Preparing to camp or RV internationally can be a bit scary, especially when you have never been to the country before. What are the rules, inside tips or expense? Iceland, in general, is quite expensive. Gas is around $10/gallon, hostels can run $200/night and an appetizer at a regular restaurant can run you $20. If you are thinking about drinking and can’t go without “your”drink made with Bulleit, that is going to run you $80 for a bottle.
Putting that aside, if you want the freedom from scheduled tours and have at least a week to explore, we highly suggest renting a motorhome or RV and camping in Iceland! There really is something for everyone here, so the information below relates to anyone who is doing an extended road trip in Iceland.
Tips for RVing in Iceland
RVing in Iceland, car camping in Iceland, Van life in Iceland or Backpacking in Iceland, here are some tips to get you started on your adventure.
Car, Motorhome or Van
Which is best?
It all depends on what kind of travel you want to do. Tent camping with a car, van or motorhome (RV). They are all good options and all provide something a little different. I will also say that we were able to find a parking spot at every attraction that we wanted to see. We were probably the max at 18′.
Pros and Cons of Tent Camping in Iceland
Pros: This is the cheapest way to go and can be the most flexible. You only have to rent a car, which can be quite affordable. Not as much packing is involved and everything you have is in one small location. A car or SUV can get you almost anywhere and you can find parking a lot easier than a large vehicle.
Cons: The weather is not always predictable. It can be cold and raining and with being in a tent only, you do not have much space. Not all campgrounds have places to be able to cook, so unless you bring your own jetboil, and find fuel in Iceland, cooking can be difficult and eating out is expensive.
Pros and Cons of RVing in Iceland
Pros: You have plenty of space to be able to roam inside incase the weather is bad. You have the ability to see a lot and not have to drive back to a hotel room. You will have a bed, dining area and bathroom all in one place so you can stop on the side of the road if you need a break. The flexibility is great. You have a fridge and stove top to be able to cook and have drinks with you at all times, keeping costs down on going out to eat.
Cons: This is the most expensive route. Gas is expensive, but having the majority of RVs manual, helps. You are big, you cannot get down as many of the back roads or gravel roads and you have to be careful about city streets and parking. While you have your own bathroom in the RV, it’s a compost toilet, so you will have to dump every couple days and rinse it out (and don’t forget the blue sanitizer). If you have never been in an RV it can be quite daunting with all the things you have to remember and the gadgets that come with it and driving a manual, that is what can make a van or car better.
This is the best option if the weather might be hit or miss.
Pros and Cons of Van Life in Iceland
Pros: This is a great option cost wise, if you don’t want to sleep on the ground and want the flexibility of being in just one vehicle. You will have a bed, but you cannot be standing inside the van. Not as expensive as an RV, but more expensive than just a car. I saw most vans be able to get through some rocky roads and some places that required high clearance. The vans are not much different than driving a car, it is the same in the driver’s seat and nothing more you have to learn to navigate.
Cons: You do not have much room within the van if the weather is bad. You do not have a bathroom and so you will rely on stopping places or having bathrooms and showers at the campsites. This is the same as tent camping, you might be able to rent stove tops, but you do not have a fridge or cooking inside available to you. Eating out is expensive and not all campgrounds have areas to cook in. I will say that I was quite impressed with most of the facilities at campgrounds for showing and using the restroom.
The pro of all of these is the flexibility. You never have to have the wasted time of driving R/T to a location. If you have limited time and want to see a lot, tours are probably the best, but if you have a week or more, it really is the best option to explore, it just depends on how you want to explore and what you are comfortable with. The budget can dictate a little, but make sure you are going to also enjoy the experience. This isn’t just for friends or couples, I have seen families tent camping, road tripping with a van and using the motorhome or RV. It can be done!
Confirm These with Rental Company Before Leaving
Before you leave with your vehicle, make sure you know the following:
- Exactly what do you get with your extra insurance coverage, if you buy it.
- Exactly what comes with the roadside assistance. If your battery dies because you left the lights on, you will have to pay for roadside assistance.
- If you have to clean the outside of the vehicle before you return in. No one mentions that you have to spray down the outside of the vehicle before you return it. This goes for cars, vans or motorhomes.
Why Did We Choose A Motorhome
We chose a motorhome for the flexibility and comfort. We wanted to be able to cook and sleep as we go and not rely on anything or anyone else. Being able to stop after driving for 3 hours and have a drink/snack and relax was great. The cost of the motorhome was the same as some of the hostels and hotels and we had our own space and bathroom. We found that hostels around the island were quite expensive and you could be still sharing a room with someone and definitely sharing bathrooms.
At the end of the day I liked being able to cook dinner in my space while watching a movie on my computer. Sleeping in my own bed and not having to leave the comfort of the RV to use the restroom (which came in handy in the middle of the night when we had rain throughout the night!).
Campgrounds in Iceland
It is true, there is NO Boondocking anywhere. If you think it is a spot, it’s not. It’s not by area, city, park, it’s the country’s rule. Please abide by it. It can be a little frustrating and you will see the most beautiful spots to be for the night, but unfortunately, people before us ruined it and with popularity it’s safer. Better.
So moving forward to campgrounds. I was actually impressed with the campgrounds that were offered. From just a grass lot to places with hot tubs and kitchens for tourists to use. It is easy to look the campgrounds up online if you have a plan, otherwise, I would buy the Frommers book on Iceland or do the research before you go.
**I HIGHLY suggest starting at one of the larger campgrounds to see what people have left behind. I would say that half of the campgrounds we stayed at had a section that you could leave what you wanted and take what you needed. There are quite a few grocery stores and gas stations around, so your first stop does not necessarily need to be the grocery store. If you want to pick up some essentials first, you can, but if you are already under the impression that you will be eating pasta for the week, check out a large campground first. See below.
TIP – We were in Iceland in August and did not need to call ahead for reservations. First come first serve. With some of the campgrounds you just park and a host comes around. The big ones, you will be asked to stop at the registration desk first. Either way, the most expensive for a motorhome was $35/night without hookups.
Not all campgrounds have hook ups and not all campgrounds have dump or water.
Campgrounds In Iceland We Stayed At
This was our first experience at a campground and we were only one of four groups staying there. We chose it because it’s a close proximity to the ocean and our first attraction Kirkjufell(foss). Game of Throne fans stop here. There are two bathrooms and a place to wash dishes. Other than that, this is what you get!
This campground had the most amenities. Hot springs, bathrooms, showers, kitchen, sitting area, laundry, walking trails, dining area, dump, water and separate tent area. This is a popular place because Selfoss is a decent size town close to Reykjavik and the start to some of the beautiful waterfalls and attractions along the south coast of Iceland.
We stayed here because we were taking the Highway east to stop at all the attractions along the way.
Skaftafell Vatnajokull National Park
If you stay here you also get free access to the National Park. it’s a large campground and has spots with hook ups. There is a large bathrooms, multiple showers and a leftover place. Although this left over place is a little different. It’s mostly clothes and sheets. Plus there is a hiking trail that goes to one of the most popular waterfalls from the campground, Svartifoss. We missed it because it was raining and I was injured. People mentioned that it’s absolutely beautiful with it’s high lava rock walls. It almost looks like Oregon.
I am bummed I didn’t get a picture of this spot. It’s absolutely beautiful with the glaciers surrounding you in the background. It’s just a beautiful spot. This location is also close to Jokulsarlon Lake where the Glacier Lagoon is and Diamond Beach. There are a few places closer but we wanted to be in the national park.
This campground was small, but it actually had private spots! There were bathrooms, recycling and it was close to the river via a short walking path. This spot is perfect if you want to check out Haifoss, which we definitely suggest!
Pingvellir National Park
This was a beautiful spot. Two large grass lots, bathrooms, sinks and a left overs area. Mostly salt and dish soap. About a quarter of a mile away (walkable) is Oxararfoss, so make sure to go in the evening when everyone has left and the sun is setting! There is another campground just down the way that has a gift store and small cafe, walkable again from this campground.
We chose this because we wanted to stay in the national park and because it had good reviews. Another plus is that it has a dump station for your black and grey tanks.
If you want your first night to be somewhat close, you want to start with the Blue Lagoon, or you want to check out the free things left behind, this is the place to start. This seems to be everyone’s last stop so it had tons of food. Other than that, it had a great kitchen area, seating area, restrooms, showers and playground. As all campgrounds, people park close.
We chose this campground because of its vicinity to the Blue Lagoon, where there is a gas station with free water to rinse off and to where we had to drop it off.
Things You Need to Buy
If you don’t stop at a campground and peruse their leftover area, then the following are essentials that you will need to buy for your RV:
Toilet paper, dish soap, sponge, paper towels. All of these items can sometimes be found at the campgrounds, but even in hindsight, we would not have wanted to risk it.
Most come with a towel for dishes, dishes, cooking utensils, silverware and a broom.
If you are in a car or van without the kitchen set up, you will have to plan on your eating. Especially if you are not going to have a jet boil. The nicer campgrounds had pots and pans to use, but not all.
Grocery Stores in Iceland
There were a few. Bonus is the big one, where you can get large quantities of items, otherwise, you can always find local markets, gas stations or Kronan (a normal supermarket).
Iceland uses the Icelandic Króna. As of October 2018 it’s 115 Krona to 1 US Dollar. When you rent a car, van or motorhome, you will be quoted in Euros.
Every place that we went to whether it be a campground, gas station, restaurant or grocery store, took credit cards. We used cash once and that was to pay for a parking meter when we were in downtown Reykjavik. I still think it’s smart to have some, just in case you find you need it and come the last day of the trip and you still have it, just go to the bar and buy some drinks. That will help go through it quite quickly.
Liquor in Iceland
It’s REALLY expensive! Your last stop in the Iceland airport before you leave to get transported elsewhere is Duty Free. Buy the liquor that you want here because it is half the price as the liquor stores. The below is a 700 ml of bourbon from a liquor store in downtown Reykjavik. It is showing that it is $85 for the bottle. We bought the same bottle at duty free for $40.
There is beer there, but most places we found, if it wasn’t happy hour, it was $10+ for a pint of beer. Cans and bottles of beer are available at liquor stores, but again for a premium.
Verizon – Having Verizon was pretty amazing in Iceland. For $10/day you have talk, text and a limited amount of data. It was enough for use to use Maps, browse the internet, play a little candy crush and research the next day. There were very few places that we had no service. I highly suggest having someway to make phone calls in case of an emergency. We had RV troubles and had to make multiple calls to the mechanic, rental service and roadside assistance.
Fun Fact: Iceland’s emergency number is 112, but they started accepting 911 as an emergency number.
WIFI – Some campgrounds have WIFI and of course, if you are staying in downtown Reykjavik, restaurants, coffee shops and hotels have it.
Gas Stations/Gas Prices
I was always nervous that we would run out of gas. We traveled no farther north than Snæfellsnes Peninsula and no farther east than Jokulsarlon. There were plenty of gas stations to stop at. We did not travel through the north, where I hear the gas stations are a lot less and farther between.
Gas prices were around 220/Litre. If you are from the US, there are 3.78541 Litres/US Gallon. So 1 Gallon = 832.79 Krona, which is $8.32/gallon. The cheapest we saw was around 218/Litre and the most expensive around 235/Litre.
Fun Facts About Iceland
- Only 353,070 people live in Iceland.
- The first explorer circumnavigated Iceland in 870, realizing it was an island.
- Iceland is one of two places in the world you can see two of the earth’s tectonic plates meet above the earth’s surface. This is in Pingvellier national park. The other, is in Africa. If you are brave, you can go snorkeling in the area.
- There are no forests.
- Surtsey is one of the youngest islands in the world. Created from volcanic eruptions in the 1960s.
- There is no standing army.
- There have been 9 chess grandmasters.
- They pride themselves in equality for women and the LGBT community.
- The largest religious group are from the Church of Iceland. The smallest are from the Zuist Groups.
- Renewable energy is huge. Geothermal and hydropower. The expectation is to be energy-independent by 2050.
I hope you are able to enjoy the country as we did. Plan some, but leave some room to just be spontaneous. You will miss a lot, that is guaranteed, so make sure to enjoy the places you go. At the end of our experience, we were thrown off a little by how many tourists were there. The island has made some of the bigger attractions so accessible, that you can’t say no. Buses upon buses come and go and so you ever wonder when it’s actually quiet. If you can get off the beaten path, drive the extra miles to the northeast.
Just remember we are guests, so respect their country. We visit because it is the way it is, don’t ruin it, don’t take advantage of it or take it for granted. Appreciate the experience and that you have the opportunity to visit such a beautiful place.
Packing for Iceland
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