After getting back from a 10 Day Road Trip in Iceland around (most) of the ring road I have been asked dozens of questions about the ring road, what Iceland is like and suggestions for travelling in Iceland.
Here are my answers.
I will start by saying that the rumours are true – Iceland IS expensive. However, with proper planning many of the traditional costs of travel can be cut in half with a bit of sacrifice and planning.
If you wait, often times off season deals for flights will come up during the summer months and you can score cheap flights (sometimes half the cost of summer flights) to Iceland in September – November.
I highly suggest September and early October as autumn in Iceland (seen above) is not only strikingly beautiful but also far cheaper than summer months. You still enjoy many days of sunshine, mixed in with the wind and the rain and a small chance of snow, a small price to pay for wonderful seasonal colours, cheaper prices and less tourists!
We were able to cut costs by renting a camper van which doubles as accommodation as well as transportation. We rented with Campervan Iceland and found them relatively affordable. The vehicle was equipped with a fold down double sized bed, a built in heater for the back of the vehicle, free unlimited WiFi, a battery ran cooler for groceries, kitchen table and chairs (which we never used), two sleeping bags and curtains for all windows.
Prices vary by different size of camper you need as well as transmission type. If you can drive standard and want to save a couple (hundred) dollars I highly suggest this route.
Lastly, in regards to camper vans and extra insurance coverage – many companies will try and scare you into purchasing the “premium” coverage for insurance which is tacked onto the price of your vehicle per day. We asked how much extra premium insurance would be and it was over $150.00 CAD a day – Yikes! – I do not suggest this route. Especially theft insurance – there is little to no police in Iceland and hardly any crime, we seen two police cars the entire 11 days we were in Iceland! Not only that but most travel insurance you purchase protects you from theft abroad.
We purchased no additional insurance other than the standard CDW insurance that is mandatory by Icelandic law and had no issues with returning the vehicle just be sure to use common sense when driving, do not drive fast on gravel roads (or avoid them if you can), obey the speed limits and keep the vehicle clean and I ensure you you will have a stress free time upon returning the vehicle with no surprise costs.
Iceland uses the metric system which means celsius instead of Fahrenheit and kilometres instead of miles, which makes it extremely easy for two Canadians to get used to! Icelands roads are right hand traffic which is extremely convenient making Iceland very, very easy to get around.
There are hundreds of campgrounds around Iceland, they are in almost every small town you come across as you drive. Look for the tent symbol and follow the arrows to the campsite! Gas station attendants are also very helpful at directing you to any local campgrounds you may not know about.
All campsites offer washroom facilities and wash stations for dishes. Some offer showers for free but most offer showers (and laundry) at a price (Typically 500-700 ISK)
All designated campsites cost money, typically per person. Expect to pay around 1000 up to 1800 ISK per person, perhaps more in high season from June-August)
You do not need to take out their money in Iceland, everything can be done on a credit card – but cash works as well. I used both with no issues at campsites, grocery stores and gas stations.
Conversion rates can be very confusing to figure out to an exact tee but a general conversion Canadian I found is $500 ISK is approximately $5.00 CAD, $1000 ISK = $10.000 CAD, So on and so forth.
3. Weather in Iceland
Iceland is not a tropical location, in fact it has some of the most volatile, unpredictable weather so when you are planning on travelling to Iceland, do not expect warm temperatures and clear sunny days – although these days do happen it seems few and far between. Rain, fog, strong winds and snow are all very common any time of the year, any time.
“If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” is a common phrase heard and joked about in Iceland and it could not be more true. The weather changes so often that it is hard to predict – Do not be discouraged if you look up what the weather is supposed to be during your stay in Iceland and it says rain – everyday. It is likely to change over and over and over again so I wouldn’t bother stressing about the weather. Just prepare as much as possible for the conditions and you will have a wonderful, comfortable and dry time in Iceland!
4. What to Pack
When you are deciding what to pack for Iceland be sure to double check baggage restrictions to ensure your luggage will not be overweight or oversized!
I suggest wearing your biggest, bulkiest items onto the plane to give you more space in your carry on – meaning your hiking boots, winter (waterproof) jacket and anything else bulky you may want to bring. Be sure to bring plenty of socks, undergarments as well as thermal wear. It gets cold in Iceland and the wind shows no mercy!
I chose not to bring any short sleeve t shirts or any thin pants as I knew we were heading into colder temperatures and knew I would not end up wearing them. Long sleeves, thermal / waterproof pants are the way to go.
Be sure to bring waterproof boots, preferably wear them on the plane and you wont have to worry about another pair taking up space in your suitcase! Depends on your personal preference and style as well. I am a minimalist when it comes to packing and think more about space and usability than I do about fashion sense.
I highly suggest buying some freeze dried packaged backpacking meals such as Mountain House or Backpackers Pantry before leaving for Iceland – we brought around 10 different packages; some breakfasts and dinner meals with us. We were so grateful for bringing these with us as it likely saved us hundreds of dollars in meal costs. Customs has no issue with sealed, freeze dried packages of food so bring as many as you can!
Bring your camera equipment (for me as a photographer – this is a vital piece) but be sure to bring it as a carry on, they are very rough with checked baggage. This goes for any important travel documents or equipment that may be sensitive to being thrown around.
Bring your typical toiletries with you and be sure to bring at least one or two towels from home with you! This is so important for keeping clean on the go, drying off and everything in between.
I had brought my own sleeping bag stuffed down into a stuff sack I use for backpacking trips as I wasn’t entirely sure if they had sleeping bags for us or not and did not want to risk it, be sure to double check with your company you are renting from before packing!
I had packed a plug in travel converter but used it once – what is more vital especially spending your entire time on the road is a cigarette lighter with multiple USB ports for charging phones and cameras. Bring one from home if you have it – cigarette lighters in Iceland are the same type as they are in North America.
4. Groceries & Food
Don’t bother buying water bottles in Iceland – all the water in taps is naturally sourced (believe me, you will smell it when you turn the hot water on) and is very very clean and drinkable – you will find yellow hoses all over Iceland specifically designated to filling up water bottles! Bring one with you or buy one when you arrive and it will be all you will need for your stay!
As I said before – buy freeze dried packaged backpacking meals before you get to Iceland – it will help with a ton of the cost and all you have to do is add hot water to the bag! Easy clean up, nutritious, fast and affordable!
Restaurants and Cafes are extremely expensive but definitely worth trying they have some of the best food I have ever eaten!
Grocery stores are a great way to cut costs as well and in my experience BONUS and KRONAN are wonderful options and are relatively affordable with a ton of variety.
Don’t forget to try their Skyr yogurt – it comes in a ton of different flavours and is an amazing snack option and so, so delicious.
If you have a sweet tooth almost everything they have to offer is wonderful and worth trying at least once – after all you are on vacation, indulge a bit! Meaning doughnuts, chocolate, ice cream, pastries – you name it and I bet you it is delicious!
5. Gas Stations
Now, I may be a bit bias but a friend who had went prior to when I had went to Iceland told me about N1 Gas Stations and their wonderful, cheap hot dogs and ice cream. So, due to that we stuck to N1 Gas Stations across the country and indulged in many wonderful hot dogs – ask for fried onions, get ketchup and thank me later. They are a cheap, quick lunch option and are so. damn. good. some of the gas stations will have them fried with bacon wrapped around them but many will just have them boiled – both are good but the fried version is way, way better.
Sit down before you read this: Gas is VERY expensive in Iceland – I am talking $65.00 CAD to fill HALF of a tank of diesel! And yes, you will be there often if you plan to drive the ring road. This is the majority of your expense in Iceland so if you plan for this cost it wont be a shock when you first check your credit card statement!
After you get over the initial shock I promise you it is worth the cost! There is so much to see on every side of Iceland you will be grateful you did.
Be sure to fill up when you are nearing around half a tank of fuel left – it is the best way to ensure you won’t run out of gas. That being said there is gas stations everywhere, even in the middle of nowhere there is a gas station, the only time I had found gas stations to be a bit scarce is in the south eastern region of Iceland – be sure to fuel up when you can, often the pumps that are unmanned do not accept North American Cards and can put you in a tricky situation. We ran into no issues – if you ask the gas station attendants to open the pump for you they will gladly do so, then you can fill your tank and pay at the counter.
DO NOT DO A PREPAID AMOUNT – If you do a prepaid amount of gas and don’t use the entire amount the hold will still be on your card for 5-10 business days and could put you in hot water. Ask for the attendant to open the pump and pay the exact amount.
You do not need a gas card and I advise against it. If you wind up not using the full amount by the end of your trip there is no way of receiving a refund for the money on the card. Not worth it in my opinion! Just go during regular business hours which are fairly universal around Iceland (8AM-9PM) and gas will be the last thing on your mind.
6. Getting Around Iceland
You do not need a GPS in Iceland! You will be able to use your phone with WiFi and a map app as you usually would! I used my phone a lot to plan from place to place and where certain areas where and had no troubles whatsoever.
The ring road is very straightforward and it is pretty close to impossible to get lost in Iceland. I highly suggest detouring off of the ring road when you can and if time allows.
There is so much to see and do in Iceland so be sure to give yourself ample time to get to places. Our typical rule was we drove at first sunlight and settled into a campsite around 7PM. There is no point driving the ring road at night – you will miss out on so many sights if you travel at night! September and October make a wonderful time to go as you experience regular daytime and nighttime hours and have a very high chance at seeing the northern lights!
7. General Advice
- Buy the Lonely Planet Iceland book and read through it – this book is extremely informative and can help guide you along the way as well as find campsites and has more general recommendations in Iceland including restaurants, hostels, hotels, camping and price guides as well as detailed sections on each area of Iceland. It is wonderful to have.
- Use the washrooms when you can – avoid washrooms at national park areas – especially in the Golden Circle of Iceland: You have to pay to use the washrooms – which is definitely not worth it unless its an emergency.
- Check Iceland Road Reports to make sure all highways you are travelling on are clear and safe. This is critical in the later months of the year due to flash flooding, landslides and snow.
- Buy travel insurance! So much can go wrong on a trip especially one where you will be venturing to waterfalls, canyons, hiking and driving in a foreign country. Spend the extra few dollars and purchase travel insurance through your bank, credit cards, car insurance company or a third party provider. In the instance you need it you will be very, very thankful you had purchased insurance.
- If you decide to stay outside of a designated campground be sure you are not staying on private land and are off any highways. Parking lots are typically not allowed, but not enforced I found – so use at your own discretion.
Lastly – Enjoy it! Don’t stress about expenses too much and enjoy the beautiful country you are in. Likely it is a place you will only be once, maybe twice in your life so be sure you are spending it with someone who has a similar travel style to you and someone you can stand for the duration of your trip. You will be with that person 24 hours of the day, every day. Look out for one another, be patient and gentle when things get stressful and relax.
Thank you for reading, this is all my own experience and personal suggestions and should only be taken as a suggestion.
Be sure to follow my blog – I will be posting about my personal travels around the ring road in the following weeks.