Is RV Travel in Iceland Good for the Environment?

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blog authorBy Johanna S. Scandinavian shield verificationVerified Expert

Let’s face it, flying to Iceland and then hiring a diesel vehicle is not the most eco-friendly vacation choice. If you were 100% committed to an environmentally friendly way to travel, then you’d opt for a bicycle trip in your home country. But we all have to balance out our priorities; it is possible to plan a more eco-friendly RV trip by making certain conscious choices. 

First and foremost, anyone that chooses Iceland as a travel destination is going to be a nature enthusiast. After all, Iceland is all about exploring the great outdoors and reveling in the wonders of the natural world. So it follows that we will all want to protect what we love and preserve the pristine nature of Iceland. 

In this article, we will explore the ways and means that you can plan a more environmentally friendly RV vacation. From your packing list and itinerary plans, to the activity choices that you make along the way. 

Consider the time of year that you travel 

The high season in Iceland falls during the summer months from June to August. This is when the country welcomes the majority of its visitors and the roads are at their busiest. Iceland is a small country with a finite amount of space and resources, so this time of year is particularly heavy on the immediate environment. 

Here’s one way that you can really make a difference: choose to travel to Iceland for your road trip outside of summer. The ideal months are May and September. This is when the weather conditions and the longer daylight hours still allow for optimum enjoyment, but the pressure on the roads, sights and general infrastructure is much less intense. 

As well as being more environmentally friendly, traveling at this time of year has other benefits. Prices are generally more affordable in the low season. So you’ll pay less for camper van rental and for campground fees, as well as for tours and services! 

Another big plus is that the busy sights will have far fewer other tourists visiting them. This means that you’ll have a much nicer time looking around. You’ll enjoy more space and fewer distractions. It also means that the paths and general infrastructure will have less footfall, allowing time for grass to recover from all those walking boots. 

Of course, for some people, traveling outside of the high season won’t be an option. Perhaps you need to travel at certain times because of your job or your kids’ school terms. But don’t worry, there are many other ways to reduce your environmental impact. woman enjoying a hot spring in the low season of Iceland

Take your time and enjoy slow travel 

When you visit Iceland, it can be tempting to try and fit in as much in as you possibly can. For nature lovers, Iceland’s multiple natural wonders might be a bit overwhelming. With its stunning waterfalls, vast glaciers, mighty volcanoes and epic fjords, you’ll feel like a kid in a sweet shop! 

But take a moment to pause and consider. One of the best ways to enjoy an environmentally friendly RV vacation is to take your own sweet time. This means coming to Iceland for as long as possible. As well as not trying to do too much when you get here. 

We all know that airplane travel is one of the biggest polluters environmentally. So rather than doing many short city breaks and country hops for your vacations, choose fewer trips for longer. That way, you’ll really be making the most of your air miles. International travel is a luxury after all, so make it something special. 

When you arrive in Iceland, you should also think carefully about your itinerary. Most importantly, take your time and take plenty of days off of driving to explore on foot. Factor in backpacking hikes, horse riding days and days to just sit and stare at the wonders around you. 

This is a much more rewarding way to travel than rushing around and ticking off a list of sights. By travelling slowly and more mindfully, you have the chance to slow down yourself. You get out of the state of ‘doing’ and into the flow of simply ‘being’. Believe us, you’ll breathe a big sigh of relief, which is what we all want from a vacation, isn’t it? 

Yet another plus of slow travel is that you’ll have the time to get to know each place better. Delving a little deeper into a place, more often than not, yields many interesting discoveries. You’ll have time to find the more hidden places and perhaps get to know a community or individuals a little better. 

Offsetting your carbon footprint 

Traveling, especially flying, always involves an increase in carbon emissions. So to offset this, you can calculate your usage and then donate to an organization that combats the negative effects. There are various carbon calculators available online, as well as many organizations and charities you can donate to. 

There are also some carbon-capturing projects that are entirely Iceland specific. One fantastic one is The Icelandic Wetland Fund. Wetlands actually trap and retain a huge amount of carbon from the atmosphere. 
The Icelandic Wetland Fund works hard to restore and maintain wetlands across Iceland. As well as being great for the environment, their work provides important habitats for Iceland’s birdlife.  Panoramic view of the Icelandic Wetlands

Being a responsible tourist in Iceland 

If you are visiting Iceland for a road trip, there is much that you can do to be a responsible tourist. There are certain important rules around driving in Iceland, as well as for hiking and camping in Iceland. All of these have been put in place with the simple intention of protecting its pristine environment. 

Iceland’s natural vegetation is extremely fragile, so any disturbance can be really hard on it. This is especially true of its slow growing moss that can sometimes take years to recover. With this in mind, it is essential to stick to designated paths and roads when driving or hiking in Iceland. 

One of the main rules around driving is that you must only drive and park on designated areas. This might sound obvious, but people have been known to attempt to drive off-road in Iceland. Both in regular vehicles and in 4x4 trucks. This can wreak havoc on slow growing vegetation, so it is strictly prohibited. 

The same premise goes for camping in Iceland. It used to be the case that people could wild camp freely right across Iceland’s landscape. But as tourism grew in popularity over the years, this became increasingly unsustainable. Eventually, in 2015 wild camping was officially banned in Iceland. And it has really helped to protect the beauty of the countryside for all.

Sustainable travel checklist 

There is much more that you can do to reduce your environmental impact on your vacation. From what you choose to eat and drink to how you spend your travel cash. Here’s our handy checklist for being an environmentally responsible tourist in Iceland.
  • Make the most of your time and stay longer
  • Travel and pack light
  • Pack carefully so that you have what you need with you
  • Offset your vacation carbon footprint
  • Travel outside of the high season if you can
  • Slow down and really appreciate each moment and place
  • Drive steadily and don’t hit the gas too hard
  • Never drive or park up off-road or wild camp
  • Protect the wild places and stick to the path
  • Leave no trace – always take your litter away with you
  • Take reusable water bottles and enjoy the delicious tap water
  • Buy locally produced products and food
  • Avoid eating whale and puffin
  • Make sure any boat trips you take are environmentally friendly
  • Spend your money mindfully with conscious companies and local businesses
  • Reuse and recycle wherever possible 
Get in touch to discuss your camper van rental options for a slow-travel Iceland adventure today!

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