The Land of Fire & Ice
If I had one adverb followed by one adjective to describe Iceland, I’d have to go back to my youth where I lived in California for several years and say, Iceland is “hella rad,” but before I speak on that, let me take a moment to bitch about Baltimore’s International Airport (BWI).
My friend and I met at BWI late one evening and made our way to Concourse E, which is hands down the worst airport waiting area I’ve ever experienced in the United States. There was a total of one restaurant, that I won’t name but they’re named after the document you carry with you that loosely rhymes with ‘cass fort’ and they deep-fry almost every item on the menu.
Now you’re probably wondering if I got sick on the flight? well…I did.
It was about 2.5 hours in at which point the several drinks I had purchased at the airport were beginning to wear off, so I partially blame the alcohol and partially blame the turbulence…and the fried dinner.
– End Rant –
So halfway to Iceland, on our WOW Air flight (a low-cost, a la carte carrier), I was heading quickly to the back of the plane assuming I was going to puke. Thankfully, standing in the bathroom for a few minutes made me feel better, so I purchased a water from the flight attendant and headed back to my seat.
On the way, I noticed the carpet says MOM, which threw me off until I realized it’s just WOW, upside-down if you’re walking from the back to the front of the plane. I realize this has nothing to do with this article, I just didn’t want you to freak out in the event you find yourself in a similar scenario on a WOW Air flight.
We landed before the sun came up, collected our bags and met a gentleman at the airport who was dropping off our camper for the week.
We went with a company called TripCampers and splurged for the sleek and sexy 2 Seater Comfort model, which also happens to be the third cheapest vehicle in their fleet. We gleefully realized this meant two others were rolling around Iceland in crappier models, but we never found them, stealing us of our opportunity to gloat. We upgraded slightly to a camper with the Wabasto heating system, which in theory was supposed to run off batteries and keep us warm all night. In reality, it only worked for about 10 minutes each morning, but the word Wabasto was fun to say while we were complaining about it.
We called our contact at the company and he swore up and down that he had never had an issue with it before and refunded us all the money for the heater AND for a 1/2 tank of gas. So, I think it was an isolated incident. This being said, we had our own sleeping bags on top of them providing us with sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, etc…so the camper was cold but we slept great. To be clear, the extra heater didn’t work when the car was shut off, the regular heater when the car was on worked just fine.
What Comes with the Camper
- One futon bed for 2 people
- A 21 L electric cooler
- Sink with running water
- Gas stove/1 extra cartridge
- Pot, pan, kettle
- Bed linen, pillows, duvet
- GPS on board
- Radio/CD Player
- Cell phone (to contact company if your heat doesn’t work)
- Extra storage space under the bed
- Unlimited km/miles
What to Bring
There are a number of items that made this trip much more enjoyable and I would recommend everyone bring if you’re renting a camper.
- A power inverter that plugs into the cigarette lighter to charge all that you own…I bought the BESTEK 300W Power Inverter and it was amazing! Not only does it have 2 plugs, it also has 2 USB ports to make charging a breeze.
- Make sure you rent a 4G portable WiFi hotspot device from Trawire in advance. The pickup felt shady, we had to follow a map to Trawire in Reykjavík and they left it under a staircase next to a furniture store. To be fair, since we caught a redeye in, they were not open when we arrived. This device was a lifesaver! Not only could you keep in touch with friends/family back home, we streamed movies before bed, listened to music and were able to research everywhere we were going on the way!
- It’s ~ $10/day and works almost perfectly…it was a true lifesaver.
- I would also bring a small Bluetooth speaker for your phone/tablet because there is no way to connect these devices to the camper speakers.
- We brought Starbucks Via Packs, which are not perfect but they suck far less than generic instant coffee brands. We also brought a number of other foods to make ‘instantly’ for those times that we didn’t feel like cooking before heading out to the next destination. You can honestly buy almost anything you want at the N1 gas stations and markets along the way – they are everywhere!
- I recommend buying a guidebook such as Lonely Planet Iceland, it’s good for planning before you go as well as while you’re on the road.
What to See
- Geysir: We drove out from Reykjavik and headed to the small town of Geysir, which is known for….yup, you guessed it, its geyser. If you’re visiting in the winter, as we were, you’d be smart to pick up some inexpensive crampons to help you walk over the ice and snow. I purchased these from YakTrax and understand they work really well, but accidentally left them in the car. Consequently, I was slipping and sliding all the way to and from the geyser.
- Aurora Borealis: Seeing the northern lights is never guaranteed but we were super lucky to see them 5 of the 7 nights we spent in Iceland. The key is to get away from the light pollution of the cities and to perch yourself atop a mountain so you have a full 360-degree view of the sky. Both of these recommendations are made easy by renting a camper van.
- Gullfoss: This town is home to a 105′ waterfall! The view is quite stunning and gives you the feeling of being very small. It was super windy and the wooden paths were covered in ice, so we kept our distance to avoid falling off the cliff into the icy water below.
- Vík: Just outside the booming little town of Vik you’ll find the black sand beach of Reynisfjall, which has large basalt columns that appear to be growing out of the beach. They are quite the sight to see and provide a great photo opportunity. In January we had the sun from roughly 11 AM to 5 PM, however, the mountains cut some of that time off the clock as well. One of the nice things about visiting Iceland in the winter is if you sleep in late and eat breakfast slowly, the lighting is perfect for your photos as the sun goes down again.
- Jökulsárlón: This tiny little place is simply stunning! Right away you’ll see a large glacier in the distance and glacier lagoon right from the bridge. Giant chunks of ice fall off the glacier and slowly make their way out to sea where the waves push them onto the black beach as shown in the title image of this post. In my opinion, this is the most stunning site in Iceland.
- Also in Jökulsárlón, depending on the time of year, you can tour ice caves. It’s surreal walking so deep into an ever-shifting amount of ice. It’s also wild that no two days are ever the same so your ice cave experience will be completely unique to you on whatever particular day you choose to visit.
7. Signs: Another awesome and fun activity to pass the time between different sites are the signs. I’m not quite sure what some of them mean but it’s fun to speculate.
A Final Thought
I spent six weeks before visiting Iceland growing a rather respectable beard because it was winter and I was going to be in Iceland. I had this grandiose image of giant bearded Viking men roaming around Iceland eating raw meat. Turns out there were no Vikings and barely any beards. So, if you’re under the same impression and decide to forgo the beard, you’ll be just fine.