From Day 1, Sharon and I have always felt that Your Mileage May Vary would describe the way we travel. We’re not going to change what we’d normally do or where we’re staying because it would make an interesting article. However, we also realize that not everyone will agree with our choices, and that’s totally OK.
What’s best for us isn’t necessarily best for you. We can explain our choices and give you information to make the best decision for your situation.
I’ve gotten the disclaimer out of the way so here’s the post where I explain why I did something that I usually would never do. I used a tour company to book our trip to Iceland.
I didn’t book a tour package, as the idea of traveling around in a bus with the same people for a week on a set schedule has little appeal (unless we’re taking an Adventures by Disney trip and then we’re totally fine with the idea). After booking flights, I started to have a minor freak-out about planning a trip to somewhere I knew nothing about. I did the only thing I could think of. I asked you, our readers, for advice. Between the post on our website and our Facebook group, we got plenty of suggestions. Most of them said that we needed to get out of the city to explore and they suggested itinerary was to drive along the southern coast of Iceland.
One of the comments linked to a tour company that sold self-driving packages. They booked the rental car and hotels, and provided an itinerary of things to see on each day of your trip. You could choose to visit all of them or just a few. It provided me with everything I needed.
Of course, I could have booked the entire trip myself. In retrospect, it would have saved us a nice chunk of money but that doesn’t consider the amount of time it would have taken me to plan such a trip. Here are all of the things I didn’t have to do because I booked a tour:
- Learn about all of the large and smaller sights around Iceland
- Know how long it takes to drive between each location
- Figure out where the best areas are to stay along the way
- Pick out a place to stay in each of those locations
- Find a backup when our first choice is unavailable
- Arrange for a private transfer from the airport to our hotel
- Book a rental car, making sure it was an automatic transmission
- Know to add an in-car Wi-Fi transmitter so we could have internet access the entire way
The amount of time I spent on all these things? Zero. The amount of time I had to plan this trip was also close to zero.
To be clear, I just didn’t book with the first website I looked at. I researched several and gave them a test before I considered booking. For instance, one website said that there could be no changes to the set schedule. I ruled them out right away because if you’re not willing to work with me, I don’t want to work with you.
Another website looked promising so I sent our information. Within 12 hours, I received a prospectus with different pricing options. Not bad, considering the 4 hour time difference between the east coast of the U.S. and Iceland. I wrote back and asked about the types of accommodations we’d get with the medium-level package we were considering. Once again, I got a prompt reply providing a list of hotels they use, website links, and a disclaimer that depending on availability there’s no guarantee we would be booked in any of these locations.
Things were going good but I had one more test. I explained that we have our own way of dealing with jetlag and would like to stay in Reykjavik for the first two nights of the trip instead of the last two nights. Shortly thereafter, I received an amended PDF incorporating our new requests with the amended rental car and hotel bookings.
I was impressed enough to go forward with the booking. After paying a deposit, I received another email saying that she had confirmed our hotel accommodations and a final PDF about the trip.
I wrote back and forth with our planner several times with concerns about the activity level necessary to get to some of the locations and for recommendations about places to eat along the way. Our guide met each one with a quick and detailed response. Our last request was about how, if possible, we could visit the volcano and we were told where such a side trip would fit into our itinerary and how the eruption might change our plans (and what we could do if that happened).
Based on the best available information, we paid about 40% premium over the price if we booked everything direct. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
I mean, I could have found the hotel where I could see a glacier when I walked outside our room but there’s no guarantee.
If you are wondering, we booked our trip with Iceland Unlimited. I’m not getting anything from them for the mention and I never told them I wrote a travel blog during any of our emails. For all they knew, I was just an average American looking to visit Iceland. Which is exactly what Sharon and I are. Besides driving trips, they also provide day trips and guided tours around Iceland.
If we ever go back to Iceland, I’ll feel more confident about making our own reservations but if you’re short on time to plan the trip and have the available funds, I’d highly recommend them. They also offer lower-cost trips where you stay at hostel-type places, as well as a more luxurious package if you only stay at the best even if you’re in the middle of nowhere.
To each their own.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary