The struggle of traveling Iceland: wanting to see farther than a hotel balcony view, but not quite willing to commit to the challenges of braving wind and cold in a tent. The best solution? Campervan travel!
With four wheels and limitless freedom, we found our chosen mode of transportation (and accommodation) the most practical, comfortable, and convenient way to see the raw beauty this country has to offer. This must-read guide covers everything you need to know before renting a campervan in Iceland!
A Guide to Traveling Iceland in a Campervan
Rent from a Reputable Company
A critical first step in planning your campervan travels through Iceland is choosing a rental company. We booked with Happy Campers and found their service and vans to be top notch. If you’re looking for an honest and reputable family-owned company, I cannot recommend them enough. We felt well taken care of and I wouldn’t hesitate to rent with them again.
If you plan to travel about Iceland during peak tourist season in summer months, be sure to plan well in advance and book your campervan at least a few months before your trip; if you don’t, you may end up finding most companies (especially the highly rated ones) booked up and having to settle for a sub-par rental. Prices can range from $110-150 USD in the low season (before June/after early-September) up to $225-280 in high season.
Manual or Automatic?
Most rental cars in Iceland are manual. If you absolutely cannot drive a stick, be prepared to pay a premium and book far in advance. Also consider the terrain when deciding — most roads, even when they begin paved — turn into rough gravel.
What To Bring
Research which items are included in your campervan rental; most rental websites will include them in the van’s listing. Most campervan companies offer sleeping bag rentals if you don’t want to pack your own. The sleeping bags and blankets in our Happy Campers van kept us warm throughout the night.
We also rented chairs from Happy Campers, but found this to be unnecessary because it was either too cold or too windy to comfortably sit outside. Sitting inside the van with the windows open was how we ate most of our meals.
Waterproof shoes are essential, otherwise you’ll find hikes in wet conditions or on damp trails will leave your feet soaked and freezing. Pack “light,” but pack warm; bulky warm layers will take up lots of space, so bring fewer and warmer articles of clothing and do laundry at campsites. You’ll also want to bring a rechargeable battery pack with multiple ports to charge your electronics on the go.
Suitcase vs. Backpack?
If you can comfortably fit all of your gear in a large backpack, that’s the easiest. Suitcases are doable, as long as they are not gigantic. Whatever you choose to bring with you, be prepared to move them onto the front seat every night. We brought two of the medium-sized suitcases in this luggage set.
There’s so many options for insurance in Iceland that we actually felt a little overwhelmed (we mistakenly had not researched it beforehand).
Happy Campers includes CDW with all of their rentals; this is a mandatory insurance in Iceland, so it should technically be included with any and all rentals. Just accepting the Collision Damage Waiver will limit your liability to 2500 EUR ($2,800 USD), although you can choose to purchase more extensive insurance packages that cover common damages the car may incur during your travels.
I’d personally recommend at least getting gravel insurance since nearly every road will have gravel that will kick back at your car and may leave cosmetic blemishes. For more in-depth information on different types of insurance, see Happy Camper’s Insurance Q & A here.
If you have a credit card that offers auto insurance, check with them before you leave. This will be your cheapest option, and you may even have discount options available to you for already having CDW provided!
Camping outside of the designated campgrounds is now illegal, and one thing we didn’t take into consideration is the cost of camping fees. Be prepared for average camping fee charges of 1000 ISK ($10US) to 2000 ISK ($20 US) per person, per night; showers are not always included in this price, and can run an additional 200-500 ISK ($2-$5 USD) for 3-5 minutes.
Your van should come equipped with the necessary utensils to cook your own food, and you should plan to do so for the majority of your trip. You should grocery shop the day you arrive in Reykjavik, as there are really only 3 reliable places to get groceries in Iceland: Reykjavik, Akureyri and Selfoss.
We had a small refrigerator which limited our options for meat and dairy products, although most fruits and veggies are fine to be left out. Our meals were simple — mostly consisting of salads, sandwiches, Muesli with bananas, and pasta.
In total, we spent about $100 US at the grocery store and that lasted about 7 days for two people so plan accordingly! I would suggest meal planning before hitting the grocery store to save money and keep your food organized.
Van-camping doesn’t mean throwing all hygiene out the window; in fact, bathing is possible every day!
Most campgrounds have showers, although they are not always included in the price. Otherwise, you can visit one of the heated pools located in nearly every city where showers are not only recommended, but required before you swim. Bring biodegradable body wipes and dry shampoo for those times when you don’t have access to a shower or just want to freshen up.
- Fill up on gas early and often. Be forewarned that gas is outrageously expensive, but balances out the cost of not needing to pay standard hotel room rates every night.
- Don’t rely on your travel-perk credit card for everything and bring a debit card. Some gas stations require credit cards with pins.
- Just like gas, booze and beer is pricey throughout the entire country. Stock up on alcohol at the duty free shop in the airport when you arrive, or you’ll pay nearly 3x more at restaurants or elsewhere.
- Keep some coins on hand for bathrooms and showers (some do accept cards, but not all).
- Drink the tap water! The ice-cold fresh water from the glaciers is pure enough to fill your water bottle from or drink straight from the waterfalls.
To see our full itinerary and suggestions on where to camp, visit our 6-Day Iceland Road Trip Itinerary post!