Modern Slavery; an interview with a diamond dealer and the truth about your tech

ring
credit: weddingbee.com

I’ve always said if someone proposes to me with a diamond ring then the answer would have to be no. It would show that the person doesn’t know me at all.

2 reasons:

  1. For me, a diamond represents capitalism at its worse. Diamonds are bought relatively cheaply from the mines, and it isn’t until they are cut that they are worth so much. And where do diamonds get cut? Generally, in the West. So, as is classic with capitalist markets, the people working to get the product are paid next to nothing, the West buys it cheap then sells it for huge profit, making a few wealthy people in the West richer and richer whilst people in the mines have a daily struggle to survive.
  2. Then comes the slavery. Many of us have seen ‘Blood Diamond,’ a fiction film which explores the world of the diamond mines in Sierra Leone. It deals with very real and very serious issues. Blood diamond workers, also known as conflict diamonds workers, are slaves who work in diamond mines in areas which are controlled by rebel forces, who are against the legitimate government. The profits made from selling the diamonds goes towards weaponry and furthering their agenda of war, therefore leading to wide spread bloodshed. What’s more the conditions for slaves in mines are horrific. Many are kidnapped and tortured, beaten, raped, drugged and murdered. Many children are enslaved to dig for diamonds, particularly in African countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and the Republic of Congo. According to the World Bank and the United Nations approximately 3 million people have died in relation to conflict diamond mining. To me it seems gross that a man, woman or child has bled, sweat and despaired over the sparkly gem that so many of treasure on our finger. Seems weird that it’s a symbol for love and commitment as the classic engagement ring.

So. I was surprised on a recent flight from Brussels to Madrid when I got chatting to the man next to me. We spoke about society, environment and politics and we had had similar views on a lot of things. He was educated and seemed kind and concerned about equality. After a while, he mentioned that he is a gemmologist, and sources diamonds for European companies..

‘Oh.’ I said. ‘How do you find a place for your social and political beliefs in an industry that’s so heavily linked to slavery and the abuse of the developing world by the west?’

Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but I do like to jump straight in…

Juan took it in his stride and smiled thoughtfully. ‘I guess they never made a Hollywood film about your iPhone?’

He had a point.

You see iPhones (all smartphones and laptops in fact) contain a mineral called coltan. Meanwhile, in the last 20 years, 7 million people have died in a civil war in the democratic republic of Congo. Today, members of rebel forces as well as corrupt government soldiers enslave children in the Congo to mine minerals essential to smartphones and other technology. (Huffington Post)

With Apple, it doesn’t end there. Once the raw materials reach Asia to be processed in factories the workers’ rights are just as disgusting. Apple uses a Foxconn plant, a factory which has been described as a ‘labour camp’ by local media. Here, so many workers were trying to commit suicide by jumping out of windows, that the factory responded by putting up suicide nets to catch them as they fell. Instead of reducing working hours that are 3 times the working limit or raising pitiful wages. Workers often sleep on factory floors and never get to see the sky. But we very rarely criticise Apple for that disgusting treatment of workers, even though the CEO Tim Cook has received $570 million worth of stocks in a single year alone. (Huffington Post)(Telegraph)

Then there’s your clothes. How many were made in sweat shops? I for one don’t know where all my clothes have come from. The convenience of cheap clothes off the high street is hugely integrated into my lifestyle.

Next? Food. King prawns are hugely linked to slavery. A recent guardian investigation found that supermarkets such as Tesco, Walmart, Carrefour and Costco has sourced Cheap Thai ‘king’ prawns which have been supplied by the work of violent slave labour. (Guardian)

Juan pointed out that though he condemned any slavery within the diamond industry, and elsewhere, that I was unable to criticise his choice to work in the diamond industry whilst I owned an iPhone and ate many common types of food, and shopped in many high street stores. Sadly, slavery is as integrated into human lifestyle now than it has ever been.

In fact, slaves are cheaper now than they have ever been. We can work this out by comparing the price of a slave to the price of land, grain and livestock throughout human history. Slavery is illegal in every country in the world but there are currently more slaves right now than there were in the entire history of the transatlantic slavery. (BBC) This can be through human trafficking and sex slavery, domestic labour, and people who are tricked into ‘jobs’ in farms or factories and then are not paid or permitted to leave.

Do you ever get your car cleaned at a hand car wash? Did you wonder why it costs only 4 pounds when you have up to 5 people simultaneously working on your car? And they’re mostly foreign, right? Passports stolen, without papers or with family threatened back home, they may not have another option.

Juan explained to me that in his professional opinion the diamond industry has evolved positively in recent years. With the wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia all the biggest companies agreed to monitor and create policy for the rough diamond buying process. They now evaluate possible human rights violations to try and ensure companies aren’t involved in illegal activity such as money laundering. He told me that around 95% of diamond dealers and companies now completely refuse to work with blood diamonds. If they do, they are subject to strict international policy. This process is called the Kimberley process and you can read more about it here.

He thinks that the industry has a bad name due to Hollywood blockbusters like Blood Diamond and although it is never acceptable, there are so many industries in the modern world that violate human, animal and environmental rights. Industries such as the pharmaceutical, food, wood, mineral and textile industries have all got a lot to answer for. Juan tries to work within the second-hand market which gives him more peace of mind, and when he buys and sells within this market he feels he is contributing to create new jewels, meaning more jobs and good business for colleagues.

The conversation gave me a lot to think about, as I have always been so very anti-diamond, whilst checking my emails on an iPhone and popping to high street shops to cheaply update my wardrobe. Clearly, slavery is deeply integrated into modern society and we must do more to try and tackle this. Will it come down to governments tightening restrictions for big companies, or consumer choices forcing unethical companies out of business?

I suspect a balance between the two must be found. If you would like to know how many slaves are involved with your life you can do a quiz on slavery footprint, where you fill in some information about things your diet/lifestyle and it calculates how many slaves are working for you. Check it out here.

Currently, I’m feeling overwhelmed by all this information! If you have any ideas on how to reduce the slavery involved in your lifestyle, please write a comment on Facebook or below!

The masculinity of violence

rape
photo credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/685462005754608020/

I just popped into the bank to put some money into an account, and it ended up being a bit of a weird and uncomfortable experience. I breathed a sigh of relief as I left the hot July streets of Madrid and felt the cool whir of the air-conditioning touch my sweaty little face. I walked up to the machine.

Hey’ an angry voice said a couple of inches from my ear. I looked up in surprise to see a man of about 40 years old staring directly into my face. ‘I was here first.’

‘Oh,’ I said, genuinely surprised. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t see you’

He scoffed and elbowed me aside to get the machine.

Hey’ said a less angry and more bewildered voice, also male. It was another customer in the bank. ‘There is another machine right beside her.’

Clearly, I hadn’t pushed in after all. Man 1 mumbled something inaudible with his back to me. I repeated, ‘there’s another machine just there.’ Man 1 looked me up and down and raised his eyebrows, to show me he didn’t give a toss whether or not there was another machine, and he started using the machine he had pushed me away from. I stood there for a couple of minutes in surprise before I walked to the second machine.

Man 2 opened his mouth to say something but I shook my head at him, and smiled to show it didn’t matter. I didn’t want to ‘cause a scene’ as us women are so often accused of doing when a man exerts power over us.

Man 2 and I left the bank at the same time and he looked quite upset. ‘He was just a dickhead.’

‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘but I don’t think that would have happened if I wasn’t a girl.’

This is a small example of a man who belittled me and made me feel I had to back down, even though the tension was caused completely by him and was not my fault. He created a problem, and then made me feel that I had to keep quiet in order to keep things running smoothly.

But you know what? Billions of women are biting their tongues and smiling at a billion stupid little things every day, and it really does get quite tedious.

What’s the big deal? Perhaps you might ask. This guy was rude, but has it really got anything to do with gender?

I would argue that yes, it absolutely does. You see, I am reading a book at the moment called ‘Men Explain Things to Me,’ by Rebecca Solnit and it is really helping me see the big picture when these small aggressive acts take place.

In her chapter called ‘The longest war’ she explains the masculinity of violence, something which no one really seems to be talking about. For fear of being called a feminazi bra burner? Perhaps. Solnit explains that there are many lovely and kind men who are allies to women. For example, Man 2 could see that something wasn’t right and he spoke up and tried to help me.

However, there is a very clear and serious link between masculinity and violence against women that needs to be addressed. Solnit explains that there is ‘a pattern of violence against women that’s broad and deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked’ and that ‘violence doesn’t have a race, class or religion, but it does have a gender.’

She explains that nearly all the perpetrators of violent crimes are men. That doesn’t mean that all men are violent. Most aren’t and many also suffer violence, though it is generally at the hands of other men. Of course, women also can be violent but the statistics do tell us that in the cases where women are involved in violence, particularly that against men, the consequences are not as grave and it rarely leads to serious injury or death. What’s more the majority of men who are killed by their female spouses are actually done so in self-defence

As Rebecca explains violence is all about exercising control over another person, showing them that you are more powerful than them. So, it is a serious human rights issue that a woman is beaten by her husband every 9 SECONDS, in America alone. Of the 2 million women that are beaten every year, 145,000 require overnight hospitalisation.

Violence is a form of control, and murder is carried out by men a shocking 90% of the time.

Like I explained, not all men are violent. Most men are kind are good and allies to women. However, it cannot be denied that violence is intrinsically linked to masculinity and if we don’t address this head on I don’t see how we can ever make progress towards a safer world for all people.

It does matter that the man in the bank pushed me away from the machine, because he was taking my power away. And, like society has taught me to do, I bit my tongue and smiled to avoid conflict, rather than recognising what he was really doing to me. He wasn’t really being rude in the bank, he was really showing me that he believed he had the right to control me and hold power over me.

Solnit explains how this kind of toxic idea that has been created in our society leads to the same death toll as for 9/11 every 3 years. But the women being murdered by men is a war on terror that we aren’t having. What’s more, this is a trap that not only disempowers women, but also traps men. We cannot really be free until we address this structural power dynamic which is effecting us all.

Thank you so much for reading. I really recommend reading the book ‘Men explains things to me,’ which was very enlightening, accessible and short. You can get it on amazon here

You turned me inside out

 

market

Many different men have claimed to love me,
Caressed my curls and held my body close.
But you’re the first of them to ever know me,
Sifted through a thousand fakes to find me.

Look, I wasn’t good before I met you,
Nor bad, just lost and acting all the time.
You turned me inside-out so hard and fast
The webs of my lies caught the light.

You turned me inside out and back to front.
I coughed up a sea of hurt and deceit,
Choked on filth too sticky to drink
Like an ex-smoker chokes up thick tar.

You know I have broken hearts before,
Watched them hold on tight as they begged for more.
I was so very lost before
You found me on that dark dance floor.

What should I say?! How to support a loved one with depression.

depression

What should I say? How should I say it? Should I say anything?!

Dealing with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety is bloody hard work. It’s physically and emotionally draining, and we often feel like we are alone in the world and no one understands us. It is also really tricky for our friends and family to know how best to support us when we are having a hard time. Quite often we have family and friends who love us and really want to help, but who feel powerless to do so (or accidentally say something that can make us feel even worse!)

I really struggled with managing depression as I grew up, and it was particularly hard on my mum. My parents are fabulous people who love my socks off, but I understand that it is so difficult for our loved ones to know how to support us too. My mum felt a real sense of guilt related to my depression. After all I was just a little girl, a child. She felt it was her responsibility to keep me happy and healthy so when I started to struggle with mental health the powerlessness was difficult for her to cope with. (She did a great job by the way, long live mum)

Obviously each individual is completely different and will express their feelings in different ways, but I just wanted to put together a few pieces of advice for anyone who is struggling to support a loved one with mental health. Off we go!

  1. Don’t lose sight of yourself

Firstly, don’t let somebody else’s problems drag you down. I myself have struggled with mental health, but I have also found myself in the position where by trying to support somebody I have let myself get dragged down in the misery pit with them. Offer support, let them know that you’re on hand, but don’t promote a relationship of dependency where you feel you are trapped and overwhelmed what is being asked of you.

Signs to look out for: If somebody threatens to hurt themselves if you don’t see them/call them, GET OUT. This is an abusive relationship/friendship and as much as you care for someone you can never allow someone to manipulate or abuse you. It is important to be there for your loved ones but you can’t make yourself poorly or unhappy by trying too hard to help them. At the end of the day, a person with mental health issues needs to want to help themselves. You can drive them to appointments, make a cup of tea on a sad day… but you should not sacrifice your own well-being in a misguided attempt to FIX somebody. (Secret: you’ll never win that game) They can only ‘fix’ themselves, through medical support and their own internal journey.

  1. Listen, don’t preach

More than anything, someone who is hurting just wants to know they aren’t alone. Questions you can ask that give a loved one the chance to express themselves include:

How are you feeling?

Is there anything I can do to help?

What do you need in order move forward?

These are helpful questions, and by explaining our feelings to you, we will begin to understand them better ourselves. What we don’t need to hear is.

‘Come on cheer up’

‘Try to think about something else’

At least for me, if someone tries to change the subject or avoid discussing how I feel, I feel silenced. It can be a very lonely feeling and more than anything when I’m sad I just want to know I have an ally.

‘I hear you and I’m sorry that you are sad’ is a perfect and valid response, you don’t have to offer an answer (in fact PLEASE DON’T) just let them know you love them, and you are sorry that it hurts.

  1. Give reassurance

As I mentioned before, depression is a really lonely feeling. We tend to feel very alone in the world and can’t see our own worth or believe that the people close to us really find value in us. Do not underestimate the power of some verbal reassurance.

‘I love you’

‘You mean so much to me.’

‘You are kind.’

Stating simple and reassuring facts is important. It might seem obvious and that we already know, but when we are feeling worthless it’s really hard to believe that we matter to someone, and hearing it is an important step to healing.

  1. Know the warning signs

Finally, know the warning signs for suicide. Did you know that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK? (Guardian) It’s really important to look out for signs of mental health problems in friends, colleagues and acquaintances. This NHS article briefly talks you through the warning signs to look out for. It suggests that ‘if you notice any of these warning signs in a friend, relative or loved one, encourage them to talk about how they are feeling.’ If you find that prospect overwhelming, you could offer to go with them to a GP appointment or direct them to a support group like The Samaritans.

Please advise anyone who really believes they are at risk of suicide to call 999 (UK), where the handlers are trained to respond appropriately.

If you are feeling depressed and are interested in taking medication, why not check out my blog which explains mental health meds.

Thank you and I hope you found this helpful!

From Infidelity to a Greasy Takeaway: How to Cope With Regret

IMG_0880.JPG

When I was at university, I had a lovely boyfriend. He was kind and clever, and we had a blast. One day, I cheated on him.

During several weeks of moping around in my dressing gown, refusing to eat and sobbing, I thought I could never learn to like myself again. I had always been judgmental of infidelity, and had a ‘no excuses’ regard for people who’d cheat on their partners. I no longer regret what I did, because it taught me some of the most important things that I’ve learned on the roller-coaster that no-one told us growing up would be.

  1. Appreciate the lessons learned

Like I explained above, being unfaithful to my boyfriend was the ‘worst’ thing I’ve ever done. I broke a social convention big time, and I hurt someone that I care about. But you know what? I will never do it again. The experience has shown me that it is never worth it, and I’m glad I learned it when I was 20 and not when I’m married and have kids. Clearly, I needed to learn that temptation isn’t worth the consequences, and better sooner, in a uni relationship, than later. Besides, the fact it happened clearly shows that I wasn’t happy in the relationship. Looking back, as kind my ex boyfriend is I don’t think we were very well suited. I had been unhappy for a while but in complete denial because I was scared of acknowledging it, and then in the end it all kind of exploded. I’m glad that it happened because it forced us to confront the problems in our relationship and sit down and talk about whether we really wanted to be together… it turned out that the answer was no and it meant we could stop wasting each other’s time and focus on ourselves.

Finally, it taught me not to judge other people. Previously I had been quite up on my high horse about some things… including infidelity. I really looked down on people who had cheated on others. But you know what? To hell with that. I have no right to judge others and being in the same position I’d previously looked down on just showed me that you never know the details of anyone’s situation or feelings, and that looking down on others is ugly and small.

  1. Put it into perspective

My second piece of advice when you’re feeling regretful of something is to put it into perspective. Close your eyes, take a breath and ask yourself ‘Am I going to care about this in 10 years’ time?’ If the answer is no, let it go right now and save yourself unnecessary pain that won’t even be a concern to you later on in life.

  1. Give yourself a break

Have a bit of self-understanding! It’s very unlikely you purposefully intended to harm anyone, we all make mistakes. Sometimes, things go wrong. Be glad you feel bad, it’s your body’s natural way of adapting and changing to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. The most anxious and regretful people that I know are in their teens and early twenties… sometimes you do just have to put things down to youth. Sadly, there is no ‘how to life’ manual that comes flying out with the placenta after you’re born. We are all just doing our best to navigate the world on the experiences that each of us have had. You don’t get to judge or look down on anyone, and that includes yourself.

Recently I was crying my eyes out to my parents. I was really struggling to come to terms with the fact I’d upset one of my friends by being a bit thoughtless and I couldn’t stop punishing myself. Mum and Dad gave me cracking advice as ever:

Mum: ‘Oh Rach, I was unbearable to be around until I was at least 25’
Dad: ‘I’m pretty sure I was an obnoxious twat until I was 30.’

You see?! We are just learning, and that’s ok.

  1. Get it together

My final bit of advice is to take a nice deep breath, and get your shit together. If you don’t reign in your overreaction to something that probably wont matter in the grand scheme of things, you are going to spiral into a bad place.

Example. I’m a vegetarian. A few months ago I got absolutely sloshed on overpriced, sickly sweet cocktails. Where did I end up? With a 6 pack of chicken nuggets in McDonalds. I woke up the next day feeling RUBBISH. My tummy was cramping because I wasn’t used to meat, I had a ratty hangover and I felt like such an idiot for letting a greasy Mcdonalds get in between me and my lifestyle choices. But I had another choice to make. I could despair and say, ‘OH WOE IS ME I’M SO BAD, I SHOULD JUST GIVE UP AND EAT MEAT ALL THE TIME.’ Or I could say ‘oops, my bad, let’s get back on track.’

Life is so so short and you  can’t waste your precious time beating yourself up or hurting for the mistakes you make. The past is over, and the future is uncertain. Cringe aside, you only have the present to live and enjoy. Please don’t ruin the most important thing you have by giving yourself a hard time.

 

Prisons or sanctuaries? Clearing up the confusion about zoos

giraffe

I love animals. That phrase is probably most over used sentence in the history of mankind.  I think the vast majority of people claim to be animal lovers (quite often whilst chomping on a bacon sandwich). At least I don’t eat animals, so my hypocrisy is limited to some extent… but I love going to zoos, aquariums and petting farms.

After watching the incredible, and mind-blowing documentary ‘Blackfish’ about the killer whale Tillikum who killed his trainer at SeaWorld, I vowed never to go to an aquarium again. The documentary tracks how baby killer whales are captured in the wild, and records the screams of their mothers and tears of the fishermen who are now traumatised by what they have done. After all, killer whales are shown to have more complex emotions and interactions than humans, and ripping them from the ocean to keep in tiny swimming pools had led to endless cases of psychosis, depression and even the death of keepers when the whales finally crack.

So, aquariums are off the menu. I hate the idea of sharks and whales who should have the freedom of the oceans being stuck in a tank. Like putting a bird in a cage, it speaks to an inner part of myself and is symbolic of stolen freedom and mistreatment.

But what about zoos?

I’ve always comforted myself with the idea that zoos are for ‘conservation’ and ‘education’, but more recently I’m not so sure. You see, zoos first came about to show animals to the public who normally could never dream of seeing them. Taken from exotic, far-off lands before the time of television, the internet or affordable travel, zoos really were the best way to make people CARE enough to want to help conserve biodiversity throughout the world.

But now? Now we have HD television. The silky voice of the legend David Attenborough narrates awesome displays of animals hunting, migrating and playing. To be honest, I think the desire to conserve biodiversity can be easily met through documentaries, articles and films without the need to capture or breed animals in captivity.

From an animal rights perspective, zoos violate the animal’s right to live in freedom, and put the desires of humans over the welfare of the animal.

Then again, from an animal welfare perspective, one might argue that a zoo is only wrong if the animal has a lesser quality of life inside the zoo than it would in the wild. For example, the enclosures might be smaller, but a zebra will live much longer inside a zoo because it will have access to veterinary care and not run risk of drought, famine or predators.

On the other hand, the animal welfare perspective can also argue that zoos deprive animals from their natural habitat, natural social structure and the animals may become depressed and/or institutionalised. With animals in zoos becoming attached to human beings rather than their own species it can be argued that they are prevented from experiencing their true identity and they may experience a lower quality of life if they have a longer life. After all, many animals in zoos have near perfect health, but severe behavioural abnormalities.

For example, my cousin and I went to visit Twycross zoo, having heard it has an excellent reputation for conservation. However, we were really uncomfortable in its world famous primate section. I wanted to cry. Cage after cage of monkeys, and many of them seemed to have very little space.

What’s more, we saw apes banging their heads on the glass and screaming. The zoo keeper told us they weren’t upset, but their similarity to humans made me think that behaviour can’t be normal. Teeth bared, smacking the cage and eyes rolled back in their heads – it seemed like classic signs of extreme boredom and possible psychosis to me. Then again, I am NOT a primate expert, just a compassionate human being who didn’t buy that those animals were truly happy or sane after prolonged enclosure.

Finally, I would like to consider the conservation perspective. Lots of zoos claim that by breeding animals in captivity we can ensure that the species doesn’t go extinct. After all, we are going through the biggest mass extinction since the age of the dinosaurs, and species are going extinct daily. Half of the world’s animals have disappeared since the 1970’s. That is a tragedy. So, perhaps it IS morally acceptable to support zoos because they are ensuring the survival of animals for the coming generations.

However, this argument is also flawed in part. For example, the low numbers of individuals in a zoo means that the gene pool is very limited and it can be difficult to breed without problems. What’s more, removing rare animals from the wild to conserve them in zoos could further impact the natural populations and put them at risk. Some people believe that the benefits that a whole species may receive from conservation cannot excuse the negative impacts on the animals living inside the zoo.

‘For the greater good,’ is a dangerous argument for ANY philosophical problem after all. With the overpopulation of humans in the world leading to limited supplies, killing a few million people would never be an acceptable way to deal with the environmental strain.

Over all, I think that some individual zoos are probably good places, run by good people who want the best for the animals they look after, and those living in the wild. However, I think it’s really important to keep pressure on zoos to put conservation before entertainment and profit. For example, I think it is completely unacceptable to train a killer whale to perform tricks from a crowd, or swim with dolphins in a holiday complex swimming pool. You have to weigh up all the arguments I have put forward and decide in each individual case if the zoo is a place you are prepared to financially support by buying your ticket.

Hope you found this interesting! Let me know if you have any arguments you would like to add 😊

Travelling in Iceland if you’re Skint!

IMG_0657

Iceland is a beautiful country full of natural wonders. From natural hot lakes (that stink like eggs), to volcanoes, waterfalls and black volcanic beaches, it offers an unforgettable landscape for your travels.

You know what else? It’s bloody expensive.

A normal filter coffee will set you back around £8, or a small bowl of soup in a restaurant will cost about £16. Even the supermarkets will be about 4 times more expensive than you are used to, and staying in a youth hostel dormitory will cost the same as a simple but private hotel room back home.

I recently spent a week in Iceland in which my sister and I drove 1500 km around the whole country and packed our days full of cool activities and amazing nature. Being one student, and one fresh graduate living in London we had to get inventive in order to cut down costs.

Here are our top tips for surviving in Iceland on a budget:

Accommodation

IMG_0693

Camping – the cheapest way to stay in Iceland is to camp. Some campsites even have tents that they put up for you along with all the equipment you will need. If bringing your own luggage, bear in mind you will need to book on extra luggage. For my trip, we had one suitcase full of kit (sleeping bags, mats, the stove, a tent) and another suitcase for both of our clothes. A lot of campsites will have cooking facilities, free showers and communal areas, but not all of them. You should look up the sites on trip advisor to make sure you know what to expect.

Camping is only really feasible in summer months, because during winter Icelandic temperatures drop so low. During June, the temperatures were at about 11 degrees during the day and 4 degrees at night – so a 3-season sleeping bag is essential for a good night’s sleep.

I highly recommend the Reykjavik campsite. Powerful hot showers, a huge communal kitchen and friendly staff make it well worth the slightly higher price than more rural sites and can be used as a base to travel around the country.

IMG_0727

Food

It is expensive to eat out in Iceland, but even the supermarkets might give you a bit of a shock. You’re looking at £6 for a sandwich. My sister and I went to a cheap supermarket in England before we left and packed out bags with noodles, boil in the bag rice and some cheap tins of food. Bring fod that will travel well and is easy to cook and you will appreciate it later!

The cheapest supermarket in Iceland is called Bonus and has a pig on the logo, so that’s the place to go to top up supplies.

If you are eating in Reykjavik you should go to the thai restaurant called Krua Thai. Absolutely delicious, and reasonably priced at about 15 pounds each. The server was so friendly and helpful and as we don’t eat meat they replaced the meat with tofu, and charged us less! The Massaman curry was to die for, and the huge portion of Pad Thai had us waddling back to the tent.

IMG_0767

Transport

Bus tours tend to be expensive, although if you are short for time they can be a good way to see the highlights of the country, especially the golden circle.

However, if you want to see a lot of the country why not rent a car? We rented from Sixt which we picked up at the airport. It has terrible online reviews but we actually found the service great. For 160 quid, we rented a Chevrolet Spark for a week and had no problems with scratches. However, they did have limited mileage of 1400 km so we ended up having to pay for the extra miles.

We paid top insurance at 188 euros (150 quid) which meant that we only had to leave a deposit of around 100 pounds and didn’t have to worry about something going wrong. Do not scrimp on insurance because if you get a small scratch it can cost you hundreds of pounds. Altogether it cost us about 300 quid for 8 days transport in which we travelled the whole country, for me it was totally worth it and made it easier to travel between campsites and check out free and cheap activities.

If you are driving, you must have headlights on 24/7 and remember they drive on the right side of the road!

Hitchhiking is a cheap/free alternative but you should always be with at least one other person and need to bear in mind it will take a lot longer to get around so you should only do this if you have loose plans/a lot of time to spare.

IMG_0774

Activities

The famous natural hot lakes of Iceland are unmissable, but I would recommend avoiding the blue lagoon as it is expensive and crowded. Myvatin nature baths are around half the price and do student deals for around £20. Once you get used to the eggy smell you can happily relax and swim in hot water surrounded by mountains.

WARNING: do NOT enter hot lakes when you are out in the countryside. The reason you pay to enter lakes is because they have to be constantly cooled. Tourists jumping into unknown hot lakes have been known to die from their burns.

Hiking and exploring doesn’t need to cost a bunch. People pay hundreds to get guided tours of nature but there are loads of things you can check out for free. All of these suggestions can be found on the number 1 ring road which can be driven in a week

  • Grabrok Volcanic Crater can be climbed in under an hour and has stunning views
  • Black beaches at Vik are striking and home to lots of puffins
  • Jokusarlon lagoon is a lake with floating icebergs, amazing photo op
  • Godafoss waterfall (when the Viking leader decided to finally accept the new Christian god he took his little sculptures of the Viking gods and threw them into this breath-taking waterfall)
  • More examples of things to do on the ring road can be found on this fab article

IMG_0712

We also really loved the folk museum between Borgarnes y Akureyri which was about 8 pounds to enter (and looked like a falling down village hall from the outside). We were the only people in that day so the man who worked at reception walked round with us and was so knowledgeable, telling us interesting anecdotes about the shark catching equipment and other artifacts which blew us away (and made us very glad we don’t like in ancient Iceland – bloody hard life)

Hope you found this helpful! Don’t hesitate with any questions