Iceland is truly out of this world. I am pretty confident there is no other place on this planet like it. Known as ‘the land of fire and ice’, Iceland’s landscape and environment is incredibly enchanting.
From volcanoes to glaciers, bubbling sulfur pits to geysers, pillow moss to reflective fjords, cute puffins to fuzzy Icelandic horses, black sand beaches to green fields…Iceland is a destination for the adventure seeker and lover of the unexpected.
After graduating from Pepperdine University in 2014, my best friend Haley and I embarked on a post-grad trip to Iceland and Norway. Little did we know what was in store for us. We booked our flights and a car…and that is about all the planning we did!
As the adventurous souls we are, we decided that we wanted to see the entire country in 7 days. So we embarked on the Ring Road, driving the entire perimeter of the country! We completely unplugged ourselves from our worlds, traveling without any GPS, internet, cell phones, or itineraries. And that was probably one of the best decisions we made. Our ‘unpreparedness’ threw out any sort of expectations, and we traveled with an open heart, and wide open eyes. To say we were blown away is really an understatement.
After months of dreaming of our epic road trip, we arrived at the Keflavik International Airport. We flew via Iceland Air, which I highly recommend! The airline allows free stopovers in Iceland for up to 7 days, so we actually booked our flight to Oslo with a layover in Iceland. From the airport, we took a bus to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. After a couple local buses, we picked up our Happy Camper Van!
Cozy and loaded with the necessities, we were set to hit the road. The Happy Camper Van included a gas stove, cooler, sink, pots/pans, and dining and flatware. This made cooking and eating Jain so much easier! Equipped with a sofa-bed, storage space, solar panels, and heating system, it was completely eco-friendly and gave us the flexibility to camp out wherever we liked. That’s right- as long as you are not on private property or ecological reserves, you can park and camp anywhere you’d like!
If you decide to road trip, I highly suggest making pit stops at grocery stores as you see them. They are easy to find when you’re in the larger towns, but not so easy to come by once you’re in the wilderness so to say 🙂 As you drive through small towns, make your pit stop for groceries and gas!
Easy to prep meals are key for camping/road trips. For breakfast, I’d suggest chia pudding parfaits using Icelandic yogurt, Skyr, some warm oatmeal, and granola. Lunch time calls for quick sandwiches or wraps. For dinner, you could make some pasta, hearty soups, sautéed veggies with quinoa, or even Indian food from Rasoi Magic No Onion-No Garlic masala packets! Definitely pack some staples with you from home, like dried spices, superfoods, protein powder, and energy bars. Maybe even brew some hot tea to sip on while you stare out at the glacier lagoon!
Since we were traveling in May, summertime in Iceland, we never encountered “nighttime”. Instead, we had almost 20 hours of daylight! Of course, this makes choviar (Jain practice of not eating between sunset and sunrise) so easy! 😛 To my surprise, there are hardly any bugs in Iceland. Guess that makes camping slightly more glamorous for those with insectophobia!
As I mentioned earlier, we didn’t travel with an itinerary or idea of sites to see. We wanted a raw experience, avoiding the tourist track. We started by walking around the captial, Reyjkavik. Although this is one of the largest cities in Iceland, it’s quite small. A couple days in Reyjkavik is plenty. It is a quirky city–filled with some amazing art, museum, and culture. We felt very safe in this city, and even couch surfed with a local Icelandic friend. If you prefer to stay in a hostel/hotel, I’d suggest Kex Hostel!
After exploring a bit of Reykjavik, we started our journey with the Golden Circle. If you are only in Iceland for a short amount of time, this is a great route to see some fantastic natural landscapes of Iceland. Some key stops include Þingvellir National Park, Strokkur Geyser, and the Gullfoss waterfall.
From the Golden Circle, we embarked to Southern Iceland along Highway 1 (the Ring Road). This was by far my favorite area of Iceland. Vík is a coastal village in the center of the southern coast, with spectacular black sand beaches, rock formations, a glacier lagoon, remnants of a crashed DC 3 plane, farms, and Icelandic horses!
We decided to camp out that night at the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. This is where chunks of the Jökulsárlón glacier are breaking off and floating into the ocean! The soft blue haze and crackling of breaking glaciers made for a relaxing and beautiful end to our first day on the Ring Road.
As we continued up the eastern coast, we encountered grazing wild reindeer!
And then, a beautiful herd of Icelandic horses! Obviously we had to pull over.
Of course, Haley couldn’t resist and had to get on an Icelandic horse…while I nervously hoped they wouldn’t take off with her! But seriously, what beautiful animals. They were so calm, hairy, and curious!
The southeastern coast was quite remote, but still, absolutely breathtaking!
As we continued north, we encountered some crazy weather changes. All of a sudden, we ended up in the middle of thick fog and snow!
As we continued into the northern region, we encountered the geothermal fields of Námafjall. We honestly felt like we arrived on Mars; we were surrounded by solfataras, boiling mud pots, sulfur crystals, colorful soil! The area was really smelly due to the sulfur, but you get used to it.
We continued up the eastern coast, enjoying more of the magical landscape of Iceland. Produce was difficult to come by in the northern region, we were glad we loaded up earlier.
Our next stop was Hraunfossar in western Iceland. This is a series of waterfalls pouring out of the lava rock into the Hvítá river. The area of Hallmundarhraun is a lava field created by the eruption of volcanoes underneath the Langjökull glacier.
As our incredible road trip was coming to an end, we knew we had to have one last adventure. In search of the Langjökull glacier caves, we ended up lost, “off-roading” in our camper van. We found the road that goes to the caves, but unfortunately it was snowed out! So instead, we just drove around in..the middle of nowhere.
Those teeny wheels were definetly not made for slush! We decided to stretch out from all that driving and do some yoga too 🙂
As we headed south on the western coast, we passed the Western Fjords. If only we had enough time to see that area as well! The Western Fjords are beautiful and require an entire trip on its’ own!
While driving, we encountered the coolest little “self-service” market. There were crates of veggies, herbs, and fruit. No employees, just a small cash box at the door to leave your payment. The little market ran on honesty–how cool!
We ended our trip by visiting some more remote waterfalls and local farm about an hour outside of Reykjavik. It was baby animal season so we got to encounter so many cute newborns!
We then returned to Reykjavik to explore the city some more. We couldn’t leave Iceland without going to a cross fit class at Cross Fit Reykjavik, where Annie Thorisdottir trains! Unfortunately, we didn’t run into her, but nonetheless had an awesome workout. We later attended a small concert at Kex Hostel and a ‘cultures of the world’ parade.
We found a local Icelandic bakery and picked up some fresh cheese and olive oil to snack on.
As our Iceland adventure concluded, we flew off to Norway for the rest of our post-grad trip. I honestly can say that Iceland is my favorite country that I’ve traveled to. It is an incredibly unique destination that anyone can enjoy–families, friends, couples, or solo!
P.S. You might develop a Skyr addiction. Unfortunately, Skyr isn’t allowed through airport security 😦
Tips for traveling in Iceland:
- Don’t be afraid of not having a detailed itinerary! If there is one place to be adventurous, it is Iceland. There is so much to see, and not many tourists, so you can take complete advantage of being present with nature.
- If you are doing the Ring Road trip, pick up produce/groceries whenever you see a supermarket; they are hard to come by once you’re in the more remote areas of the country.
- If you don’t mind missing the comforts of a hotel, go for the camper van! It is the best way to see Iceland, and allows you the flexibility park and camp whenever, wherever! You might need to figure out the showering situation though 😉 (We were showering in bathroom sinks essentially…but hey, that is camping! Luckily public restrooms in Iceland are very, very clean)
- Essentials to pack: warm sleeping bag, hiking boots, road map, journal, tripod, and a really good camera/videocamera–landscape lenses are essential!
- Don’t skip all the “touristy” things; we were bummed we missed the Blue Lagoon! We were short on time but it would have been nice, especially after the long drive. Definitely take a dip in natural hot springs you come across. There are a few around Vík.
- Iceland (and the rest of Scandinavia) can be very expensive. Be prepared and know your budget ahead of time.
- Don’t worry about not knowing Icelandic. Most people do speak English. The only tricky part was reading out road names from the map–by the time I could try to sound it out, the turn had passed…haha.
- Just go. You won’t ever regret it!