This is one of a series of posts about our recent 11-day adventure around Iceland’s Ring Road. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions and stay tuned for my downloadable Ring Road Trip travel guide and packing lists!
No, really. The most important thing. I’m not even going to build suspense (although the highly suspenseful story follows): we got there. But just barely. That’s because we didn’t know that your US Passport must not expire within 90 days of when you depart for Iceland. That’s right! It doesn’t matter if you have 82 days left or even 89: you cannot get into Iceland unless you have 90 days remaining before expiration. Most airlines won’t even let you on the plane. So, before you do any planning for an Icelandic adventure check the expiration on your passport!
How We Learned The Most Important Thing About Traveling to Iceland
We rented the camper van. We checked out tons of blogs and articles about how to dress for a lovely Icelandic summer. We planned out each stop on our trip. We bought a few freeze dried meals and carefully rolled up our clothes. On June 13th at around 10:30 we just had to drive to Albany and then we’d be on our way thanks to Amtrak and public transportation. And not just “on our way” but “on our way to Iceland” – a major adventure!
On the evening of the 12th it was time to check in on the Delta app. Kris said he’d do it and was surprised when I was checked in but his wouldn’t. He figured it was just an app glitch. We had plans with friends for drinks and I decided, against my usual uptight nature, that the best plan was to keep drinking and worry about it later.
The next morning we packed our carry on bags and made sure everything was ready for the dog sitter. Kris attempted to check in again and noticed that the app said something about his passport being close to expiration. He looked, and sure enough he’d need a new one in 82 days. It went on the to do list of things to worry about upon our return. But something about it made him look on Google. And that’s when he saw it: result after result of frantic travelers learning the #1 Icelandic travel tip that we had somehow never come across.
It was about 9 a.m. Our flight was leaving in 12 hours from NYC.
Is This Actually Happening?
This had to be one of those things like “it takes 6 months to get a passport.” Right?! We weren’t actually just finding out that the expiration date on Kris’ passport wasn’t worth anything. RIGHT?!
I immediately called Delta and left my callback info. They were running 35-50 minutes. But we had a train to catch. Maybe. Kris kept reading and finding the same thing. I belong to a travel junkie group on Facebook and posted there and the results were immediate: Oh, you need to go get a new passport NOW.
Because I like to think the world makes sense I decided that all Kris had to do was apply for an expedited passport. Surely that would be enough!
“Go to the Shaftsbury post office!” I said. “Apply for an expedited renewal and ask them what they know – if you have proof that should be enough, right?” Neither of us looked optimistic. “I’ll wait for the call back from Delta – wait! I called from your phone!”
In addition to the discovery of the expiration date debacle, we live in rural America. Our post office doesn’t do passports so Kris had to drive 10 miles north – where we would have spotty service, at best. “Switch phones with me,” he said while holding his out. This move may have saved us.
While he was gone I monitored results from my post, hopeful that someone would have a quick fix. No one had a quick fix.
Do You Have Everything?
While Kris was gone Delta called me back. Victor, who I hoped would be my knight in shining armor, said the scariest thing we heard all day, “Tell your husband not to get on the plane. They won’t let him into Iceland. They’re very strict. We might not even let you on the plane.” I asked if there was anything we could do. He didn’t think so.
I sent Kris a series of texts I hoped he’d see at the post office.
Delta says they likely won’t let you on the plane.
Even if they do you won’t be allowed into Iceland.
See what advice the post office has!
He called me from a red light where the entire town of Shaftsbury was crossing the street. The crossing guard wouldn’t let anyone through. Normally these Vermontisms are adorable. Not today!
After a while Kris called me back – the post office couldn’t help but told him to call the State Department. I jumped on it because he wouldn’t have consistent service and the clock was tick tick ticking away even louder at this point.
Morgan at the state department was quick, calm and helpful. She said they had no appointments until the 26th at the passport office in NYC but that Kris could go as a walk in. He would need a new passport photo, his current passport and proof of our flight.
I thanked her profusely and she said, “I’ve seen people pull it off in less time than you have, but you’re close: good luck!”
Quickly, I called Kris back but we lost service so I texted him:
Go to CVS and get a passport photo.
I’ll bring the bags downstairs and we can leave as soon as you get back.
Do you have everything?
Down To The Wire
Kris pulled up in front of our building and we quickly loaded the car, switched drivers, and I put the pedal to the metal. We made decent time to the city but we were pretty high strung the whole time. I dropped him, somehow finding a parking space right around the corner in front of SquareSpace where I got text updates. He was seen quickly but then found out that Rite Aid had screwed up his passport photo (apparently this is a thing that happens regularly at Rite Aid), the employee of the State Department who assisted Kris told him. She also told him he could find places all around and to jump the line when he got back. He did. And was told it would take 3 or so hours… which was abysmally close to the cut off for us getting to JFK.
The new issue was what to do about the car we now had in Manhattan. Did we risk driving to the airport during rush hour? Or did we risk the gigantic bill parking it in a garage? The garage won and we found one pretty nearby where we dropped it. I don’t know if a garage clerk has ever been happier to hear my anticipated return. 12 days? Oy, vey…
It was time to drink.
Check Out City Winery
Kris found a local place for wine and snacks – we deserved it. City Winery makes their own and even offers classes, plus it’s a live music venue that gets in some pretty sweet acts. We enjoyed a carafe of their petit verdot (plus an extra glass for me), blistered shishito peppers with togarashi and a margherita flatbread.
We tried to remain hopeful that we’d get to JFK and be laughing on our plane in a matter of hours – laughter was key. It was the only thing keeping us from crying. The time came for Kris to try his luck and the next thing I knew he was walking in with a shiny new passport. It was a quick walk to the Spring St. station where we picked up the A to Howard Beach where we jumped onto the AirTrain and were able to check in, check our bag and know that we were, for real, going to Iceland.
With a little time to spare Kris treated himself to a beer while I went and got a much-needed mani-pedi.
Don’t Be Like Us!
Well, I hope everyone can be as happy as I am in the above picture, taken on the plane as soon as we sat, but don’t be us the rest of the day. Highly stressed, in a rush, and feeling like we were about to lose a shit ton of money but, worse, an incredible opportunity. If you’re traveling, be sure to check the passport expiration date rules!
A good rule of thumb is that most countries in the EU require six months left on your passport from the time of departure. The 26 countries in the Schengen Area (which includes Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) require 90 days (about 3 months). Before you travel research passport requirements. The state department is helpful, also, and can help with any updated travel rules. At this time Delta does not alert you to this rule when booking so don’t rely on anyone else.