Lifestyle, Uncategorized

Exploring Iceland in a Camper Van!

That’s me. I’d just climbed a glacier with ice axes and crampons. Like a BOSS. Of course that called for big jumps and happy dances!

If you follow me on Instagram you know that my husband and I recently took a 7 day trip to Iceland in August. I posted our daily journey in my stories which will be available to watch in my “Highlights” (on instagram) very soon!

I wanted to talk about it here as well for those that don’t navigate the ‘gram as often.

Q: How did we get there?

We flew on Iceland Air which turns out is a budget airline (so no food provided even if your flight is overseas and 5 hours long, oops!). It was a nice plane you just need to bring some snacks or a meal. We flew out of DC for about $580 pp and arrived at 7 am on Sunday morning. I suggest flying through the night because it helps you maximize your time on the island.

Q: Where did we stay?

We had some (heated) debates on our accommodations while in Iceland and finally I decided to go with my husband’s choice of CAMPER VAN in the end. The prices of hotels were high by the time we planned our trip (about 1 month out), and this alleviated all the stress of planning out an actual itinerary and being beholden to a plan you made before you’d even set foot in the country (something that I often find restricting and always want to change once I’m in the place!).

We went with KUKU CAMPERS as per the recommendation of a friend who had rented from them in the past. This turned out to be the best decision because it made our vacation stress-free! We never had to pack and unpack our bags, find a hotel/guest house, try to make it to destination by a certain time for check-in, and we always had all our stuff with us because we basically had a traveling hotel!

Q: Why did we choose KUKU over other companies?

We watched a lot of youtube videos of all the camper companies, but when we saw this one, we were sold. We discovered—–

1. The heater could run all night long vs. other campers that it only ran for 1-2 hours and shut off. Not thanks! It was COLD! 2. We could rent a van that had a tall enough ceiling that we could both stand all the way up! (This isn’t all vans, but we chose the CA model that did.) We liked the price, and items that were included. They also just have fun slogans and sense of humor;)

We met up with friends who we noticed via instagram were also in Iceland at the same time! We hadn’t seen this couple in about 13 years, but finally reunited! After hiking a waterfall we invited them in for hot cocoa, which we cooked in our camper:)

Q: Where did we park the van each night?

You have to stay at campgrounds when camping in Iceland, but luckily there are LOTS. Everywhere Everywhere. Each night we’d look up “campground” on the GPS and find the nearest one and pull in. You don’t have to pre-book, you just pull in, pay and park your van. Easy. Its usually $25-30 for 2 adults per night. This includes bathrooms, showers (some have additional cost for a shower– around $3-5), sometimes cooking facilities, and always somewhere to wash dishes. (The night before we left Iceland we did stay at one campground that had no facilities, but it was free, so we just used the bathroom at a restaurant before we got there and then took showers, etc at the Blue Lagoon the next morning before we left.)

I initially wasn’t into the idea of a campground shower/bathroom, but let me tell you. These were not American campground facilities. These were very clean and nice. I had no problems! (I did bring flip-flops though– don’t forget a pair!)

We stayed at campgrounds in Vik (1st night and it was right off the main ring road Hwy 1), Skaftafell National park (2nd and 3rd nights), Geysir (right next to the Geysir in the Golden Circle) (4th night), Arnastapi (5th night), and last (6th night) in Keflavik (the free one mentioned above, which is right next to the Viking museum parking lot).


Q: What did we eat?

Once we got our camper van we headed to Kronan, a local grocery store (very close to the KUKU office). We stocked up on marinated pork, lamb, burger meat, lots of veggies and fruit, a couple grains (Icelandic breads and quick rice), salt and powdered garlic, hummus, SKYR (omg its so much better there!!), milk, and chocolate (essential). We got some free condiments and olive oil from the “leave it, take it” shelves at the camper rental office. All this cost about $160. We did have to replenish veggies, apples, dairy and meat towards the end of the week and spent about $70. The one meal we ate out at the end of the trip cost us $70 so…..

*I recommend getting Ice (keep it in the bag) to help keep your meat and dairy cold when the car is turned off (because off goes the fridge!). We also cooked all the meat at once and just put it in ziplock bags to be eaten over the course of a few days.

Eating out in Iceland is crazy expensive so we ended up saving a lot of money by making our own meals.

Q: What clothes did we bring for a trip in the summer (August)?

JACKETS: We had heard to pack layers and that turned out to be very good advice. We each brought 3 layers: Water/windproof shell, packable down jacket, and one other jacket (my husband brought fleece and I brought a jacket I’d sewn out of thick Scuba knit). The temps were 40-50 F.

You can see in these photos that there are times where I was wearing 1,2, and 3 jackets at once. There were also times I was so hot I took them all off and rolled up my sleeves! Iceland’s weather is CRAZY. The wind is CCCAAAAARRRAAAAAZZZZY. That wind at times felt like hurricane force, but without the rain. Other times there was very little wind. But there was always SOME wind.

Do NOT go to Iceland without a windbreaker (that is also waterproof!). My husband got a cheap Colemans jacket in the camping section at Target, and I got a Columbia brand kids jacket on clearance from REI.

GLOVES: We forgot to bring gloves and had to buy them when we went glacier hiking/climbing but if you don’t do that you don’t really need them.

SHOES: You need to bring hiking boots. Legit hiking boots. You want to be ready for all sorts of terrain, and I think the ankle support of real hiking boots makes all of the hiking worlds easier. You feel secure as you leap over mounds of moss-covered lava, hike up lava gravel, or across slippery rocks in a waterfall. We both got Columbia brand boots for around $80 (Amazon). (We brought both thin a thick wool socks and found them each necessary for different days, but mostly the thin socks were fine.)

I painted mine with Jaquard paints and switched out the red laces for some blue and green ones.

BEDDING: We brought pillowcases to stuff our jackets in on the airplane and make faux pillows, but also to not have to wear all our jackets on the plane or pack them (because we didn’t pay for checked baggage). Turns out this was great because we could also cover the throw pillow (though washed) given to us in the camper (you have to rent these). We wish we’d brought a sheet to cover the bed. Your bedding isn’t included in the camper but you can rent blankets and a sleeping bag (which is what we did), but we wish we’d had a sheet to lay down so that we could just use the sleeping bags as blankets. The mattress was clean though.

Q: Where did we go? What was our itinerary?

First, we didn’t have an itinerary. Only a mental list of places we wanted to go after reading all the blogs and watching all the youtube videos. We arrived with no set plan other than to get the camper van and GO. We chose to go East first (in the south) and then once we got to Jokulsarlon (Diamond Beach/Glacier Lagoon), we headed back west towards the Golden Circle and the West (Snaefellsnes Penninsula). Most places you go in Iceland are FREE. You may have to pay for parking (a couple bucks), but the natural sites don’t cost anything to see. Woohoo!

We didn’t listen to TLC and continuously chased the waterfalls…. there were lots.

A lot of the photos you see are places we found just driving from one location to the next. If I were you, I would look up “Iceland Driving Itinerary” or “Iceland places to see” etc and you will find lots of people suggesting things to see. But do as we did, and just play it by ear in your camper van because you will end up finding so much along the way, you don’t want to be beholden to a preset schedule!

We booked our glacier hike/climb with Icelandic Mountain Guides the night before (they had a shop at the campground we were staying at near Skaftafell). We did the “All Day Glacier Adventure (about $200 pp) but there are all different levels, amounts of time (much less money), and different glaciers you can go on with this company! We had a GREAT experience with them. Neither of us had ever ice-climbed before, and I had little rock-climbing experience as well, but I did it!! That day was the highlight of the trip for me.

This kayak tour (about $80 pp) through the “Glacier Lagoon” was also booked the night before through Extreme Iceland, which is just a booking company, not the actual company that takes you out. (When you get there just look for the only kayaking company— that’s who takes you!). Though we wished this kayak tour was more vigorous kayaking, it was nice to really take in the beauty of the icebergs as we slowly kayaked around the lagoon!

We finally hit up the geothermic pools at the end of the trip. First we went to the “Secret Lagoon” (near the Geysers in the Golden Circle– just put it in your GPS), which was a more natural pool and dates back over 100 years (about $30 pp). On the last day in Iceland we treated ourselves to the famous tourist spot– the Blue Lagoon.

Our tickets cost about $85 pp which was so expensive, but luckily we had the whole day to spend there so we could get the most for our money. You start out with a really nice, hot, shower, then make your way to the beautiful milky blue geothermic water (they pump the heated water up from inside the earth, pumping it into the man-made lava-edged pools). Your ticket includes a drink from the bar (soda, alcohol, juices, water and smoothies) and a silica face mask from the mask bar (swim up). We did both, floated and relaxed for awhile, and then went to the sauna. After, we rested in the relaxation room, until my stomach started growling and we headed to our portable hotel to eat one last time (they do have restaurants on site though).

We ended our trip by taking our camper back to KUKU and their shuttle took us to the airport!

The reason I wrote this post was to convince YOU and everyone I know to GO TO ICELAND! and to rent a CAMPER VAN! I was so hesitant at first and it was just the best, best decision we could’ve made (In my mind I wanted nice hotels to retire to every night, but our bed was comfy, we were warm, and we didn’t have all the nuisances I talked about earlier.)