Hats off to Iceland, even on a solo trip!
In some sense, you end up wearing a lot of different hats when you do a camper van trip through Iceland: driver, navigator, photographer, hiker, camper. But in another sense, it feels like everybody you meet in Iceland is wearing the same hat: appreciating the beauty of Iceland! Since I traveled alone, I thought it would be nice to include photos of a few of the wonderful people I met on my journey, so you don’t get bored looking at my face the whole time. They were as much of a part of what made my journey fantastic as any of the sights I saw or foods I ate, and a real highlight of the trip.
Since I normally stay in hostels when I travel, I was worried that staying in a camper van I may not get a chance to meet as many people. Luckily, I was completely wrong! I still was able to find plenty of fellow travelers all around, whether we were sharing breakfast at the campsites in the mornings, exploring the same sights in the day, or watching the Northern lights together at night.
Speaking of the Northern lights, I couldn’t have asked for a better first-time viewing. After a long afternoon walk through the hills to the Reykjadalur hot river in the, I was cold & tired enough to just want to soak in the relaxing water all night. Two couples from Sweden and Canada had the same idea, so we spent a few hours trading travel tips and stories of Iceland until nightfall, with nobody wanting to step out of the hot river into the freezing night (especially the Swedish couple, since they had apparently gotten a camper van without a heater, and weren’t heading back to a cozy warm bed like I was).
The Canadian couple were a little worried that they would be returning home the next morning without ever seeing the Northern lights on their trip, and somehow just after that, the clouds above gave way to a view of a shimmering green river of light flowing above our heads. Even once we all started trekking back to the parking lot together in the dark, we were met by an even brighter & dizzying dance of lights overhead, and eventually all laid down on the ground for a better view while laughing out loud and gasping at the spectacle of it.
I can’t think of a better place than Iceland for seeing waterfalls. While visiting the 4th or 5th waterfall of the day, I even walked past a photographer setting up their large camera while humming the tune to the song “Don’t go chasing waterfalls.” Water was a constant fixture of my trip, whether it was cascading down the cliffs and mountains, filling up my bottles with the crisp, delicious river water, frozen into the glaciers I hiked over, or bubbling up into the hot springs and hot tubs at the public pools which quickly became a nightly tradition. I highly recommend anyone else to give the public pools a try, as there’s no better way to melt away the tension of a day’s travels than a soak in hot tub and friendly chat with some locals.
I couldn’t drive past Sólheimasandur without checking out the famous plane wreck, so I made the long walk out from the road despite the quickly approaching dusk and rising winds. While the plane itself made a welcome relief from the strong gusts and light rain, the next group of tourists to come by were quite surprised to find somebody inside it. After walking at a 45 degree angle against the wind with foggy glasses, by the time I got back to my camper van, there was no place on Earth I’d rather be. By the time I got to the night’s campsite, the van was already toasty warm, and the howling wind outside was just a distant memory.
I found out that the heating system works great as a blow dryer as well. At Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, I not only had the pleasure of the best slice of Skýr-cake ever, but the chance to test out how waterproof my boots really were. An older woman had ignored all the signs and walked too close to the shore to get a better shot of the cave, and got to experience more of the Atlantic Ocean than she planned. After jumping into the surf to help her back up, I learned that anything I put near the heating vents in the camper van gets quite dry in a very short time. That way I was able to have my boots & pants ready by the time I got to my next destination.
I may not have signed up for any whale-watching tours, but still managed to see a few whales around Iceland, or at least parts of them.
The van kept out the cold so well that I usually opted to stay in sandals most of the time, unless I was hiking. I may have confused a few other tourists, but it was great for getting a real feel for the land.
I couldn’t get over how much variety there was in the landscapes! Driving along the Ring Road, it not only felt like I was on another planet, but that every hour or so I was visiting a totally new planet. Bright golden fields would give way to jet black deltas of sand, then next I would be in the midst of mountains of moss for miles, then driving between mountains and glaciers. I even went from driving through completely empty fields to standing under “the tallest tree in Iceland” in the same afternoon!
The morning views that greeted me each day on waking couldn’t have been beaten by any hotel. I would turn my head around and see the snow covered mountains right out my window.
While it seems that Autumn isn’t the most popular time for visiting Iceland, I was quite glad to have come at that time. Not only did I get several nights of uninterrupted views of the Northern lights, I had the privilege of joining the very first glacier ice-cave tour of the season (The guides told us that they had at least been inspecting and testing the caves the day before, so we weren’t total guinea pigs).
As cold as the weather may have been at time, I couldn’t get over how warm the people were, both natives and tourists alike! Whether I was spending a glacier hike chatting in Japanese with a couple, or being greeted in Icelandic nearly every day, I definitely felt quite welcome. In fact, one evening in a full hot tub after a local got out, an Icelandic woman asked me if the two of us were the only locals left. She was a little surprised to hear she was actually on her own, seeing as I’m from the Bahamas.
The food throughout Iceland certainly didn’t disappoint. Having some Skýr and apples become almost a daily tradition, and putting crispy fried onions & crushed tortilla chips onto a hot dog is something I will be remembering to keep trying outside of Iceland. Appropriately, the ice cream in Iceland was quite good, whether I got it freshly made on a dairy farm on the road or from a shop in the harbor at Reykjavik. The lamb was nice and hearty, especially in the hot soup, and the dried fish made for the perfect driving food; fish jerky!
Thought it was a solo trip, but turns out I had quite the traveling companion, who I’ve come to calling Vagn the Van. He kept me warm through the cold, windy nights, brought me to all the best spots, shared quite a few meals with me, and was a welcome sight at the end of each day. So don’t be afraid to travel even if you don’t have any friends coming along with you; you can make plenty more here during your trip! And if you’re lucky enough to get Vagn the Van as your rental, you’ll definitely be well taken care of.
Read more: South Iceland in 7 days in a Camper Van
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