Let’s just start by stating the obvious: Iceland is amazing.
Like, I-almost-didn’t-blink-for-a-week kind of amazing. But the rugged, raw beauty of the country is not something to simply marvel at; it is also something to take into consideration when planning a trip, for Iceland is a land of extreme conditions (you will notice that I emphasize on that point A LOT). Volcano eruptions, sand storms, remote locations and unpredictable weather make for unstable conditions that need to be addressed before they even occur. One can never be too safe.
Going on a road trip in Iceland is definitely one of those iconic, once-in-a-lifetime types of trip that you will tell your grandchildren about – but if you want to be alive to tell the tale 40 years from now, you better read these tips very carefully.
In no particular order, here are 14 things I learned during my Iceland road trip in this summer. Are you prepared for the longest post on this blog?
Do: Be prepared for one-lane bridges
Because even though Iceland is now on its way to becoming a major tourist destination, it isn’t exactly familiar with traffic jams. Most of the bridges along the Ring Road (Route 1) only have one lane. Number one rule here is to stay calm! Just slow down before you get to the bridge. Chances are there won’t even be anyone on the other side – except maybe a sheep or two.
Do: Bring multiple layers
Icelandic weather is only predictable in the sense that it will always be unpredictable; forecasts are valid for roughly 15 minutes. If you travel by car you really don’t have an excuse not to carry numerous layers, which should always include: rain-jacket, wind-stopper, scarf, long-sleeve wool sweater and thick socks. Possibly thermals if you are going hiking, diving or snorkeling. In Iceland, you NEVER know what the weather will turn out to be!
Do: Get out of the car
There’s something utterly exhilarating about making unexpected stops during a road trip –some would even argue that those leaps of faith are the whole point of road trips– whether it’s for exploring an elf’s cave, admiring puffins or interacting with locals (of the human or animal kind). Be spontaneous!
Do: Send your itinerary to SafeTravel.is
You may be the best trip planner or driver there is, the truth is, your skills simply don’t matter in Iceland. Too many people forget that this is a land of storms, volcanoes, and harsh conditions, all of which are highly unforeseeable and to which most visitors are not accustomed to. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so why not send your itinerary over to SafeTravel.is just in case?
Do: Get a large capacity SD card
Never underestimate the number of photos you will take in Iceland, even from inside the car. The scenery is incredible everywhere you look, and you will end up taking over 200 photos every day (true story). The last thing you want is to fill up your SD card before you reach your final destination!
Do: Plan for the appropriate car
If you think you can wing Iceland with a compact economy car, chances are you could, but you won’t get to enjoy half of the sights. Unless you have a 4×4 you won’t be allowed on F-Roads (in the Highlands), and unless you have a powerful engine you will struggle on mountainous roads.
It’s also worth pointing out that since Iceland is technically in Europe, automatic transmission isn’t the norm. If you really can’t drive a stick, make sure to request an automatic car far in advance as they tend to go quickly.
Do: Plan for expensive car rental insurance
Car rental will definitely take up the largest chunk of your budget; this is partly because of the crazy insurance policies required in Iceland. Where else in the world do you have to be insured against sandstorms, volcanic eruptions, gravel road and ash damages?
My tip: call your credit card/life insurance provider before you leave on your Iceland road trip and have them send you a list of what your insurance covers.
Don’t: Drive like an asshole
I get it. Iceland is astonishingly pretty.
But don’t be a moron.
Don’t stop in the middle of the road; that’s what shoulders are for. Don’t take your eyes off the road to point at something or worse yet, take photos (I’ve seen that). Don’t drive like the roads belong to you, and that you are the only one there — because it’s not the case.
Don’t: Book accommodation on the fly
I’ll say it again: Iceland may be on everyone’s lips, but the tourism offer just doesn’t match demand at the moment.
There aren’t that many hotels or inns in the country (I mainly stayed at Edda Hotels, for example), and most of them are only open during the summer season.
Plan your accommodation as early as possible to save money and ensure you’ll have a place to sleep; but if being tied down to an itinerary isn’t your thing, you can always rely on camping.
Don’t: Forget stocking up on petrol cards
Just like hotels are few and far between, the same can be said about petrol stations. The general rule in Iceland is: whenever you see a station, stop and fill up the tank, even though your fuel tank is nowhere near empty. Because you simply don’t know when the next station will be.
And while you’re at it, stock up on petrol cards that you can use at self-service stations.
While you’re at it, you should read my Icelandic pal Audur’s post on gas prices in Iceland – this could come in quite handy!
Don’t: Skimp on expensive activities
Yes, the currency exchange in Iceland doesn’t give visitors much bang for their buck. But if you’re spending a sh*tload of money to get yourself to the island, you might as well enjoy it while you are there. Once in a lifetime opportunity, remember? Do pay that hefty $60 Zodiac boat ride through the icebergs of the Jökulsárlón glacier bay, do pay for that unbelievably cold yet otherworldly snorkel trip in Silfra with Dive.is. They’re worth the expense in the long run, trust me on that one.
Don’t: Take out too much cash
One of the things I learned while in Iceland is that regardless of how small the shop or town you’re in is, they accept credit cards. And that is VERY cool if you have a travel points reward program!