How to Pack for a Week in Iceland With Just a Carry-on

How to Pack for a Week in Iceland With Just a Carry-on

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Discount airfares to Iceland seem to be popping up more and more, making it much more affordable for people to travel to this incredible country. Of course, those low fares often come with a catch. Discount airfares generally come with extreme baggage restrictions, so travelers that want to keep their costs low will be forced to pack everything they need in just their carry-on luggage.

When I saw a super cheap fare to Iceland on WOW Air, I jumped on it. I, admittedly, did very little research and simply made an impulse buy. I later paid for my spontaneity, but I was still able to fly to Iceland for a really reasonable price, provided I flew with only a carry-on suitcase. Normally, I am not intimidated by luggage restrictions, as I prefer to travel light, but Iceland is not my typical destination. My one week trip involved driving all around the Ring Road and making several stops a day to get out of the car to walk around and explore. I knew I’d be facing the cold Iceland winds while I walked on unpaved ground to get closer to powerful waterfalls that might spray me with a cold mist. Icebergs and glacier lagoons were also on the itinerary. This was not a trip that called for my usual sundresses, jeans, and ballerina flats.

Once I had committed to traveling with only a carry-on bag, I was genuinely worried that I would be uncomfortable and cold for a week straight, but I promise you, I wasn’t! You absolutely can pack for a whole week in Iceland in just one small carry-on suitcase or bag.

Start with jackets

While Iceland isn’t actually the land of ice people tend to picture, it does get pretty chilly, especially when the powerful wind kicks up. My number one clothing recommendation is a high quality rain jacket. Even on dry days, you will appreciate the windbreaker material that helps cut the cold wind. Look for a jacket that is loose enough to wear over thicker clothing so that you can bundle up on colder days. I ended up wearing my rain jacket every single day, rain or shine. It was lightweight enough that I could go on longer walks and not get too sweaty when my body temperature started to rise, but warm enough that the cold air that rushed at me as soon as I opened the car door didn’t make me want to cry. Iceland is also full of amazing waterfalls, many of which you can take a look at up close. When you’re standing under a waterfall, a good rain jacket comes in pretty handy. I bought a Columbia brand jacket that actually packs into its own pocket, meaning the tiny square only took up a small fraction of my carry-on.

Standing in front of one of the many incredible waterfalls in Iceland

For colder days, you’ll want a thin but warm jacket to wear underneath your rain jacket. I have a nice one from Under Armor that is designed for outdoor excursions. It has thin insulation and breathable fabric, so it worked well as a layer between my shirt and rain jacket. This jacket also kept my warm on the cold airplane. Both my insulated jacket and rain jacket had hoods, which allowed me to skip the hat. One less thing to pack!

Plan reusable layers

When most of your day is spent in a car and your tops are always covered by a jacket, you really don’t have to worry about having super fashionable clothes. I also support re-wearing clothes on a trip, because who is really there to judge you? I packed a few tank tops to wear underneath long-sleeved shirts. My long sleeve shirts included 3 thermals and 2 dry-wick workout tops. On extra cold days, I put on a tank top, thermal, and then one of my workout tops. I was never cold, and sometimes the physical activity got me warm enough that I’d end up peeling one of those layers off later in the day.

Make sure your pants are outdoor-friendly

I’m not a hiker, so my outdoorsy clothing options are slim to none. Whenever I need to go on a hike, I tend to just wear my workout clothes, which are all shorts and capris. Obviously, that wasn’t going to work for Iceland. I decided to invest in some pants that are specifically designed for hiking. I found a pair of lightweight, quick drying grey pants with several zipper pockets. I lived in these pants for the entire trip. The material cut the wind very well, so even though they were thin, my legs were never cold. The pants took up about 1/3 of the space as a pair of jeans, making them ideal for packing only a carry-on. I did also shove a pair of jeans in there and I wore them a few times, but I definitely could have lived without them had I needed the space.

Bring small accessories that make a big difference

Three things that take up very little space but will be extremely useful in Iceland: gloves, scarf, and a swimsuit.

A swimsuit may sound like a weird item, but you can't go to Iceland without visiting one of their amazing geothermal spas. These naturally hot waters are therapeutic and are paired with amazing views. The Blue Lagoon is a short trip from Reykjavik, but the mystical blue waters will make you feel like you are in another world. 

Enjoying an Icelandic beer in a natural spa

If you plan to take a lot of photos (which you should), I recommend getting a pair of gloves that works with smartphones and touchscreens. My gloves were not touchscreen friendly, so I ended up taking them off constantly, which lead to very cold, dry, and cracked hands at the end of my trip. Gloves are not one of my go-to items when I pack, so I was ill-prepared. Scarves, on the other hand, almost always make it into my bag, or rather, around my neck for the chilly airplane ride. One good scarf will make big difference in how you handle the wind, and if you wear it on the day of travel, it won’t take up any space at all in your carry-on.

Spring for the good socks

My one regret was not investing in better socks. For some reason, I had no problem throwing down money for new hiking pants, a rain jacket, and gloves, but I drew the line at high quality socks. My feet were consistently cold, especially the day when I ended up knee deep in water at a black sand glacier beach.

Fortunately I only got wet feet and wasn't pulled out to sea towards the dangerous Atlantic waves, which are life threatening - and not only because you could easily get hypothermia.

Thick, comfortable socks won’t take up much more space than their cheap, thin counterparts, so don’t cheap out on this. Long socks work great for keeping your calves warm on especially cold or windy days, and can be rolled down if you get hot.

Always allow time in your schedule to pull off the road and take photos of the scenery.

I absolutely loved driving through Iceland and I never once worried about clothing I had left behind due to space restrictions. If you can score a cheap flight to Iceland, go for it and don't worry about the luggage restrictions!


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