I’m used to traveling in developing countries, where lodging is anywhere from $7 for a thatch roof, sand floor hut on Tofu beach in Mozambique, to a $50/night in a luxurious Moroccan riad (mini-mansion) in Marrakech. I’m also a bit more bougie than I was in my 20’s, and the idea of sleeping in a hostel beside 15 snoring, sweaty strangers is not my idea of fun anymore.
Same for transportation: I avoid car-sick inducing bus rides when possible, and prefer the freedom of driving on my own time table, as my whimsy takes me, or my bladder orders me. It feels good to be at the point in my life where I can afford that additional independence, and I’m cognizant that it may not last. Still, hotels in Iceland aren’t cheap, so a camper car served dual purposes, covering transportation and accommodation, à la a mattress in the back of the camper. Best of all, renting a camper car took me deeper into the island than the beautiful, but conventional tourist route, the Golden Circle.
Still…Sleeping in a camper car in Iceland for 9 days turned out to be rougher than I expected. Here’s 10 tips and tricks to create your own Icelandic adventure.
Price, pick-up/drop-off location, and comfort.
When I compared prices in early November, here’s what I found for 9 nights:
- Happy Campers: E1,169 ($1310.50)
- Kuku Campers: E941 ($1,054)
- Go Camper: $806
I went with Go Campers because they were the cheapest, some amenities were included (like a sleeping bag, but not a chair), and their pick-up location is in Reykjavik, rather than the airport (which worked for me because I spent two days in the city first.)
Other differences: Kuku Campers have distinct paint jobs, and prices are comparable to Go Campers, but you have to rent bedding and a sleeping bag. Happy Campers are the most expensive, but they come with the most amenities, like a sink and a heating system. My Go Camper didn’t have an independent heating system, so heat was only available while the engine was running, meaning I froze my ass off at night. Imagine that, I was icy in Iceland. So decide if this is a luxury or necessity for you; obviously it’s a trade off in price.
Gas cost me about $300 for the whole trip.
2. Get a GPS
At 50 Euros for a rental, it seemed highly priced, but this is not the thing to scrimp on. Yes, the Ring Road is literally a circle around the county, but side trips and night driving necessitates a GPS, especially if you’re traveling solo. And double check the spelling: Reykjavik and Reykjahlid are in two separate regions of Iceland, and it would suck to drive an hour before you realize you’re headed the wrong way (not that I would know…).
3. To 4X4 or Nah?
I did not rent a 4X4, and didn’t need to in early November. The only time I regretted this was when I realized I couldn’t make the trip on the gravel road, F88, through rivers and over volcanic rock to the Askja volcano. Apparently you can take a group tour from the north, if your heart is set on it. The season and road type (gravel “F” roads vs. paved roads like the Ring Road/Route 1) dictate whether you’ll need a 4X4 or nah. For the most part, my studded tires did the trick.
And for God’s sake, learn to drive stick shift/manual! I thank my college boyfriend for teaching me this indispensable skill I’ve put to use in at least 8 countries. Sometimes automatics are available, but they’re always more expensive, and never as fun to drive.
Tolls, not trolls.
There are 10 magnificent feats of infrastructure in Iceland: tunnels built through volcanic rock and under the Atlantic Ocean. The Hvalfjörður tunnel is 4 miles long, and descends 500 feet under the Atlantic, cutting driving time around the fjord from 1 hour to 7 minutes. The toll is $8, and you can pay with a credit card! (Smart and convenient technology that we do not put to use in the US.)
5. Road Conditions and Weather
Check the weather and road conditions everyday! The most predictable thing about your Icelandic road trip is that the weather will be unpredictable, and it WILL affect your travel plans. Weather conditions, including temperature, winds, and precipitation here. Road conditions here.
The Emergency number is 112.
As a solo-traveler, I regularly check in with friends and family to let them know my whereabouts and how I’m feeling emotionally and physically. Beyond just the emergency phone number, Iceland has an 112 app that made me feel calmer about going off on a hike in a foreign country alone. It allows you to check in, sending your coordinates to their server in case a search and rescue team needs to come a-lookin. Before I would embark on a hike, or even sometimes at night, I would send my coordinates to 112, and I felt better knowing I had left some breadcrumbs a la Hansel and Gretel. I found Iceland to be the safest country I’ve traveled to in terms of human interaction, but also risky in terms of exposure to the weather. The 112 app also has an emergency button that will send your location and call 112 immediately.
Go grocery shopping before you leave Reykjavik. Bonus is good and cheap, and there’s a bubblegum pink pig on the logo.
Buy sausage, flat bread (flatkokur), bananas, apples, cherry tomatoes, yogurt (Skyr is AMAZING), cheese, Wheetabix, and mustard. Enjoy.
Don’t worry, the food will keep in the storage bins at the back of your cold ass camper, and Go Campers provides plates, cutlery, and a convenient cutting board.
One night I got fancy and treated myself to a hot meal and a cold beer in Fludir. It was the best meal I had the whole trip. (Read more on Fludir here). Also, there is plenty of ice cream and hot dogs at every gas station.
7. Find a Campsite
When you’ve been washing your face/pits/poomp with wet wipes, campsites are like the Ritz. Get to one. There are sinks to brush your teeth, showers with hot water, and flushing toilets! Woooohoooo! For the most part I didn’t plan which campsite I’d stay in each night. I just used my map and followed the teepee map marker, or a road sign when I saw one. There were nights I wasn’t successful in my quest and ended up sleeping on the side of the road. It’s a last ditch effort, and makes for some awkward toilet situations. (Do you want that story?! I can give you that story!)
I developed a bedtime routine: brush my teeth, wipe my face, lots of moisturizer, pee. Close the curtains. Put on flannel pajamas, sweatpants, hoodie, hat, scarf, stuff sleeping bag #1 into sleeping bag #2, get in both. Shove winter coat into sleeping bag as extra blanket. Hang headlamp from curtain. Read a book with gloves on so hands don’t freeze. Shiver. Hear troll noises outside. Don’t go outside to investigate like the naive person in a horror movie. Turn off headlamp. Wiggle like a worm in sleeping bag to look out the curtain for the troll. No troll. Go to sleep.
If you’re two medium size people, the camper would be tight, especially with your luggage, though you can move some of it to the front seat for the night. And if you’re tall–over 6 feet–I hope you sleep in fetal position.
Check out my video tour of the sleeping space, and one major flaw of my camper car here.
Minimalism and organization, a travel motto to live by. I had a basic layered uniform every day: warm shirt, hoodie, winter running tights or sweatpants, my winter coat, thick Lift23 ski socks and my waterproof boots. I repeated outfits because I didn’t get super dirty or sweaty everyday (one point for the cold!). Packing light allowed me to pay attention to the natural beauty all around me, rather than agonizing over the day’s outfit, or misplacing something.
Remember to pack a car charger for your phone and your selfie stick.
10. Podcasts and Playlists
I tend to create playlists that reflect the mood of the place I’m traveling to, so for Iceland I had Sexwitch, Erykah Badu, Bombino, and yes, some Bjork.
My podcast lineup was as follows:
- This American Life
- Car Talk
- Another Round
- Talk Poverty
- Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People
- Fresh Air
- Stuff Your Mom Never Told You
- WTF with Marc Maron]
Have you taken an unforgettable roadtrip, solo or tandem? What routine did you develop, or abandon for the love of freedom?