I spent three weeks traveling around Iceland in a campervan — here's what I learned along the way.

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I've never been camping before. There was no assembling tents at Girl Scouts or hopping into an oversized RV, not even a pop up in the backyard. So, when I told friends and family that my partner and I were renting a campervan to drive around Iceland for three weeks, they all laughed — audibly. 

Katie Lockhart in front of Kirkjufell Mountain
Credit: Courtesy of Patrick Sgro

While spending 21 nights in a campervan wasn't without its challenges, there's no better or more affordable way to see Iceland. From the wildly remote gravel roads of the Westfjords to the snowy slopes of the Eastfjords, through the quaint northern villages and countless waterfall stops in the south, here's what I learned while camping my way around Iceland.

Exterior of camper at Westfjords
Credit: Courtesy of Patrick Sgro

Choose the Right Camper

Travelers are spoiled for choice when it comes to camper companies in Iceland. There are dozens to choose from, and they all seemingly offer the same things. We went with the family-owned Happy Campers, the first mini-camper rental company in the country. They plant one tree for every booking, and when we realized we drove almost 2,500 miles, we were happy to offset the footprint, albeit slightly. The clincher for us, though, was the free 4G Wi-Fi on tablets and all the positive reviews.

Although we picked the right company, we did not select the right camper. We chose the Happy 1 Auto, a WV Caddy. While it would have been perfect for a week-long trip or for one traveler, the extra room in Happy 2 or even Happy 3 would have been better for our three-week journey. When in doubt, opt for more space. On those cold, rainy Iceland nights, you won't mind having a bigger area to hang out in the back.

Rainbow road in Seydisfjordur
Credit: Courtesy of Patrick Sgro

When to Travel

There's no question, Iceland is at its peak during the summer months. Travelers can take advantage of the midnight sun, driving, and sightseeing until, well, midnight. However, this is also the busiest time of year, so expect higher camper prices, limited supply, and crowded campsites, especially those on the Iceland Camping Card.

We opted for the shoulder season of September. There was still plenty of sunlight and much less traffic at the campsites. However, the majority of the country's campgrounds close on Sept. 15. While you can park overnight for free, all the facilities, including the toilets, are locked.

This required planning our destinations further in advance, and when in remote places like the Westfjords, it meant hours of driving to reach an open campsite. But earlier sunsets allowed us to slide open the camper door and search for the northern lights.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Credit: Courtesy of Patrick Sgro

Which Route To Take

A common question for visitors heading to Iceland is, "Which way should we travel, clockwise around the Ring Road or counterclockwise?" The most straightforward answer is: Follow the good weather.

As you've probably heard, Iceland's weather can be as temperamental as its erupting volcanoes. We arrived right as the autumn colors started to emerge and the weather began getting colder. This meant heading clockwise around the Ring Road, up to the stunning Strandir region of the Westfjords, and stopping at Siglufjordur along the Arctic Coast Way was the best option. 

We ended up making the right choice because a few days after completing the region, we got an email alert from Happy Campers, letting us know the area was being hit by massive snowstorms and 25 mph winds grounding cars and campers alike. Tip: Always check road.is for updates on road closures and en.vendur.is for accurate weather forecasts.

Pack the Essentials

When loading up the camper, we immediately realized our two checked bags and two carry-on suitcases wouldn't fit into the storage area underneath the seat-turned-bed. Our only option was to take all of our belongings out and keep our empty suitcases at the Happy Camper's headquarters. While you may want to be over prepared, try to resist bringing bulky luggage or tons of clothing options — it is camping after all.

We discovered a few items we couldn't live without during our trip — the first, quick-drying microfiber towels. Not only were they useful for the various remote hot pools, like Hellulaug and Krossneslaug, but they also came in handy as an extra layer of curtains while sleeping. Happy Campers also offers extras like an inverter, which we used to charge our phones and laptops at the end of each day.

Not All Campsites Are Equal

We referenced the Happy Campers' campsite map for all of our stays. It included details about each campsite's facilities as well as the cost, with the average being about $23 per couple, per night. 

Cross-checking the campsite with Google reviews came in handy more than once, alerting us to facilities we didn't want, including the occasional communal shower. During our trip, many sites had dirty bathrooms, showers, and kitchens, so be sure to pack flip-flops, shampoo, and soap. Alternatively, there were several new facilities with little luxuries like new washers and dryers, heated floors, and even instant wall heaters. 

And just because you're in a campervan doesn't mean you can't treat yourself to the occasional hotel stay. We took advantage of a long, hot shower at the plush Hotel Rangá.Their aurora wake-up call also made it much easier to spot the northern lights.

Skogafoss waterfall from our camper
Credit: Courtesy of Patrick Sgro

Why Travel in a Campervan?

Camping is ideal for the adventurous soul. It allows you to explore remote corners of the country where you can easily set up camp and bask in the natural beauty. Being able to fall asleep next to a rushing river and wake up near a cascading waterfall connects you with nature in a way that only Iceland can. 

There's also the added benefit of saving hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on both a car rental and accommodations. Plus, travelers can store all of their belongings in one place, as they don't have to unpack and repack multiple times. There's no check-in or checkout, either. Renting a campervan offers the ease of waking up, rolling over, and starting your day exploring. 

My trip has just ended, but I can't wait to return to Iceland and revisit my favorite places. Next time, I'll make sure to book a bigger van.