6 Tips on How to Survive a Winter in Iceland

Posted: January 31, 2012 in Survival Guide
Tags: , , , , , ,

So you’ve just arrived in Iceland.  Congratulations!  As far as historical leaders go, you are now more courageous than Hitler, and running fairly even with Churchill.  Better stow away your army before it gets too cold and… what?  It’s already the middle of winter?  Interesting.  Well, been nice knowing you.  Even Hitler knew better than to invade a frigid wasteland in high winter–wait, nope.  But don’t worry.  I’ve been there, done that, and come back to tell the tale.  Here are some protips to help you survive your winter in Iceland.

 

1.  Expect to encounter darkness at any time of the day.

Not to be confused with the Darkness.

 

While this is a bit of an exaggeration, statistically speaking, the odds of walking outside at any time in the winter in Iceland and being greeted by an apocalyptic, sunless sky can be as high as 80%.  If you plan to do some exploring or photography, pay attention to the sunrise schedule.  Coming hand-in-hand with the darkness is the wind, which can sometimes kick up snow and rudely throw it in your eyes.  If you find yourself in the path of a plume, it’s best cower in terror and cover your face like Dracula expecting the sun, which, as already noted, is a wholly irrational fear in Iceland. 

 

Photo of my hand in front of my face during Icelandic winter.

 

2.  Take steps on your first day to counter jet lag.

Since most flights to Reykjavik cross multiple time zones, many visitors will be inflicted with some degree of jet lag.  On the odd chance that it’s available upon arriving, expose yourself to sunlight to “recalibrate” your internal clock.  Slog through the entire day and only turn in at your normal bedtime.  Then, set an alarm for the next morning.  I forgot, fell into a deep sleep, and woke up to my host greeting me with a wary “good afternoon.”  I had slept 14 hours.  For comparison, this is how much a Snorlax sleeps.  By setting an alarm, you will be helping yourself to remember to wake up from what will inevitably be an icy coma; you can rest assured knowing that you’re only preparing to drift off to sleep, not drifting off this mortal coil.

 

3.  It’s freezing: Dress for success.

If you’ve ever played a classic “Sonic the Hedgehog” game and ever found yourself on the verge of drowning in an underwater level, your nerves probably stll jump when you hear this music:

 

Warning: This music induces anal clenching.

 

This commanding crescendo encouraged casual underwater spelunkers like myself to drop everything, find an air bubble, and replenish Sonic’s air supply before he drowned in a clusterf*** of a level that was oblately designed to be a submerged labyrinth–it’s even spelled out for you right here.  How is this relevant?  Whenever I’m exploring outside in wintry Iceland, I can’t help but recall this music as I begin to slowly lose all feeling in my fingers and toes; it rises as if from the ether itself.  This slow, creeping death brings to mind the similar slow, creeping death of another hapless mammal, led blindly into an alien habitat, utterly unprepared to survive within.  Wear sturdy gloves, multiple layers, and heavy socks.  Duck inside a store to heat up a bit–think of it as your air bubble.  A heavy coat will carry you through the day and into the next level, which, serendipitous as it is, are the same in both Reykjavik and Sonic the Hedgehog 1.

 

 

4.  Follow in the footsteps of those who came before you.

Specifically, those people who have left footprints in patches of snow.  Want to walk in the deep snow?  No, you don’t; not unless if you can find a path that’s already been forged and retrace those steps.  It saves energy, as it’s easier to walk through the snow that’s already been flattened, and there’s less chance of flakes penetrating your shoes or pants.  You might not even slip and crack open your skull. 

 

That’s when Jesus carried you.

 

5.  Eat and drink cheaply, but don’t be cheap.

Costs in Reykjavik, taken as a whole, are likely to be much higher than equivalent fares in your home country.  There are still deals to be had in this infamously expensive city.  Certain restaurants downtown, such as Krua Thai, serve meals in large portions at affordable prices.  You could also cook your own food by shopping in one of the numerous grocery/convenience stores located throughout the city; try Bonus or 10-11, which is open 24-7, somehow.  Fast food is available–McDonald’s is known as Metro in Iceland–but Reykjavik is more noted for its street vendor hot dog stalls.  Prices for these meat mash-ups range from ~US$2 to ~US$5.  These hot dogs are a solid bet, but not as solid as your lower colon will be after eating one.  Delicious!

 

6.  Avoid universally high hotel fees.

The tauntaun, endemic to Hoth and Iceland.

 

Hotel prices in Reykjavik are astronomical.  To skimp on these fees, you might consider tracking a tauntaun through the snowfields, hollowing out its carcass, and resting inside for a night of peaceful slumber.  Alternatively, search on couchsurfing.org for a local host who has opened his or her home to foreign visitors.  Not only will you save on hotel costs, but more importantly, you’ll have an opportunity to make a new friend and receive privileged insider’s info regarding the local culture to which you might otherwise have remained oblivious.  And after a day spent narrowly avoiding death in several guises–exhaustion, exposure, hot dogs–it’s relieving to come home to a native who simply wants to share a small portion of the city with you. 

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Comments
  1. Stevil Kelsher says:

    Sounds like this one was a real close one. Your mother and I are trusting you to get Caligula home safely.

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