*Note – this is being written while sipping an Icelandic beer at the bar in the Kex
Kex, aka Kexland, in Reykjavik, Iceland is my third hostel experience, but my first “true” hostel experience. I had stayed in two hostels before in Canada with a group of classmates through a university program – the school took care of everything, booked out multiple rooms, and everyone in the rooms knew each other. My Icelandic hostel experience was completely different, and the BEST experience yet!
First of all, my plan for my first solo trip abroad was to not have a plan – sounds like a great idea right? On the flight to Iceland, I decided I would go from the airport straight to the Blue Lagoon. It was on the way to town, and surely would be full of tourists that I could hopefully befriend and become travel companions with. Little did I know that you had to pre-book the Blue Lagoon. Thankfully, I asked a sales associate at a bus kiosk as I was walking out of the airport what time the lagoon opened. He asked if I had a reservation, confused I replied no, and he informed me they were booked – through the end of March! He said that if I wanted a ride to town he had a bus “leaving in 3 minutes” I just had to tell him where I wanted to be dropped off and tell him NOW. Well shit. Deep breath. Remember you’re going with the flow.
After I bought my plane ticket, I began following Iceland Instagram pages. I stumbled across this Icelandic photographer, I messaged him for any tips or recommendations. He recommended a hostel called Kex. So in my moment of half panic half go-with-the-flow, I proudly told the sales associate at the bus kiosk that I was going to Kex. With my round trip bus ticket in hand, I was making progress. My first bump in the road and I sailed over it with ease. So just to summarize – I showed up to a foreign country with zero plans and zero connections, and was now on my way to a place that a stranger on Instagram told me to check out. A funny quote I read popped into my head as I made my way towards the bus “Good judgment comes from experience. And experience? Well, that comes from poor judgment.” At this point, I was not sure if I was using good judgment or if I was gaining valuable experience – which was an exhilarating place to be. I climbed on the bus adrenaline pumping.
The bus dropped me off at 9 am on Monday morning – it was still dark (sunrise was not for another 30 minutes), and I had been traveling for almost 15 hours. I grabbed my backpack, and before I could get my bearings the bus was gone. I was left exhausted, in a foreign country, and unsure where my hostel was. Hostels are not like hotels (even though they are almost spelled the same) in that they don’t have sky high illuminated signs that shine like beacons in the night, and they certainly don’t have large automatic glass doors and bell boys. Ground Control to Major Tom – we’re rapidly approaching the second bump in the road…
I looked around at what appeared to be an abandoned building – a bit dazed from jet lag, lack of sleep, being in a new country, and waning adrenaline. Where was my hostel? Did the driver drop me off in the right place? If not, then what? There was a door of an empty art gallery with dusty and broken windows, and there was a second door that was quite plain. As I stood there for what felt like an eternity wondering where the hell to go, the travel savvy chick in the back of my brain finally stepped forward and took the controls – about damn time sister! I decided to give that indiscriminate brown door a closer look. Behold the faded worn letters KEX. JACKPOT! Good judgment came through. Bump Number Two navigated without incident. I took a deep breath, opened the heavy door, and made my way up the stairs.
I walked into a dimly light room bustling with people and backpacks. I was in the right place! This room was a bar, restaurant, hostel lobby, library, barber, concert hall, and gathering place – mismatched chairs and tables, assorted sofas with colorful throw pillows, antique bird cages hanging from the ceiling, a wall of books and oddities, vintage and unique wall décor all filled the space with charm and a welcoming energy. This place was the real deal – it was even featured in a Buzzfeed article as one of the 19 Amazing Hostels That Will Give You Serious Wanderlust.
The wall of books and oddities in the Kex Hostel – Reykjavik, Iceland
I slowly wandered to the front desk looking around in awe – this place was seemed straight out of a movie. I went to check in, and thankfully they had a couple of beds left. One in a 6 person room with linens, and a cheaper bed in a 16 person room without linens. I brought a sleeping bag and was not 100% sure what the woman was saying, so I just awkwardly and hesitantly shrugged saying “the cheaper one?” All I could think about was laying down and going to sleep. Deep breathe. You’re almost done, and you can get some much-needed rest. JUST KIDDING! The woman at the front desk informed me I could put my pack in the locker because check-in wasn’t until 2 pm. WHAT!? Exhausted and feeling a little defeated – I slogged over to the locker, chucked my backpack in, and retreated one of the many couches with my $4.45 cup of drip coffee.
My tired bum hadn’t even begun to warm up the worn leather couch cushion before I made friends with a couple of Canadians and an Australian (both nationalities are a staple in hostels). Hearing their experiences and the endless list of hot springs and waterfalls to see – I got my second wind…or fifth. As they went off on their tours, I grabbed my camera and headed out to explore Reykjavik.
Exploring the town was easy, Kex is conveniently located on the water across from the famous Sun Voyager, down the street from the spectacular Harpa, mere blocks from the Hallgrimskirkja Church (I still don’t know how to pronounce it), and centrally located for easy downtown access to a long list of attractions, shopping, tours, dining, and nightlife.
After several hours of exploring the colorful lively city of Reykjavik, I returned to the hostel to check in. For $34 USD per night, I got my very own top bunk in a 16 bunk coed dorm. 20 hours after my journey began, I finally climbed up to my bunk, snuggled up in my sleeping bag, and drifted off dreaming of the Land of Fire and Ice. My first day in Iceland was turning out nicely.
Not sure about staying in a hostel? Check out my 12 Tips for Staying in a Hostel.