After about six hours on the WOW Air flight from Boston, I grabbed my bags, made some essential purchases at Keflavik airport’s duty free shop, and descended into the bitter cold night. My hiking boots crunched soft snow as I zipped my new omni-heat Columbia coat all the way up and walked toward the bus that read, “Reykjavik.”
The bus wound through the dark night, and I wondered if I would be lucky enough to spot the northern lights during my first few hours in the country. While this trip was a bit spontaneous, going to Iceland was also something that I had waited for my whole life, it seemed. Sitting on the bus, staring into the darkness, grasping every shape with anticipation, I knew that this was a trip that was going to change me.
When I arrived at The Loft, it was about 3 or 4am, way before check-in. I trekked up the four flights of stairs and arrived in the lounge area. The lights were dim, the couches called to me with their comfort, and I was all but delirious. Here I was, finally, in Reykjavik, the northernmost capital in the entire world. After notifying the girl at check-in that I’d arrived, I grabbed my laptop, tossed my two bags aside, and melted into the euphoria of a long-awaited journey while I closed my eyes and sunk further into the sofa.
After deciding that I would travel to Iceland no matter what a month or so beforehand, I realized that, despite WOW’s seriously discounted airfare, life wouldn’t be so cheap after I landed on the island. A decent, no-frills meal runs about $14 USD (unless you go to Subway for about $10 USD), the cheapest cocktails will run you $17 USD each, and accommodation can be very high depending on the season and the demand. Even though I arrived in February, thinking no one would be crazy enough to visit during winter, there was no lack of tourism in Reykjavik.
As a budget traveler, I have learned how to explore the world- especially Europe- with very little money, and I intended to do so in Iceland as well. After doing much research, I was inspired by other bloggers, such as Trisha of P.S. I’m on My Way, to combine Couchsurfing with volunteering at hostels.
I had never volunteered at a hostel before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I found myself loving life during my five weeks in Reykjavik. Not only is The Loft one of the most luxurious hostels I’ve stayed at, it is also a great place to meet like-minded travelers and Icelanders alike. With their upstairs bar, weekly events open to the public (think live music, poetry, meet-ups, and so on), as well as their huge balcony (a great place to drink beer, chat, and wait for the northern lights), it was hands-down one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at.
In exchange for about 25-30 hours of work per week, I snuggled up in a comfy bed each night with a reading light and plenty of storage room for my valuables. In the mornings, I took advantage of their breakfast spread, which included vegan options such as fresh fruit and vegetables, toast, bagels, tea, orange juice, and even soy milk for my much-needed coffee. Most days, I would work on freelance writing and helping HI Iceland, during the morning, and go off exploring in the afternoon. Come nighttime, the same living/workspace I’d used would be a lively place to mingle, sip on local craft beer, and make new friends.
Reykjavik is really an amazing place. It’s fresh, unique, progressive, very vegan-friendly, and simply has the most bad-ass street art that I’ve witnessed in Europe. While it’s a small city, it has more to offer than most large cities in terms of musical/artistic/economic/culinary aspects, and is ridiculously safe as well. The more time you spend in Reykjavik, the more you’ll discover you have yet to explore, and the more you’ll fall in love with its locals and its vibe.
The Loft is one of HI Iceland’s 30-something hostels. Each hostel is unique, and most are locally run (I had the opportunity to visit a several throughout the country), but I must say that The Loft was my favorite. Not only is it centrally located on one of the main streets: Bankastræti (just a few minutes’ walk to the main bus station, Harpa, as well as the Hallgrímskirkja church), it just had that je ne se quoi– a perfect collaboration of music, art, libations, and streamlined architecture that made me fall in love. The showers were hot, the kitchen was very backpacker-oriented (think refrigerators, stoves, and even “free” boxes of leftover food and drink), the staff was super friendly, and you could even organize tours from the front desk- and then be picked up at the front door. More than anything, I always felt completely welcomed and- most importantly- safe during my stay.
Added bonus: I saw the northern lights not once, but twice from the terrace at The Loft. No tour needed. This experience of green lights dancing across the sky was truly a gift, as was my time doing a work exchange for HI Iceland. It is an experience for which I will always be grateful. They helped me realize one of my greatest dreams in life- experiencing Iceland not merely as a stop-over or week-long vacation, but as a traveler digging deeper into their history, their culture, and their status of one of the most popular destinations in Europe.
To HI Iceland and to The Loft, I will forever cherish my time in Reykjavik. Thank you.
Have you stayed at the Loft, or another hostel in Reykjavik? If so, what did you think? What do you look for when choosing a place to stay?