How to Prepare for an Epic Road Trip in Iceland
If it were not for the hundreds of photos that I took, the crystals I collected, and the road map I kept, I would seriously begin to wonder if those two and half magical weeks spent getting lost in Iceland were a dream. As I sit here reminiscing and thinking about how to put into words the feeling of it all, sensory memories are flooding back to me ever so vividly. I am reminded that yes, it was real.
At the start of 2016, I made the decision to take a big international trip. My bank account could take the hit, I had that let’s-make-moves feeling familiar to so many of us, and wanted to just get away and escape the hustle and bustle. I started going through the rolodex of countries and cities I’ve always wanted to visit and honestly can’t say why I paused when Iceland came up. I knew nothing about the country other than the photos, films, and shows I’ve seen that have been shot there all looked visually stunning. Mother Nature on full display. I was into it.
Immediately, I began to do basic research and quickly learned that the best way to see Iceland is by car. I kept coming across phrases like “the ultimate road trip of your life,” and “you’ll want to stop every five minutes,” which are pretty bold statements that make you take pause. It did not take long for me to come to my decision—I was going to do this road trip, known as The Ring Road because it’s literally circles the entire island. That was settled.
I just needed a travel buddy since I knew I wouldn’t want to make a road trip in Iceland on my own. One person to share the experience with. In my mind I only ever really considered my cousin Andrew, and thank the goddesses he said yes. I wanted to do this trip with someone that intellectually and spiritually nourishes me and can get down with nature! I think it only took one text from me and he was in.
The Planning Process.
Flight to Iceland
Thankfully we solidified our decision to go in January for a trip that wasn’t happening until late June. This gave us 6 months to plan. Because Iceland tourism is on the rise right now, it goes without saying that buying your flight months ahead of time will save you hundreds of dollars. Buying 6 months ahead of time, our flights cost us about $750. Although we did not take advantage of this sweet deal, Icelandair does a stopover promo where you can have up to a 7 day stopover in Iceland on your way to one of 27 destinations in Europe! Incredible deal and definitely something to consider when buying flights. However, we were committed to this road trip and knew we needed more than 7 days to complete it. In my opinion, to truly take everything in and go at a comfortable pace, you need at least 10 days. We picked summer for weather reasons. Weather in Iceland is no joke. In the winter many parts of the Ring Road cannot even be accessed because of the snow and ice. In the summer, strong winds and rain can affect travel as well. The best time to do the Ring Road is late spring, summer, or early fall.
Driving in Iceland
If you plan on driving in Iceland, I recommend renting a camper van. We met travelers along the way that rented a regular car and were staying in guest houses along the way, but all of them said they wished they would have done the camper van. You’ll want to book the camper van early! There’s quite a few companies that rent them out and for the most part they come equipped with your basic road trip needs—portable stove, cooler, gas, thin mattress, etc. But they go fast! We booked our van in late March. After we realized we booked a stick shift van in late spring (also something to be aware of!), all the automatic ones had already been reserved! But hey, my cousin learned to drive stick shift because of it!
The camper van was the biggest expense of the trip (~$1,500), but well worth it. Considering we rented it for 10 days, we ended up paying less than what we would have spent on Airbnb’s, hostels, or guest houses. It gave us precious flexibility—we could sleep anywhere we wanted and didn’t have to worry about being on time to check in or out of anywhere. There are great, super cheap campgrounds all along the Ring Road, with kitchens, common rooms with wifi, and showers! The first few days we spent in Reykjavík before heading out, we did Airbnb, and the last couple after coming back, we stayed at a new friend’s apartment, which was clutch.
Things you don’t want to forget to bring on this road trip include:
Good hiking shoes
Water resistant pants (you’ll come across A LOT of waterfalls), layers, wool socks
Also, important to note that everywhere in Iceland accepts credit cards so cash isn’t really necessary unless you’re taking public bus transportation in Reykjavík, called the Strætó, which we did a few times. The Strætó app is key!
Additional prep for our trip included getting scuba certified! When looking for dope things to do in Iceland we learned about Silfra, a fissure that separates the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, located in Þingvellir National Park. When we realized that you could actually dive in between the plates in the clearest water on the planet, it was a done deal. We knew we absolutely had to do it. It took us both less than a month to complete the PADI Open Water diver classes and 4 training open water dives to be a fully certified Open Water diver. Thankfully, my training dives were in really cold water wearing a wet suit, which prepared me to do dry suit diving in water that was 35 degrees Fahrenheit !
It was a huge investment (scuba diving is NOT cheap!), but one that I will take advantage of for the rest of my life. I’m already planning future travel based around diving! But good news, you don’t have to be a certified diver to enjoy the beauty of Silfra. There are also snorkeling options for non-divers and if you’re completely water averse, Þingvellir is a huge park and you’ll be able to see the plates from dry land! If you’re already a diver, this is a dive site you absolutely must put on your dive bucket list! It is truly one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life, second only to paragliding off of a cliff in Vík, a city on the southern coast of Iceland!
Other Epic Moments!
Eating a million and one hot dogs in Reykjavík and everywhere else. Icelandic hot dogs are so much better than American hot dogs and everyone eats them since they’re incredibly cheap and delicious. Eat like a local—eat hot dogs.
Stuffing my face with the most delicious langoustine in Pakkhús, a restaurant in the town of Höfn, the lobster capital of Iceland. My cousin said it’s one of the top two meals of his life.
Hiking in Vatnajökull National Park and seeing a glacier (the biggest in Europe!) for the first time in my life.
Climbing to the top of Seljalandsfoss, one of Iceland’s many waterfalls. A major tourist attraction, but my cousin and I climbed to the top of it, where we were the only people. Absolutely incredible. One of my favorite things about Iceland is how there is no barrier to you exploring nature—no barriers or rails to keep you out. It’s yours to explore to your hearts desire.
Visiting Petra’s Stone Collection in Stöðvarfjörður, one of the world’s largest private mineral and stone collections. The eastern fjords were just absolutely magical. The energy I felt in this area of Iceland was unlike any I’ve felt before. I have never been so at peace as when we were in this region.
Driving to an eastern fjord called Borgarfjörður Eystri where we could see the coast of the ocean and a huge snow capped mountain range bordering a breathtakingly beautiful valley. This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to. I could not agree more with Andrew than when he said after minutes of silent reflection, “You can feel God’s love here.”
Swimming in the glowing blue waters of Mývatn Nature Baths—a cheaper option than the more well known Blue Lagoon.
Whale watching in Húsavík* and then partying all night long with all the locals (and a team of whale researchers!) in the one bar of the town after Iceland beat England in the Eurocup!
*Writing all of these places out reminds me to remind you that Icelandic is a HARD language. You will butcher every word you try to say, but worry not—mostly everyone speaks in English and can for the most part decipher the Icelandic word you’re trying really hard to say.
Even spending 10 days on the Ring Road wasn’t enough time to see everything we wanted to. We did not have enough time to explore the West Fjords or the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, who some claim is where the heart chakra of the Earth is.