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How to book your activities in Iceland like a pro


Now that I’ve been offering tours on the blog for a while, both my own and through my partners, I feel like I’m gaining a bit of insight into what people find confusing about the booking process and common mistakes they tend to do. What I’ve learned is that most people are quite savvy when it comes to booking online (which is a big difference from when I started working tourism and people were still pretty afraid of booking engines) but sometimes it’s the little cultural nuances that cause the befuddlement.

Some of these problems are specific to American travelers because for some reason Americans want to do everything differently from (most of) the rest of the world. Like weighing things in lbs instead of kg and using feet instead of centimeters. Don’t even get me started on the Farenheit scale! Before you go all OMG she hates Americans be sure that I am very much aware that it’s not just America. I’m looking at you England and Australia, would it kill you to drive on the right side of the road?

So if you are a European or from a country that uses the same formats as we do this post may seem a bit redundant. For everyone else, hopefully it will help you book the pants off your trip to Iceland.

+1 is not just your travel partner

One of the most confusing things for people traveling from the US and Canada to Iceland seems to be to determine what date they are actually arriving in Iceland. I don’t know if the +1 that some airlines put next to the arrival time on their tickets causes this or whether these people are more used to traveling in the other direction but you would be amazed how many people have to ask me to move their booking when they discover they’ve accidentally booked the wrong date.

Thankfully, this one is fairly easy to explain. If you are leaving the US on a Friday afternoon/evening, for example, you arrive in Iceland on Saturday morning. If you have a flight on the 15th of June your arrival date is the 16th. I know this may seem obvious to most but for those who are having troubles with this it’s good to remember when you fly east you lose time and when you fly west you gain it. Which is why you arrive almost at the same time as you left when you’re flying back home (at least if you live on the east coast).

Using the correct date format

The Icelandic way to write dates is dd-mm-yyyy while the American way is mm-dd-yyyy. And Icelanders write dd/mm while Americans apparently write mm/dd. If you are not used to this cryptic way to explain date formats dd means date, mm month and yyyy year.

This causes a lot of confusion. Not so much for the person booking the tour, because they know what they are trying to book, but more so for the person on the receiving end. If someone writes they want to book a tour on 01/03 for example, does that mean they want to book it on March 1st or January 3rd? I can never be sure because some Americans write the dates our way while others stick to their own way.

This is maybe not such a big problem if you are using a booking engine because there you can most often pick a date from a calendar but if you need to send an e-mail to someone or book via booking form this might become an issue.

The best way to avoid this is to simply use the name of the month when you book. I’m arriving in Reykjavík February 2nd doesn’t leave room for much perplexity. If it does, the person on the receiving end should maybe consider finding another job.

For a nation without a military we sure love military time

Most Icelanders use military time or the 24 hour clock when they are writing and context when they speak. When they say something starts at 12 you just have to use your common sense to know whether they want you to come to brunch at midnight or noon. Using AM and PM also doesn’t come naturally to us. We know what it means but I’ve seen people around me not quite understand whether 1 am is 1 in the morning or the afternoon.

On the other end I’ve had people miss my tours because they didn’t know 13:00 means 1 pm or that 17:00 is 5 pm.

Because the 24 hour clock is so widely used in Iceland I would recommend you just get yourself acquainted with it if you are not already accustomed to it. If it helps you can remember that 5 pm for example  is 12:00 + 05:00 = 17:00 and 7 pm is 12:00 + 07:00 = 19:00. I don’t know how that helps but at least it brings some order to this chaos.

The price of things

Many people get intimidated when they see Icelandic prices because we use a lot of zeros. Those same people should probably never travel to Zimbabwe. What is a bit confusing though is that we use points where Americans use comma and commas where they use points. So people often are not quite sure what things cost.

To give you an example my walking tour costs five thousand five hundred Icelandic krónur. The Icelandic way to write that is 5.500 ISK. To Americans that probably looks like five point five krónur. I think the British do the same. Five thousand five hundred dollars would be 5,500 USD whereas we would read that five point five dollars.

If it helps we almost never give out numbers lower than 1 króna. We have something called aur and 1 króna is made out of 100 aurar but aurar are mostly used by banks and for the average consumer it’s always rounded up to the next króna. So you would never see a price that looks like this 5.500,65 ISK.

So just make this mental switch when you look at prices in Iceland and you’ll be fine.

Mind you, the price might still be intimidating when you convert it to your own currency but that’s a whole different post.

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  1. Yes it literally would kill us to drive on the Right side of the road. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue when trying to change!! Nightmare. How boring the world would be if you didn’t have to think about things like what side of the road to drive on when you travel to other countries. We have travelled to Iceland twice and battled driving on the ‘wrong side’ in a blizzard on Christmas Day with no complaints from us:-)

    1. I hope you can read between the lines that I’m of course kidding 🙂

      1. Of course! I know you love the challenge of driving on the left? Thanks for all your posts. I always enjoy reading them ?

  2. I’m sure there will be a flurry of similar comments – as an English person, we also use stones/pounds /ounces rather than KG (although not for drinks – then we use ml/cl) and feet and inches, but don’t use Fahrenheit!
    The hardest thing about driving in Iceland – having the gear stick on the right hand side, I seriously almost sprained my wrist changing gears! it makes way more sense to have the gear stick on the left, so you keep the dominant hand on the wheel at all times (well as long as you’re not left handed!) 😛

    1. I was going to mention the whole stone thing too (which I so don’t understand) but couldn’t find a good way to get it in there so I ended up going for the obvious – the driving on the wrong side of the road 🙂

      There’s a lot of things I don’t understand about the UK actually. Like Marmite 🙂 But who am I to talk, my people eat rotten shark 🙂

      1. Yes here in the UK we still use stones, pounds and ounces for our weight but kind of know how many kg that equates to. I often use kg and g especially when cooking and at work. When babies are born we ask their weight in lbs and ozs ( yes I know – those abbreviations are a whole
        new conversation!). We all know how tall we are in feet and inches but also know roughly in cm!!! I run in miles/hr and my husband runs in km/m. We run 10k and 5k races and people always ask how far that is in miles!! It’s all hilarious!! But we know what we mean?

  3. Great post! I had this very moment of panic conversation when I thought that our hotel had emailed me a 5/10 (May 5th) arrival date rather then when our flight would actually get there on October 5. It is all sorted out with a lot of “ohhhh’s, and :-)’s” Really great tip.

  4. As someone who booked the tour on the wrong day, I know exactly why it happened: in English Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Japan, Israel, South Africa, India, and most of Latin America, the first day of the week on the calendar is Sunday. The calendar on the booking page starts on Monday. So when I was booking on the last day of the week on the calendar, I was booking Sunday and not Saturday as I had intended.

    The fix would be for Bókun to detect the browser locale and render their calendar appropriately.