One camper, two Americans. One week, 1700 kilometers.

Six tips to ensure your Icelandic camper adventure is Viking worthy. 

Because who doesn’t want to follow up a Boston winter by visiting the land of Ice and Fire at the end of their winter season? One hearty New Englander and a farm girl from upstate New York, that’s who. Not to worry, we immediately found out on our first day that little rental camper had a heating system that could run all night and not affect the car battery. Wrapped snugly in our sleeping bags, we were perfectly comfortable in our temporary home.
Winter camping in a camper van in Iceland
Like I’m sure many other travelers, we followed our overnight flight from Boston up with a visit to Blue Lagoon, a tourist destination sure to ease any tense muscles and transform your head into a silica rat’s nest of a hairdo. No matter how much conditioner you put in it. Don’t worry, it washes back to normal after only (ahem) 6 days or three washes, whichever happens first.
Driving up route 1 to visit Glymur and Kirkufellsfoss, I’m already overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape. Encouraging me that a camper rental was the right choice, I’m thrilled to be able to explore the countryside at our own pace. And to perfect my side-view mirror Nikon portraits.

Tip #1: Travel with a paper map, follow your camper GPS, not

Google maps, and breathe. There are not so many roads to get lost on.

A very valuable lesson I recall right away is that Google maps will often present the quickest route, not accounting for weather, type of road, or best scenery. The GPS is your friend. Your best friend. The kind of friend that will tell you if you have spinach stuck in your teeth, or if your new guy doesn’t deserve you. The best friend that tells you not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. Trust your GPS. Like any best friend it won’t lose its way because there is no signal.
Hiking in Iceland in wintertimeWe covered most of the rest of the northern portion of route 1 on day two, making us twice as wise so you get two for one tip:

Tip #2: Select meals that are easily prepared

As we stopped for lunch in Akureyi, and pulled out our lovely kitchen equipment for our first camper cooked meal, we were immediately grateful to have picked foods that don’t require much cooking time (i.e. glorious instant noodles to which we added spinach, snap peas, and broccoli, and, if we were feeling particularly culinary, chopped up hot dogs!….).
The winds and weather often interfered with us keeping our camping stoves alit for sustained periods of time, and were grateful that we didn’t pick out sustenance that required to boil and cook. Stopping at Krónan on our first day, the two of us were fully fed (and only moderately bored) by bananas, apples, instant noodles, vegetables to add, hot dogs, bread, cheese, and ham, Skýr (Oh sweet, delicious Icelandic Skýr!), chips, and popcorn. Our parking lot lunch fueled us for the beautiful stop at Goðafoss and the Lake Mývatn area, including Dimmuborgir, and Grjótagjá before stopping in Vogafjós Cowshed Café for some delicious samples of Icelandic fish, fresh cow milk, and homemade mozzarella cheese.
The waterfall of the gods in wintertime

Tip #3: Select reasonable amount of driving for each day paired with just as much fun.

Mývatn Nature baths in winterWith a slight recalculation, we ended up driving between 3-5 hours each day, allowing for plenty of stops for gas (and free coffee!), picture taking, and perusing around towns and sites. All throughout Ring Road are frequent stops where you may park and picnic, or snap a picture, and very often there was also an information kiosk with some history, facts, and/or folk tale about the view or nearby attraction. This was a lesson well learned, as we arrived at our campsite in Eglisstaðir close to 11pm. I can’t complain, since we had such a fun packed day and absolutely had to stop at Dettifoss on the way, but readjusted the rest of our days. Insuring two drivers and alternating driving roles each day provided equal reprieve and opportunity for dashboard photography.

Jökulsárlón glacier lakeTip #4: Value and treasure the earth.

This is perhaps my own rendition of the saying “when in Rome,” one that I encourage you to use in your travels around Iceland, and one that perhaps you further build on for yourself. Easily one of my favorite parts of traveling Iceland was obvious national commitment to and honoring of planet Earth and nature.
In your visit, enjoy the waterfalls, lakes, geothermal wonders, and other natural scenes. Enjoy and take pictures. This also extends beyond your usual environmental soap box recommendations (take your trash with you, recycle, reuse water bottles – seriously, don’t buy bottled water in Iceland, you will enjoy the fresh water, don’t disturb the natural beings or landscape) to a friendly encouragement to pause and appreciate the beauty, history, and splendor of the scenes.
Our camper we rented in Iceland
You can Instagram them later. But when you’re faced with small pieces of glacial iceberg floating among arctic seals, or camp outside a glacier in wondrous national park, milk that southeastern Icelandic glory in person and milk it good. The glory of your camper rental includes the freedom to explore (respectfully, no crazy off-roading) the scenes and wonders at your own pace and pleasure. You have the wheels, you have the time. Now, enjoy.
The Black sand beach Reynisfjara

Tip #5: Park the camper and talk with the people.

For some readers this tip may mean less than the sheep dung used to smoke herbs in Icelandic spirits, but speaking from the perspective of an introvert, a little reminder doesn’t hurt. Now, it’s true, Icelandic is phonetically tongue retarding. But it is a beautiful language. The use of ‘j’s’ (sound as ‘y’s’) in words like ‘bjorg’ make you feel like a Viking just to say. Regardless, it is wonderfully easy to travel around the country as an English speaker.
Gullfoss waterfall in the winter
You would however be amiss of the full Icelandic experience if you did not seek at least a few of the many Icelandic folk tales. And I assure you, you will not need to look far. Perhaps brennivin is an under-appreciated liqueur in the international market not yet known for its strength or hallucinogenic properties, or perhaps such animated folk tales brighten life in the dark winter months.
Between information centers and booths, representations of stories in stores and tourist centers, it’s near impossible to avoid Icelandic stories. Such as the one of the two trolls and a ship that turned to stone before any of them could make it to shore (pictured above, don’t you see?), or the legend of Katla and the magic trousers, or Sealskin. Or the Lagarfljót wirm. Then of course, are also the real life stories, like those of SigríðurTómasdóttir defending the natural beauty of rainbow frilled Gullfoss, one of my favorite waterfalls to witness on our travels as we ventured back toward the capital region.

Tip #6: Lead with your heart. You have the freedom of the camper.

Like the Vikings before you create the adventure you want to have.

An Icelandic horseSeriously. As I mentioned, the camper rental provides an immense amount of freedom in visiting physical destinations you are interested in. If you, for example, are allergic to waterfalls, you don’t have to wait for your tour mates to finish snapping pics.
If you have an affinity for silly-beaked water birds, or like frequent, unpredictable snowstorms, you can venture north, or to the shores. Or you can pull over to befriend an Icelandic horse named Princess. You can avoid tourists on the Golden Circle, or proudly wave a tourist flag of your own. Your adventure, your choice.
Sun Voyager in Reykjavik
written May 2017
Ann Henry
Happy Camping!  #CamperStories

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