If you’re thinking about renting a camper van to explore Iceland and don’t know what to expect, read our handy survival guide with tips and tricks to make your camper van rental a success.
We (that’s Jo and Hanna) went on our first Icelandic adventure in March 2017 and had the time of our lives: exploring out-of-this-world landscapes, living close to (or in) nature, and meeting great people.
To give a snapshot of what it was like when we were on the road in a camper van in Iceland, here’s a typical day:
Good morning, campers
- See the sunrise: Waking up in our camper van meant we only needed to open the blinds or doors to witness some of the most incredible sunrises – even from within our cozy, warm sleeping bags (included in the rental).
- Set up the table: We had rented a Renault Trafic (sleeps 3) with a table and the space was perfect for us two: we could easily pack away the bedding into storage underneath the back seats and move up the table (which acts as bed support at night) in 2 minutes – yes, we timed it.
- Make breakfast: We made hot water for coffee and tea on the included portable gas stove and made some extra to take along in a flask for the rest of the day. Other than that we tried to stick to easy-to-prepare breakfast items like Icelandic Skýr yogurt (which comes in many different flavors) with or without muesli, bread with cheese or peanut butter, and fruit.
- Plan your route: Over breakfast we planned our route for the day using the Lonely Planet travel guide. Plus, we checked Google maps on what’s coming up on our route because there’s unlimited WiFi in the van. If you’re worried about driving on snowy roads in the winter time, check if roads are safe at Road.is – we didn’t have any issues driving around in March but some roads were blocked so we had to plan our route around them. The van comes with studded winter tires so driving in the winter is much easier and safer than it would have been back home.
- Get a wash: Most camping grounds have toilets and washrooms, but make sure you have some Icelandic change (ISK 100 coins ideally) for showers. Also, remember to take two toothpastes and two shower gels so you don’t have to wait until the other person is done with their shower.
- Prep the van: Before you start driving, make sure you air the van to get rid of condensation and put away all cutlery, dishes and other loose items in the storage crates at the back – otherwise they fly around in your camper van.
Top tip: Use dishes and cutlery wisely as you have a limited amount and need to plan when and how you wash up around your eating plans. All your kitchen utensils, including washing-up liquid, come with the camper van so you don’t need to bring anything. If you want to be clever, get some biodegradable washing-up liquid, so you can wash up literally anywhere without damaging the environment
It’s lunch o’clock
- Live like a local: We used the really nice app ‘Handpicked Iceland’ which had some great insider tips on restaurants, bars, shops, and culture all around Iceland, including some lovely local places to eat.
- Fill up the car: Make sure you never run out of fuel. There are many fuel stations in and around Reykjavik but once you get further away from civilization, be smart and fill up at any chance you get. We used a clever app called ‘Eldsneyti’ to tell you how far the next gas station is – we once came extremely close to running out, so we’ve learnt our lesson.
- Get some lunch: We often skipped lunch and just had small snacks like nuts, energy bars, liquorice (Iceland has loads!), prepped sandwiches or fruit. That way we saved time and could enjoy our lunch in the most amazing locations.
- Charge your stuff: With so much beautiful scenery, you’ll take way too many pictures. But don’t worry about running out of battery as you can charge your phones and cameras with the built-in charger. Mini USB cables are included in the rental but bring your own just in case. Remember to also charge your Satnav to not get lost – it’s also included in the rental.
- Have a break: With your rental comes an Olis card, which gives you a discount if you fill up with fuel at Olis stations. That magic little card also gives you free coffee at any Olis station and we sort of planned our stops around those to enjoy nice coffees (some even with flavoured syrups!).
Top tip: Stock up on food and essentials when you can. The cheapest shops are Bónus and Krónan but we quickly noticed that even there fresh fruit and veg can be quite pricey. We opted for frozen alternatives but couldn’t resist the delicious Icelandic pastries and cakes. Remember to also get some toilet paper – because you never know – and extra gas canisters if you’re planning on cooking a lot (in one week we used about 2 cans (medium size) and we cooked twice a day).
A relaxing evening
- Find a campground: Campervanning in the winter months means some campsites are closed, so we checked this helpful all-year round campgrounds map. When you park the van, make sure it’s facing into the wind, so when you open the side doors they don’t get blown off – it happens!
- Go for a swim: We just loved the local swimming pools. Everyone has heard of the Blue Lagoon, but even the smallest village has a local pool. This was a chance to better get to know the lifestyle of the locals, have a chat in a hot tub, and come out as relaxed as a baby seal!
- Cook dinner: We opted for easy-to-prepare but filling dinners like rice with frozen mixed veggies, sweet potatoes and fish, noodles with sweet and sour sauce, and lots and lots of beans.
- Get warm: the camper van heating uses a secondary battery that charges when you’re driving. So if you haven’t been driving that much, run the engine for about another hour to charge the battery and then snuggle up in your super-warm sleeping bag.
- Check the Aurora forecast: Every night we used a range of apps to see what our chances of seeing the Northern Lights were. You need to be quite lucky because it needs to be a clear sky, the right location, and the right solar activity. The ‘My Aurora Forecast’ app was most useful for us.
Top tip: It’s YOUR van for the week, so make it yours. We brought fairy lights, an iPad, bunting and our Spotify playlists to make the van comfortable and feel like ‘home’. We even gave our van a name: everyone, meet Herby. Overall, we had a fantastic trip and learnt an important Icelandic lesson:
Read more: Exploring Iceland in a VW Camper – Day 3
Happy Camping! #CamperStories
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