This is a guest post by Tara of Tour Guide Tara. Here are some essential tips for foreigners looking to step outside of their comfort zone and explore Iceland in a fun, affordable, and flexible way.
Are you planning your first trip to Iceland? Renting a campervan is a wonderful way to see this awe-inspiring country, but this mode of transport can feel a bit daunting if you’ve never rented a campervan before.
As an American who does not consider herself a very experienced camper, I know it felt a little scary to me. I spent a lot of time researching campervans in general, comparing different companies, and planning our itinerary to figure out what made the most sense. I am happy to report that I had nothing to worry about and I cannot wait to explore more of Iceland via campervan!
Here are some tips based on my experience – hopefully they help you to feel more confident about renting your very own campervan.
Tip #1 – Driving in Iceland is Easier Than You Think, but Take it Easy
First and foremost, they drive on the right in Iceland which makes for an easy adjustment if you’re coming from one of the 163 countries that also drive on the right side of the road. Most of the major sights we visited were well-marked via road signs or on Google. Aside from a few dirt roads, most roads that we traveled were paved and marked well. I was genuinely concerned that we would get lost in the middle of nowhere, and while Iceland’s landscape can seem vast and desolate (in a beautiful way) it is quite easy to navigate.
My biggest Iceland campervan tip when it comes to driving is to leave yourself plenty of time. We had a jam-packed itinerary and while the roads we traveled were in good shape, some of them were slow going. One big difference compared to driving at home is the speed limit in Iceland. On the Ring Road, for example, the speed limit is 90 km/h.
Coming from the northeast of the United States, I’m used to speed limits being higher and not as strictly enforced. 90 km/h is roughly 55mph for us, which felt slow on some of those roads. And while I may feel more comfortable pushing the speed at home, I strongly discourage it while you’re visiting a foreign country. Not only are you a visitor, and so you should be on your best behavior, but the speed cameras here are no joke. You will get a hefty ticket as a souvenir and no one wants that! Taking things nice and slow also allows you to take in all of Iceland’s scenery.
A campervan may seem like a large vehicle at first, but I promise that yours, especially if you rent a Cozy Camper, will be comfortable and easy to drive. Unlike other places where the roads are extremely narrow, I always felt like we had enough room despite being in something larger than our normal ride.
Coming from very busy, congested roadways in the United States, we were also pleasantly surprised by the lack of traffic on most of Iceland’s roadways. There were sections, especially up on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula or further east towards Vik, where we passed very few or no cars at all! For me, this was ideal so that we could pull over safely and take photographs of our ever-changing surroundings.
Tip #2 – Get to Know Your Campervan, and You’ll Feel at Home in No Time
Cozy Campers provided us with very helpful videos and information to get to know our campervan. We were slightly unlucky since we picked up our van during a very hard rain. We had to throw our stuff in and go, without the ability to really check everything out before we got soaked. This made me even more grateful for the resources provided beforehand.
Once we got on the road, and stocked up at the local Bonus grocery store, the weather let up enough for us to get a better look at our new home away from home. We had plenty of space to store our yogurt, cold cuts, and beverages in the fridge. We took inventory of the other cooking supplies, gas stove, water tank, and sink to ensure we had what we needed. We were missing a gas canister which was easy to pick up at the gas station, and the staff reimbursed us. I also had a question about the charging ports in the van, and the Cozy Campers staff was very responsive and helpful.
This is all to say, whether you fully check out your campervan before you embark on your road trip (highly recommended), or you find something amiss along the way, you are in good hands with the Cozy Campers team, and they will do whatever is necessary to ensure you are fully stocked, happy and safe for your journey.
If you take ANYTHING away from this, my absolute best Iceland campervan tip is to stay organized!
We were traveling for 10 days and we shared a large suitcase. During our first day, it seemed like we had unpacked everything and strewn it all throughout the van, resulting in a huge, anxiety-inducing mess.
Pack as light as you can. And figure out a system that works for you and your travel companions. We ended up taking out what we needed for each day and keeping it all together, and then storing the suitcase behind the driver’s seat while we were out exploring.
Every night, we would move the suitcase to the front seat so that we could make our bed, and we’d put away dirty clothes and swap out what we needed for the next day. We got into a really good rhythm this way that kept us organized while still having whatever we needed easily within arms reach.
Tip #3 – A Campervan Gives You the Most Freedom
This may seem obvious, but combining your car with your hotel gives you freedom in such a spectacular way. I didn’t realize just how much I would appreciate it until we experienced it for ourselves. Lean into how you’re feeling and what you need to take full advantage of this Iceland campervan tip.
Tired? Park (safely) and take a nap before your next stop. Hungry? Pull over and make some hot dogs or sandwiches. Need more time in the hot spring? No need to rush to check into a hotel, your campsite is patiently awaiting you.
In such a simple, romantic way our campervan truly allowed us to experience Iceland at our own pace, and really see the country in what we felt was an authentic way. Of course, you could stay in Reykjavik or other towns, and venture out on day trips, but we got to see so much more this way.
One particularly special moment for us was while we were visiting Jökulsárlón, the glacier lagoon. All I wanted to do was watch the ice break apart and float into the ocean while the sun set. I could’ve done it for hours. But it was cold, probably the coldest I felt during our entire trip. Solution? Take cover in our campervan with some heat and a cozy cup of tea. We parked so we could even watch the lagoon from inside.
And although there were times when my partner would roll his eyes at us having to make up our bed each night, it was absolutely perfect. The autumn temperatures were dropping at night, but our heater kept us toasty and cozy. This was especially helpful on nights when I wanted to pop out incrementally to check on the Northern Lights or the starry sky.
I could also write a short novel about campsites in Iceland and how much less stressful they are compared to American campsites. Don’t get angry with me, camping in the United States is fantastic but most places book up months in advance and have fairly strict rules on check-in.
The campsites we stayed at in Iceland did not require reservations in advance, and the onsite staff was happy to help us or collect our money at night or first thing in the morning.
Tip #4 – Come Prepared, but Come Relaxed
I hope your travel preparation is filled with excitement and joy. My words here don’t even begin to describe how magical Iceland is. You’ve chosen a fabulous destination! Still, if you’re a first-time campervan renter like I was, you may be feeling hesitant and unsure. I felt very out of my depths, and no Instagram influencer’s posts could ease those feelings.
I am just an enthusiastic traveler like yourself but I can tell you that traveling to Iceland and renting a campervan will be two decisions you will not regret. It’s pretty much a guarantee that there will be some sort of hiccup or challenge when traveling. It will probably happen to you at some point in Iceland too.
But I can also assure you that this land is filled with welcoming, warm locals and travelers who go out of their way to help others.
Prepare for your travels as best you can and dig into the resources that Cozy Campers will give you. If you’re still looking for more first-hand advice on planning your Iceland itinerary you can keep reading here.
But remember that travel is also about what we can’t prepare for, and those experiences work to make us even more resilient for our next adventure. Once you’ve dipped into a natural hot spring or laid eyes on a magnificent waterfall, all of your trepidations will melt away.
Tara is a lifelong traveler, having been to 26 countries and 32 of the United States. She started her blog, Tour Guide Tara because she is passionate about sharing her experiences with others and helping them see how wonderful and accessible travel can be, for everyone. When she’s forced to stay home, you can usually find her at the gym, the beach, hiking, or exploring a local winery.