In May of 2017, my adventure friend Courtney and I decided to take the plunge and embark on our dream vacation — Iceland. We spent months planning our packing lists and our route across the country. But…nothing prepared us for what we faced once we got there. During our long car rides between sights, we wrote down our main pointers that we would want someone to know as they prepare to venture to Iceland as well. Here they are…
01 // When filling up gas, never hit the “fill tank” option. This puts a huge $250.00+ hold on your account that you will get back within a few days, but it can cause you issues with your bank. Just guesstimate. But, don’t think that gas station clerks know the right amount either, because they don’t.
02 // If you are going to be near water, put on your rain pants. When it doubt, pants it out. And also your hiking shoes. And also warmer clothes. But if you’re hiking for a long time; bring a bag to place your layers in because you will get sweaty. It’s all about them layers.
03 // When renting your camper van, ask about jumper cables. Iceland is in fact a bit icy and a bit cold, but surprisingly really nobody has them. Be sure to turn the car off with nothing plugged in at night while sleeping or when using the bathroom at a campground, etc. Just turn the car on and blast the heat for a while before bed. You’ll be fine. Disclaimer: this was only tested while it was 30° outside.
04 // Bring towels. Lots of them. Small, large, and definitely microfiber quick-dry towels. Regular towels would probably never dry, because it’s just always wet there.
05 // You can never tell if something is damp or cold. But does it really matter? Both are unfortunate. Be prepared to be both most of the time. (Reminder: when it doubt, rain pants it out.)
06 // Because things are always wet, bring some thick string to hang across the back of the van so that you can drape your wet clothes on to hopefully dry them a bit. This does a little, but not a lot. However, it keeps your wet clothes from getting other things wet. Just lay down a towel below them to catch the drips.
07 // If the van offers tables and chairs, probably just turn them down. They take up too much space and most times you can use a picnic table or no table/chairs at all. It’s better to have more space to lounge, and you can just open the back of the van to sit if you need to.
08 // Don’t be afraid of small guest houses that look like people’s homes. They are very friendly, quaint, and the coffee is delicious. Do make sure it’s a guest house, which would have a sign, and don’t walk into someone’s home. Also, most of them have cats that are cute and nice, so make sure you love cats.
09 // If you find a toilet, use it. Don’t test your bladder. Purchase your own toilet paper or some sort of wipe when possible. Just because there is a toilet does not mean there is toilet paper.
10 // If you find a hot pool, use it. And don’t be afraid to get in the nude in front of everyone because nobody cares. Don’t waste the bathrooms to change like a wussy. Your butt is okay in Iceland. Use the post-hot pool shower as a way to get a nice wash in while you can. Some campsites offer showers, but there may not be any hot water, especially if you are near a glacier or outside of a town. Be sure to get a coin for a locker if offered even if you don’t rent a towel, as they probably won’t give you locker access unless you ask.
11 // No matter where you are, if you like to wake up early, pretty much everything will be closed. The earliest open time we saw was on average 8 AM so you may need to go without coffee for a bit or bring your own. But, it pays off to wake up early, because you are usually one of a few people at attractions before the large crowds and tour buses arrive. This is especially true in the golden circle and the southern region, where day trips come from Reykjavik.
12 // If a hill looks scary and like you can’t make it up, you probably can. Just hit the gas a little bit. Unless it’s an F road and you don’t have four-wheel drive, you probably can’t make it. Take caution on the uphill gravel roads, especially when wet, because you may slip n slide as you climb.
13 // Everyone is extremely friendly and most are willing to help if you ask. There didn’t seem to be too much of a language barrier with anyone. How could you be unhappy in Iceland? Only if you wake up to a dead car battery. (Reminder: jumper cables!)
14 // The wind can and does blow in all directions. Meaning, you’re walking into the wind/rain no matter which direction you are going in. Be sure to bring high-quality wind breaking clothing and wear it anytime you exit the vehicle. Because even if it doesn’t feel windy where you are, where you are hiking it probably is. I wore A Mammut Rain Coat and REI Rain Pants all the time. Gore-tex is key.
15 // It’s best to camp at places where there is some sort of crowd of people. That way, if you need help, there is someone around to help you. Also, empty campgrounds are scary.
16 // Use My Maps by Google to map your trip. You can add symbols to help you categorize your stops. There are also some great places to download maps from professionals, which is what we did. We used Life With A View’s downloadable map and it was great.
17 // Some clothing must-haves: warm & thick socks, good hiking shoes that are already broken in and very waterproof, sandals to change in to when strutting around a campsite or washing, long underwear or some sort of thermal layer, and hiking pants with a bunch of pockets that dry quickly but are also comfortable to wear while driving for long periods of time…and sleeping.
18 // Go into the trip with a good attitude. No matter what happens, there is always some sort of solution and you’ll be fine. Roll with the punches and be pleased that whatever challenge you’re facing, at least you’re in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
This post was originally featured on Medium