Is this your first time touring Iceland in a motorhome or campervan? The freedom to carry your accommodation with you, not to mention the savings you can make on expensive hotel accommodation, make it an attractive option. But it’s always good to be prepared. With our RV tips and tricks for beginners, you can be assured of a great trip. Here are five essentials you need to know.
RVing for beginners
Motorhomes and campervans are very different, and in this ongoing RV vs Campervan battle, each has its pros and cons. As a novice, you might not fully appreciate their advantages and disadvantages. RVing for beginners isn’t as daunting as it first seems, though, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll be hooked. Here are some helpful tips for a smoother experience:
1. Figure out which vehicle best suits your needs
It might seem like we’re stating the obvious, but make sure you can drive the vehicle you choose. Factor in whether you can drive a manual (stick shift) or whether you should reserve an automatic – it’s probably best not to try manual transmission for the first time in a vehicle of this size. You could always take a couple of lessons before you set out for Iceland to boost your confidence.
Pay close attention to the gear that’s provided and don’t assume because one van has something, they all will. In general, motorhomes will often have a small onboard kitchen because they have the extra space, but also consider items such as camping chairs and the kind of heating system. Check our helpful guide on RV rental in Iceland, so you have a clear idea of what to expect.
2. Be realistic about your itinerary
In a country as beautiful as Iceland, it can be tempting to just go crazy with your itinerary. Camp like a pro and accept that you aren’t going to see and do everything. Once you have got your head around that, you’ll be able to tackle your research and sift out what really makes you happy. You shouldn’t feel pressured to tick off the must-sees just because someone else says you should.
In Iceland, planning your route isn’t just a question of where you’d like to stop. Even in summer, the weather can throw a bit of a curveball, and the chance of you having to alter your plans increases the closer you get to winter. Don’t underestimate the wind; we don’t recommend driving if it’s blowing at more than 15 m/s. Sometimes being buffeted around can make for more challenging driving than coping with snow and ice.
Safety’s paramount. Road conditions can temporarily become impassable, and the weather might deteriorate rapidly. In those situations, you don’t want to be rushing to that night’s campsite because you’ve squeezed in too much sightseeing earlier in the day. Keep abreast of the weather forecast and seek advice as you move around.
You might find it’s better to opt for fewer stops but spend more time in each. Pick a campsite from which you can visit attractions easily. In our top 7 campsites in Iceland list, you will find some wonderfully located campgrounds and some superb hikes that you can do around. Ask yourself if you’d have a better vacation by easing back a bit rather than ticking off-site after site.
3. Accept that you won’t be able to go everywhere
Another of our camper tips for beginners is that no matter how much time you have, you still won’t get to go everywhere and see everything. It’s also worth knowing that many campsites in Iceland are seasonal. Year-round campsites in Iceland happen in some places, but not everywhere. But that’s balanced by demand. In the low season, fewer people will opt to travel and fewer still will be camping.
Regardless of when you travel, it’s a good idea to book in advance. In the height of summer for the most popular campsites, it really is the case that you need to reserve as early as possible to secure a pitch. In less busy times, you should be able to be more flexible. Think about how spontaneous a traveler you like to be and weigh up whether you want to pin everything down or go with the flow.
Some areas will be off-limits to you regardless. Many campervans and motorhomes will be unsuitable for traveling on Iceland’s F roads, so if you’re hoping to explore the country’s mountainous interior, book an organized tour. That doesn’t have to feel wasteful, that you’ve hired a van only to park it up. For example, you can head up to Landmannalaugar just for the day and still see plenty.
Your own driving skills will come into play too: how confident will you be driving on gravel roads or tight switchbacks on mountain passes? Some roads, especially in the Westfjords and in parts of north and east Iceland, can feel quite adventurous. They’re doable, but will you find it stressful or exhilarating to drive them yourself? Be especially careful when the surface changes suddenly from tarmac to gravel, as this can often cause accidents.
4. Work out whether you’ll save with a Camping Card
Another of our RV tips and tricks for beginners is that Iceland offers visitors the option of purchasing Iceland’s Camping Card. It costs 159 euros and can be bought online before you leave home. Depending on when and for how long you are traveling and how many people there are in your group, this might work out cheaper than paying for pitches on an individual basis. It’s definitely worth going through the numbers to see.
The card is valid for up to two adults and two children traveling together in one campervan or motorhome, for a maximum of 28 nights. Note that the card isn’t valid year-round, beginning in May, so you’d need to complete your trip by September 15th – even earlier for some sites. Take a look at Iceland's Camping Card website to see which sites are part of the scheme and check the dates.
Whichever site you end up on, make sure you park up on a level pitch – you’ll wish you had if you wake up with your face squished up against the side of the van. Remember too that if you’ve chosen a site because you’ve read it offers great views of the oceans, a waterfall, or the mountains, those who get there earliest will have the pick of the pitches.
Camping Card holders also qualify for other discounts, thanks to a tie-in with Olís and ÓB petrol stations. You’ll receive 12 ISK off per litre of fuel purchased, plus discounted coffee and 10% off food and drink. You’ll also qualify for a 15% discount on car products and camping gas. Note that all Campervan Iceland vehicles come with a fuel discount card regardless.
5. Figure out which extras will make your life easier
Extras make all the difference. Think about how you are going to charge up the gadgets that you rely on: phones, tablets, cameras and so on. As you travel around Iceland, you’ll be taking photographs, checking bookings, following directions and quite often posting on social media or sending emails. So, what happens if the battery’s dead? Consider an inverter as an extra; it’s one of the most useful RV gadgets you can add.
Let’s talk bedding too. What’s provided varies between models, so you’ll need to check whether bed linen or sleeping bags are standard issue for the vehicle you’ve chosen. Often, duvets and pillows are optional extras. Before you write them off as an unnecessary extravagance, think about how important sleep is to your overall enjoyment of a place. If you’re tired and grumpy, will Iceland’s amazing scenery feel as special?
It’s also worth mentioning insurance at this point. There are lots of different options and basic CDW cover might not be sufficient. For example, if you plan to drive beyond tarmacked roads, then taking out gravel protection is a good idea as you won’t be worrying constantly about getting a chipped windshield or damaged paintwork.
Rving in Iceland made easy!
We know that driving an RV can be downright overwhelming at times. Follow these RV tips and tricks for beginners and we’re pretty sure this won’t be your last jaunt around Iceland in a campervan or motorhome. Take a look at our vehicles and get in touch if you need help deciding which one is best for you.