An Iceland Campervan Road Trip
We probably would have kept putting off going to Iceland for a long time if not for our friend Jennifer. As a kindred spirit but a newbie international traveler, she bugged us just the right amount over the last few years to get us to plan a trip with her.
Thanks to being on the struggle bus physically and mentally for most of 2022, 2023 became the “Year of Yes!” We flipped the switch from dreaming about Iceland to actually planning it. We chose to go to Iceland in September because we learned it would be less busy, not too frigid, and we would have a high likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights, which aren’t visible during 24-hour daylight in the summer.
We also learned that renting a campervan for a road trip around the famous Ring Road was the way to do Iceland on a budget. So that is what we did! 2023 flew by and before we knew it the three of us were in Boston Logan Airport, getting ready to board our flight to Reykjavik and land in my 39th country, Jennifer’s 1st (other than the USA)! There’s not much I love more than traveling and exploring new, unfamiliar places. I also love helping and witnessing others travel and have new experiences. So this was a double win for me!
It’s very interesting how Iceland has developed its tourism economy around the concept of #vanlife. Hotels are quite expensive and book up fast, but with fuel-efficient rental vans and campgrounds strategically located in all the tourist hotspots, travelers who are willing to rough it a little can see the whole country without breaking the bank! Our camper was basic and small for the three of us, but we made it work! After a few days, we were in the swing of things, looping counterclockwise around the Ring Road, stopping at almost every natural wonder to don multiple jackets and rain pants and explore no matter the weather!
Luckily my friend Jill who gave me invaluable Ring Road tips had emphasized the bad weather, warning of “sideways rain” and recommending waterproof pants, hiking boots, and tons of warm stuff. We brought most of our mountaineering layers and were so glad we did! (Seriously, quality outdoor gear is a wonderful investment if you’re going to use it.) The weather was cloudy, often rainy, and occasionally dangerously windy. I agree with a Reddit answer about what to do in Iceland in less-than perfect weather: “Cloudy is perfect weather. Rain is no problem. Wind is the devil.” Haha. We celebrated anytime we saw the sun and my sunscreen sat unneeded in the bottom of my bag. No wonder Vikings are usually pale!
Iceland is truly a nature-lovers paradise. The waterfalls, moss-covered lava, black sand beaches, hot springs and geysers just didn’t get any less majestic as we road tripped for 10 days. The prevalent color scheme of shades of green moss on black inspired our creative brains. Architecture is minimalist and sturdy, allowing the natural beauty to dominate. We want to incorporate this vibe into our future home, for sure. Icelandic horses approaching roadside fences for pets and sheep dotting the hillsides felt heart-warmingly wholesome. I could wax poetic about all the glorious nature but really, you should just come here and see it. It’s indescribable beauty, unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been, in all my 39 countries.
One thing that saved us through 10 nights of camping in 40-degree F weather was the hot pools. There are fancy spa-like hot springs complexes (like the Blue Lagoon; didn’t go) that you can pay for, but every town also has an outdoor swimming complex with heated pools, hot tubs, saunas, cold plunges, and nice locker rooms and showers. The culture is big on cleanliness so you must shower naked in the locker room before entering the pools. No problem for us at this stage of life, but I’m sure it’s a out-of-comfort-zone thing for many puritanical Americans! Just do it and you’ll realize no one cares what you look like naked. You put your swimsuit back on to soak in the outdoor tubs or geothermal baths. We found hot pools of some sort more days than not and the hours of soaking helped warm our bones and settle our nervous systems and provided a great way to pass time in rainy weather.
Zach and Jennifer dominated the camp cooking game, creatively blending easy ingredients into satisfying and warming dishes, sometimes even including wild-foraged mushrooms they found! We barely ate out at all! It’s definitely not a “foodie” destination unless you’re really into eating fish or lamb, but things like Icelandic and European cheeses, chocolate bars, and non-alcoholic beers from the grocery store made our evening snack platters a highlight. Seriously, we found so many good 0% beers from Iceland and all over Europe! There are also vegan substitute products in any grocery store so it would be easy to travel here as a a sober vegan. That’s the way the world should be!
As I write this, we have 1 more night here, and we’re still waiting for the skies to clear and the aurora borealis to appear. 🤞🏻 Even if it doesn’t, I’ll be leaving so content with this trip. I know we’ll be back in the future, as this trip was an overview and now we know there are so many more adventures to be had and hikes to be done!
I have hundreds of photos from the trip so these are just a few of the best ones. Feel free to reach out with any questions about planning a campervan road trip around Iceland!