There’s no hiding it, Iceland, like other Scandinavian countries, is a particularly expensive place to travel. But, much more importantly, it is also one of the most beautiful and naturally diverse countries in the world.
With a breadth of glaciers, volcanoes, mountains, waterfalls, and black sand beaches you can be certain there is an adventure to be found around every twist and corner in the land of fire and ice.
Whether you’re wanting the perfect shot of the delightful Puffins in Iceland or to gaze in wonder at the rhythmic dance of the Northern Lights, there is an array of opportunities and discoveries to be had on a holiday to our shores.
So, the question stands, what is the best way to travel around Iceland whilst ensuring you aren’t missing out on any adventures?
Fortunately, I have the answer for you.
The best way is to travel around Iceland in a camper van for a number of reasons. In this blog, I’ll explain the main reasons for this, how you can pick the perfect camper option for you, and everything you need to know and prepare in advance of your trip.
It’s often said that people either hold a stronger preference for organization or spontaneity. However, when it comes to a camper holiday in Iceland, this can equally suit both of these personality types.
You can take much more control over your costs, locations, and routes, or you can choose to spend extra time in certain locations which particularly take your fancy.
Simply put, a trip around Iceland in a camper is easily one of the best ways to travel and can suit multiple traveler preferences.
One of the constant pains of planning a holiday anywhere is having to organize and book your accommodation for every night of your trip. You also have to complete this well in advance to avoid missing out on some key locations.
Frequently, this will involve significant trade-offs in terms of location and price of your accommodation. Traveling to Iceland also holds this stumbling block.
As a country with a population of only 360,000, accommodation options outside of Reykjavik are a lot more sparse, and mainly made up of hotels and guesthouses dotted around the various small towns and villages along the ring road.
This is great for some people, but for those who want to mitigate this trade-off in exchange for a more spontaneous adventure, then a camper van is the way to go.
With a series of well-maintained camping locations across the country, you can more often than not, park up and spend the night right by some of the most incredible spectacles in Iceland’s nature.
This will save you time on driving further on or back to your agreed accommodation for the night and enhance the amount of enjoyment you can have at each location. You’ll have more time to spend actually enjoying your holiday immersed in the Icelandic nature.
Another option on a trip to Iceland is to take a package trip, where you’re essentially taking organized tours most days of your holiday.
Though this is preferential to some travelers, for many others it can limit the amount of time you can spend in each attraction.
For example, if you’re a big lover of waterfalls and you only have 15 minutes to enjoy every angle of the Golden Circle’s mighty Gullfoss waterfall, then you’ll be left frustrated by the limited time you had at this location.
It’s your hard-earned holiday, and you should enjoy it on your own terms and make the most of each day.
By booking a camper, you can simply take the wheel and control what you see and how long you spend at each location. You’ll maximize the fun and minimize the restrictions.
Another key benefit to a camper van holiday in Iceland is the money savings you’ll have from avoiding the high costs of accommodation.
It’s worth saying that in Iceland there are very few high-quality hotels. And, the ones that do exist are often incredibly expensive to stay in even for a night.
In fact, during the high season in the summer months, it’s regular for accommodation prices, whether that’s hotels or Airbnbs, to rise dramatically in price. This regularly leaves travelers experiencing a lack of value and can dampen the fun of the trip.
With the money you’ll save on expensive accommodation, you can either spend on some delicious food or take on some extra activities.
Let’s face it, who would rather spend money on an average hotel for a night than a zodiac boat tour zooming past icebergs and seals in Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon? Yep, me neither!
To make the most of your camper van adventure in Iceland, you’ll want to make sure you know exactly what to expect, how to plan, and what you need to know in advance.
Fortunately, that’s why I’ve created the following checklist which I’ll walk you through so you’re fully prepared for an awesome holiday to Iceland:
Though it sounds obvious that there are several different camper options to choose from, often travelers stereotype campervans as the classic RV’s seen in some classic US comedy movies.
Happy Campers offers a wide selection of camper options that can be suitable for your journey, party size, comfort, and vehicle transmission preference.
For instance, if you’re planning on traveling along the ring road as a couple, you can opt for the ‘Happy 1’ option, which is perfect for duos out on the road exploring.
Alternatively, if you’re planning on exploring Iceland in the summer months and are keen to check out parts of the Icelandic Highlands, such as Thórsmörk or Landmannalaugar, the ‘Happy 4X4’ will allow you to explore these more rugged terrains inaccessible to others.
So, before you book anything, work out roughly where you want to visit, how many people you’ll be traveling with as well as your transmission preference. From here, it’ll become a no brainer to book the right vehicle for you.
It probably goes without saying, the smaller your camper is, the less you will want to pack.
At the end of the day, you don’t want to lug around a series of huge cases if you’re only renting a 2 person camper. Instead, you should primarily focus on the necessities of a trip to Iceland.
This should include the following:
For everything else, such as food and snacks, you should buy in Iceland.
Of course, this is easier said than done. A lot of us are more used to packing everything and the kitchen sink anytime we leave the house; Iceland, however, is different.
Aside from Reykjavik, you won’t be going out to glamorous restaurants and pampering locations. Instead, most of the time you’ll be in rural areas experiencing the raw power of Iceland’s nature.
If you’re coming in the winter months, ensure you focus on layers of warm clothing such as a coat, jumpers, and thermals. There’s nothing more intense than standing outside looking for the Northern Lights shaking to the bone!
In summer, you should still pack for the cold but generally, summers can be quite mild in Iceland due to the jet stream. Frequently you can get away with a jacket and a jumper combination, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and pack some warmer options.
Finally, I just want to emphasize the importance of an inverter.
Charging your phone and camera can be quite difficult if you’re out exploring Iceland’s rural wonderlands. And, though there are a series of service stops which will regularly allow visitors to charge their devices (if you ask nicely!), you should be prepared for long journeys without this option.
You can breathe a sweet sigh of relief, Iceland is well-prepared when it comes to campsites.
With an abundance of locations across all regions in the country, you can use this map as a helpful guide when it comes to planning out your trip or looking for the next place to rest up for the night.
All of these campsites should come with basic necessities such as showering facilities and toilets, which are open throughout the year with the exception of the winter months.
Some of the campsites also have free Wifi for the millennials among you, as well as laundry facilities should you need a fresh load of clean clothes (muddy slips happen all the time!)
Each campsite varies in price, depending on the landowner, but usually, you won’t be paying more than 1500 ISK per adult per night, which is a fraction of the cost of a hotel or guesthouse.
Source: Inside a Vínbúðin. Wikimedia. CC. Danninja.
When you’re out on the open road in Iceland passing waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes and winding in and out of the most breathtaking fjords imaginable, the last thing you want to be thinking about is if you have enough food and your rumbling stomachs.
This is why we suggest that you stock up for both food and alcohol at every convenient stop.
If you’re planning on starting your trip in Reykjavik, I suggest buying your food and snacks in a Bonus supermarket (found all over the city) to get the most bang for your buck. You should also head to one of the Vínbúðins (state-owned alcohol stores) for any beers, wines, and spirits you might want to unwind with at your campsites after a long day of exploring.
If you’re privy to a nice alcoholic beverage, you’ll want to take note that you can only purchase these in a Vínbúðin. Normal supermarkets and convenience stores are not allowed to sell alcohol in Iceland.
You’ll also want to keep this mentality when it comes to fuel. Once you head out into the wild plains of Iceland’s countryside, service stops become fewer and further between each one.
The safest way to counter this is to take advantage of fuel stops when they arise. This is of particular importance if you’re planning on heading off the beaten path to either the Icelandic Highlands or the Westfjords.
Though you’ll find both the petrol and diesel prices are much higher in Iceland, it’s better to be safe than sorry on your trip.
The last thing you want is to be out of fuel at the base of a fjord with limited phone coverage. It’ll make a funny story in the future for sure, but perhaps you’d rather tell tales about how wonderful your adventure was instead!
This decision will vary from person to person, but with my experience of living and driving around Iceland in its multitude of conditions, you should consider travel insurance when booking your camper.
There are a series of options to choose from which can seem a little daunting, but both the collision damage waiver and the gravel protection insurance would be my base recommendations as a given.
Your journey will likely involve gravel roads when heading off the ring road, and with this brings the risk of minor scratches to your vehicle from chipped stones. Though Icelanders are very reasonable when it comes to these types of damages in comparison to many other countries, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Another option to consider is sand and ash insurance. Not many travelers realize that Iceland does in fact experience sand storms, particularly along the South Coast.
And, believe me, you don’t want to encounter one of these without the appropriate insurance cover.
If you’re anything like me and can’t get through a long road trip on ‘I Spy’ alone, then you’ll want to have a playlist prepared in advance.
All of the campers you can rent should come with Bluetooth capabilities, which makes it super easy to connect up your smartphone and load a playlist from any platform.
I would personally recommend checking out the playlists of some movies based in Iceland like ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ and the more recent ‘Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga’, as well as a selection of famous Icelandic artists such as ‘Of Monsters and Men’, ‘Sigur Rós’ and ‘Björk’ in advance.
This type of music can help bring the landscapes and surrounding country to life on those long drives, which believe me, can make your trip extra epic.
For instance, is there now anything more fun than driving into the northern town of Húsavík while blaring the recent classic song of ‘Ja Ja Ding Dong’? I don’t think so!
Iceland is an incredible island made for exploration and discovery. With a small population and perhaps the best natural environment in the world, it’s built for a bucket list trip of a lifetime.
While you’re here, you will want to make the most of every opportunity, maximize your time spent enjoying our delightful nature and create some life long memories. Whether that is capturing the perfect picture of a puffin, watching the dancing Northern Lights, or standing in awe on top of a glacier, it’s a holiday unlike any other.
By taking advantage of a camper you can minimize your costs and maximize your adventures. You have full control over where you go and how long you spend in each place. Iceland is crafted for these kinds of travelers.
After all, it’s a much more rewarding experience sleeping in the wilderness each night under a perfect sea of stars or a crimson sky from the midnight sun, than to compromise this with expensive accommodation options.
It’s a no brainer, it’s time for a camper van trip to Iceland!