outdoor patio in the back
  • La Palma – This Mexican restaurant will provide you with some of the best Mexican food in the city. Take it to go and sit in Mission Dolores Park

2. Muir Woods

The Muir Woods are about a 30 minute drive on 101 N over the Golden Gate bridge. If you are interested in getting outside in the beautiful nature surrounding San Francisco, this is a quick drive. There are miles of trails in this young redwood forest. Pack a lunch, put on some hiking shoes, and enjoy the tranquility here.

1.Marin Headlands

On your way back from the Muir Woods, take the last exit before you cross back over the Golden Gate for some of the best views of the bridge and bay area. There is a road that climbs the side of the cliffs next to the ocean where you can park at several stops to take pictures of the bridge and San Francisco. This is my favorite place to stop in the entire bay area. You will not regret stopping to enjoy the view.