We wanted to use our time wisely while on Iceland’s ring road this past May, so that meant not renting hotels or Airbnbs and just sleeping in a van. Please know, this is not the type of traveler I usually am, but I figured what better way to experience this untouched, scenic country? Camping is HUGE in Iceland, they really cater to those type of travelers because once you drive out of Reykjavik hotels are scarce.
The best part of camping in Iceland is…
You don’t have to stay at campsites. You can pull over almost anywhere and stay the night for FREE. So whatever you want your view to be, go for it. Plus, Iceland was ranked the safest country in the world, and I don’t know about you, but that certainly helped me sleep better. One thing I noticed was that even though camping is popular, you really don’t see that many cars on the road. One night we drove for hours and only saw three cars the entire time. That’s what I loved about the ring, it wasn’t that crowded.
Bring a friend.
Campervans and gas in Iceland are also very expensive, so bring a friend and split the bill. We went with my brother-in-law Manny, and his girlfriend Jill. We got our rental with CampEasy, and had no complaints. They had great customer service! To save money we chose a stick shift, diesel campervan with two beds, and no bathroom or shower. We figured we could stop at campsites for all that, but prepare yourself with Icelandic kronas. Credit is the chosen form of payment in Iceland, which is great, but you’ll need cash to be able to use the facilities. This is all new to me so I was unprepared.
One thing I definitely recommend purchasing is the gravel insurance for your rental. You will 100% need this. Also, before your trip buy the National Geographic map, it was so helpful and we used that way more than our rented GPS.
Stock your fridge.
The camper came with a fridge and a stove for cooking, so we stopped at the grocery store before getting on the road. We didn’t purchase any bottled water because their tap water is among the cleanest in the world, and you can get it anywhere for free. All the packaged food in the store is in Icelandic, and Icelandic is a very difficult language. We did our best and were able to purchase the basics based on how they looked. I say you try to find a translator app that’ll work offline, and while you’re at it download a currency converter too because kronas are hard to follow.
Just like there are limited places to stay along the ring road, there are few restaurants too.
Hot dogs are a popular option that you’ll find at many gas stations. These aren’t your typical gas station hot dogs, they have an entire restaurant in there and a pretty big following too. On the second night, we did stop at this cute little restaurant in Höfn named Kaffi Hornið, and they had delicious burgers! $25 each burger, but delicious. It was so nice to have a warm meal.
The weather in May was great for the most part.
Even though it was too early in the season for the midnight sun and too late for the northern lights, we experienced what I would like to call the “forever sunset“™ (Can I trademark that?) Around 10 p.m. the sun would start setting, but it wouldn’t get fully dark. It almost looked like the dark blue hour for the entire night until sunrise. It really was beautiful. Most of Iceland felt like springtime in Chicago. However, when we got to the northern part I was pretty shocked that it was completely covered in snow. Eventually, if you kept driving you would hit spring again.
Another thing I wasn’t prepared for were the number of gravel roads as you drive along the ring.
I was aware of what they called “F roads”, and with those, unless you have a 4×4 vehicle in the non-winter months you couldn’t drive them. I figured that wasn’t an issue for us since we weren’t planning to drive the F roads, all would be smooth, all would be great. Definitely not the case. At some point, regular roads turned into the type of gravel roads that made you fear for your tires. This continued on for the entire trip, but thank God we got through it without any flats!
If there’s anything you take away from this entire blog post, let it be this:
Be wary of shortcuts. While making our way to northern Iceland (in the middle of the night) we took a road that wasn’t the safest. I had nothing to do with this decision and I blame Jill, she was holding the map. Before I knew it, our little non-4×4 campervan was creeping its way up and around the edge of a snowy mountain with no guard rail. Oh, did I mention it was a gravel road too?! We were going up a gravel, snowy road, and I was SO scared.
Remember now, there is no one around to help us if anything happened.
Jorge was holding on tightly to the steering wheel as we slowly inched our way up the edge of the mountain. I could tell he was nervous. The top couldn’t come quick enough. Manny was asleep, and Jill wanted to jump out and make snow angels. We finally reached the top, and Jorge and Jill jumped out to feel the snow and take pictures. As scared as I was, it was quite a view of the “forever sunset” atop this Icelandic mountain. I took it all in for a minute, and then quickly wanted to leave to be on flat ground. And to think, Manny slept through that whole thing. This was it, as you can see it looks like the sun is setting, but it was the middle of the night:
I hope this gives you some insight on what to expect. Want to see more about where to visit while driving the ring? Get ideas HERE.