Camping has an appeal far beyond the desire to overnight in a tent, campervan or motorhome. It’s a chance to reconnect with nature and find out whether the great outdoors is really great. Spoiler alert: it is in Iceland! In summer, days stretch for almost 24 hours (pack an eye mask!) Meanwhile in winter, if you’re camping away from large towns and cities the lack of light pollution even in campsites means you’ll maximise your chances of seeing the Northern Lights. Camping’s easy in Iceland, even more so with these hacks and tricks. If you’re thinking about booking a camping trip for your next Icelandic holiday, then you’ll want to read this.
Renting a campervan in Iceland: save costs
Tip number one: if you’re going to rent a car to get around Iceland – and you’ll want to, as public transport isn’t as cheap as in other parts of the world – then you may as well rent a campervan or a motor home. You’ll find that you save big on the cost of hotels and upgrade the level of comfort from that you’ll experience in a tent. While it’s fun to pitch a tent if you know what you’re doing, if you don’t – or if it’s raining or windy – getting set up at a campsite if you arrive in a campervan is much easier. Specifications vary, so read through the fine print to ensure you choose the vehicle that’s right for your needs and your budget.
How to camp in Iceland – and what not to do
Wild camping might seem to be a great way of saving money on your camping road trip, but actually it’s illegal pretty much everywhere. Despite the “freedom to roam” enshrined in Icelandic law, the fragile landscape and high proportion of accessible land under private ownership means that wild camping isn’t likely to be an option for many of the places you might wish to visit, particularly if you plan to drive along the ring road. Campers in Iceland will find it easy to book a convenient pitch in an authorised location.
Bring a credit card to Iceland
While it’s always handy to have at least some cash on you, so many places in Iceland accept credit cards that you’ll want to have one with you while you travel. It’s quite acceptable to pay for anything with a credit card, no matter how small a purchase. If you can also open a credit card account which allows you to accrue points, you might even find that you can be on the way to earning enough to pay for the flights for your next visit.
Buying a Camping Card in Iceland
Iceland’s Camping Card seems like a great idea. But do you need a Camper Card in Iceland to be able to camp? Valid for 28 days throughout the summer season, it cost 19900 ISK in 2019 (at the time of writing, 2020 prices weren’t yet finalised). The card covers pitches for tents, campervans and motorhomes and is great for helping travellers stick to a budget. However, of the 170+ registered campsites across the country, only 40 or so have signed up to the scheme. And of course if you plan to rent a camper during the winter, the card’s not valid, even though 26 campsites nationwide are still open. Do your research before you decide to purchase the card or not – it will depend on where you plan to stay.
Check out the heating system
Camper rentals vary, so if you’re planning to rent a campervan or a motorhome, give some thought to whether you need a heating system in your vehicle. Even in summer, there can be quite a chill in the air and there’s nothing like feeling cold to make you miserable. In winter, temperatures drop considerably, particularly overnight, so think about how warm you need to be to enjoy your trip. If you know you need heat, check the specification of your intended rental to make sure it has heating. To be extra toasty, you might also find it helps to bring your own sleeping bag, regardless of whether you are planning to pitch a tent or renting a campervan or motor home.
Save money in your van rental in Iceland
Before you opt to purchase GPS as an add on to your rental, think about whether you need it. Instead, choose campsites with WiFi (ideally free but if not, paid). Download maps onto your phone from Google and use offline to help you navigate. Alternatively, depending on your mobile phone package, you might be eligible for free-roaming which means you’ll have access to data while you’re on the road or at your campsite. Check travel information each night while you’re at the campsite to make sure you’re aware of anything that might affect you the following day.
Use a tour operator if you want to explore Iceland’s glaciers or mountains
Camping with a campervan or motorhome means you’re not going to be allowed to drive on Iceland’s F roads. These adventurous roads criss cross the island’s interior and are closed in the winter months. Most agencies won’t insure rental cars whatever the time of year. If you wish to explore via the F roads, or head up onto the surface of one of Iceland’s glaciers, you’ll need to swap vehicles. Take a break from the driving and book one of the many day tours available.
Pack the essentials in a soft-sided bag
Before setting out from home, think about what you need. There’s not a lot of point wasting space bringing smart clothes if your itinerary doesn’t warrant it, but making space for a decent pair of gloves or hiking boots will pay dividends. Likewise, bring towels. They don’t have to be bulky – you can buy travel towels that pack small and dry quickly. Space is likely to be at a premium inside your campervan or motor home, particularly if you are travelling as a group. Carry a soft sided bag which will squish into awkwardly shaped spaces much more easily than a hard shall suitcase.
Bring a refillable water bottle
The cost of drinks on the go soon adds up. When camping in Iceland, make the most of freely available drinking water by packing a refillable water bottle. (Buying a jar of coffee or some teabags is also a good money-saving travel hack on the same principle.) And remember you’ll be doing your bit for the environment if you can cut down on single use plastics by not buying bottles of water along the way, so it’s win-win.
Eat in – and save money on the price of restaurant meals
Stretch your budget during your trip to Iceland by utilising the campervan or motor home’s cooking facilities. Think carefully about how and what you might cook before you choose between vehicles. Upgrading might be cost-effective if you think how much it will save you money over the cost of eating in a restaurant, even those located in petrol stations. Stop off each day at a local grocery store – it’s fun to browse local produce and then cook up a meal each night during your trip to Iceland.
Wherever you Iceland travel itinerary takes you, planning to camp makes life easy and is a lot of fun.