Last year, I was thrilled to find cheap flights to Iceland and plan a fun trip over my 26th birthday. But, I wasn’t so thrilled about the price for baggage. This new trend of budget airlines charging to bring carry-on bags makes me grit my teeth in annoyance. But what can ya do?
So when I planned my Iceland birthday trip, I decided to challenge myself to pack for the whole week using just a personal item bag. If you’re up for the challenge too, or just don’t want to drop $80 on a roundtrip carry on bag, here are my tips for packing for Iceland in spring with only a personal item.
Traveling to Iceland? Find more itineraries, travel tips and money-saving ideas on my Iceland page!
Can It Really Be Done?
Yes, packing for a whole week with a personal item-sized bag sounds outrageous and possibly even a bit stingy. But I do what I can to travel on the cheap and I’d rather save the cash for cool experiences rather than the privilege to bring more stuff. Plus, it was kind of fun to just see if I could do it.
READ » 5 Reasons it Sucks to be a Budget Traveler (And Why it’s Totally Worth it)
So yes, you can totally get away with packing for Iceland in spring with just a personal item. But there are a few boxes you need to check in order to do it. Successfully pulling off packing for a week with a personal item requires you to travel during a certain time of year, wear a few layers on the plane, and wear pretty much the same outfit every day. If none of these are issues for you, let’s read on!
The Advantages to Personal Item Only Travel
The most obvious advantage to traveling personal item only is the saved money. It’s usually the main motivation for people to try and fit everything they need into a smaller bag. The price to bring a carry-on bag on WOW Air starts at $45 one way and goes up to almost $70 if you don’t add bags online! That’s ONE WAY! And you’ll find these prices to be similar across dozens of budget airlines throughout the world.
Traveling with a personal item also lets you experience all the same advantages as traveling with a carry-on bag. From increased mobility, less waiting time, and less risk of theft or loss, personal item travel is a lot nicer than paying for and managing a large checked bag.
READ » 13 Reasons Carry On Travel is the Bomb Diggity
The Disadvantages to Personal Item Only Travel
But of course, traveling with a personal item only has its disadvantages too. First and foremost, it can be really tricky to narrow down your necessities to what you really, REALLY need. There’s definitely not any room for those “just in case” items. And if you’re really into your photography, odds are you won’t have room for all your gear.
Also, if you’ve planned a trip in the dead of winter in Iceland, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to fit everything you need into a personal item. Packing for winter in Iceland requires a few more layers and bulkier items than packing for Iceland in spring or summer. But hey, if you think you can do it, I’m not going to stop you!
Lastly, when traveling with just a personal item, you are probably going to have every nook and cranny of space in that bag used up. This is not going to leave much room for souvenirs. If you’re traveling to Iceland hoping to pick up one of those super nice Icelandic wool sweaters, or a bottle of Brennivín to bring home to your buds, you may be out of luck with your small bag. But you can always travel there with your personal item, and add a carry-on bag when you return home with a plethora of Icelandic goodies.
Finding the Best Personal Item Bag
When most people think “personal item” on a plane, they think of a small purse or a laptop bag. If you’re one of these people, I can imagine that this post has completely baffled you up to this point.
But here’s the secret: For the most part, when the airlines say you can bring a personal item for free, what they mean is that your bag just has to fit under the seat in front of you on the plane.
So your first step in finding the best personal item bag for your trip to Iceland is to look up the maximum dimensions your airline says your personal item can be. This way you know the maximum amount of space that you can work with. For WOW Air, the largest a personal item can be is 42x32x25cm (17x13x10in) and a maximum of 10kg (22 lbs.)
Now, as you shop for the perfect personal item bag, keep these dimensions in mind. Or, get out your measuring tape and see if any of the travel bags you currently own will fit the bill. I’ve found that you can allow yourself a little bit of wiggle room as long as the bag can squish down and fit underneath a plane seat.
Recommended Bags for Personal Item Only Travel
If you’re not sure what direction to go when searching for the best personal item bag for you, here are a few suggestions!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click a link and purchase one of these items, I will get an itty bitty (no, really…) commission at no cost to you! Thanks!
High Sierra Wheeled Underseat Carryon, 16.75x12x8.5in – If you prefer bags with wheels, here’s a great one. It also has a laptop sleeve and pockets for keeping your things organized.
SWISSGEAR Getaway Weekender, 18.5x12x8in – This is the bag I used for my personal item. It’s a little longer than the dimensions specify but I was able to shove it under the plane seat. I like the water bottle pocket and that it opens like a suitcase.
Travel Weekender Duffel Tote Bag, 16x12x8in – If you need something just a little bit more fashionable, check out this duffel bag with its oh-so-chic stripes.
Arxus Foldable Waterproof Travel Bag, 18x12x6in – If you’re not so sure about this personal item travel thing, and don’t want to invest a lot in a bag, this is a great, cheap way to start out!
Packing For Iceland in Spring: What I Packed
Okay, okay. Here’s the part you’re probably the most curious about. We’ve talked about the advantages and disadvantages of personal item travel. We’ve chatted about what to look for in a bag. Now it’s time to get down and dirty. What exactly did I cram into my small backpack for my week in Iceland? Here are the details:
Clothing and Accessories
When packing for Iceland in spring, you’ll want to keep in mind the fluctuating weather in Iceland during this time of year. I visited at the end of May, and the temperatures ranged from 40 to 60F. The temperature in Iceland in spring really isn’t too harsh, but there are two main things you’ll want to be prepared for: the wind, and the rain. While packing your personal item for travel, keep in mind Iceland’s wind and rain as you narrow down what items you’ll bring.
It should also be noted that I live in a colder climate, so I’m used to colder temperatures. If you live in a naturally warmer climate, you may want to add an extra layer of warmth to
- 1 Packable Raincoat – Look for one that’s waterproof, lightweight, can pack up really tight, and also blocks the wind.
- 1 Sweatshirt – Pick one that’s warm but not too big and bulky.
- 4 T-shirts (1 worn on plane) – Don’t worry about being fashionable here. Odds are you’ll always have a layer over these.
- 1 Long Sleeve Shirt – For the days that are a little colder.
- 1 Light Flannel Button-Up – I brought this for the warmer days and for just hanging around our AirBnb apartment This can be omitted from your packing list if needed.
- 2 Pairs of Pants (1 worn on plane) – Pick your most comfortable pants for walking around. Lean towards pants that are a bit warmer rather than super lightweight. I brought my trusty hiking pants and a pair of fleece-lined leggings.
- 1 Pair of Sleeping Shorts – I prefer sleeping in shorts. You can bring whatever you need to sleep in.
- 1 Swimsuit – I know Iceland doesn’t sound like a swimsuit kind of destination. But between all the public pools in Reykjavik and the thermal hot springs around the country, there are many opportunities for a good soak!
- 2 Sports Bras (1 worn on plane)
- 8 Pairs of Underwear (1 worn on plane)
- 4 pairs of Regular Socks (1 worn on plane)
- 2 Pairs of Light Wool Socks – For the colder days, and/or days where you will be doing more hiking.
- 1 Fleece Coat (worn on plane) – An outer layer that will keep you warm, but is lighter than a typical winter coat. Extra points if your coat is waterproof or windproof.
- Warm Hat and Mittens – Another little bit of warmth for the cooler, windier days. Lean toward a hat that stays on your head well. The wind likes to steal hats.
- 1 Pair of Hiking Boots (worn on plane) – You’ll want something a little sturdier than your everyday walking shoe, and you’ll want it to be as waterproof as possible.
- 1 Pair of Light Hiking Shoes – I recommend bringing a secondary pair of shoes for walking around Reykjavik and as a back up in case your first pair get too wet.
- Hidden Pocket Scarf – One of the items I always travel with! A great place to store your mittens in case they’re needed!
- Packable Backpack – Fold it up as small as it can go when packing, then use it for day trips through Iceland!
- Sunglasses – Believe it or not, it can get pretty dang sunny in Iceland!
- Microfibre Towel – These are great for personal item travel because they are smaller and more absorbent than your everyday towel!
- Water Bottle – The water in Iceland is some of the freshest in the world! Save cash by filling up a bottle with cold water from the tap. This is one of my favorite bottles to travel with.
- Travelon Anti-Theft Purse – I honestly didn’t feel like I needed anti-theft gear in Iceland, but this is my go-to travel purse. Anything smallish and packable will work fine.
- Soap and Shampoo
- Toothpaste and Toothbrush
- Small Hairbrush
- Contact Solution and Case
- Small First Aid Kit (Bandaids, blister pads)
- Hair ties and Pins
- Lip Balm
- Hand Lotion
- Car Charger – Not necessary if you are not renting a car.
- Magnetic Car Mount – Very helpful in the car if you’re using your phone for GPS!
- iXpand Drive – For those of you (like me) who have old phones with almost no storage…
- External Power Bank – For those of you (like me) who have old phones with sucky battery life…
- Earbuds – Mostly for entertainment on the plane to and from Iceland
- iPhone and Charger Cable – I always bring mine! I use it for photography, GPS, and to keep my travel notes organized.
- Small Camera and Charger – I have a smaller, not so fancy camera that I bring. It’s waterproof, so it’s great to bring to rainy destinations and places where I’ll be adventuring around water.
- 2 Outlet Adapters
Traveling with only a personal item is a great way to save money on short trips. Packing for one week in Iceland is totally doable with just a personal item. In spring, you don’t have to worry about stuffing in bulky winter coats and boots. And in Iceland, you wear enough layers that you don’t have to worry about bringing fashionable pieces for every single day.
By traveling with just a personal item, you will save a good chunk of money that you can use instead for some fun experiences in Iceland. Treat yo’self to a spa day at the Blue Lagoon, or book yourself on a puffin-watching day cruise!
If you have an upcoming trip planned for Iceland, take the challenge to travel with only a personal item bag!
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Don’t forget to check out these other helpful Iceland posts!
The Ultimate Blue Lagoon Packing List: What You Do and Don’t Need to Bring
21 Important Things to Know Before Visiting The Blue Lagoon
15 Fun and Free Things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland
Planning an Epic Iceland Stopover: Things to do Near Keflavik Airport
The Best Golden Circle Self-Drive Itinerary
Reykjadalur Hot Springs: Everything You Need to Know About This Hidden Gem in Iceland
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Great list! I’m a pretty good packer and have definitely worn a rain jacket (possibly with things in the pockets) and a regular jacket only a plane before, but never down to just a person item. We will be doing this trip in a couple months. I drives me crazy that so many airlines are now charging more for carry-ons (that we expect to be free) than checked bags. I like to have everything with me so I can get off the plane and go, checking luggage is so stressful and a huge pain when you get home late and want nothing more than to go home.