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 country with a population of only 330,000, it can make for quite a crowd.
We went with early 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-September so if you’re planning to go later in the year keep 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 stop-overs in Reykjavik if you’re heading to Europe and want to spend a few days sightseeing.
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.
Renting and Driving a Campervan
After googling reviews for Reykjavik camper rentals we 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 grill we 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. The 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.
Our Camper – Click to enlarge images.
Food, Clothing, and Extra Gear
You definitely need a good pair of weatherproof rain 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 vital important in your choice of footwear.
Food in Iceland 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, etc.
Most of the campgrounds have a place for any 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 clothing.
If 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.
Camping and Campgrounds
Most of the campgrounds we stayed at had a laundromat, showers/WC, power if you need it (you’ll need an extension cord if you do), and wifi. You have to pay for the laundromat and power but the wifi was usually cheap/free or free close by at a gas station or cafe. The machines use coins and cost 8x100ISK coins a load. You can get change at most of the campsites (not at Reykjavik).
We found that a credit card is all we needed in Iceland (other than coins for the washing machines) and they all use ‘tap’ except for the pumps at gas stations.
You don’t need to reserve a spot for the campgrounds; it’s first come, first serve. We stopped driving in the early afternoons and had our pick of spots everyday. Most other campers arrived around 5-6 PM. We also began our days way ahead of everyone else.
We’d get up early, get dressed, wash up, and hit the road. We never had to drive more than 20 minutes before we found a rest stop with a breathtaking view we had all to ourselves while we cooked up a hot breakfast and had an expresso. This plan worked well for us; no traffic, no tourists, no… people.
Once we stopped for the day we usually had the campground facilities to ourselves as well. No lines for the showers and no waiting to do your laundry. First come, first serve.
This was how we wanted to see Iceland – relax mode on overdrive.
So, how was our trip?
You know your trip was good when you can’t settle on the right words to describe it. I guess that’s where I am now, trying to explain Iceland. Renting that little van was the best travel decision we could have made and it turned a self-drive trip into an amazing experience. We didn’t want this trip to end.
It took about a minute to clear customs, so fast in fact we wondered if we screwed something up. From there we got a ride from Kuku Campers to Reykjavik so we could pick up our van. On the way we met an American couple, Pat and Ellen, from Houston (this was right after hurricane Harvey) and they were as excited as we were. You just know this trip going to be fun.
Sandi at Kuku explained what we needed to know and in no time we were on our way. After a quick stop for groceries and a map check, the adventure began. Eleven days all to ourselves to see and do what we wanted, at our pace. It wasn’t a van, we were in a space capsule. And sometimes it felt and looked like we were on Mars.
I loved every mile of this trip. Not once did we have a problem on the Ring Road and I’m sitting here in Toronto, a week later, wishing like crazy I was still driving around Iceland. And I hate driving.
We avoided most of the places people say you need to see. We found our own waterfalls and places to remember because when we found them it was just the two of us. Travel is easy when you travel in love.
When I close my eyes and go to a peaceful place, that place is now in Iceland.
I’ll post more photos in the next few days. Peace…
Useful Iceland Links
Iceland Travel Tips
Keep 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 clears. I have no idea why it does this but 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 awhile 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 place 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 drink don’t forget to pick up a bottle of duty-free at the airport. Finding wine/spirits can be difficult once you leave the Reykjavik area.
DON’T DRINK & DRIVE!
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 forbidding 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 you’re 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).
Google Iceland Travel Map
Campgrounds We Stayed At
Hamrar – Akureyri
We stayed at the campground in Reykjavik for three nights at the end of our trip. This left us enough time to enjoy the city, see some local sights, and grab a good meal.
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