1 woman + 1 island + 10 days = 1 bag?
May 31, 2014 8:21 AM   Subscribe

Hello, efficient international travelers! I'll be in Reykjavik for 10 days this July and am hoping to do carry-on only (from the US). Given the changeable temps and varied activities I have planned (whale watching, guided horseback riding, museum visits and shopping, light hikes in the Golden Circle and dancing as much as I can) this should be do-able, right? I don't mind washing things in the sink at night or re-wearing jackets, etc., but do you have packing tips or experience to share? Oh and if I can add an addendum in - do people still use Traveler's Checks? Last time I was abroad they were very helpful in setting a daily cash budget but that was more than a few years ago. TIA!
posted by PaulaSchultz to Travel & Transportation around Reykjavik, Iceland (20 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
My wife and I each took one carry-on bag on a 16-day trip through Turkey last November, so my vote is that this is absolutely doable. We both had one of these Patagonia MLC bags (thanks, I believe, to another AskMe question), which were wonderfully capacious and reasonably easy to carry around on our backs.

Definitely plan on washing/re-wearing things, and not just jackets. For just 10 days I'd think you'd be fine rewearing the same 2-3 pairs of pants and maybe 4-ish shirts (although horseback riding does tend to make pants a bit stinky); underwear-wise, I think we went with a short week's worth of undies that we washed out in the sink every time we were going to be in the same hotel more than one night. I did bring 2 pairs of shoes - one I wore and one I packed - but only ever used one pair; if I were doing it again I'd just bring the pair I wore and be ready to buy a new pair if I absolutely HAD to have more over there for some reason. In general, remembering that I could buy most stuff if I got over there and found I was short really helped me pack more lightly than I might otherwise have done. I also dug out the flattest backpack I could find to stick in my carry-on, so that I'd have something to walk around with while over there.

Technique-wise, I was a fan of bundling, although my wife just rolled things up - either way worked better than the typical folding method, so I'd try them both out and see which you prefer.

What else ... oh, YMMV here but I used to always "need" to bring at least 2-3 books with me on a trip, but for this particular trip I finally sprung for a 7" tablet and a few ebooks - and I am SO GLAD I did so as it was far easier than hauling around physical books.

Beyond that, I found the advice on this site to be useful. Good luck and have an excellent trip!
posted by DingoMutt at 8:47 AM on May 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

In general, remembering that I could buy most stuff if I got over there and found I was short really helped me pack more lightly than I might otherwise have done.


I travel a lot for work, and travel only carry-on (one bag for clothes, etc., one for my computer & papers). I make sure I have critical items: passport, computer, wallet. Everything else, I know I can buy if needed. It reduces stress so much when traveling.

I have this bag which easily holds a week's plus worth of clothes. It doesn't waste space on wheels and fits into the overhead like a champ, even on smaller planes.
posted by chiefthe at 9:03 AM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

People don't really use traveler's checks anymore, no. Visa and Mastercard are international, so credit is pretty much the standard.

That said, it can be very difficult to use a swipe credit card in Europe at this point, because they've moved on to the more secure chip-and-pin system. You'll want to call your bank to see if they can give you a chipped card, and to check what banking partnerships they have to see what foreign ATM fees look like, and what their partner banks are so you know which ATMs you can use for cash.
posted by Andrhia at 9:32 AM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wear your heaviest outfit as your travel outfit- jeans, boots, and jacket on the flight. Everything else goes in the bag. If you aren't already wearing thongs, start now. They don't hold sweat as much as full size and they wash and dry easier. They are also smaller to pack. Wear your padded push up bra on the plane and only pack modest bras that wash and dry easily. Two should do fine. Plan on wearing pants or shorts more than once. Bring extra socks. Buy thin t-shirts for every day and have extra. If you aren't sure you need something that can be purchased for under $20 bucks once there then, don't bring it.
posted by myselfasme at 9:40 AM on May 31, 2014

Just a quick note to second DingoMutt on the books: I used to need (not want: need!) to haul at least 4-5 books for a 10-day trip; ebooks (Kindle in my case) has been a godsend.

also, there's no need to haul a full bottle of shampoo or whatever; if a travel-size is too small for something, remember that two travel-size bottles are still smaller/lighter weight than that full-size.
posted by easily confused at 9:59 AM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Absolutely don't do traveler's checks, they're expensive and awkward to spend. Any US bank ATM card will work in most or all ATM machines anywhere in Europe (and most of the rest of the world). And while Andrhia is right that the stupid US stripe-only credit cards are increasingly inconvenient in a chip&pin world, they will still work OK with just a few seconds extra hassle.

Fees apply. ATM transactions may be a few bucks more. And most US credit cards are charging 1–2% "currency conversion fees" which are total garbage but prevalent. If you plan on travelling a lot out of the US it's worth shopping for a fee-free card first.
posted by Nelson at 10:04 AM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Nelson, just take a credit card, travellers cheques are not needed any more.

I did have my CC blocked while in Iceland and the lady at the petrol station knew exactly what to do to get out unblocked very quickly.

Take a swimming costume and a waterproof.
posted by biffa at 10:21 AM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Call your bank/credit union and tell them you'll be using your card in Iceland before you go. Some institutions will freeze your account because they think the card got stolen if all of a sudden there are charges in a different country.
posted by sfkiddo at 10:22 AM on May 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Travel capsule wardrobe. Few items which mix and layer to multiply into many outfits. If a piece doesn't match with everything else, don't bring it.

I roll my clothes. If it wrinkles too much when rolled, don't bring it.

Diva Cup, not pads or tampons.

Use travel sized plastic containers for shampoo, etc.

If bringing makeup, decide on a look and only bring what you need to create that look. No "oh I better bring this in case I feel like doing X!" If you must change it up during the trip, you can buy makeup there.

Smaller bag inside large bag for unmentionables. Plastic bag to keep laundry separate.

One iThing loaded with books, music.

Wear layers on the plane. Big items are worn, not packed. Extra shoes are tied to your bag by the laces if you MUST have two pairs.

Finally, if you're going to buy things for yourself or friends while away, either buy small mementos (I like necklaces), or pay to mail them to yourself. You don't need to bring everything on the plane!
posted by heatherann at 10:27 AM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used to need (not want: need!) to haul at least 4-5 books for a 10-day trip; ebooks (Kindle in my case) has been a godsend.

Ebooks are also perfect for snippets of travel guides (remember that you can save wikipedia or wikivoyage pages as PDF), train information that you've written in a text file and most usefully, screencaps of Google Maps (or whatever).

That e-ink ebooks have batteries that last for weeks is also a plus over tablets in this regard. For light web-browsing I can use the phone in wi-fi mode.
posted by sukeban at 10:39 AM on May 31, 2014

I've done extended trips in Europe out of a carry-on. It's no problem.

Have all of your clothes coordinate. Everything you put in the bag needs to work together in terms of color palette. I usually travel with:
- beige (summer) or navy blue (winter) base pieces (pants, simple sheath dresses),
- some refined white underlayer tees which can be worn on their own,
- a dressy cardigan.
- a heavier sweater.
- A few colorful scarves in different sizes - it's a wrap! a belt for your dress! something to keep your neck warm! something to wrap around you hair/neck when it's windy on the boat!

Other tips:
- Accessories are small. Take enough jewelry to accessorize and dress
- Replace your normal makeup bag with a small evening bag. When you go out for the evening you've got a bit of glam!
- Don't haul toiletries. Your there for 10 days. Day one, stop by a grocery and pick up some snacks for your hotel room/daypack and small bottles of whatever you need. Ditch this stuff before you come home.
- Pay for someone to launder your clothes if needed. Unless you are destitute, don't go to the laundromat and waste 3 hours sitting there.
posted by 26.2 at 11:12 AM on May 31, 2014

(Iceland doesn't really have laundromats, FYI. Just the Laundromat Cafe and KEX hostel, in Reykjavik.)
posted by Susan PG at 11:59 AM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Leave room in your luggage because you will want to buy one of those Icelandic wool sweaters from the Handknit Association (make sure you get an authentic one). It will serve as a versatile and warm outer layer.
posted by matildaben at 3:12 PM on May 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I used to wear my boots on the flight and then pack the smaller shoes. THEN I discovered that I can wear my smaller shoes on the plane, and with careful packing, stuff almost all of my clothes (save jeans or pants) into my boots, and put those in the suitcase! It has changed my life.
posted by pazazygeek at 3:23 PM on May 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the great tips so far! When I talked to my bank (Chase) they said that even though I'll have a chipped card it won't work at ATMs and so my only option is a cash advance at a bank-which has crazy high fees/interest. Maybe I'll call back to double check...
posted by PaulaSchultz at 8:43 PM on May 31, 2014

Yeah there's no way that's true. Any normal US ATM card will work fine in Europe, Iceland included. The PLUS network is probably most relevant here, but there are several others too.
posted by Nelson at 9:07 PM on May 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Just one tip about Iceland: it is *very* windy. Pack a windproof outer layer, and a winter hat/toque and scarf would not be out of place (though you can also buy the latter two in any craft boutique once you're there).

Also bring a swimsuit for the hot pools.

For money, you can get kronur from an ATM -- there's one in the airport for maximum ease. Check the exchange rate before you go so you'll know about how much you want to get. We had no problem with a U.S. card even though it did not have a chip. We did notify our credit union and credit cards beforehand that we would be traveling, but that was so they wouldn't think the cards had been stolen and cancel them.

Finally, check on the status of the ongoing Icelandair pilots' strike shortly before you're set to travel.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:53 PM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I went to Iceland for a week in August 2 years ago. My US Visa check card worked in every ATM and restaurant, tour company, and grocery or clothing store I visited.

As for packing, I took only a carry on bag. Even in July you'll need a light jacket, and it should be waterproof, or bring a waterproof shell, like I did. Two pairs of pants, one light sweater, and a few tops are really all the clothing you need. One pair of pants is your adventure wear--for riding, whale watching, etc. The other is for nighttime/dinner/club use. For shoes: I did very well with one pair of Lowa hiking boots and one pair of tall leather comfy boots for everything else.

Re. whale watching: They'll give you zip-up thermal waterproof suits to put on over your clothes, so you don't need to pack extra warm gear for that.

I suggest you leave all sweaters at home and buy one or more in Reykjavik. It's what they're known for--and they don't all look like fisherman sweaters.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:15 AM on June 1, 2014

If you do figure out that one of your debit or credit cards will work at an ATM, find out both what the daily limit is, and what constitutes a day. It is not fun spending on hour on the phone with the Visa fraud department because you got the time of day wrong. (I found out that a new day started at midnight, Pacific time, for my credit union, which was fine once I factored in what time in the morning that was in France.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 1:10 PM on June 1, 2014

When I talked to my bank (Chase) they said that even though I'll have a chipped card it won't work at ATMs

This was not my experience in Europe. I have a chipped American credit card, but it is chip-and-signature not chip-and-pin. It did not work in ticket machines (train and subway) and neither did any of my non-chipped cards.

However, my non-chipped debit card did work in all 3 ATMs that I used. I also used it in many stores without a problem. I did have to indicate that it had to be swiped at a few places, but everyone understood immediately. Any places that deals with tourists should be used to that.
posted by soelo at 7:50 AM on June 2, 2014

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