How Renting a Campervan Contradicted My Favorite Travel Motto

by Erica Siddall

In September of 2017, my sister, brother-in-law, and I decided to head to the Land of Fire and Ice for a vacation. Collectively, the three of us have had wonderful adventures traveling around the globe to France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Mexico, Kenya, Thailand, Alaska, Australia, New Zealand, and Peru. As my sister and I are both Icelandic, we were particularly thrilled at the opportunity to visit the country from where our ancestors moved to Canada (near Gimli, Manitoba) in 1885.

As many of those reading will know, traveling provides the opportunity to make meaningful connections with people from around the world and to learn about new cultures while seeing some jaw-dropping sights. I find that traveling prevents you from getting stuck in a rut or routine and allows you to reconnect with your sense of purpose and passion. That said, traveling isn’t always easy. It often includes long and uncomfortable “travel days,” the adjustment of living out of a bag or suitcase, and stressful situations where you’re forced to make tough decisions.

Seeing as travel has become an important part of my lifestyle, I have had to adopt and embrace the well-known motto of “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” To me, this means embracing each challenge, twist, and turn with an open mind and positive attitude, and not letting it take away from the beauty of the moment.

Fast forward to our visit to Iceland. After a week of driving around the infamous Ring Road with our parents and visiting our ancestral family farm in Northern Iceland, our trio picked up our camper van and then asked ourselves… “Where to?” Although a week around the Ring Road could never do justice to all it has to offer, we chose to pick a new destination and head out to an area much less traveled: The West Fjords. According to Lonely Planet, only about 10% of travelers visit this area, which is supposedly the oldest region of Iceland. Although it takes a long time to explore due to the winding roads that contour its majestic fjords, the vivid colors, abundance of wildlife, and thundering waterfalls described to us made it easy to agree on this destination. After settling into our camper van and loading up on some food, we headed north. Our adventure had begun!

The Camper van is stocked

It did not take me long to realize that renting a camper van had contradicted my long-loved motto of “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” Although we experienced some unpredictability throughout our visit to the West Fjords—like not knowing if we would find open campsites and driving through blinding fog—we were so comfortable every single step of the way. For instance, I had never imagined that a van could comfortably sleep three adults. My sister and her husband claimed the bottom mattress, so I got the adventure of sleeping “upstairs” under the pop-up roof. With stealth, I climbed up there every night and, come morning, got to enjoy the fresh September air on my face as I unzipped the windows and admired the views.

Top bunker in the camper The vewi from the top bunker

Over the next five days, we covered a lot of ground. When we left Reykjavík, we decided to first head to Tálknafjörður and ended up staying there for two nights. We set up camp at the Tálknafjörður Swimming Pool and used this as a launch pad to explore Rauðasandur, also known as the Red Sand Beach, and the Látrabjarg bird cliffs. It felt a bit surreal to be exploring both these places without fighting through crowds of hundreds of people. Instead, we had the good fortune of being able to peacefully soak in all the beauty that the coast and the cliffs had to offer.

Westfjords Camping

Red sand beach - Westfjords Red sand bbeach

Pop quiz: Red Sand Beach or Tiger Tiger ice cream?

Rauðisandur - Red sand beach in the Westfjords
Here, I was reminded of another favorite travel motto: Take only pictures, leave only footprints.

Although we were slightly heartbroken that all the puffins had gone for the year, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Látrabjarg and kept expecting the dragons from Game of Thrones to come soaring in. Fortunately (or unfortunately!) they did not, and we were left to enjoy the all-but-deserted cliffs by ourselves.

Látrabjarg Látrabjarg - Westfjords

Látrabjarg Cliffs Europe's most western point

Being prudent and following the rules! Visitors are encouraged to lie down when

close to the edge in order to spread out their weight over a greater surface area.

One of our favorite moments from the trip was when we spontaneously decided to visit Tálknafjörður’s local Hot Pots, Pollurin, conveniently located three kilometers away from our campsite. We grabbed our swimsuits and arrived around 10:00 pm to three wonderfully warm thermal pools. Shortly after our arrival, an Icelandic gentleman and his two Danish coworkers arrived. It didn’t take us long to befriend one another, and over the next two and a half hours, we had a drink (“Skál! Cheers!”) and talked about politics, family, and social issues. While glancing up at the clear night sky, our new local friend even gave us a lesson on the pronunciation of Icelandic words… though we will most definitely be needing more than that one lesson.

Having rented a camper van gave us the flexibility to wake up each day asking ourselves, “Where to next?” This wasn’t a difficult question to contemplate given the beauty of our surroundings.

Tálknafjörður Camping Camping in Tálknafjörður

Where there’s mist, there’s mystery!

Having read about the magnificence of the Dynjandi Waterfall, we decided to spend a good chunk of our next day exploring it. Although we knew it was considered to be one of the most impressive waterfalls in all of Iceland (which is saying something), nothing could have prepared us for its grandeur. There’s definitely nothing like standing beside a thundering waterfall to remind you of how minuscule you really are, and of how breathtaking our planet really is.

Dynjandi Falls

Where’s Waldo Iceland Edition: Can you spot the blue jacket?

Lunch by Dynjandi Dynjandi Waterfall

A benefit of being totally self-sufficient included being able to have lunch (and wine) while staring at the Dynjandi Waterfall.

Our final two nights were spent chasing the Northern Lights. Although we live in Canada, the three of us had only ever seen a soft green hue in the night sky. So, equipped with a handy online forecast outlining the cloud cover and auroral activity of different regions, we set off to find this beautiful phenomenon. As we made our way to Þingeyri and eventually down to Hólmavík, we tasted the infamous Icelandic hot dogs, bakery-hopped in Ísafjörður, and had a blast cruising down the coast spotting seals.

Read more: Aurora forecast App

Hólmavík Ísafjörður Bakery

Camping in Ísafjörður Visiting Ísafjörður

Seals in the Westfjords Fun on the 4x4 camper trip in the Westfjords

Driving the Westfjords Roads in the Westfjords

When we arrived in Hólmavík, we had time to check out the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft before setting up camp and making dinner. And it was here, in Hólmavík, on our last night in Iceland, where we were privy to the most beautiful show of dancing green, pink, and purple lights in the sky. I had just been coming back to our 4×4 camper van after doing our dishes when I noticed the sky had turned slightly green…

Northern lights in the Westfjords

Not but ten minutes later, the entire sky was illuminated by the Northern Lights. Although the other travelers were all in their vans (and possibly sleeping), I couldn’t help but laugh and yelp in amazement. The fact that my brother-in-law was taking pictures as my sister and I admired the show was an added bonus. Pictures or not, this was truly a moment I will never forget.

Northern Lights Westfjords Aurora Borealis Westfjords

Aurora Borealis in the Westfjords

My sister and I staring up at the most breathtaking phenomenon we’ve ever seen.

That night, after the Northern Lights had stopped dancing, we stayed up late sharing Icelandic chocolate and reflecting on all the experiences we’d had in the past few days. Although some may not relish at the thought of being in such close quarters with other people, we agreed that our cozy little camper van home had been perfect. We appreciated the opportunity to fall asleep to the sound of waves crashing against the shore, to come and go as we pleased, and to cook and share our meals in front of some spectacular scenery. It was definitely with a bit of a heavy heart that we packed up the last morning and drove back to Reykjavík, which now seemed like a huge metropolis in comparison to much of the ruggedly untouched land we’d been seeing!

Westfjord Road Trip

No one around for miles.

I do hope, if you’re reading this, that you might feel slightly inspired to get outside your comfort zone and travel to Iceland, or to whichever country interests you. And, I would recommend considering traveling in an unconventional way that allows you not to rush, to meet the locals, to step off the beaten path, and to fully appreciate the vastness of the country you’re visiting. We had never traveled by way of a campervan, but it was truly a luxury to always be “home” and thus, completely self-sufficient for the duration of our road trip. There is still so much more of Iceland for me to explore, so I hope to be back again one day… even if does contradict my favorite travel motto.

Your fellow traveler,

Erica

 

Read more: The Cousin Camper

Happy Camping!  #CamperStories

Iceland Travel Guides

Westfjords Travel Guide The Ring Road Travel Guide

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