So I’ve already told you all about how to campervan around Iceland, including what to pack, how to eat, where to park up, what to budget and much, much more! The following however, are the tips and lessons that I learnt along the way, which made the trip extra easy, blissful and wonderful.
Iceland is an expensive country with crazy, changeable weather and some remote and wild places. It is worth all of it’s challenges a million times over, but the following are things I found to save a bit of cash, or make life that tad easier.
Don’t pay for campsite showers
Okay travel lovers of the world, we need to talk. I read a lot of posts before going to Iceland, explaining that if you needed to shower then you could use coins to pay for showers in campsites, by the minute. I’m sorry, but I simply don’t get why anyone would pay for a shower in a campsite in Iceland.
Firstly, having to have coins on you is a total pain. You can pay for basically anything in Iceland by card, you rarely need cash. On the couple of occasions where I really quite fancied a shower whilst on a campsite, I didn’t have any coins on me to use it. Bummer.
But what really confuses me, is that for the same price as a brief few minutes showering in the campsites, you can have one that lasts as long as you like. Any local pool in Iceland is deliciously cheap at only a few hundred krona, with really well equipped changing rooms including hair driers (you won’t find those in the campsites). Plus, you get to enjoy the consistently amazing swimming pools that Iceland has to offer. I’m talking all outdoors, all geothermally heated, most with amazing views (because, Iceland) and often with really awesome steam rooms and hot tubs. I’m not really sure what’s not to love.
Make sure you follow the ways of the Icelandic swimming pool though, and shower thoroughly, fully naked before you get in (you put your costume on after showering, obviously), lest you anger the shower police. I’m being serious. Geothermally heated means no chlorine, which means that if you traipse bacteria into the pool it isn’t killed. Ew, gross, you might say, but not in Iceland where hygiene in pools is treated with the utmost respect. If you don’t follow the rules, you will be called out on it.
Perhaps the best thing about Icelandic swimming pools though, is that I can’t think of a better way to immerse yourself in Icelandic culture. Swimming pools are the heart of every community, and it’s where the locals go to catch up and put the world to rights. It’s the place to be. Get involved.
Olis is your friend
One thing you need to do when you get to Iceland, is get yourself an Olis card. There are many reasons why the petrol station chain Olis should be treated like a long lost friend when you stumble upon one on the road. Firstly, with the Olis card you get money off petrol and all items in the store. Secondly, you get free unlimited coffee. UNLIMITED COFFEE. You’re going to want that after you’ve been up all night watching the aurora and when you can’t be bothered to spend 30 minutes making a hot drink on your camping stove. Trust me. Thirdly, if there is only one thing in Iceland that is cheap, it’s petrol station hotdogs, pylsur. I’d never been the biggest fan of hotdogs until Iceland but these things are GOOD. Always get ‘one with everything’ which just means it’s loaded with both types of onion (raw and crispy), plus alllllll the sauces. It’s the only way. Fourthly (yes that’s right, my list isn’t over yet) – Free wifi. Which is darned useful. Need I say more?
You can get Olis cards from any Olis petrol station. Don’t forget!
Forget the Blue Lagoon
Okay, CONTROVERSIAL ALERT – I’m not a big fan of the Blue Lagoon. I concede that it did make my skin UBER soft, I’m talking softer than it’s ever been before, but that obviously only lasted maybe a week max after going, and was it really worth the EUR 80 I spent to get in? Erm, no.
Perhaps our biggest downfall was going to the blue lagoon at the end of our 16-day trip. We’d just experienced countless occasions over the previous two weeks where we swam in outdoors, geothermally heated swimming pools that we had all to ourselves, or maybe shared with the odd local or two having a gossip. We sat in many a wonderful hot tub, staring at snowy mountains and glaciers in awe, completely alone. We swam in a hot river, for god’s sake. It was majestic.
Suddenly finding ourselves in a crazy-busy tourist attraction full of Americans (no offence America) after two weeks of peaceful and isolated bliss with only the occasional Icelander for company was a little bit of a shock to the system, to say the least.
Also, the silica face masks did not do to my face what the silica rich water did to the rest of my body, and I found I had quite dry and irritated skin around my eyes at the end of the day.
Even the popular Myvatn Nature Baths in Northern Iceland was nowhere near as busy as the Blue Lagoon, and I actually found it much more enjoyable. It had some seriously beautiful views, in a much more interesting location and hey, at a fraction of the price for only EUR 25. Just saying.
Closed doesn’t have to mean closed for campsites in shoulder season
One thing I should mention, having told you that the best time to go to Iceland is shoulder season, and that sleeping in campsites is something we did regularly, is that not all campsites are actually open outside of summer. However, you needn’t fear if you were planning on sleeping in the campsites, because most of the time either some of the facilities are left open for you to use for free, or there will be a phone number on the door which you can call. The owners are always local, and in my experience, always happy to pop over and open the site up for the night, even if it’s just for you.
Buy your booze in Reykjavik
Alcohol in Iceland can only be bought through state-controlled shops called Vínbúð. In Reykjavik, there are a few of these shops, with regular opening hours, making them an easy place to visit to pick up beer and wine before setting off on your trip. Once you are out of Reykjavik, you tend to only find these shops in the bigger towns, with opening hours that are something along the lines of ‘Tuesdays and Thursday between 11am – 1pm, if I feel like it’. So yeah, don’t rely on being able to buy booze on the road.
If you want spirits of any sort, buy them in the airport duty-free as soon as you touch down, it’s just too expensive to justify otherwise.
It goes without saying, that if you are planning to consume alcohol throughout your road-trip, it should only be if you are the passenger or have parked up for the night. Don’t drink and drive, but you don’t need me to tell you that… :)
Free water and car washing
If you need to hand your car back clean and shiny, don’t pay for a car wash, but look out for a petrol station, it may well also have an area with free do-it-yourself car washing facilities available in the form of hoses with brushes on the end. There will also usually be water points for filling up empty water bottles. Yay for free stuff!
Do’s and Don’ts
Okay, so here is why I get slightly ranty, as I go into some of the important lessons I learned while road-tripping Iceland.
…Respect the land
I presume that when people visit Iceland, a big part of the reason is to experience the unbounded natural beauty that this country has to offer, right? Well, that’s what I thought, anyway.
So I really was shocked and more than a bit disgusted to learn that not all tourists in Iceland care about the land. In fact, since it’s tourist boom, Iceland has been suffering some serious problems. We quickly took to stopping the car and picking up the bags of litter and empty beer bottles we found on the roadsides, by lay-bys where campervans had clearly parked up the night, leaving their rubbish as if it wasn’t their responsibility to deal with it. Some of these occurrences were in national parks, where it isn’t even legal to camp and, simply put, is downright disgraceful to litter.
Even more outrageous is the defecation problem. Yes, you read that right. Unfortunately. It’s really quite saddening when you’re driving along a beautiful road towards a rare geological wonder, to see a sign requesting that people don’t go to the toilet on the roadside. And environmental volunteers in Iceland shouldn’t be having to picked up used toilet paper and worse. If you’re planning on visiting anywhere in the world in order to treat it like that, please rethink your life choices.
Finally, you’ll see signs about the place here and there, asking you not to stray from the path, or climb the rocks, etc. Please listen to them. Iceland isn’t trying to ruin your fun, it’s trying to keep you and the nature safe. The moss and lichen that covers so much of the country is killed when people or even worse, cars, trail over it. And rock formations can be damaged (or badly hurt you) if you don’t treat them with respect. Some things need to be appreciated from afar.
…Be flexible and sensible
On the third day of our road trip, we started down the south cost with the intention of traveling the ring road anti-clockwise, as so many do, but when we attempted to park up and get out of the car to visit the DC-3 plane crash, the winds were so strong that we didn’t feel safe, and we weren’t confident that we weren’t going to incur sandstorm damage to the van (and our eyeballs, lets be honest) while we tried to walk to the wreckage. So, we checked the forecasts, and ended up turning around and doing the ring road clockwise instead, a plan that really paid off in the end.
Ok, so we had the ability to do that because we were still so close to Reykjavik at the time, but if we hadn’t been, we still wouldn’t have gotten out of the car. Why? Because it wasn’t safe, and it wasn’t worth taking risks. In the end we struck very lucky in Iceland, in that we didn’t have to compromise on any of our plans due to the weather, and when we eventually got back round to the DC-3 crash the weather was fine, but it quite easily could not have been the case. And that’s just life in Iceland. It’s unpredictable.
Part of a road-trip in Iceland means being flexible when the weather changes, and not getting hung up on it. It also means not pushing yourself or your van to take silly risks if it isn’t safe to do so. You know it makes sense!
…Rely on Google Maps
Google Maps, for whatever reason, was not as reliable in Iceland as it is in the UK. Maybe if you’re driving Iceland in the height of summer, with a four-wheel drive, then you need not worry. However driving in shoulder season with a two-wheel drive, there were a couple of occasions where it lead us onto impassable roads that were seriously dicey, and could have completely invalidated our insurance had we run into any problems. On one occasion, we wasted half a day on such a detour, painstakingly crawling along bumpy potholed gravel roads before having to turn around and do it all again. I used a sat-nav to get around generally, particularly after the aforementioned occasion, until I realised that navigating Iceland is very straightforward once you’ve gotten oriented and I liked charging my phone more than my GPS system, and then I got around the old fashioned way, by waiting for the right road sign to pop up.
…Break the speed limit
It’s simply not smart to exceed the speed limit anytime, and Iceland is no different. You might find it tempting on those empty roads, and you will certainly see the locals doing it, but don’t be swayed. There are speed cameras all over Iceland and they aren’t always easy to see like the giant bright yellow ones we have in the UK. If you get caught, the fines are fairly big and your rental company will pass them onto you.
So, there you have it! Everything I can think of to help you have one of the most awesome road-trips of your life! If there’s anything I’ve missed, or failed to discover, please share your tips in the comments!