If you're wondering whether or not to rent a camper van in Iceland you have come to the right place. I am going to make this post as detailed as possible with tips on everything from which company you should rent your camper van from to how to survive in your camper van. Just a warning that this is going to be a LONG article.
BUT before I get into all that. Let me just state this first...
Renting a camper van in Iceland, is the single best travel decision I have made to date.
There are tons of reasons why I loved my Go Campers camper van: it helped bring my traveling costs WAY down, the ability to make a quick meal or take a quick nap (which I did multiple times). There is a great pros and cons post here if you want to weigh your options fully. But the MAIN reason I think you should rent one is that you dictate when and where you go, how long you stay, and what route you want to take. But I'll get into that more below.
Click on the link to jump to a specific section in this article:
Which camper van company?
What size camper van?
When to book your camper van
What is included in a camper van rental
Items you should pack for your van
Clothing to pack for Iceland
Should I pack a sleeping bag for the van?
Where to camp in Iceland
I've also written a bunch more in-depth articles about renting a camper van for Iceland. You can find the links scattered throughout this article or click on the links below.
Which Iceland Camper Van Company is Best?
Every year, tourism in Iceland increases tremendously and numerous camper van companies are opening every month. While I only had experience with one - Go Campers - I honestly recommend them. I heard some horror stories from friends who traveled with other companies and had no issues with Go Campers. They have great customer service and a large fleet of vehicles to choose from. They are also a newer van company in Iceland so their vehicles have fewer miles on them. That means you can spend zero time worrying about engine problems on your vacation.
What size camper van should I rent?
Of course, this question is best answered by looking at your group size and what you believe you can comfortably live in. But a few questions to ask yourself...How many people are in your group? Do you have a lot of luggage? Do you need extra room to say sane?
I'll give you my personal experience: I rented the Go SMART Camper 2-pax. I choose a smaller van over a larger for two reasons:
First off, it's the cheapest option. Iceland is expensive and as I was planning, I was looking to cut costs anywhere possible. A smaller car not only means a smaller rental fee but also less gas. Gas is EXPENSIVE. Almost $7.50 a gallon. A smaller van meant fewer fill-ups.
Second, I figured I wouldn't be in the car during the majority of my trip. Unless I was driving or sleeping I would be out exploring. I was right and I didn't need the additional space that fold-up beds or tables inside the car would offer.
Here is the thing, at the end of the day, you are in Iceland to see Iceland. Not sit in the car and play games. I am happy to report the front seat of my camper van was extremely roomy! When it was raining we made dinner outside quickly and ate in the front seat. When we needed a break from the cold or wind (and often times we did) we simply sat in the front and admired the view from the comfort of the car. The front seat was more than enough room for this. If we had a longer slot of downtime (which wasn't often) we found a cafe with WiFi or a nicer campground to relax in.
I highly recommend the Go SMART Camper 2-pax for these reasons but again it is a personal decision. If you need help deciding don't be afraid to leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail for help. tessajuliette at gmail dot com
How early should I rent a camper van for Iceland?
Early. Especially during high season (June - August). Also I recommend even earlier if you are renting automatic transmission since most operators have a much more limited supply of those.
What is included in a camper van rental?
Remember, each rental company is different - I would inquire ahead of time exactly what comes with the van so you can pack some things with you. I am just going to speak from experience with my Go Camper rental.
Included in my rental:
Plates and utensils for two people
Pots and Pans
2 Pillows (very small - think throw pillows for a couch)
2 fleece blankets
Also included in Go Campers rental is unlimited mileage, a free extra driver, and standard insurance. I loved that there were no hidden fees when I booked with Go Campers. They also have a wide range of extras you can book with them to make your trip more comfortable.
Items to pack for a trip to Iceland
(especially if renting a camper van)
Again, Iceland is expensive. Anything you can bring with you from home, or buy ahead of time at home, will save you money.
I think the most important thing to bring ahead of time is food. I brought spaghetti, rice, cans of tuna, granola, protein bars, tea, and popcorn with me from home. There is a budget grocer in Iceland, Bonus, that you can find in the big cities all around the island. This comes in handy for restocking food on the cheap but it is still more expensive than food at home.
Becky (my awesome travel partner/photographer this trip) packed a sleeping bag, an extra burner for our gas stove, and Tupperware. We also both packed towels, earplugs, sunscreen (the sun is out almost 24 hours a day!) and baby wipes for quick "showers".
A couple of things I wish I had packed from home and ended up buying in Iceland: napkins for the car, plastic bags for saving food (more easily collapsible than Tupperware), toilet paper (!), a sleeping mask (that endless sun is no joke), and an inverter to charge everything in the car.
More on exactly what to pack for Iceland here.
Should you pack a sleeping bag for the camper van?
A quick note on if you should pack a sleeping bag for the camper. This was one of the more popular questions on my instastories/snapchat...I didn't pack one - and wish I had. I thought the fleece blanket provided would be enough. Thankfully, I rented a sleeping bag from Go Campers when I first arrived just in case. I totally thought I wouldn't need it and ended up using it every night. Iceland is cold, even in the summer. At night it would get into the 40's. The van does a good job of keeping the cold out but I did have a couple of nights that were super cold and I was so glad to have a sleeping bag. The rental was only 20 Euros, so if you don't have room to pack a sleeping bag rest assured that renting one (at least from Go Campers) is a solid option.
Also a super random tip for sleeping soundly and warm in the cold weather:
Boil some water before bed and transfer it to a plastic water bottle. Then put that water bottle into the bottom of your sleeping bag. BOOM. Perfectly heated, and you will fall asleep with warm cozy feet. This may be a super popular camping hack, but I am not a regular camper. So I was so happy I read this before I left. It made every night so much better.
Clothing to pack for Iceland
This is just too long of a subject to tackle in a couple of paragraphs. My best, quick, advice is pack as light as possible. You can read my full article on what to pack for Iceland here.
Where Are You Allowed to Camp in Iceland?
Ok, so you have your camper van all picked out, now the issue of where you are allowed to sleep.
Option 1: Pay for campgrounds as you go. They are EVERYWHERE. Costs are typically between 800-1500 ISK per person.
Option 2: Buy the Iceland Camping Card. (This is the option we went with.) It gives you access to 42 campsites across the ring road and all you have to pay is the tax. The card is great but it is expensive. I have a full article on if you should buy it here.
Option 3: Sleep wherever you want. Now, there are signs all over Iceland that you can not sleep in certain public places, or on any private property. But.....I will say this.....I met a lot of people who camped just wherever the day ended for them. And by a lot, I mean the majority of the camper van folks I met did this. I heard no reports of getting in trouble. I am not saying do this - it is definitely against the law in Iceland - I am simply just laying out all the information for you. We did this one time during our whole trip, at the Glacier Lagoon. More about why we did it here.
What Are Campsites in Iceland like?
The campgrounds I stayed out in Iceland definitely varied from site to site. Overall everyone had a bathroom and sinks to wash up. Showers were always extra. A few had laundry rooms and some had WiFi. Do note that if you are traveling in the winter most campsites are closed. View the slideshow below to see the variety of campsites I stayed at in Iceland.
Showering in Iceland with a Camper Van
By far, this was the most popular question I got while in Iceland. Showering was actually EXTREMELY easy. Ignore your campsites showers (if they even have any). They cost money at every campsite and most of the time don't have hot water. Instead, head to the town's swimming pool. Every town no matter how small has a local swimming pool. As you enter an Icelandic town look for the swimming pool road signs. These will point you in the direction of the local swimming pool.
You can read my full article on using a local swimming pool to shower here. And no, you aren't showering in the pool....
Alcohol in Iceland
If you are going to be drinking in Iceland buy your alcohol at the duty-free shop in that airport as you arrive. It is by far the cheapest.
Driving the roads in Iceland are super easy. We had no trouble at all but here are a couple of quick tips:
The main ring road is nicely paved and has tons of road signs.
You should know that most bridges are single lane. The picture to the right shows the sign to look out for.
Sheep are everywhere - so be careful. Some are afraid of cars and will run away immediately and some you literally have to drive around.
The road signs aren't in English, only Icelandic, but Becky and I found no trouble using them as they usually have pictures to go with them.
Google maps worked perfectly and never let us down.
Gas in Iceland
As a rule, you should fill up every time you see a gas station. You can go for LONG stretches at a time without encountering a gas station. Running out of gas in the middle of nowhere can be really dangerous and ruin your vacation.
We used American and British credit cards at all the gas stations with no problem. There are two types of gas stations in Iceland:
Self-Service: Most common by far. 24 hours with self-service pumps and no shop or person manning them. Pay first on the touch screen and then fill-up.
Larger gas stations with shops: Great for restocking on snacks. All nicer stations have cheap hot dogs or even Quiznos inside! Fill up your car first and then go inside to pay the full amount.
The Best Routes for Driving Iceland
This is the hardest part of your trip. There is SO much to see on the ring road. I suggest driving the road over 7 days at the very least. We did the road (and peninsula) in 10 days. If you try and plan everything before know there will be A LOT of unplanned stops. Iceland's beauty is unimaginable. Every couple of kilometers I wanted to stop. It will happen to you too.
I can't list everywhere I went in a short little paragraph so I have two options for you:
WiFi in Iceland
Luckily, I have T-mobile, which gives me international data and text in almost all countries. The speeds are slow, but it was enough to run the apps (below) that helped me navigate Iceland. If you don't have international service I suggest some sort of device like Skyroam or an international Sim Card when you arrive. Planning is easier on the road and having an internet connection is essential. Go Camper has a rental router available for 15 Euros a day.
Keep in mind, most campsites don't have WiFi. But almost every cafe, coffee shop, and even town swimming pools have WiFi.
Apps for Traveling to Iceland
The BEST app I used on the road was the app Be Iceland. The app is actually produced by WOW Air and it is beautifully designed. I used the discover section the most. In the discover section you can switch to a map view. It shows you your live position and scenic spots around you that you may want to stop at while you drive. You can filter by type of attraction and plan your route as you go.
The weather app Vedur was also a big help. The app is designed for the slow internet connections in Iceland so it loads pretty easily even in the most remote spots.
Travel Iceland and Road Guide Iceland were also helpful but I used Be Iceland the most.
Like I said at the very beginning, I am so happy I rented a camper while in Iceland and definitely recommend it. Especially if you are traveling Iceland on a budget!
I have one final thing... even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing a travel guide for Iceland along with you. Here are some of the best travel guide books I recommend...
One of the most common questions I get: What is the best camera for travel photography? I personally love my Nikon D5600. I use the kit lens and a Sigma wide-angle lens (for Nikon) which I am genuinely obsessed with.
And of course, if you have any questions DO NOT hesitate to reach out to me via Instagram, Twitter, or just shoot me an email (tessajuliette at gmail dot com).