Iceland adventures via campervan
July 2, 2015 9:02 AM   Subscribe

I've never been inside a campervan and I've only been inside a tent once. Despite this, I will be traveling via a campervan around Iceland in September. Any advice for campveran-ing in general and specifically, Iceland? I'd like to not die.

We will be renting our campervan through Happy Campers. It'll be two of us, but the only one available is the larger one (seats 4, sleeps 2). It comes with a gas stove, an extra heating system, a small cooler, sink with running water, and unlimited miles. We plan to use this as our main accommodation/eating as we go around the Ring Road for 8 days.

I'm wondering about-- showering? bathrooms? storing food? food I can make on a gas stove? surviving the wind and cold? having sex?

Also, any recommendations along the Ring Road for stops or campsites? I'm hoping 7-8 full days will be enough for a tour. Thank you!
posted by inevitability to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
We did a fair amount of driving around in Iceland. A lot of the roads marked on the road map were still really basic, to the level of being little more than ploughed dirt. Stick to the tarmaced roads, be prepared to turn around and go around the long way if necessary. Hopefully one of the Icelandic members can give some guidance as to how to tell which roads are which.

You can also negate your vehicle insurance if you go off road in some places.
posted by biffa at 9:29 AM on July 2, 2015

I'd recommend a hike near Hveragerdi that ends in a warm spring where you can swim. It's about an hour or so one way, and I don't know the specific name of the spring, but it was one of the best hikes I did there. Just ask around there and someone will point you the right way.

A really good advice I got from a local: "If the ground is steaming, don't walk on it." You can easily scald yourself in the hot water underneath.

Get gas when you can because it could be while before another station appears.

Overall I'd just talk to people and ask what they recommend. People are nice and easy to talk to there. I worked at the hostel in Vik and they give a lot of cool tours in the region if you're interested in that stuff. Even if you're not staying at a hostel, they can give you a lot of information about what to do in the area.
posted by monologish at 9:54 AM on July 2, 2015

oh and get the soft serve at gas stations. soooo gooood.
posted by monologish at 9:59 AM on July 2, 2015

Best answer: Oh!! I was just there 5 days ago! I'm so very envious of your upcoming trip, I already miss Iceland terribly. It's such an amazing, serene place--tourism is rising but you can still go miles on the Ring Road without seeing anybody.

I didn't rent a campervan, just a regular 2WD (again a bit envious of your decision, having flexibility to sleep where you want will definitely give you more time to see amazing things). I'm not sure how different the weather will be in September, but it was pretty lovely and easy to get around when I was there. Stick to the main road, obviously, but there are also some gravel roads that split off...some can take you right to the foot of glaciers or closer to other natural wonders. I could do it with my 2WD if I went slowly, but I didn't venture far and regretted it later.

No specific campervan advice, only that I was super prepared for it to be freezing (even though it was June) but overall it was much less cold than I anticipated. I'd just stock some extra blankets and remember thermals, fleece, WATERPROOF PANTS and SHELL. Not everyone thinks those are necessary but they were very very handy when I went glacier climbing/walking behind or near waterfalls.

- Just anywhere. You'll see so many gorgeous sites just driving around that I predict many stops and photo ops.
- second the hike in Hveragerdi--I'm not quite sure if this is the one monologish is recommending but I took a fairly easy 3.5 km hike to Reykjadalur, which has a hot river reward at the end and stunning geothermal vents/mudpots on the way. Bring your bathing suit and towel, there are changing partitions at the river but it'll be chilly going in and coming out! Totally worth it.
- If you are able to plan a few days ahead for guided excursions, I highly recommend snorkeling or diving at the Silfra fissure in Þingvellir. I think you can also bring your own gear, but no one is permitted to dive alone. It was one of the highlights of my trip, such a gorgeous and vibrant underwater world compared to the drab cloudiness above (at least it was drab that night).
- Another excursion recommendation if you have the time--glacier climbing leaving from the skaftafell area. Walking on the glacier tongue would have been amazing, too, but with this we were guided up to the icefall portion of Vatnajökull and it was much more exciting to see the gorgeous icewalls and crevasses.
- Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is a must.
- I didn't manage to hit these, but they were high on the list too: seljavallalaug pool and Bruarfoss.

Skips: Personally I was a bit underwhelmed by Geysir, but since Gulfoss is close by and worth seeing you might as well?

You'll have the most amazing time!
posted by sprezzy at 10:21 AM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

The ring road is easy to navigate and has great signage. Please watch your speed as there are automatic/unmanned speed cameras along the route.

Once you leave the ring road itself, there are a lot of dirt/gravel roads instead of tarmac/asphalt. With your rental vehicle please make sure it has tires in good condition with sufficient tread. Also confirm with your rental company about how to handle replacing a flat tire. (In Iceland I was given a rental car with a non-standard wheel diameter & bad spare where the replacement tires were only sold in Reykjavik, which is no good when you are on the other side of the country.)

You should also be prepared for the weather to change quickly as you may encounter the first snowfall, especially in NE Iceland between Mývatn and Egilsstaðir. Allow extra time!

September is the end of the tourist season (shoulder season), so some smaller visitor centers/seasonal restaurants may be closed. In my opinion that's a great time to visit as it's much quieter and you get the beautiful landscape to yourself.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by boffin police at 10:32 AM on July 2, 2015

Lots and lots of towns along the road have community pools, fed by hotsprings. a locker and towel cost very little.
great places to get refreshed, meet some locals (in the soaking tubs) and get cleaned up (in fact they require a shower before bathing.
My son and I made the pools a daily ritual.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:56 AM on July 2, 2015

Also! When I was browsing forums before my trip, a lot of people said GPS wasn't necessary. It's true that there's not a lot of detours to take so if you follow the Ring Road you'll eventually get where you need to go, but I actually found the GPS invaluable more for estimated arrival times. Google maps would frequently underestimate travel time.
posted by sprezzy at 11:00 AM on July 2, 2015

I can only really comment on the "food I can make on a gas stove?" part. You can make anything you want, with the understanding that you will likely only have a single burner. So for example you can boil pasta in one pot, drain and cover it while you heat sauce (or quickly re-heat sauce you made earlier) or whatever in a second pot.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:57 PM on July 2, 2015

Best answer: From a practical point of view:

* Pay attention while driving, don't be afraid to slow down, and don't drive on mountain roads your camper isn't allowed on.
* Stuff closes pretty early.
* Of the grocery stores, Bonus has the best prices, but it closes the earliest, at 18:00. For a 7-8 day drip, you can probably stock up once at the start in the Capital Region, and again around Akureyri. The dried fish makes a great road snack, and I'd say Prinz Polo (kinda like Kit Kat) and Lindu Buff (marshmallow in chocolate) are the best candy bars.
* Chip and signature or magnetic stripe credit cards work in most places, with one major exception...
* Automatic machines at gas stations only work with chip and PIN cards, or pre-paid gas cards that you can buy from stations that are staffed. You can pay inside for your gas if the station is staffed, but many stations are fully automated, so it's good to always have a gas card when you're away from Reykjavik. (The only US-based credit card I can think of that might work is the Barclaycard Arrival.)
* N1 is the most common service station, I think. N1s also have pretty good hot dogs, burgers, and soft-serve.
* The GPS was more useful than we thought. For a lot of the harder to find places, and smaller guesthouses and restaurants, Google Maps was just plain wrong.
* Weather should be pretty good overall in September but you can check for road conditions. In bad weather, roads can close, and you should take your time even if they are passable.
* I second boffin police's warning about the eastern highlands. We actually drove through some pretty heavy snow there in May. It was safe as long as we drove slowly and left enough time to make it through. We were even able to make it up the southern route to Dettifoss. Also, there are no gas stations (or services of any kind!) along that part of the ring road unless you take a pretty substantial detour.

As for fun stuff:

* In the north, we also did horseback riding and whale watching.
* Near Myvatn we went on an ice cave tour.
* In the eastern highlands, we visited Dettifoss, hiking through some pretty ridiculously heavy snow. I also got to use a completely frozen outhouse.
* We really enjoyed Vatnajokull and Jokulsarlon as well. If you're going clockwise around the ring road, then Vatnajokull and Jokulsarlon will be towards the end of your trip so you'll want to make sure you have enough time to enjoy them!
* Closer to Reykjavik, we took a hike to one of the hot spring rivers, and did a glacier walk.
* There are hot springs and swimming pools everywhere. Even really tiny villages have swimming pools!

In between, we just stopped and hiked and explored whenever we felt like it. We had more time than you, though; we took 14 days on the ring road, driving about 150-200 km each day (so only a couple of hours most days), with a 3 day break in the middle near Dalvik and Akureyri. We'd arrive at our guesthouses pretty late at night (the long days can really fool you), and it still seemed like we were always out of time. But Iceland is amazing and we will be heading there for the third time hopefully very soon!

P.S. Reykjavik is pretty great too, although it'd probably not be the best use of your time with the camper van. But if you can afford a little bit of time after your drive, it's a fun city. Dill Restaurant is supposed to be fantastic (and it's more affordable now that the dollar is strong) but I got an ear infection and couldn't go. We liked the design store Epal, and we even got to chat with the founder who happened to be in that day.
posted by melvinwang at 2:44 AM on July 3, 2015

Response by poster: thanks for the wonderful advice!!
posted by inevitability at 4:19 PM on July 8, 2015

« Older Three hours too early for domestic leg of...   |   Healthy, low-carb work lunches that I can... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.