Deciding to Go
Iceland is one off the top tourist destinations of 2017 and it was an easy pick for us once we decided to plan an international trip. I know people who’ve been there and lots of people who want to go. This year an estimated 2.2 million people will vacation in Iceland. That’s almost five times as many as in 2010 and for a country with a population of only 330,000, it can make for quite a crowd
We went with September for our trip after reading about the best times to visit. The tourist season is ending so the roads open up and many of the sites had only a handful of people, if any. Campgrounds start closing in mid-’re planning to go later in the year that in mind
Getting to Iceland is easy. We booked with IcelandAir direct from Toronto. Another option is WOW Airlines and they seem to really be pushing Iceland as a destination given the sale prices (as of this date). Both airlines offer free stopovers in Reykjavik if you’re heading to Europe and want to spend a few days sightseeing.
Added 21 Feb 2019 – we made a stop over on our way to Berlin. If you don’t plan to visit it’s till nice to get off the plane for a walk half way through the flight.
Renting and Driving a Campervan
After researching the best way to see Iceland the way we want to see it, renting a campervan came up as our best choice. Everything about Iceland screams “see it at your own pace” and a camper gave us that ability. No booked accommodations, no checkout times, no deadlines. Iceland has enough campgrounds so we were never far from a good one so we could stop and leave whenever we wanted. We also found hotels can be very expensive and vacancies hard to find
There’s a car/tent rental option and we saw a lot of couples who weren’t talking to each other. If you go with a tent remember the weather; it can pour buckets of rain sideways. Even it you get lucky with clear skies, the dew and moisture on the ground gets into everything. The wet-chill in early September made almost every tenter we saw in the mornings look like a frozen ghost. Unless you’re a hardcore camper who doesn’t mind adventure, I’d pass on the tent.
Besides, one night I watched a couple guys playing rock-paper-scissors to see who had to foot pump the air mattresses. In Reykjavik, some kid was stomping this squeaky foot pump for an hour
After googling reviews for Reykjavik camper landed on Kuku Campers and rented a Category AA Camper Van with a heater at a cost of $1,800 Euros. That includes the van for 11 days, 2x sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, chairs, a table, a power inverter, gravel insurance ($10/day – yes, you should get it), and a never used.
You’ll need the heater option and not just because it can get cold at night in September. The van is uninsulated and the condensation inside at night will leave everything dripping wet and soaked by morning. We had it on every night after that day one lesson. The heater runs on diesel from the van’s gas tank and can run all night while hardly moving the gauge; plus it runs on a separate battery so you don’t have to worry about being stranded with a dead van. The heater provides enough heat to keep you cozy.
This couple opted for a heater-less van in September and it didn’t go well. One night renting accommodations in Iceland will more than blow any money you’ll save forgoing the heater. And you risk getting sick.
We never used the grill (there are open pit grills in most of the campgrounds), but could have used an extra blanket. For pillows, bring your own if you can. We also brought a few creature comforts from home that came in handy; a small Italian espresso maker, headlamps with a red light for night use in the campgrounds, collapsible wine glasses, our own towels, reusable water bottles (or buy a bottle and keep refilling it), and a small rechargeable bluetooth speaker.
If you bring or rent a power inverter you can charge your devices and batteries while on the road using the van’s 12v DC outlet.
You can find more options for renting a car or camper on this blog post.
Food, Clothing, and Extra Gear
You definitely need a good pair of weather pants and a good rain jacket. Layering clothing worked great for us given the changing weather conditions and the fact that you keep getting in/out of a warm, dry van. Keep in mind Iceland can get very windy and chilly. I went with a Columbia Interchangeable Jacket and it was a good choice
You also need something good on your feet; the ground can be very uneven and slippery and you’ll be walking on wet ground almost everywhere. A decent pair of hikers should do the trick. I went with Blundstones and had no problems or wet feet. We walked for hours in Reykjavik so comfort is important in your choice of footwear.
Eating in Iceland
Food can be pricey (as it is in any remote place) so we brought along coffee, power-bars, spices for cooking, instant soup, and ready made meals that only require some hot water.
Grocery stores are easy to find in any populated area for picking up bread, milk, water, fruit, butter or oil for cooking, pasta, snacks, Most of the campgrounds have a place for food you don’t use or need so you can leave it behind for other campers.
The campground in Reykjavik is well stocked with left behind food, utensils, cutlery, pots and pans, gas containers, and you left a charging/camera cable behind there’s a hardware store located in the main downtown area of Reykjavik (Laugavegur 29, 101 Reykjavík). They have a good selection at fair prices.
Iceland Travel Tips
Keep lots of gas in the tank. Fill it if it’s near the halfway mark.
Don’t use the “Fill Tank” option on the gas pumps. It will charge your credit card $280 and hold it until whatever you put in I have no idea why it does and if you’re budgeting and keep doing this – ouch! Use the 10,000ISK button. That will be plenty.
Don’t park on the road. Please! Love – everyone else on the road; especially the people who live and work in Iceland.
We passed a bunch of vehicles parking alongside a road surrounded by people trying to photograph an elk. As we passed them (slowly) with a vehicle approaching in the oncoming lane so we couldn’t move over, someone decided to lift their tripod and step back onto the road. Some people are lucky other people are paying attention. Don’t stand close to the road to take pictures. Iceland is beautiful and it’s easy to forget where you are.
Iceland is about as unforgiving a place as there can be if you drive off the road. It’s all rock and lava and you can be alone for sometime until someone comes along to help. Don’t do anything to distract yourself from driving first! We found there is always a rest stop or to turn around not far ahead if you missed something.
There’s a bird in Iceland, looks like a big seagull, and if it’s on the road in front of you it’s not moving. I had to drive around one and a couple days later watched an approaching young driver look into her rear view mirror in horror as feathers blew everywhere. Just trust me, it’s not moving. Their defiant little bodies litter the roads.
Pay close attention to your speed and the road signs. It’s easy to approach a change in the limit or a sharp turn and not notice it. No matter what the speed limit is, drive for yourself if you feel unsafe. The roads frequently change from paved to gravel, even on the N1. Slow down in the rain.
If you forget to pick up a bottle of duty-free at the airport. Finding wine/spirits can be difficult once you leave the Reykjavik.
Get a good map. We went with this one because it’s waterproof and tear-resistant. Get it well in advance of your trip so you can have a basic idea of where you want to go and how to get there.
Be courteous – if there’s a line for the showers, be quick. Stay with your laundry. Turn off the headlights of your vehicle if it’s dark out. Share the facilities.
Check before you bring and use a drone. There are signs up prohibiting drone use in some of the parks and tourist sites.
Please use the proper facilities when you have a dump. Yes, this is a problem in Iceland. There are porta-potties in most of the rest stops and they are cleaned regularly.
In Iceland the power sockets are Type F so you need an adapter if electronics is North American. Depending on the charger you use, you might not need a convertor (if the label states ‘INPUT: 100-240V, 50/60 Hz’ – you’re good to go).