Practical Travel Tips: Camping in Iceland

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Much ink have been written about Iceland here. Here’s one, two, and three posts about it. But we have not had one on camping in Iceland on an RV.

Varud, who last wrote about Sri Lanka, Israel, Cairo, Florence, Lisbon, Machu Picchu, Medellin, Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, Lofoten Islands, Norway, Ushuaia, Argentina, and Patagonia, Argentina is back with his practical travel tips on camping in Iceland

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So, Game of Thrones has ended and yet you’re not satisfied. You want to go the land of Fire & Ice itself, but you haven’t exactly figure out how. Let me begin by briefly making the case for camping — or specifically, driving around in a camper van.

Iceland is much more than the city. Admittedly, I skipped the city altogether and spent 12 days gallivanting the “country-side”. From the Westfjords to the national parks, most of what there is to see in Iceland is outside of Reykjavik.

Iceland is expensive. Sorry, Iceland is really, really expensive. I can’t stress that enough. Staying, travel, food, and tours will add up fast. Camper vans package all that into one nifty bundle at a reduced cost. And when we say “camping” we’re not talking about Boy-Scouts-poop-in-the-woods style. Due to rise of tourism in Iceland, there’s been lots of infrastructure investment in the last year. Many of the newly opened camping spots feature indoor kitchens, common areas, and hot-water showers as a given.

Iceland is unpredictable. The weather shifts hourly. Forecasts were quite utterly useless a day before. So if you want to catch the midnight sun or the perfect encounter with Puffins, you will need to bend your ways to the moods of the island. Actually while discussing Puffuns – the best spot I found was on the western most tip of the Island in the Westfjords (see Google Map below). It’s quite a drive up but tours don’t usually make it out here and thus the chance for one-on-one time with the Puffins is one of the best advantages of living on wheels.

Hot tub for one at the end of an unnamed road (on map below). Photo: (c) 2019 – Varud Gupta

And now, let’s make it happen. WOW Air is no longer, but Iceland Air still offers some great deals. Moreover, they have “stopover” options that allows you to stay in Iceland for up to 7 days as a part of your connection. If you want time to see the “classic” Route 1 circuit, aim for around 10 days with an extra couple to hit up the Westfjords.

Preparing for the road-trip

Cash

You don’t really need cash in Iceland so don’t worry about wasting money on ATM fees. But if having a bit of cash on you makes you feel safer, remember that the comma in ISK is actually a period (will save you from pulling out a couple thousand more than you need to.)

Credit cards will working for paying for everything else. The only sticky situation here is that for using the gas stations, you need a credit card with a pin-code — so have a debit card handy.

Groceries / Gas

Bonus seemed like the goto spot for tourists and locals alike. As you get further from Reykjavik, these became increasingly sparse so always plan one day in advance. Most grocery stores will be paired with a gas stations (or vice-versa). Some go=to meal ideas: Skyr yogurt and granola for breakfast, cold-cut sandwiches or crackers with meat and cheese for lunch on the road, and pasta for dinner time. Grab lots of nuts, bars, and jerky for when you get hungry and are too lazy to cook. Not exactly gourmet, I know. On the plus side, the tap water here is some of the best of the world, so at least you save on that.

Gas is super expensive (currently $1.89 / liter) so dedicate a good $400-500 of your budget to gas (number of days dependent). And remember what I said about about paying for gas using a debit card.

There will be hours on the road where it’s just you and your camper van. Photo: (c) 2019 – Varud Gupta

SIM Cards

I’ll keep this simple — the moment you leave customs at the airport turn right and there’s a small convenience store (10-11). As whoever is at the front counter for a SIM card and choose your plan (keep something to open the phone slot as she will offer you toothpicks). I grabbed a 10GB data only plan then used Google Voice for the rare calls ($23).

Renting

The three companies I’ve seen most on the road: Go Campers, Happy Campers, & KuKu Campers. And people have been happy with all three. Price will depend on size and transmission (you save quite a bit if you can drive manual). An automatic transmission 2WD for two people was $120 a night with Go Campers.

Insurance will be offered by them for at an additional cost. Check with your credit card company if they’ll cover it instead (and what liabilities are included) before you decline the standard CDW insurance.

On The Road

Road Etiquette

If traveling during the summer, a 2WD is perfectly fine; get a 4WD for the winter (which also allows you to go onto roads that are marked “F” or off-road drives). Always read signs in case of closures and keep a check on wind conditions.

Most of the highways will be two-lanes and chances are you’ll be slightly slower in the camper van, so remember that when someone wants to over take to slightly slow down and flash your right indicator when the road is clear. Some links for up to date info:

Camping

The way camping works is actually quite simple. You chose a site, show up (preferably anytime before 11pm) and the grounds keeper will either show up that night to collect payment (averaging around 1500 ISK) or you can pay the next morning.

Hot water, toilets, waste disposal, indoor kitchens and common areas are all quickly becoming the norms of the camps with many new places opening during the summer this year. The only thing to check would be if grounds are open outside of the peak season which runs June – August.

Waking up in campsites located at some of the most beautiful places. Photo: (c) 2019 – Varud Gupta

Packing Essentials

If you travel light, like I do, most of the camping add-ons can be purchased from the rental company. This includes: sleeping bag, chairs and tables, BBQ grill, ice cooler, GPS, and power adapters. Having a power adapter to charge your electronics is this most important to rent or bring along. And an Ice cooler will help keep the smell of your groceries away from you at night. If you are grabbing a SIM card, Google Maps is more than enough for directions – just be careful that you don’t end up on any F-roads or closed roads. A gas cooker was included along with basic cleaning and kitchen equipment.

  • Layer up for the cold and keep thermal linings for the nights. In the span on 12 days in the summer, the temperature varied between 53F to 35F.
  • Two water bottles, one for drinking and one for cooking (mainly boiling) purposes.
  • Stock up on easy foods. It means cold meals, but that’s better than trying to keep the gas alive during windy and wet days.
  • Keep an eye mask for the summer time where the sun never goes away.

Detailed but slightly out of date master list of camping locations: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1wk_t105qo4BYqaBL7xTcLUz5uXQ&hl=en&usp=sharing

“Greenland is covered with ice, and Iceland is very nice.” – Assistant Coach of Iceland’s Junior League Hockey Team, antagonists to the Mighty Ducks in D2.

I can’t put it any better. Iceland is really worth the breaking of the bank that it will cost to visit.

Puffins – Photo: (c) 2019 – Varud Gupta

More resources to plan your travels:

Note: The following is when 1USD = 123ISK and during the shoulder season (mid-may).

About The Author:

Varud Gupta was born and bred for business until a brusque millennial existential crisis sent him traveling through the culinary cultures of the world. He’s been a NY cheesemonger, an Argentine asador, a Peruvian bartender and a spy in countless household kitchens. And now, a Delhi based author.

His latest book, Bhagwaan Ke Pakwaan or Food of The Gods, is an exploration of the intersection of food and faith in India. He is currently working on his second book, a graphic novel, ‘Chotu’, that takes us back 1947, the Partition of India.

You can follow his adventures on Instagram.

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