Iceland, Travel Trials and Tribulations

Iceland Landscape 

It was an early morning flight to Iceland so we stayed over the night before at the Ibis hotel in Luton where we spent a very pleasant evening and then got up early to walk to the airport which was just a few minutes away which was a good job on account of the fact that it was raining quite hard.  The day began well enough and I wasn’t to know at this stage as we sat with a cup of tea in the departure lounge that within just a few hours four things were going to really irritate me!

First – airport security.

Stansted Screening

These people are just unbelievable and without a shred of customer service skills between them.  They herd you up like cattle and then belittle you by stripping you down at the scanner and then work at snails pace to clear the lines.  I am fairly certain that every morning they have a meeting and decide on the tactics for the day about really irritating everyone.  Today it was watches and jewellery and bizarre inconsistency about the size of the plastic bag for carrying through liquids.  My bag was stopped and searched for no apparent good reason and the staff dealt with this in a completely charmless and ignorant way.

Second – easyJet


So when we had finished our tea we made our way to the departure gate which turned out to be a breathless concrete stairwell serving two flights with about four hundred people pushing and shoving their way to the desk.  As we approached a member of staff stopped us and informed us that the flight was full, there was insufficient space in the overhead lockers for all the baggage and that ours would have to go in the hold.  How annoying is that?  We take hand luggage so that we can carry everything we need with us and so that we can get though the arrivals hall as quickly as possible.

It is possible that I over reacted a bit here but with good reason because the previous time we flew to Iceland we put our suitcases in the hold of the British Airways plane and Kim’s somehow managed to go to Glasgow, became a lost luggage statistic  and didn’t show up at Kevlavik for four days.  I complained but the young man had been expertly trained not to show any reaction or emotion so we were separated from our luggage and anything that we might need for the three hour flight.  And then the flight was delayed for almost an hour because of all the baggage messing about!

Third – Sixt Car Hire

Iceland Volcano

Unfortunately hiring a car on line is as big a financial minefield as booking a low cost flight with a range of confusing add ons and exclusions all designed to generate additional revenue.  Sixt have come up with a brilliant wheeze.  I thought that I had purchased fully comprehensive insurance but the desk clerk told me that the cars suffered so many stone chips because of the gravel roads in Iceland that this had now been excluded and could be purchased at an additional cost of €9 a day under the description ‘gravel damage’ and just to be safe I agreed to buy it.

Then it became almost surreal when he explained that further cover was available at €10 a day for volcano damage.  Volcano damage – WTF?

Upon enquiry he told me that if a volcano explodes it can generate enough heat to strip the paint off the car and that this was not covered either.  Sixt provide this explanation and justification for this additional level of insurance cover:

“Due to volcanic eruptions in Iceland in recent years there is still a great amount of ash in the highlands that tends to cause damage to vehicles in windy weather.  Any damage caused by volcanic ash is not covered by any insurance or terms and conditions in Iceland.  We do what we can so that our customers can travel our beautiful country without a care and this is why we now offer all customers to purchase Sand and ash protection and Gravel protection, specially made to deal with our unique Icelandic conditions.”

Well, I considered this for a moment and came to the conclusion that if I was close enough to an exploding volcano for it to strip the paint off the car then it was almost certain that I was likely to be in a lot of trouble and great personal danger and the last thing that I was going to be worried about as my flesh melted into a puddle of grease and my bones were surely burnt to a blackened cinder was the condition of the paintwork on the hire car (gravel chipped or not) so I sensibly declined the offer to purchase the additional cover and quickly paid up just in case he next tried to sell me snow or rain insurance in case the car got wet!

As a postscript to this point I would like to point out to Sixt car hire that as we drove around over the next few days I didn’t see a single car stripped down to bare metal so I have come to the inescapable conclusion that volcano damage insurance is a complete con.

Fourth – The Best Western Hotel, Reyjkavik…

We had landed through a thick grey sky heavy with rain and outside the weather was wet and not at all inviting.  It wasn’t heavy rain, just that low cloud and mizzle that is cold, damp and depressing.  Reykjavik was about a fifty-kilometre drive and it was across a barren lunar type landscape with black granite rocks and no vegetation at all except for vibrant green moss that was clinging uninvited to the inhospitable boulders.

I mention this just so you can get an idea of my mood at this precise moment…

After forty minutes or so we arrived in Reykjavik and quickly found the hotel, unloaded the car and presented ourselves at reception.  The young man at the desk looked embarrassed, leaned across the counter, lowered his voice to hushed tones as though bad news is better whispered and said there was a problem, the hotel had overbooked and we were being sent elsewhere.

I was not happy.  I asked him to explain the point of me spending an evening on hotel booking web sites to find the one that I want, to book it based on location, price and facilities only for him to tell me that I couldn’t stay there.  It seemed that a tour company wanted the rooms and they were going to get priority even though I had booked the rooms eight months earlier in February.  I made this point (twice I think, maybe even three times) and he told me that the date of booking was irrelevant.  

There was no negotiating on this point so we reluctantly accepted his invitation of a complimentary drink in the bar later, collected up our bags, reloaded them in the car and made our way to the alternative accommodation.

It had not been a great start – welcome to Iceland.

Post script:

Before hiring a car at Keflavik in Iceland whether with Sixt or any other rental company check out this Tripadvisor page first:

38 responses to “Iceland, Travel Trials and Tribulations

  1. It doesn’t sound at all promising.


  2. That’s a pretty awful experience at the hotel, but it will not knock Iceland out of my most desired vacation destinations.


  3. Hubby and I have been laughing hysterically at the volcano damage offer and your decision making in refusal. Having been offered most every add on imaginable at rental car agencies we will admit to never having had to decline the that one for volcano incineration. Really traveling provides such great blog material. 🙂


    • I forgot to mention that after I had declined the insurance the man at the desk said that I probably didn’t need it anyway as it wasn’t volcano season! I didn’t know that volcanoes have a season.


  4. There’s a good scene in that new film ‘The secret life of Walter Mitty’ in Iceland when a volcano erupts and the ash cloud chases Walter’s car. The car gets coated in ash, but I’m pretty sure the paintwork is fine!


  5. If there’s a volcano season you no doubt need some kind of a license, as you do when duck hunting season arrives.

    What a beginning to your trip to Iceland.



  6. Good morning Andrew,
    Witty stuff on the volcano insurance cover.
    Can’t wait for tomorrow’s episode. I will bet you serious money that the substitute hotel will turn out to be a million times better than the Best Western. Are you taking my money?
    Seriously though, I DO understand lavish luxury spa hotels. I get it that people go to these places to be pampered.
    I never really get “bog standard comfortable” though. What is the point? Most of our houses are “bog standard comfortable”! Surely the whole idea of TRAVEL is to get as total a change of one’s day-to-day experience as possible, without it being painfully unpleasant.
    The great and wise Arthur Frommer (still alive, and coming up fast on the rails on Methuselah) once said something profoundly wise. I paraphrase and am too lazy to duckduckgo* it. But it went something like this: every traveller should choose accommodation at least two levels down from the standards of their home. Spot on!
    We fly in air conditioned planes to incredibly humid places like Singapore. Get out into air conditioned ultra-modern airports like Changi. Get met by air-conditioned limos right outside the arrivals terminal. Get driven to 4/5 star air conditioned hotels. Hire an air conditioned car or – worse – take hotel excursions everywhere in air conditioned coaches.
    And then we delude ourselves in thinking we are TRAVELLERS and not tourists!
    You are off to Wroclaw soon Andrew. I realise Kim won’t be moved from her classy hotel, but I beg you to spend one of your two nights there in the truly amazing £12 a night including breakfast, The Stranger Hostel. (No doubt, only a short walk from your hotel room.) To me, the whole raison d’etre of travel is to challenge one’s preconceived notions.
    Within reason of course. We both have a notion that fresh volcanic lava is mighty hot: we are both best advised not to take off our shoes and socks and fakir-like, run over the hot coals.
    Dai Woosnam
    * Google search engine is persona non grata with me, as scammers can pay to be the first result on their page. are about the only search engine I know that cannot be “bought” by unscrupulous advertisers.


    • Thanks Dai
      I cannot accept the bet, it wouldn’t be fair, but can tell you that the alternative hotel turned out to be marginally better than the BW!
      I like the Arthur Frommer story. Kim and I will rough it sometimes – especially in the Greek Islands, but probably not in Wroclaw in January!
      Talking of walking over hot coals I have a mind to visit Soria in Spain in June to see the annual festival of walking over hot coals which sounds both mad and dangerous to me!


  7. geeze… that looks like everything that could go bad did go bad. But out of my experience? Those are most likely to be the best trips.. and if not you have at least something to tell us 😉 can’t wait to see how the travel goes on..


  8. Put some music to your ordeal, Andrew, and you’ll get Looney Tunes – better than Warner Bros could ever think of 😀 It seems Iceland doesn’t really want tourist income


    • It wasn’t really Iceland’s fault – I was feeling touchy that day. To be fair Iceland was a lot more welcoming in 2013 than it was in 2007. Following the financial crash they are much more interested in tourist cash than easy banking money.


  9. I sympathize with you whole heartedly, Andrew. I had a hellish experience on the same proportion at the De Gaul airport in Paris, France.


  10. Oh dear 😦 When did you travel to Iceland? Have you heard from WP yet re your stats? #stupidquestion


  11. I’d get exasperated much too easily, especially if my hand luggage were taken away. Rotten luck and a bad start but glad things improved. 😀


  12. Looking forward to the next installment. Iceland is in my to-visit list. Soon. Very soon 🙂


  13. I laughed out loud about the volcano insurance bit.
    Hope the rest of the trip made up for these teething troubles.


  14. I too was surprised to find in Iceland lacking in cool Scandinavian efficiency and with more Irish casualness and chaos. Those Vikings imported Irish women to host their gene pool, I’m told. The flipside is that Icelanders have also inherited some Irish friendliness, as well as being blessed with a spectacular landscape.


    • Thanks Richard – good to hear from you. This was my second visit to Iceland and I am now considering a third with a circumnavigation of the island to visit more of the smaller towns and villages.


  15. Andrew, I love the volcano insurance. We ran into that in Hawaii and also declined, thinking “What are the chances?” So glad that you enjoyed Iceland – we loved it! ~Terri


  16. Pingback: Top Ten Tips for Iceland | Have Bag, Will Travel

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