Iceland: specific question about transport, car hire & campers.
November 4, 2015 7:27 AM   Subscribe

I know there have been lots of Iceland questions, but I am specifically trying to decide how much I'll regret not hiring a 4x4, and whether a 4x4 camper van would be worth it, given the only ones you seem to be able to get are really basic car-sleeping models, not motorhomes.

SO and I are planning a trip to Iceland in late Aug/possibly early Sept. Dates and activities are still very provisional, but we really want to arrive by boat , not by plane (despite the expense & fact it’ll take days). We had planned, after a fantastic campervan trip to New Zealand this year, to hire a camper and work our way around the Ring Road before flying out of Reykjavik approx. 10 days later.
1. it seems there are zero places to hire campers near the port in Seyðisfjörður (and very limited car hire option) so we may have to fly to Reykjavik to pick one up.
2. even in Reykjavik, the options are limited and most of the campers are ‘sleep in your car’ deals, not proper motorhomes (e.g. do not have showers or toilets)
3. the 4x4 campers are even more limited, many not even having hot water.

I am not a natural camper; I was convinced of the value of a campervan only because it had running hot water, so I’m not sure how happy I’m going to be sleeping in a car. But then, hot springs, right? So maybe it doesn’t matter? The other thing I’m not sure about is how annoying it will be not to have a 4x4; I understand there are many roads that will be out of bounds if we don’t have one, but what I can’t figure out is realistically how many of those roads we would have time to explore anyway – i.e. if we’re aiming to get all the way around the island in <10 days, are we really going to have time for side trips that require a 4x4?

So: insight on transportation, hints on car hire, experiences of campers or camp sites, opinions on cost of camper vs. hotel, or the availability of public toilets & showers are all appreciated!

Oh, and bonus points for anyone with recommendations for eating places for vegetarians (hollow laughter; being self-catering is at least some of the appeal of the camper).
posted by AFII to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
If the primary appeal of the hot water is for getting you *clean* I don't think you will find a hot spring to be an acceptable substitute. I was picking peat out of my crevices for days. That said, a lot of Icelandic towns have public swimming pools with showers and reasonably-priced day passes. I would think you would be able to shower at a pool every day if you cared to. You can check out Swimming In Iceland for details.

Oh, also, I have only done day trips out of Reykjavik, but we were able to get to some remote-feeling places in a non-4x4 minivan in December. Like, of course there are places you won't be able to get to, but there will be LOTS of places you can get to.
posted by mskyle at 7:44 AM on November 4, 2015

Best answer: My husband and I took a campervan around Iceland in 2012 and had a great time. We rented from Happy Campers; they are very nice and helpful. The van (a Happy 2, I believe) had a fold-down seat to make a bed, and both of us slept well. The van had a heater to use at night as well as a basic sink, hot plate, and small fridge, so we were able to make simple meals.

We did rent out of Reykjavik; the company picked us up at the airport. We mostly parked at regular campsites that had showers and other amenities. There are lots of these, but you can also park just about anywhere for the night.

We did not find it difficult not having a 4x4. We only drove for about 7 days, not 10, but we could have entertained ourselves for 10 without a 4x4. Having a 4x4 would allow you to ford streams and whatnot, but I find this idea terrifying and probably wouldn't attempt it even with the proper vehicle.

Have fun and feel free to memail if you want more Iceland-by-van advice.
posted by TrarNoir at 7:46 AM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, camping in a full-sized RV with running water isn't really a thing in Iceland, because there are campgrounds and public pools all over the place that give access to showers. Also, those vehicles are really big and pretty unusual there. Also, almost every gas station has a cafe, which means it also has a public toilet. I've been to Iceland twice and am considering a camper for my third trip. You probably won't have time in 10 days to get up to much exploring on interior F roads--which require a 4x4--without compromising your circular route. Plus, there are some interior roads (for example around Thingvellir to Gulfoss) that aren't marked F and so don't require a 4x4.

I'm currently doing the math on whether our next trip should be camper or inside lodging. So far my math has shown it's much cheaper to rent a car and a place to stay in each town. But I prefer VRBO or Air BnB rather than overpriced hotels. Also because eating in restaurants in Iceland is usually unreasonably expensive (the best lamb stew I've ever had was in a cafe attached to a gas station near Vik, but it was $24/bowl), it makes more financial sense for us to self-cater in an apartment.

Last fun fact about driving in Iceland: Most car rental company towing services will just advise you when you break down to find the nearest farmer with a tractor. I've had to test this, and it works. Farmers are apparently very used to helping tourists--and locals--by pulling them out of muddy fields, off beaches and whatnot.

The only camper rental places I've found are at Reykjavik and Keflavik. It doesn't surprise me you can't find one anywhere else. I get the impression locals don't rent them; they instead customize their own super jeeps & super jeep campers. And every time I've passed one of those on the roads there, it isn't big enough for a shower and toilet.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:48 AM on November 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks so far! It's clear (not least because the guidebooks, er, don't have much about it, which is why I'm asking here) that RV-ing isn't much of a thing - but advice about 4x4 is mixed, from 'you'll utterly regret it if you don't' to the more 'you'll have plenty to do' vibe I'm getting here.
posted by AFII at 12:43 PM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was just in Iceland, end of September. We rented a camper from Happy Camper and were pretty satisfied. I'm also not a huge camping person, so I enjoyed having a heater and running (cold) water in the car. We did the Ring Road within 10 days and saw mostly everything we needed; I think only one time we felt iffy or turned away from an F road.

Regarding larger motorhomes, we actually saw a lot more of them than I thought so I wouldn't discount it. They seemed fine on the road, and they all plugged into the campgrounds that are everywhere in Iceland. There were places to dump waste. I think Campervan Iceland and JS Rentals have RVs.

I LOVED Seyðisfjörður. We spent one night there and saw large activity in the Northern Lights. I think your best bet if you want to do a campervan is to fly from Egilsstaðir to Reykjavik. You could also rent a car from Egilsstaðir Airport, I believe. If they have Hertz there, I know Hertz (or maybe it was Budget) have campervans to rent--you could see if you could get a pick up at Egilsstaðir for the campervan.

Offhand, I remember the Settlement Center in Borgarnes had a solid list of vegetarian dishes.
posted by inevitability at 3:36 PM on November 4, 2015

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