Renting a campervan and driving around Iceland is a nature lover’s dream vacation. After all, one does not go to Iceland to spend all their time in a hotel room, but most don’t want to brave the cold nights in a tent.
The Ring Road, or Route 1, is the road that circles the entire island nation of Iceland. We’ve talked about this fantastic journey several times before, but its popularity means we get a lot of requests for more insights to travel in Iceland.
Exploring Iceland in a campervan is one of the best ways to tackle the Ring Road. Seriously, in my opinion there is no other way to do it, the freedom you have in a campervan is beyond amazing. However, there are some things I learned after renting a campervan in Iceland, hopefully these will help you on your Iceland journey!
Tips for Renting a Campervan in Iceland!
1. Have a General Iceland Itinerary
Our goal when taking our campervan around Iceland was to drive the Ring Road. The name of the Ring Road should be pretty self-explanatory. It’s a road that covers around 1,300 kilometers and circumnavigates the whole country of Iceland. The whole route should take about 16 hours if you drive non-stop – but who wants to do that?
It’s impossible to nail the perfect Ring Road itinerary. Our biggest suggestion is to travel at your own pace, it doesn’t matter if you go fast or slow or if you miss some sights along the way. Just as long as you happy traveling at the pace you are going. If you’re looking for a good amount of time we’d suggest somewhere between one to two weeks. We went with 10 days and it felt like an ideal amount of time. It left us wanting more, but never tired of the trip.
When planning your itinerary, map out all your stops. There will be plenty of unplanned stops along the way and it’s best not to feel rushed. We try our best to avoid setting our days to a strict timetable because we know we will never be happy if we do that. Here’s our exact route starting in Reykjavik and moving clockwise. You can read all about the destinations here.
2. Choose a Reputable Iceland Campervan Company
One of the first steps in planning your Iceland campervan trip is to determine your rental company. We drove around the Ring Road in a Happy Campers van and loved it.
Happy Campers is family run by local Icelanders and you can find the whole family involved. We were checked out by the Sverrir or the “Happy Boss.” While his son was responsible for setting up our booking and another picked us up from the airport. They’re very much a family business wanting to show visitors the best of the country, and something we really appreciate.
The van comes with all you could need for a camping trip in Iceland. It has awesome features such as a heater for the cold nights, running water sink, and a fridge/freezer. If you want to learn more read our Happy Campers review.
3. Choosing Your Campervan
Manual vs. Automatic
You should be prepared to drive a manual campervan in Iceland. As with the rest of the world (besides the US), most of the campervans in Iceland are manual, but there are a few automatic vehicles. If you do require one an automatic vehicle make sure to book well in advance and expect to pay a premium for it.
Size of Your Campervan
Consider the size of your campervan before you book. There is a few different size options ideal for one, two, three, and up to five people. We went with a Happy 2 for the two of us. The van was spacious and comfortable for two people. However, with a larger campervan comes reduced fuel economy so you’ll be paying more for that larger vehicle in more ways than one. Gas is really expensive in Iceland, almost $8 a gallon. Think carefully about the campervan model you choose.
4. When to Book Your Campervan
If you’re planning on renting a campervan in Iceland during the summer you should really start planning and booking your trip at least six months out. They do sell out!
5. What is Included in the Happy Campers Campervan?
Our Happy Camper was equipped with everything we could possibly need for 10 days on the road. That included things like:
- Gas Stove with Gas
- Privacy Curtains
- Pots and Pans
- Plastic plates, cutlery, and drinkware
- Knife and cutting board
- 2 pillows
- 2 blankets
- You can pay extra for an inverter, chairs, a table, BBQ grill, WiFi hotspot.
6. Insurance on the Campervan
When checking out a campervan in Iceland you have a lot of options for choosing insurance. Happy Campers includes CDW as it is mandatory in Iceland. If you go with the standard insurance your liability limit is €2500. They also offer packages that reduce the waiver, sand damage, and gravel damage.
We went with the gravel insurance, but I personally found it to be a waste, as the roads were great in Iceland during October. Had we traveled during the winter and windier months, I believe it could have come in more useful. Also, look into what your credit card covers for auto insurance. Most American credit cards offer auto rental insurance as a benefit and I would recommend calling your credit card company beforehand to double check what they cover. If you don’t have a credit card it’s definitely time to get one as it’s an important part of travel banking.
7. Inspect Your Iceland Campervan
If you run into a guardrail with your campervan rental you’re going to be charged for damages. If someone else ran into a guardrail before you and you don’t note it when you pick up the rental car you could also be charged for damages. Always, always, always, inspect every single rental car you get with great detail – inside and out.
Note any damages with the company and take photos just in case. Cam and I are both meticulous with rental car dings, scratches, windshield cracks, and cigarette burns. Never assume that a scratch or ding is not important or big enough to note. When you return your rental make sure you get a slip signing off that all was okay on the car so they don’t come back and try to charge you later.
We’ve been blamed multiple times for things like “excessive sand on the floor in Mozambique,” random pieces of cheap plastic falling off in Mexico, and we were even charged for a small scratch on the hubcap in South Africa. Take photos and put up a fight if you think you are in the right.
8. Get the Right Credit Card
Bringing me to my next point – credit cards with primary rental insurance. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is my favorite travel credit card for many reasons, but the primary rental insurance is one of its best perks (including Priority Pass membership). When you put your rental campervan on your Chase Sapphire Reserve card you get primary coverage around the world up to $75,000.
That works out great for us since we are nomadic and don’t have a car or home. Car rental companies in Iceland and around the world love to scare customers and upsell all their insurance packages. You need to make sure if you need it or not before falling victim to their trap. Call your credit card company and always find out before you get to Iceland
9. Campervan Pick Up and Drop Off
After all the paperwork is sorted with the rental company, you’ll be asked if you want to be shown around the vehicle. We always feel a little foolish agreeing to this, but it’s always worth it! Unless your rental vehicle is exactly the same as the car you have at home, several systems are likely to be different. If you decide to go with a rental car you 100% should be shown around. There’s a lot of aspects to a campervan!
When the agent shows you around, make sure you ask them to show you how all the essential systems function. When you depart, you should be completely happy with using the vehicle – remember, you are legally responsible for it. So, make sure you know how to operate the headlights, indicator lights, hazard lights, and windscreen wipers. Also, be sure to understand how to engage reverse gear.
10. Expect a Hold Charge for Your Iceland Campervan
Every single one of our forty or so rental cars has put a hold on our credit card for the rental period. Holds can range anywhere from a few hundred bucks to $1000+ in some countries. The “excess charge” as it is called is typically stated in your reservation details, but it is easy to miss.
We are aware that they must put this hold on our card, but it can be a massive shocker if you are unsuspecting and end up over your credit limit on your credit card. These excess charges are for scenarios where you disappear with the car and are never seen again, or get in a crash and refuse to pay — stuff like that.
11. Rent Your Campervan From the Airport
If you plan to rent a campervan to get around make sure to pick it up and drop it off at the airport. It could end up saving you a buck. There is no public transport and the Reykjavik Express, one of the only buses from the Reykjavik city to Keflavik airport is 2400 Icelandic Kroner one way. That’s a $24 airport transfer on a bus! I would recommend picking up and dropping off your car at the airport to save on this fee.
If you want to rent a camper, Happy Campers as mentioned before has a location at the airport. We had an enjoyable experience with them, and they will provide you with a free transfer to their offices once your flight lands. You can easily book using this link, but make sure to book well in advance during high season. Seriously – they made our trip to Iceland so amazing. Book it now!
12. Gas for Your Campervan
Be prepared to shell out some money when you head to the pump in Iceland. Gas costs nearly $2 USD a liter or $8 a gallon. We also found American credit cards do not work at many of the pumps. To pay, make sure you ask an attendant to unlock the pump and then pay afterward inside with a credit card. Or you can pay with a debit card that has a pin number.
Make sure to be aware of distances in between fuel stations, granted we found them all over Iceland and never ran low on fuel. For our 10 day itinerary, we spent around $400 on fuel – YIKES. Make sure to budget for this one, as it’s easy to forget.
13. A 4×4 Campervan is Not Necessary for Exploring Iceland
If you want to go down an unpaved or unmarked road make sure your car can handle it first! We saw numerous small sedans trying to push their car too much down bumpy roads and ended up getting stuck or tearing out the bottom of their rental!
14. Make Sure You Don’t Have Mileage Limits
It can be common for car rentals in Iceland and around Europe to have mileage limits. Usually, this is something like 200 km/day can be driven.
Of course, they can’t know which day you are driving 200km/day and what days you are not, so it all totals up to the end.
Say you rent a car for six days and it has a mileage limit of 200 km/day. That means for your total rental you have 1200 km of free driving. If you return the car having driven 1300 km you will be charged for the overage of 100 km.
If you want complete freedom when driving around Iceland, make sure you choose a rental with unlimited mileage. (Our Happy Camper had no mileage limits).
15. Navigation in Iceland
It’s worth mentioning that distances and speeds in the Republic of Iceland are recorded in kilometers rather than miles. This can make sights seem further away than they actually are, although the winding country roads you’re likely to encounter means travel times are a little longer than those in the US.
It’s unlikely your rental vehicle will have a built-in GPS navigation system, generally referred to as SatNav (satellite navigation); however, it is likely that you will be offered a separate GPS (at additional cost, of course), instead. The good news is that if you are driving the ring road it’s a ring around the country and easy to follow.
Still – whether you are traveling on your own or as a group, we think navigation – of whatever sort – is a must. It takes much of the stress out of driving on roads you aren’t used to and having to rely on road signage.
You might be happy using paper maps, but it’s not normal for them to be supplied with a rental car, which means you may as well opt for the GPS instead.
Smartphone apps such as Google Maps are a brilliant free alternative, which give you the additional advantage of knowing up to the minute traffic and road conditions. You should download a map of Iceland to your phone from Google Maps while you’re in good WiFi. If you forget to do this, Reykjavik Airpot has free WiFi where you can download Google Maps to your phone before you hit the road.
16. Watch for Speed Traps!
Iceland has numerous camera speed traps around the ring road. So it’s best to always stay within the speed limit. Fines are extremely expensive in Iceland. Between ISK 50,000 and ISK 130,000, so it’s best to follow the rules.
The good news is there is always a sign warning you about the speed camera a few hundred meters before. If you are speeding in Iceland, now is the time to slow down!
You may think that because you are a foreigner and leaving the country, you will get away with not paying for a ticket. However, the rental car company has a copy of your credit card and are authorized to charge it in circumstances like this.
17. Drinking and Driving in Iceland
This should go without saying, but drinking and driving is a grave offense in Iceland. The threshold blood alcohol test (BAT) level is extremely low. Drivers can be charged with DUI with a BAT as low as .05%, and yes, foreigners can be charged too.
The Icelandic people take this very seriously, and most do not drive if they plan on drinking. If you want to go out for a night at a bar, make sure you have a responsible way back to your accommodation.
18. Seatbelts and Safety in Iceland
It’s a legal requirement for all passengers to wear a seat belt/safety belt at all times when the engine is running.
Likewise, it is not permitted to use a cell phone when driving in Iceland to make calls or send/receive SMS text messages. You can use your smartphone for navigation purposes, but it must be hands-free only (such as safely stowed on the windscreen), and you must not program navigation while the vehicle’s engine is running. I recommend getting a phone holder for your car dashboard for your travels.
19. How Much Will an Iceland Campervan Rental Cost?
Depends on the season! In the summer your rental car will likely be higher than between October – February. Happy Campers offers low season rates, mid season rates, and high season rates. So if you’re goal is to save money book a car rental in the off season. Here are some tips for getting a good deal on campervan Iceland:
- The sooner you book, the better. Campervans, especially with the good companies sell out.
- Do your research and go with the companies that have good reviews. They are often the ones who won’t rip you off for extra charges.
- Avoid peak season, which is late June-early September.
20. Emergency Numbers in Iceland
112 is the single emergency number in Iceland. Remember it and store it in your phone in case you ever need it. You never know when you’ll be faced in a life-threatening situation – but remember only use it if you need to. Safetravel.is puts up all relevant alerts and warnings and should be checked regularly when driving in Iceland.
I also like to join relevant Facebook groups to stay up to date on current travel situations. People are generally quite helpful!
21. Do You Need a Campervan in Iceland to Have a Good Time?
No! A campervan is not essential to your enjoyment in Iceland. However, it will greatly enhance your experience especially if you are short on time or want to explore as much as possible with endless freedom. If you love the great outdoors, parking under the northern lights or midnight sun, and enjoying home cooked campervan meals instead of expensive Iceland restaurant food then a campervan is for you.
How to Enjoy Your Iceland Campervan to the Fullest!
1. Hold the Door on your Iceland Campervan
In the lead up to our trip to Iceland, we came from a North Coast 500 road trip in Scotland and a road trip around the Faroe Islands so we knew what to expect. The North Atlantic and Iceland have some seriously high winds. When you’re exiting a car make sure to hold firmly to your car door – otherwise it may blow right off the car and that isn’t covered by insurance. We’re not kidding!
2. Enjoy Your Sleep
Expect it to be pretty cold in Iceland. Our Happy Camper had a heater we could run all night if we wanted and it kept us toasty warm in the brisk Autumn air. If you’re renting a van without a heater or you don’t want to run the heat all night bring a warm sleeping bag.
If you’re really looking for comfort I would suggest a down comforter from home. The beds in campervans can be extremely firm so a camping pad will make all the difference. When you’re ready to camp for the night make sure to park the van on level ground unless you enjoy sleeping with your feet higher than your head.
The key here is to bring everything you’re comfortable with to make the van feel like home for the next week or few days. Tip* If you really enjoy brewed coffee like us bring a french press.
3. There’s No Bad Weather, Just Bad Clothes
Remember that you’re traveling around Iceland in a campervan. The smallest models don’t leave a lot of room for a massive checked bag. The obvious thing to pack is warm weather clothing. A great option is to pack a duffel bag or backpack that has soft sides and can be stuffed under a seat.
Of course, always pack down jacket, sweater, wool socks, and a travel towel. The towel is really important if you plan to go to hot springs and public pools. We have a post on what to pack for Iceland if you want more clothes recommendations. It should also go without saying that Iceland is seriously photogenic so you’re going to want a great camera for travel photography.
Here are some things we’d recommend to make your campervan more at home in Iceland.
- Coffee press
- Down comforter
- Spare camping burner
- Favorite pillow
- Camping pad
- Leatherman (I carry the Wingman model)
- Tripod (Photograph the Northern Lights!)
- Specialty food products
4. Stay Organized
It’s crucial to keep your Iceland campervan organized on your Iceland trip, this is important in more ways than one. It won’t take long to figure out that loose items in the back have a habit of shifting everywhere. We worked hard to keep the back of the van organized so we didn’t lose anything.
This meant we could easily access anything and it kept the small space from turning into a pigsty. Ten days in a van with two people it would be easy to let everything get out of hand.
Also, pick up a few basic cleaning supplies like a rag and multi-purpose cleaner. Our van came with a brush that we used to keep our floor clean. Without this, the van would have been a disaster zone.
If it’s your first time camping, we can not recommend bamboo baby wipes enough as they make it easy to keep yourself fresh. Of course, any baby wipe will do, but they are terrible for the environment so try to opt for biodegradable ones.
5. Choose a Good Campsite
You can not camp freely in a motorized vehicle in Iceland. It is required by law that you have written permission from the landowner, or in other words, a receipt. There are a plethora of campsites around Iceland in the summer and Happy Campers created this map on their website to help you find one.
Campsites in Iceland are generally decent with facilities such as showers, toilets, and sometimes even WiFi. The average camping fee ranges from 1000 ISK ($10US) to 2000 ISK ($20 US) per person, per night. Many times showers are not included in this price, and cost 300-500ISK for a three to five-minute shower. That’s why we love getting naked in Iceland’s public swimming pools instead.
The majority of campsites close down for the winter. We drove the Ring Road in October and found many of the campsite to have already closed on September 30th.
The availability of campsites will depend on the time of year. Traveling in October, we found it to be hit or miss. The good news is that even when the campsites are closed, they are still accessible and you technically still park there and camp if need be. This means you don’t have to pay – you just won’t have access to facilities like toilets during the offseason. Remember when I mentioned baby wipes?
6. Eat Good Food!
We are no strangers to prepping easy meals, and we’ve gotten better over time. Campervans don’t provide a ton of prep space so it’s best that you stick to simple meals. If you want to learn about food costs we have outlined them in our guide to grocery stores in Iceland. Here are the common meals we made in our campervan.
- Wraps: These are super simple. Cameron made hot wraps by cooking a stir fry in a pan using vegan hoisin duck, frozen veggies, and mushrooms. Dish it out in some wraps and top with vegan cheese. (You can use the real stuff too!)
- Rice: It’s a staple and finding a way to make it your own will take you for miles. We like to top our rice with peas, corn, avocado, eggs, and a sweet Thai chili sauce. (There are hundreds of variations of this!)
- Soup: We love to make soup because it’s delicious, requires one pot, and it fills you up. For an easy and healthy soup, Cameron recommends the following: Saute onions in a pot until translucent, add mushrooms, tomatoes, vegetable stock (bouillon cubes to save space), rice, potatoes, carrots, and season with paprika. If you’re a meat eater cook it first with the onions. The key to a soup is layering flavors and letting it simmer for a long time.
- Pancakes: Who doesn’t love pancakes? They’re dead simple and when you top them with peanut butter they’ll keep you going for hours. For camping, we suggest the premade mix from the store.
- Pasta: Roasted red pepper, pesto, avocado, or mushroom stroganoff there are countless variations of pasta you can make. We love to mix them with frozen veggies when camping in Iceland. Fresh produce is expensive in Iceland!
Newsflash! Iceland is expensive and alcohol costs are obscene. A bottle of the budget vodka Smirnoff costs $70. You are permitted to bring a bottle of your own booze into the country, so we came prepared with a great bottle of gin from the U.K.
If you’re worried about the weight or a bottle breaking your next option is to purchase alcohol at the Airport in duty-free before you enter the country. Outside of duty-free stores at the airport, you can only purchase alcohol at the state-run stores called Vinbudin.
8. Download a Good Travel Playlist
Be prepared for some long drives and plenty of time on the road. If you’re looking for a great travel playlist or music we’ve got you covered. Just make sure you download all your music to your phone as you may not always have a connection.
9. Pros and Cons of Renting a Campervan in Iceland
Pros of Campervan Living in Iceland
- Saves Money – since you don’t have to pay for hotels.
- Convenient – no need to plan out everything in advance
- Flexible – able to change your route whenever you want.
- Views – Never a bad view!
Cons of Campervan Living in Iceland
- Cramped – There’s no doubt about it, a campervan with more than one person is cramped living.
- Showers/Toilets – It’s hard to come by toilets in Iceland unless you’re at a designated campsite. Showers can be hit or miss too.
- Weather – If you have bad weather (which is likely) there’s no escaping it.
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