College Students on First Solo-Adventure
An Adventure through Photos
The wheels touched down on the runway and we knew that we had landed in a magical place. Wind whipped across the runway and as far as the eye could see, pristine, untouched nature lay ahead of the plane. What had we gotten ourselves into?
As full-time students at the University of California, Los Angeles, it can be a challenge to escape from our busy schedules—so Garrett and I decided to go big or stay home by traveling to Iceland. On our very first solo adventure, we chose to stray far from the easy path; instead, opting to explore Iceland’s beautiful, yet unforgiving Ring Road in a van. The Rent.is campervan was the most affordable choice for our college budget, but more importantly, it gave us seven days of unlimited freedom and flexibility that hotel-hopping could never offer. Our vacation began without time-constraints, commitments, or preconceived ideas—with only adventure as the prerequisite. Below, we share some of our greatest moments and advice, in hopes of inspiring you to go out and explore more. We hope you enjoy!
SEARCH OUT ADVENTURE
WHERE: Anywhere and everywhere!
Trekking across the Snæfellsnes Peninsula instantly ignited the spark of our passion for Iceland. The golden grass, moss-covered rocks, and transcending presence of Snæfellsjökull provided a picturesque backdrop for the first day of our journey. Our favorite part of these memories? Escaping the beaten path of the Ring Road and experiencing pathways to the water’s edge that no map could possibly show. Better yet was deciding which fork in the road to take—knowing that either direction would be equally as epic.
HANG OUT WITH THE LOCALS
WHERE: Pull off onto the side of any road
We made an unexpected number of friends on our trip. It was the true locals that made us feel most welcome in their homeland. There was the incredible elderly couple selling fish and chips out of a food truck in the town of Hellnar, as well as the friendly locals at a small Vik café. Somehow, the memory that sticks most with Garrett and I from our time with the natives happened to be with those of with a couple extra legs: Icelandic horses. Whether wild or domestic, they showed us unconditional love and a desire to be acknowledged. Better yet, they love posing for a few good photos! Although it may be difficult to manage your excitement, remember to always be careful and respectful of both the land and animals across the island.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK
WHERE: Just East of Ólafsvík, Snæfellsnes Peninsula
We will never forget the long hours of night driving that our trusty van endured. Often times we chose to drive into the night, knowing that our efforts to find a spot in the dark would be worth it in the morning, when the sun would rise over a new, breathtaking landscape. One of our most memorable mornings came on day two, after a late night of searching for a suitable place to shelter from the wind. We went to bed hearing the sound of falling water, only to awake to our own personal waterfall less than 20 meters away. That may be our most favorite aspect of vanlife—the ability to go at your own pace, whether fast or slow, day or night.
WHERE: Jökulsárlón Lagoon
Yes, we looked crazy in our bathing suits, but that’s all part of the fun. Our visit to the
Jökulsárlón Lagoon was different than most because we ventured beyond the sand. There is nothing that makes you feel more alive than navigating past icebergs and into the frigid water. For those brave enough to try, polar plunging is a great bucket list item to accomplish in Iceland—as long as there is a heated campervan waiting!
HOLD ON TIGHT
WHERE: DC-3 Crash
If you haven’t been warned already about the volatility of Icelandic weather, then start taking notes. Prepare for anything. One moment we were surrounded by crystal blue skies, while the next brought about intense rain. Although the weather conditions fluctuated during our seven days on the Ring Road, we were never without extreme wind—sometimes reaching up to 160 km/h. Thanks to this forceful wind, the four kilometer walk to the DC-3 plane crash was much more difficult than expected. We were constantly fighting the wind, just trying to stay within the road markers and while covering our faces from flying rocks. With perseverance, the small grey dot on the horizon grew bigger with each hard-earned step, eventually forming the scene that you see here.
FIND A REALITY CHECK
WHERE: North side of the island
One of the greatest things that Garrett and I learned from our amazing adventure was the simplicity of rural Icelandic life. With two-thirds of the population residing in Reykjavik, the remaining one-third of Icelanders form small communities, scattered throughout the island. The romanticism of this small house, surrounded by a vast hillside helped us appreciate the little things and understand that less is more, something which we forget in our busy lives. Each day of our seven day adventure we realized that in reality, all you really need is a campervan and good company!
WHERE: Seljavallalaug, Southern Iceland
After a few days of “vanlife” it feels good to get into a swimming pool. Plus, who doesn’t love a hot spring? The gem you see in the photo was built in 1923 and while it remains completely spring fed, it has become a little less hidden. After seeing photos of the pool several years ago, it was great to finally experience it in person—albeit a little colder than expected! Our time in the pool wa s so enjoyable that we stayed longer than scheduled, but this extension served as a reminder to slow down and appreciate our surroundings.
TAKE MORE PHOTOS
WHERE: Þingvellir, UNESCO World Heritage Centre
It seems like such an easy task: taking photos on vacation. I can promise you, on the first few days of your adventure you will take many photos—maybe hundreds, sometimes even thousands. But after some time passes you begin to take things for granted. You will continue on, driving past the next stop saying to yourself, “Oh, it’s just another waterfall!”. Iceland’s beauty is everywhere, but that doesn’t make it any less special. We are so happy that we took as many photos as we did, because we look back often to remember just a few of the things that we experienced on this trip.
FIGHT THE CROWDS
WHERE: Popular tourist sites, especially on the Golden Circle
Depending on the region, the amount of tourists you may come into contact will vary. In southern Iceland, we were frequently surrounded by tour buses and many families in other 4×4 SUVs. Compared to the north, these sightings seemed quite rare– where we would only see 10-15 vehicles per day. The next morning we welcomed other RENT.IS campervans that passed us on the road. At Goðafoss, pictured above, we learned that by missing the sunlight we also missed the crowds which we faced at certain stops. One of our favorite tricks was sleeping within minutes of our first stop of the day, so that we were guaranteed to be the only ones there.
FALL IN LOVE WITH ICELAND
WHERE: Rent.is campervan
We are thoroughly convinced that seeing Iceland in a van is the best way to do it. Never before have we experienced so much freedom, adventure, reliability and safety all at once. Garrett and I agree that the time spent in our home on wheels is the most unforgettable part of our trip.
1. Know where to pick up your van BEFORE you land in Iceland. It is not a hard task but Garrett and I were stranded with no phone service and no ride until we bought a SIM-card at the airport. Look for the yellow “Go Iceland” bus outside of the arrivals terminal—this will take you to the Rent.is Keflavik pickup area.
2. You can count on every town, big or small, to have two things: a gas station and a swimming pool. This is a very reassuring thing to remember on your trip. Gas is not as hard to come by as you would expect, so plan your driving accordingly, but don’t worry too much about running out of gas in the middle of nowhere. Swimming pools = showers, so when you’re ready to rinse off from your long days of travel, pick a town and ask locals where the pool can be found.
3. You will be given a water jug that you can fill up at any gas station, in any town. Look for the hose area and fill it up directly—the water is clean! The hose may sometimes be around back.
4. Food in Iceland can be very expensive, but one of many perks of a campervan is getting to cook your own meals. Locals recommended shopping for food at Bónus, a popular and relatively inexpensive chain with a pink pig as its logo.
5. Follow in the footsteps of the locals and purchase alcohol at the duty-free market in the airport. Wine and spirits were significantly cheaper than on the road. Also, screw tops not corks will make your life a lot simpler!
6. Use ECO mode! Close to the gear lever on our new Renault Traffic was a small “eco” button which allowed for great fuel efficiency with little-to-no power loss. For long and mostly flat Icelandic roads, we highly recommend driving in “eco”.
If there is one thing that we want you to take away from this blog it is to GO TO ICELAND! No matter the route you take or the length of your stay, a visit to this amazing country is a once in a lifetime experience. We are already dreaming of our next adventure in Iceland with Rent.is.
Read more: Top tips for a road trip in Iceland
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