When we traveled around the entirety of Iceland in March, we decided to save a bit of money by renting a camper van which doubled as our transportation and sleeping accommodations. This option allowed us the mobility we needed to move around Iceland more easily within 7 days! It was certainly an adventurous experience in and of itself, and I wouldn’t say it’s for everyone–but I definitely recommend it!
Here are several tips and other facts you should know if you decide to take on this adventure:
CHOOSING THE RIGHT VAN FOR YOU
- RENTAL COMPANY: Because renting camper vans has become so popular in Iceland, there are several rental companies you can choose from. I sifted through all of them for weeks trying to determine the best one for us. Ultimately, we went with Happy Campers, and I don’t think we could have been happier with our decision! Here are a few of the other companies I researched though:
- MANUAL OR AUTOMATIC: As most of you already probably know, manual vehicles are much more popular than automatics in Europe, so if you can’t drive a manual, be sure that the rental company you choose has an automatic available–and be prepared to most likely pay more since most vehicles there are manuals. NOTE: Only choose a manual if you are comfortable driving one because it’s not something to learn in an hour–although the workers at Happy Campers had mentioned having to teach a few people before. Driving in cities like Reykjavik demand a constant flow of traffic and you don’t want to stall out and get into an accident all for the sake of saving money.
- 2WD OR 4WD: 4WD is often highly recommended, but it’s also quite a bit more expensive. This was honestly the biggest decision we had to make, and we went back and forth on it forever. We settled on renting a 2WD, and honestly, it worked just fine! We went in March when many of the rougher roads are closed anyhow (mainly the F-roads). We stayed on the Ring Road most of the time, but we also spent time going around the Snaelfellsnes Peninsula. The front tires of the vehicle had metal spikes on them to help with traction in the snow and on gravel as well. NOTE: The rental service will provide you with a map and information on what roads to avoid depending on the time of year you travel.
- ROAD.IS is a very valuable website! Keep it as an open tab on your phone when you go so that you can periodically check road conditions. We found out the hard way that even a portion of the Ring Road can be closed.
- HEATING SYSTEM: The Happy Camper vans all come with a heating system (it’s not extra) for when the van is turned off–an absolute necessity! Technically though, you are not supposed to run the heater for longer than 2 hours at once, as you need to recharge the battery at that point by turning the car on for a little while. I simply set a few alarms on my phone to make sure we turned it off when we needed to during the night. I know it sounds rather inconvenient, but it really wasn’t that bad. We stayed fairly warm.
To see more photos of the inside, click here.
- WIFI: Every Happy Camper van has the option for wifi (it’s currently 40 euros extra–a one-time fee), and it’s certainly worth it. It was such a relief for us since we did not bother buying a sim card while there. Also, because we were able to use our phones as GPSs, we did not have to add on a Garmin (currently 10 euros per day). It could be weak at times in the super remote areas but not for long periods of time.
- GRAVEL PROTECTION: Yes, yes, yes. Just do it. I wondered about this for awhile as I really didn’t want to have to pay the extra 15 euros per day, but it was a good thing we did. There are many gravel roads, and I was glad I didn’t have to go into a frenzy during those long stretches of gravel flying up everywhere. 🙂
- OTHER: Most of the rental companies offer many different camping extras you may need such as tables, chairs, and blankets for rent. However, Happy Campers provided everything we personally needed as part of the whole price including lots of blankets (which is super important, of course!). NOTE: Bring your own USB Car Charger; our van had a USB input, an AUX input, and Bluetooth. You can rent an inverter, too, for 20 euros.
- FRIDGE: Our particular camper contained a small fridge and was plenty big enough for us.
- STOVE: A small stove and several canisters of butane are provided.
- OTHER: Everything from silverware to a pot and pan are provided as well!
- GROCERIES: We shopped at KRONAN in Reykjavik; it’s slightly more expensive than Bónus but I read that it had better produce and meat–not certain if this is true or not though! NOTE: Don’t forget paper towels and toilet paper (for just in case).
- Happy Campers gives you a discount card that you can scan at the register at select gas stations for a little savings. It’s easier to go inside and get someone to turn the pumps on and then go back and pay after you’ve gotten what you need (there’s no need to pay first). NOTE: GAS IS SUPER EXPENSIVE. I had read about this before going, but I still wasn’t expecting it. Coming from somewhere where it’s currently approximately $2.00-$2.30 a gallon, it was a real shock.
GETTING TO AND FROM THE AIRPORT
- For no added fee, Happy Campers will pick you up at the airport and take you to their office to pick up your rental (I’m not sure about other companies). Our plane was actually four hours behind schedule the day we arrived, yet our driver was promptly waiting for us–without us even contacting him (they track your flight).
- One negative aspect is that while I believe some companies allow you to drop your van off at the airport, Happy Campers does not. Because our flight left early in the morning before their opening hour, we had to drop the van off before they closed the evening before. That being said, they were so accommodating and gave us a ride to the hotel where we were staying for the night near the airport–BASE HOTEL (it was cheap but nice!), which provided a shuttle service to the airport.
- You can no longer stay wherever you want to anymore in Iceland, but there are so many campgrounds about that there is no need to worry. Each is completely different though, as some have more resources than others. Therefore, expenses vary.
- Here is a map of all of the Campgrounds, as provided by Happy Campers. There are fewer campgrounds open in the winter than in the summer, but you can adjust the map accordingly to show the options which are available to you.
I’ve given a brief review of each one we stayed at below:
RECOMMENDED: This campground is on a beautiful farm nestled below the mountains. The water (below) is just a short walk away from it. We arrived after 9 p.m., and the owners were very welcoming. The bathrooms and shower were also very clean. This was the cheapest one we stayed at–about $10 for the night.
BUDARDALUR (NO PHOTO):
NOT RECOMMENDED: That is, unless you just need a parking spot for the night. Only one bathroom was unlocked, and it was dirty. No one was there to greet us, even though it was in the center of a small town, and it was very unclear exactly where to park. We did stay there, but left early the next morning–there were random kids in the parking lot around us walking into the building (school??).
RECOMMENDED: This campsite was very nice although a tad expensive (about $35 for one night for two people). It had decent showers and bathroom stalls though. This building is where you check in, and it’s also where you can eat some scrumptious pizza /:) That night we saw the Northern Lights above us!
RECOMMENDED (?): So, here’s the thing. These signs are EVERYWHERE. They are basically just places on the side of the road where you can park. Some of them are lookout points, but not all of them. We saw camper vans parked frequently (during the night) in these areas, so one night near Jokusarlon we parked at one such area as well. I researched it quite a bit but was unable to find anything concerning them, so as far as I know, it’s cool? (Please let me know if you know anything about this!)
RECOMMENDED: I’m not really sure what’s cooler than parking near a waterfall…As bonuses, there are bathrooms very close as well as a restaurant. I’m not sure about the price because when we tried to pay, some guy told us not to worry about it (actually his exact words were, “If someone wants you to pay, they’ll come find you”).
REYKJAVIK (NO PHOTOS):
RECOMMENDED: The facilities were very nice from what we saw. We only stayed the night though and left early the next morning, so I don’t have much more information about it.
Now, take a look at an itinerary of our 7-day Road Trip Around the Ring Road!
Lyndsay & Daniel
Question: What are some other countries where touring in a camper van is popular?