Pros and Cons of Camper van in Iceland
We rented a camper van in October for a complete exploration of Iceland. A few weeks and 3301 km later, we feel that some advice can be dolled out by us. We would like to share Pros and Cons of Camper van in Iceland.
Happy Campers is the company we went with and they have not disappointed us.
So is renting a camper van worth it?
In short, DEFINITELY! Iceland is one of the most unique places on earth. Words don’t often do justice when describing the surreal scenery and landscape. It is hard to drive anywhere without stopping and letting it sink in. When you are part of a tour, sights and stopovers are already pre planned. This is fine for some visitors but for more intimate Icelandic experience, a camper van is the way to go. You stop where you want, sleep beside a majestic waterfall or when the weather suddenly goes whacko on you, you climb to the back, turn on the heat,make a hot chocolate and watch a flick while the rain or snow is pounding outside.
October is the beginning of a slow season for tourism. The days get shorter and much colder. It rains a lot and wind gusts reach 140km. That was part of the appeal for us when we booked the car. You have to consider that the camper van gets cold. Very cold. Happy camper vans have a solar panels on the roof as your source of energy. There is a catch though.The solar panel is good enough for 5 hours of heat and with with more than 13 hours of darkness, you have to learn to conserve it. Insulation and extra padding come in handy. We brought our own sleeping bags and they saved us.
The water for dishes and cooking is stored in a canister that you are responsible for filling up. The only problem is that due to cold, most of the gas stations turn off the water so that it doesn’t freeze in the pipes. We solved it by filling up from the rivers but this can be challenging to some travelers.
The roads in Iceland range from fully asphalted highways to dirt roads that are submerged in overflowing rivers. Guardrails are non existent. Cliff drops of a few hundred meters. Wind that is strong enough to overturn your car are some of the hazards that you might encounter. Don’t forget the thousands upon thousands of sheep that dot the horizon in every direction. Sheep that suddenly decide to run across the road in front of you.
If sheep is not enough, then there are Reindeer in the east. They also tend to go where they feel like.
As Iceland is turning more touristy and hordes of visitors descend on the island, the locals are already putting up signs that prohibit camper van camping and stopping. Some charge a fee for staying overnight. In the north it is more of an issue as rest stops are far and between and weather can be cruel. It rains a lot and sometimes, you just want to huddle in a cozy restaurant with a hot bowl of soup. Good luck finding that place in low season in the north or in Westfjords. We drove through dozens of towns and they looked like ghost towns. Everything is closed.
Planning is very crucial for this type of journey. Groceries, water, gas and supplies are a key to having an enjoyable trip.
One of the cons of camper van is that you need to make sure you have gas and this takes planning as you base your itinerary on gas stations. In the north, gas stations are far and between each other and if you don’t have prepaid gas cards for various gas stations, you can be stranded. “why would I be stranded, if I can buy a gas card at the gas station?” you might ask. Well, Northern Iceland and Westfjords are very scarcely populated territories and gas stations don’t have anyone working there. It is just a pump, you and your gas card.
Sad but true:
In Vik, we stopped for gas and before I was able to insert my card, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and was face to face with an Asian family that wanted me to explain how to use the pump. I explained the process but they wanted me to actually go ahead with it and look at it that way. I inserted the prepaid gas card, selected the pump number, opened the gas cap and started to pump gas. The nice family told me that once I am done, they want to use the same pump to avoid making a mistake. Fine by me. I finished and pulled around the corner of the gas station to grab a hotdog before we headed out. As I was coming to the door, violently it swung open and the gas bar attendant ran past me nearly bowling me over. Curious, I went to see what was the commotion. Turns out that this nice family proceeded to follow all my steps. They pulled up, inserted the card, selected the pump number, removed the gas cap and then proceeded to fill an unleaded car with diesel…. Talk about ruined vacation….
Those of you reading this and planning your very own Icelandic adventure, you are in luck! There is now an interactive map of all the gas stations in Iceland.
“So why do it?” you might ask.
Hardships and obstacles are part of life and people nowadays want everything to be prepackaged for them,even vacations. Our little camper van expedition was more than a vacation, it was an adventure.
How can you put in words, opening the door and witnessing Aurora Borealis?
Driving through Oxi pass in the storm, stopping and sleeping on the side of the road while 140km wind is whipping your car from all sides and rocking you to sleep.
Waking up next to a majestic waterfall and calling it all yours because you are the only one around.
Running in the wee hours of the morning on black sand beach amid crashing waves and screaming gulls. Knowing that in a few hours it will be congested with tourists but at that moment, the experience is all yours.
Moments like that should erase all your doubts and worries regarding travel in a camper van, because memories are the only true things that are yours, forever.