Iceland Road Trippin': Happy Camper Vans
Updated: Mar 17, 2021
Ten days in Iceland in a Happy Campers van: 2,000 miles, 54 stall-outs, 0 regrets.
There's really only one way to get around Iceland, and that's by car - specifically by van. And if you really want to take in the magic that is Iceland, it's best to live and sleep in that van. Iceland is a vast country, meaning that there aren't hotels on every corner, and it's also expensive - so this post is dedicated to the joy of experiencing Iceland in a camper van and how doing so saved me and my travel partners a ton of money.
There are several camper van companies to pick from when you're planning your Iceland experience, and after doing lots of research and reading lots of reviews, we chose to rent "The Happy 3" from Happy Campers. The company offers several different vans that sleep different amounts of people, but when considering our needs, we chose The Happy 3, which included features like:
room for five people with an upper and lower bed
manual or automatic transmission
cooler and refrigerator
pots, pans, cookware
duvets, sheets, blankets
GPS safety tracker
free coffee press
I can't begin to express how convenient it was to drive comfortably all day long, and just pull off to sleep under the stars when we decided we'd had enough of the open roads. It's also easy to pull into a campground (which is a much cheaper accommodation option compared to a hotel), and take a shower if you didn't catch one in a hot spring. I'm not exaggerating when I say that our experience with Happy Campers went seamlessly, but my travel group did take away a few lessons to pass along to the next Iceland explorer.
Stop at a grocery store
Food and restaurants can be expensive in Iceland, and unless you're passing through a town, there is nowhere to stop and eat outside of the camper van. Before embarking, stop at a grocery store and stock up on foods like bread, peanut butter, fruit, and noodles. As I said, there is a cooler, but it isn't the biggest - so don't go wild on foods that could spoil. I also filled my suitcase with freeze-dried meals from Mountain House that only require hot water to cook. There are a few grocery stores, including Bonus Grocery, Kronan Grocery, Netto Supermarkets, Hagkaup Supermarkets, Kjarval Grocery, or even the Duty-Free shop in Keflavik Airport. A supermarket can put meal costs between $5 and $10 USD per person, whereas a meal at a restaurant could cost upwards of $35 USD per person.
Stock up on alcohol beforehand
No judgment - if you feel like you're going to want a drink during your road trip, I recommend stocking up at the Duty-Free shop at the Keflavik airport before embarking. It's far and away the cheapest option, considering you won't pay tax at the duty-free store, and if you miss that chance at the airport, keep your eye out for Vinbudin stores for cheaper liquor. Remember this, as ordering a pint of beer at a bar or restaurant can cost at least $8 (no, that's not an exaggeration).
Whichever camper van size you choose to meet your travel needs, the fact of the matter is that they're still small. When you're packing for your Iceland trip, remember that less is more, and in my opinion, just think layers, layers, layers. I recommend keeping it simple when packing - one fleece or lightweight jacket, one rainproof/windproof jacket, two or three base tops, rain paints, one pair of sturdy walking shoes, flip flops if you stop at a campsite, gloves, a beanie, two swimsuits, a towel, umbrella, car charger, a camera, and a sleep mask. I also recommend packing in travel cubes or compression bags - you want to remain organized, not have your belongings strewn all over the van.
Be prepared to drive stick
Call a camper van rental company and you'll find out that there are far more manual transmission options than automatic, and the automatic camper vans that are available are considerably more expensive than the manual alternative. I say this in jest - I learned how to drive stick the night before our trip by borrowing a friend's GARBAGE TRUCK - and while I caused our camper van to stall out at least 54 times (my travel companion counted), it was helpful that I could at least get us from point A to point B safely. I do recommend getting some more training hours behind the wheel than I did, and maybe learn on a normal-sized vehicle.
Hold the door!
Iceland has some seriously high winds. Wind gusts might not seem like a big deal, but trust me, they're a big deal. On some days, wind speeds can reach 40 mph, and while it's rare, wind speeds of over 100 mph have been recorded. I say this because it is essential that you firmly hold the door to your camper van when entering and exiting. The wind can literally blow the door right off your van, (it came dangerously close to happening to me at one point, so I'm speaking from experience), and damage like that isn't covered by insurance.
To finish off with the camper van advice, it's recommended to book as soon as you know your trip to Iceland is happening - reputable rental companies book up quickly. If you have any questions about Iceland travel or booking a Happy Campers van, employees can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To laugh at the stick shift stall-outs and learn more about the Iceland road trip as a whole, listen to the Mouthing Off with Olivia Caridi podcast episode below: