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!

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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!!!!

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Love your Small Businesses. Shop Local.

Imagine with me. You’re feeling fabulous in your brand new outfit as you walk into the first day of school. Then it happens… You look up, and standing across the atrium is your best friend in THE EXACT SAME OUTFIT. The heat creeps up your face as you freeze and think, “I’m not original at all!” You duck your head in embarassment and try to dodge away. Right at that moment your other friends point and call out, “look, they’re matching!” They gather you together as you both pretend like you think it’s funny, pose for a photo, and secretly vow to yourself that you will never wear that outfit again!

I grew up in rural Minnesota. It was a great experience, but when it came to shopping, my only options were chain stores. I still burn with embarrassment when I think back on the moments when I was dressed in the same outfit as my friends. We all shopped at the same few stores in town. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate small business as an alternative to chain. One of the things I love about small business is that it returns a sense of individualism to the shopper. Each store only has so many products, therefore they are sifting through their inventory quicker, and only so many people have each item. The products in each shop are also hand picked with passion. Most small business owners opened their shop because of a love for what they are selling.

I decided to write this blog post because J. Arthur’s Coffee of Roseville, MN recently announced that they might be closing their doors. They opened in 2008 as a private coffee shop meant to serve adults with disabilities through the company ACR Homes. In 2011 they opened their doors to the public and put an emphasis on artisan coffee with high quality products. They quickly became “the spot” for professionals who work remotely, and students from nearby Universities who want a great place to study.

It was announced to the public they would be closing in June of 2016. A few days later they let us know that they would try and last through the summer instead. I feel an immense responsibility to help save this coffee shop, as well as the other potential small businesses on the verge of closing. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Starbucks, but I can’t imagine losing this staple in the community. By supporting them, you aren’t just keeping one business afloat, but businesses from all over the Twin Cities. They source their beans from local roasters Dogwood, UP, and Roastery 7, and their tea from Tea Source. I encourage you, if you’ve been meaning to stop by J. Arthur’s, do it now to show them that you want them to stick around!
Nobody wants these beloved local businesses to close, but we see it happen everyday! So, what’s the deal?

We live in a culture based on convenience. Since it’s built into the culture around us, you don’t notice it until, well, you notice it. Now that I have “seen the light”, I’ve been challenging myself to live differently. In relation to shopping, this culture of convenience means that the businesses with the best locations and bargains win. That unfortunately means that unless we change our mindset, the chain retailers will win every time. A local business owner doesn’t have the funds to purchase the most convenient location. They don’t have the budget for buyers who can research the best products to put in the stores. They certainly can’t afford giant marketing campaigns, and they can’t and won’t start producing their products in mass quantity to keep the cost per item down.

What the locally owned shops have is far greater; quality, passion, ambiance, friendliness, and individualism.

Just this morning we went out for breakfast at an amazing local restaurant (shout out to L’Etoile Du Nord). The waitress took the time to ask us if we lived in town and went on ask and memorize each of our names. After we paid the bill, she said that she looked forward to seeing us the next time we came in, and she actually meant it. There was no rushing us out the door to fill another seat. There was no strange “pay at the table with an electronic device” option. We had great food and genuine human interaction. We loved it.

So what I want to ask is this: Do we want convenience to dictate our lives? Especially so, when it comes to supporting the local businesses in our towns?

I say no! So here’s my challenge: Choose a local store over a chain store for at least one purchase per month and see what happens. We not only have a responsibility to keep them going, but the more we shop at the locally owned stores, the more we will all realize what they actually have to offer us.

Start thinking about the places in your town where you can shop local and enjoy!

 

 

 

RIP Prince

 Celebrating the life of Prince in Minneapolis tonight! RIP Prince! 

Thousands started arriving to the sectioned off portion of First Ave. in Minneapolis to show their love to newly deceased artist, Prince. The Current, a local radio station put together the block party honoring his life. They proudly played his music in the streets as we all danced until the wee hours of the morning. All I can say is that I’m thankful to have been a part of the crowd. Prince was loved by many around the world, but he felt like he belonged to Minnesotans because he never left home.

Disappearing Winter: A Minneapolis day trip to take before spring officially arrives

If any of you readers are like me, you find yourself holed up inside from October to March (and let’s be honest about it, sometimes April). The snow, the ice, the wind; it should all just truly disappear. I have spent many a year curled up inside my house sipping coffee, snuggling in blankets, reading books, and watching my favorite movies all in an effort to avoid the terrible world that is winter. I make minimal trips to the store, and try to get from my car to the safety of home as quick as possible. Yes, I admit it, I am a closet hermit throughout the winter. To continue in my theme of honesty, it gets really boring just sitting around even though my Instagram makes it look otherwise. 

 We had a friend from El Salvador visit this last week and I realized I can’t have her sit indoors with me and just wait out this dreaded cold. We’ve got to show her something! Our friend is from a HOT climate and has never been in weather colder than 60 degrees. What can Minnesota offer someone from paradise? In my effort to help her enjoy her time, I found myself inspired. Minnesota can offer a lot. The leafless trees are not barren but tall and haunting. The snow is not blinding, but glistening, The ice is mesmerizing rather than thick and cumbersome. The wind, well I still hate the wind, but you get the idea. Luckily, this time of year offers the best of two worlds. You can still experience some of the beauty that winter has to offer, but it’s starting to feel like spring. Take advantage of this amazing time of year before it’s gone!

This weekend was an opportunity to embrace the cold & just have fun!

On Saturday we pulled on our boots and went trekking outdoors. Where did we end up, you ask?

Minnehaha Falls

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The Minnehaha Falls from above

It was one of my favorite days of this entire winter! The Minnehaha Falls are a great spot to visit in the summer, but it’s much more mesmerizing in the winter! The falls are surrounded by gates and fences that say closed, or no trespassing. They even state that it is illegal to walk down to the falls in the winter, so this activity is not for those afraid of criminal activity ;). For me, being a goody goody in most of my life, I welcomed the mischief! A lot of Twin Cities natives know about this spot, but growing up in northern Minnesota I can say that not everyone knows this is there! It wasn’t until I moved to the Twin Cities for college that I found this gem. It is well worth the adventure.

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Acting touristy at the falls with Stacy & Wendy

We had planned to do the falls in a half hour, but once we got there we realized there is much more exploring to be done. If you are taking a trip to the Twin Cities and want to visit Minnehaha Falls, I would plan for an hour and a half. The falls are located in the sprawling Minnehaha Park which is filled with walking trails and trees, and borders the beautiful Mississippi River. We Minnesotans are hearty, and so many people were out walking their dogs and jogging in the cold. Once you get to the falls, there are many things you can do. Be a rule follower and just appreciate from the bridge and walking paths above the falls, or break the rules and jump the fence. (*Disclaimer- I made the personal decision to visit the falls close up, as a lot of visitors do, but I am not telling people to engage in criminal behavior, or put themselves in harms way by walking out on thin ice.)

Once you are down at the level of the falls, you can climb around on the frozen stream and walk right up to the spot where the falls have frozen in place. If you are lucky and get there on a day when it’s relatively quiet, you can hear the open water flowing beneath you and down behind the frozen part of the falls.

DSC_0157Pause for a photo op and then get ready to get messy. Oh, did I mention that you shouldn’t wear anything you aren’t willing to let get dirty? If you are facing the falls, there is an opening on the right side that is said to have never frozen shut. Climb up the hill directly below that spot, or jump over the fence by the staircase and walk across the hill to get there (this is the messy part…. we went on a day when the ice was melting and got muddy)! The opening takes you into a magical wonderland behind the falls. If Narnia were a real place, I think it would be located here. Depending on the time of year and time of day you meander behind the falls, you can see the ice illuminated in brilliant blues and greens. It is a spectacular sight to behold, and if you saw nothing but that, the trip would be well worth it.

The falls are beautiful, but no day trip to Minneapolis is complete without completely stuffing your face full of the amazing cuisine this city has to offer. So here is a step by step of how to plan your day.

A day trip for that inbetween time; When It’s not fully winter and not fully spring

1. Spend your morning at Minnehaha Park and Falls taking in the brilliance.

2. Grab some lunch! When you are ready, take a 15 minute drive further into Minneapolis and visit one of my FAVORITE restaurants that is sure to help you warm up! What restaurant am I talking about?  None other than The Quang (located on Nicollet Ave. AKA, Eat Street). Order a steaming bowl of Pho (pronounced FUH) which is a Vietnamese soup filled with yummy yummy goodness. This soup is all about the broth, and in my attempts to satisfy the craving at home, I can say that The Quang’s broth cannot be replicated! In that broth sits herbs, rice noodles, beef strips and/or meatballs (you can order other meats but this is my preference), and add fresh bean sprouts, basil, and hot peppers. To add even more flavor, squirt some hoisin and siracha sauce in. You will not regret eating this tasty dish, and if you are like me, you will start craving it from the second you step out the restaurant door.







3. Did you save room for dessert? Bundle up and take a block and a half walk down to Glam Doll Donuts! Step back in time in this retro themed bakery. Order a donut or two, or ten ;), in any flavor and I promise you will enjoy. They have the amazing ability to make their donuts light and airy yet dense. I don’t know how one can accomplish that goal! I also enjoyed a warm Chai tea when I was there, but I must warn you, if you aren’t ready for a very authentic Indian Chai taste you might be surprised. What did I taste in that chai to make it so different from others? Cardamom, and a lot of it! If you are up for something a little bit different than the norm, then you will thoroughly enjoy your chai.



4. By this time it might be 2:00pm and you far away travelers are thinking of heading home, but don’t! Take a quick jaunt over to Richardson Nature Center in Bloomington. During this time of year they teach their visitors how to tap trees, collect the sap, and boil it to make syrup! My husband and I spend time with his family in the sugar maples in Grand Rapids every year and it’s such a fun activity. It makes you feel like you are stepping back in time and are living off the lands like the natives did! It takes a lot of time and sap to make syrup (I’m talking hours and gallons) so you may not be able to sample your own batch at the nature center, but they always have some for you to try. 





Introduction

Since I decided to start this blog on a whim today, I thought an introduction would be necessary.

My name is Brianna, and I’m a Minnesotan.

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I enjoy eating good food, being around great people, loving God, spending time with my family, and seeking out adventure in life. I have been married to my husband Dan for almost 4 years. He’s a stud of a man, that one. He is a sports fan and enjoys playing hockey and golf, is a teacher, musician, and all around good person. I will leave it at that because he is a much more private person than I, and will be mortified to read he is in my first blog post! Don’t worry honey, this is just one of the many perks (or quirks…. depending on how you look at it) that comes with being married to me!

“Why would you start a blog about Minnesota?”

Many of you are probably asking this exact question. Or possibly it’s “what qualifies you to do so?”, or even, “do you think you are such a great writer that we will all want to read what you have to say?”. I wish I were that cool, but frankly, no. This idea stemmed from my growing love of good food and good entertainment.

My husband and I were driving home one night after a fun night out with friends and I looked at him and said, “wouldn’t it be amazing to be a food critic, or a blogger? What if you could write about what you loved and people actually cared? Maybe you could even get PAID someday to do the things that you love doing?” Then I stared off into space and imagined what that world could look like. I do not think that I will get paid for doing this, but I do know that I will find great pleasure in writing about the things I love, and inviting you to explore those things with me.

“So what will this blog be about? And how often will it be posted?”

So glad you asked….

If any of you have read the amazing book, Strengths Finder, by Tom Rath; I am an INCLUDER by nature. I can’t help but pull all of you into the things I love. By being Minnesotan, and appealing to Minnesotan readers, I think you will also love what I love. So if I had to give you a list, here it is:

What to do

Where to eat

Businesses worth mentioning

Where to shop

The great outdoors

The people I love

Causes worth caring about

How to do life in Minnesota

To answer my second question. I am a wife, music director at a church, recruiter and internship coordinator for a group home (shout out to ACR Homes, woo!), and I help coordinate a local level Miss America pageant. This blog will be purely for the fun of it, so I would expect to see a post once a month!

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Stay tuned for my first OFFICIAL blog about getting outdoors in the dead of winter! It will be a fun one!