Iceland is one of the best places in the world for your first time traveling by campervan.
Camping allows you to see everything Iceland has to offer at your own pace and is an extremely cost-efficient way to see the notoriously expensive country.
I had a ton of questions when planning my own first campervan trip in Iceland, so I put together this guide with all the answers I learned firsthand.
Whether you are renting your first campervan or are an experienced camper, here are 16 tips I wish I knew for my first trip to Iceland in a campervan!
Pick The Right Iceland Campervan Company
Deciding who you rent your campervan from can make or break your Iceland road trip before it starts.
I did tons of research before my trip and I decided to book with KuKu Campers, and I’m so glad I did!
KuKu offers a range of campervans so you can decide what type of van works best for you (see below).
When deciding on which Iceland campervan company to use, there’s a few important things to keep in mind.
First, do they have availability on your dates? Most of the quality campervan companies will let you search dates to see pricing and availability but also most of top-quality companies can get booked up quickly, so make sure to start planning well in advance to get the company and the specific van type that you want.
When it comes to pricing, be sure to check what is included in your rental. Some companies can appear to be cheaper when you first search them, but they may charge you more in hidden fees like mileage and insurance.
KuKu Campers who we booked with include unlimited mileage with all their rentals, along with basic CDW insurance, a fully equipped kitchen, and an extra named driver for free.
Not all Iceland campervan rental companies are created equal, so be sure to spend some time researching the best one for your trip (or save some time and book with KuKu Campers!).
Decide On The Type Of Campervan
When you book your campervan, you’ll be given a list of different options. The best campervan for you will depend on your group size and budget, but some key things to consider are:
Different Size Options
Most campervan companies will offer a range of van size options, from smaller vans for a couple to larger ones you can fit the entire family in.
I booked KuKu’s CA Campervan which was a great choice. The CA camper is a larger van that allowed me to fully stand up while cooking dinner and had a full seating area that converted to a large sleeping area each night.
Also, the CA Camper had a handy top row that is intended for two people to sleep, but I used this space for extra storage. In total, you can sleep up to 5 people in the CA campervan, though I would say 4 adults or 2 adults + 3 children would be more comfortable (or you can only have 2 people like I did and have plenty of space!).
Automatic vs Manual
You will also have to decide if you want a manual or automatic transmission for your campervan.
Manual might give you a few more van options and be slightly cheaper, but I would recommend an automatic unless you are extremely comfortable driving a manual transmission.
The driving conditions in Iceland can be challenging, with narrow roads and unpredictable weather. This is doubly true in the winter months, where wet and icy conditions are the norm.
Two-Wheel Drive Vs Four-Wheel Drive (4X4)
Deciding on if you get a two-wheel drive or four-wheel 4×4 drive campervan will also have a big impact on your trip.
Many roads in Iceland, called “F-roads”, are only suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles.
As long as you stick to the Ring Road, or Highway 1, you will be completely fine in a two-wheel drive vehicle, but if you want to explore some of the more remote areas of Iceland you’ll need to have a four-wheel drive campervan.
My campervan was a 2WD, but if I was booking my trip again, I would have paid extra for the 4WD.
There are numerous long gravel roads leading to many of the popular landmarks and campsites which are much easier to handle in a 4×4 campervan.
On top of that, there are many remote locations in Iceland, particularly in the middle of the country, that are completely inaccessible without a 4WD vehicle.
Take a look at your itinerary and see how you get there – if the road starts with “F” or is 3 digits long (like 354), then you will very likely need a 4WD campervan to reach it!
Get The Right Insurance
When you book your campervan, you’ll be offered a range of insurance options.
Some companies, like KuKu Campers, include Collision Damage Waiver insurance with a €3,000 deductible with all of their rentals, even the 4×4 rentals.
However, you can reduce your liability even more with additional insurances, which is exactly what I did.
For example, KuKu offered the following insurance options (pricing current as of June 2022):
- Super Collision Damage Waiver SCDW (€20 per day): Reduces deductible for an accident from €3,000 to €750 .
- Platinum Collision Damage Waiver PCDW (€30 per day): Reduces deductible for an accident to from €3,000 Euros to €0 (zero).
- Gravel Protection (€10 per day): Additional coverage for damage caused by gravel, which reduced your liability from €500 to €0.
- Sand and Ash Protection (€10 per day): Add coverage for sand and ash, with a maximum liability of €750.
- Tire Insurance (€7 per day): Covers repair or replacement of tires.
Also, you can buy an insurance package like the Platinum package which includes Platinum CDW insurance, Gravel Protection, Sand and Ash Protection, and Tire insurance for €50/day, saving you €7/day.
I wanted the piece of mind of not having to worry about any damage to the campervan during my trip so I bought the Platinum CDW insurance package, so think about what works best for you before your trip!
Research Paved Vs Gravel Roads
There is a big difference between the paved and gravel roads in Iceland.
Even if a road is not labeled as an “F” road, it can still be gravel.
One tip I learned towards the end of my trip was it’s possible to see which roads are gravel and which ones are paved so you can plan your route ahead of time!
Simply visit the website https://vegasja.vegagerdin.is/eng/ for a real time look at which roads are paved (shown in black) and which roads are gravel (shown in orange).
Google Maps doesn’t always know the difference between paved and gravel roads, so it can be worth looking at that website to plan your route to stick to paved roads, especially if you are not in a 4×4 campervan.
It is also a good time to note that Iceland roads do not have many opportunities to pull over and turn around, so if you go down a road you are likely committed to it! Planning ahead if key so you do not end up on a road that your vehicle cannot handle.
Know The Different Iceland Highway Numbers
You can typically get a good sense of how a road will be simply by looking at the highway number.
If you are driving the Ring Road, you will be on 1. This is the main paved highway that goes all around Iceland, so if you ever get disoriented just follow the signs to get back to 1.
Two digit roads tend to be paved and are often good roads to drive on. For example, I drove on 54 when visiting Kirkjufellsfoss in the West.
However, be sure to double check the paved vs gravel website above, because roads like 54 can be paved in some parts and gravel in others!
Three digit roads are often gravel. Roads like 842 and 917 are gravel and can often turn into F-roads.
Finally, “F” roads are the offroad roads that you can only drive with a 4WD vehicle.
These roads literally start with the letter F, so if you see F88 or F910, you know to avoid it unless you are driving a 4×4 vehicle. Your campervan rental company will also tell you that you are not permitted to drive on these roads unless you are in a 4×4.
Prepare For The Weather
The weather is arguably the most important factor that will determine your Iceland road trip.
Best Time Of Year For A Road Trip
If you want to drive the entire Ring Road, then I would highly recommend visiting in the summer between May and September.
This is when the conditions are the best and all of the campsites are open.
You also get a phenomenal amount of daylight in the summer, with the sun rising as early as 4 am and not setting until after midnight (if it ever sets at all!).
This makes it great for a road trip because you are always driving in daylight and you can cover a lot more ground each day.
Plus, you can even visit some of the landmarks at 11 pm because it’s so light out!
If you want to catch the Northern lights, then you will want to visit in the winter.
However, keep in mind that Iceland gets cold and snowy, so the driving conditions will be tougher. Many of the campsites are closed in winter as well.
Also, you will have much less daylight to work with (down to as low as 4 hours per day), so you will need to be driving in the dark.
Most Accurate Weather Forecasts During Your Trip
My best tip is to check the official Iceland weather station website.
The weather conditions in Iceland can range wildly across the country, so it can be raining in the West while bright and sunny in the East.
The weather station website has weather stations all across Iceland, and you can see the weather forecasts for each area for the next 5 days.
I found this website to be much more accurate than other sites like Accuweather, so make sure to bookmark it for your trip and plan your route accordingly based on the weather.
Bring These Items To Make Your Van Life Easier
There are several items you can bring with you to make your new van life easier, especially if you’ve never camped in the campervan before:
Several External Batteries
You can charge your phone and other USB powered electronics while running the van during the day, but it’s best to have fully charged external batteries to charge them overnight.
I brought 3 external batteries with me and my trick was to charge my external battery off of the campervan while driving during the day, then using that external battery to charge my phone at night.
You can bring a power inverter which will allow you to charge larger electronics like a laptop or a camera battery. The power inverter plugs into the cars cigarette lighter port so you can only use it while driving, but this let’s you charge your bigger items on the go.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to pack a bulky power inverter, you can rent one from some campervan companies including KuKu!
Magnetic Phone Holder
Most of us have magnetic phone holders in our cars at home, but it’s very easy to forget to pack one for the trip. I ordered a basic magnetic phone holder from Amazon which made driving using my phone for navigation SO much easier.
Spare Cigarette Charger
I brought my own 2 port USB cigarette lighter charger in addition to the power inverter I rented from KuKu. My CA Campervan had 3 total cigarette charging ports, 2 in the front and 1 in the back of the van, so I could set up a full charging station to be charging my electronics during the long driving days.
Having a spare USB charger with multiple ports allowed me to charge my phone and an external battery at the same time which was great!
KuKu Campers also has these for sale for a very reasonable 10 Euros if you forget to pack your own.
Buy Certain Alcohol At Duty Free
Alcohol can be very expensive in Iceland.
When entering from your international trip, I highly recommend picking up some alcohol at the Keflavík Airport (KEF) airport duty-free shop in the arrival terminal.
Duty Free Alcohol Options
The amount of alcohol you can buy is based on a “unit” system, where each person is allowed to buy 6 “units” of alcohol.
See the official duty-free unit calculator website to calculate your own allowance.
This worked out to be 6 bottles of wine OR 1 bottle of 750ml liquor per person (which is exactly what we bought).
Cheaper bottles of wine were about $15 USD and the cheapest bottle of whiskey was about $20 USD. You can also see pricing on the duty-free website.
However, not all alcohol prices are created equal in Iceland!
Buying Alcohol In Iceland
If you do want to buy alcohol outside of the airport, you will need to visit a government run alcohol store called Vínbúðin as Iceland does not sell alcohol at supermarkets or convenience stores.
At the government stores, spirits are extremely expensive, with a typical $20 USD bottle of vodka or gin back home running about $80 USD!
If you are more of a wine or beer drinker, you will find that the prices aren’t nearly as bad at the government run stores.
I was able to buy bottles of decent wine for about $18 USD each, which was only slightly more expensive than the airport duty free.
So if you only want wine and/or beer, don’t stress too much about buying it at duty free, but if you want hard liquor, then definitely take advantage of your duty free allotment!
Renting Vs Packing Necessities
There are certain items you will want to bring with you, like the external batteries and magnetic cell phone holder above.
For other items, like power inverters, you can likely rent them from your campervan company like KuKu.
You will also rent lots of bulky items directly from your campervan company that you won’t want to bring with you, like a camping table, camping chairs, sleeping bags, pillows and blankets.
Some additional items I would recommend bringing with you to make your trip more comfortable and easy are:
- Mini travel memory foam pillow (this is my number one recommendation and absolutely saved my neck during the trip). I bought this pillow from Amazon which rolls up. I highly recommend it for comfort, plus it can double as a pillow you use on the plane/
- Eye mask (especially if traveling during summer!)
- Good earplugs
- Silk travel pillow
- Quick dry towels (you can also rent towels from your van company, but I loved having a small quick dry towel)
- Mini toiletry reusable bottles
- A bag for bringing your toiletries, towel and change of clothes to the shower
- Travel mirror
- Travel hairdryer and hair straightener or curler. There is typically access to a plug in the shower units at most campsites, I bought this travel hairdryer ahead of the trip and it worked great.
- Clips These are really helpful for clipping the curtains to keep the van a little darker and for closing up open food packaging
- Reusable food storage bags
- Large water bottle (or two)
- Packing cubes to keep all your clothing organized in the van
Use These Iceland Google Maps Tricks
Google Maps will be an invaluable resource for your Iceland trip.
Download An Offline Map
Before you head to Iceland, make sure to download an offline map for your trip.
That way you will be able to navigate from one landmark or campsite to another without having to worry about having service.
Here are instructions on how to download an offline Google Map.
Use The Attractions Search
Another Google Map tip is to search for the word “Attractions” on the map.
This will bring up locations that other travelers have marked as points of interest.
This search will bring back the big name places, like the Blue Lagoon and Selfoss, but it can also help you discover some lesser known sites off the beaten track!
You’ll be able to tell how popular a site is by the number of reviews. If it has 1,000+ reviews, you know it’s a main stop, but if it has 50 reviews or less, you might have just discovered a new gem!
Trust Google Map Campsite Reviews
Finally, I found the Google Map reviews of campsites to be extremely accurate.
There are a ton of campsites in Iceland and they all cost a similar amount (roughly $15 USD per person), but the quality of them can range wildly.
You don’t need to book campsites in advance, so you can head out on your daily adventures and start looking for a campsite when you are ready to call it a night.
Search Google Maps for “campsite” and try to pick a campsite with at least a 4.0 review, and preferably a 4.5 review.
By doing this, I was able to find some great campsites that had amenities like hot showers, kitchens, clean bathrooms, and more.
Don’t Worry About Coins (Too Much)
You might have heard that you will need all the coins you can find for your Iceland trip for things like showers and bathrooms.
While this might be true for some, I did not find this to be the case on my Iceland trip.
I started hoarding coins like Scrouge McDuck from the moment I landed, and I used them a grand total of once to pay 300 ISK (about $2.50) for the shower at the first campsite I stayed at.
I didn’t need coins a single time after that for the rest of my trip, so take all the coin advice with a grain of salt!
Every other campsite I stayed at included showers as part of the campsite fee, and virtually every bathroom I went to while out for the day was free or accepted a contactless or chip credit or debit card.
There’s no harm in saving some coins, but don’t stress too much about needing them as long as you have your card handy!
Know The Speed Limits and Iceland Driving Laws
One thing you should be worried about are the speed limits in Iceland.
The speed limits are very low, and for good reason. There are also speed cameras throughout Iceland that do not tolerate speeding (many of which will be tagged on Google Maps or will have a sign warning you).
As a general rule of thumb, stick to the following speed limits and always watch for signs:
- Highway: 90 km p/h
- Tunnels, roadwork, and entering towns: 70 km p/h
- Gravel roads: 60 km p/h
- Inside of towns: 50 km p/h
Also, it is the law in Iceland to have your headlights turned on at all times, so make sure to keep them on even in bright sunshine!
Be Prepared For Unusual Driving Moments
Iceland is absolutely beautiful to drive around, but make sure to keep your eyes on the road.
People Will Pass You
Almost all of the roads are one lane in each direction, and people are not afraid to pass you.
Do not stress if someone is driving close behind you. Let them go around you if they want, and everyone can carry on with their day.
Watch For Sheep
There are lots of sheep in Iceland, and sometimes they will wander into the road. Always keep an eye out for sheep, especially because they can be unpredictable!
There are a lot of reasons you want to avoid hitting a sheep, mostly because they are cute, but also because you can be fined 500 Euro per sheep that you’ll have to pay to the owner of the sheep if you do hit one.
There are many one-way bridges you will come across driving around the Ring Road.
This means that the bridges are so narrow that traffic can only pass in one direction.
Take these very slow, and if you see a car on the other side, let them go over the bridge first.
You can’t always see to the other side of the bridge, so go especially slow on these to make sure no one else is coming before you cross it.
Iceland has announced that they will begin turning these one lane bridges into two lanes over the next decade, but if you are planning to visit Iceland anytime soon, be prepared for the one-way bridges.
Which Iceland Sim Cards To Buy
Having a phone with data is a great resource for your entire Iceland trip.
Even if you have roaming from your home carrier, it’s likely worth buying a local Iceland SIM card to save some money and also ensure you have the best coverage.
You can buy your SIM cards from the convenience store inside of the airport as soon as you exit from baggage claim.
Simply walk up to the convenience store cashier (where they are also selling Sbarro pizza) and tell them you would like a sim card.
During my trip in June 2022, I could pick from 3 sim card companies with prepaid cards:
- Simmin (10GB data, no voice or texting)
- Simmin (5GB data, unlimited voice and texting)
- Vodaphone (5GB data, unlimited voice and texting)
- Nova (10GB data, no voice or texting)
Simmin and Vodaphone have the best coverage, and Nova is a newer network with worse coverage.
I bought 1 Simmin sim card and 1 Vodaphone sim card for my trip (note: you don’t need to show a passport to buy the sim cards), and I found them to both have 4G coverage almost everywhere I went around the Ring Road.
Finally, one other alternative is you can rent a Wi-Fi hotspot from your campervan company – KuKu Campers offered this and it worked really well!
Showering and Washing Your Hair
Of course, as someone with quite unruly hair one of the things on my mind was how frequently will we be able to shower and will I be able to wash my hair.
In reparation I bought some dry shampoo and baby wipes anticipating all the campsites would just have a cold shower and no option to dry your hair. But I was wrong!
In fact, most campsites have hot showers for free, just make sure you read reviews first.
I also found that 9/10 times I was able to find an outlet to plug in my hairdryer to be able to dry and style my hair. Just make sure to buy a good travel hairdryer that can adapt to the voltage.
Another good hack is to use the showers when you visit thermal baths. I went to the Sky Lagoon in Reykjavik and Myvatn Nature Baths in the north and both had great showers, shampoo, conditioner and hairdryers.
What To Do About Food
If you’re not used to van life, then you are likely wondering what groceries you should buy and how it is cooking your meals in the van.
Cooking In Your Campervan
If you book your campervan with a company like KuKu, they will provide all the necessary cooking equipment like pots, pans, utensils, and a camping stove. This is a list of what was in our van:
- 1 frying pan
- 1 sauce pan
- 5 plastic plates
- 5 plastic cups
- 5 plastic bowls
- 1 cutting board
- 1 bread knife
- 1 small cutting knife
- Bottle opener
- Washing up liquid
- 1 sponge
- Tea towel
- 1 camping stove
You can also add additional items such as BBQ stove, table and chairs, coffee press as a rental. One thing I wish I had was a proper mug for tea and coffee, so I recommend bringing your own with you.
Here are a couple of things I recommend picking up when you go to the supermarket at the beginning of the trip:
- Trash / Rubbish bags
- Cling film
- Toilet paper / Tissues
- Kitchen roll / paper towels
- Extra tea towels
- Cleaning spray
To cook using the stove, you will use small gas canisters that you can get from your campervan company as well as from gas stations along your journey.
One of the best parts of the larger CA campervan was I could fully stand up while cooking my meals inside the van, which was a lifesaver on a rainy day!
There is also a small sink that you can use to wash up, but I would recommend cleaning your dishes at the communal campsite sink whenever possible to avoid clogging the campervan drain.
Where To Buy Groceries
Eating out in Iceland is incredibly expensive, so I would strongly recommend doing a grocery run when you first get your van.
Head to a local grocery store called Bonus and stock up on food for your trip.
There is a small cooler in the campervan that can run while you are running the van and it did keep food remarkably cold (especially since I added a bag of ice to it on the first day), but you might not want to get perishables like raw meat.
Instead, stock up on things like pasta and vegetables that you can easily cook during your trip.
If you are craving meat, then I would recommend buying it the same day you plan on cooking it or buying pre-cooked meats.
By cooking for yourself, I was able to save a ton of money during the week! I bought about $170 worth of groceries for 2 people over 9 days and we had food left over.
The one meal we ate at a café cost over $50, so you see the benefit of cooking for yourself in the campervan!
Iceland First-Time Campervan Wrap Up
This Iceland campervan guide had all of my questions that I wish I knew the answers to when planning my own Iceland trip.
Feel free to download this for your own journey, and let me know in the comments if you have any other questions you would like to know the answers to.
Traveling around the Ring Road in a campervan was one of my favorite travel experiences I’ve ever had, and I highly recommend you give it a try yourself!
I received a press discount on my campervan from KuKu campers. As always, all opinions are my own.
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- Why You Should Rent A Car In Iceland
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