Iceland without kids
We hugged our 3 small children goodbye, left behind the diaper bag, potty training, and violin lessons in exchange for our rain jackets and hiking boots and headed to the airport to embark on a journey through one of the most magical places on Earth. Iceland was a last minute trip as a result of watching the 2018 World Cup tournament which was Iceland’s first ever appearance, and dreaming of traveling somewhere just the two of us. With a few Google searches that resulted in cheap airfare to Iceland and camper van websites, our dreaming turned into “I think we can do this!” Once the passports were updated and childcare was given a green light, we bought our airline tickets, reserved our camper van on rent.is and purchased tickets to the Blue Lagoon for a few hours after our arrival time.
You may hear, “Iceland is so expensive.” It can be, but I’m here to tell you that you can take that dream vacation to Iceland by being fiscally mindful about your spending which revolves around renting a camper van. Iceland is the size of the state of Maine in the U.S which means it is achievable to cover some ground and see many different parts of the island. Driving is easy in Iceland; it’s hard to get lost since you can just follow the Ring road around the edge of the island, you drive on the same side of the road as in the U.S and you don’t need an international driver’s license. A camper van from Rent.is is also easy. They pick you up at the airport and bring you to their rental location and they provide transportation back to the airport after you return the camper van. They walk you through everything you need to know about the camper van, hook up your WiFi, turn on the mini-fridge/cooler in the back (buy your beer at the airport when you get off the plane and stick it in the fridge so you’re ready to relax)!
Iceland in the summer is a truly unique experience since the sun doesn’t really set. It just grazes along the horizon for a few hours, which means hiking up to the top of that waterfall at 10:00 pm or getting up really early to start driving to Dýrhólaey to see puffins is attainable. There are no check-in or check-out times each day like there would be with a hotel. There is no struggling to connect with an Airbnb host wondering what your accommodations will look like from night to night. There is so much freedom with the camper van. With 170 registered campsites in Iceland, you just take your pick and pull into a campsite and leave when you are awake and ready for the next adventure. Our camper van brought us to campsites along the mid-Atlantic rift where one side is the North American tectonic plate and the other side is the EurAsian tectonic plate in Þingvellir National Park. We camped feet from the base of a waterfall in Selfoss, slept next to a glacier in Skaftafell near the Vatnajökull National Park, then camped under a full rainbow after the rain in Flúðir!
Another way the camper van saved us time and money were grocery store visits rather than eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at restaurants. We had a mini fridge so we could buy Skýr yogurt and fruit for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and easy camping meals for dinner with the camping stove, pots, and dishes provided with the camper van. We wanted to see every waterfall, glacier, and hot spring that we could squeeze into the daylight hours so we saved time by eating quick and easy meals.
You may wonder how to live in a camper van that is the same size as a minivan? It was perfect for two people. Once we pulled into a campsite, we could shift around our luggage, flip the back seats down, unfold the mattress, and roll out the sleeping bags in less time than it would take someone to check into a hotel. We had our feet up, the heater on, a Viking beer in our hands, and a map of Iceland in our laps planning our next adventure the following morning. The camper van had space to put all of our things complete with a shelf above the driver and passenger seats, eight zipper compartments along the backseat side windows, and plenty of space in the back next to the mini fridge. We even had a little rope we made into a clothesline to hang our swimsuits and towels along the back window.
Our favorite part of Iceland was truly experiencing the culture of how the Icelandic people relax. Each day we grabbed our swimsuits and drove to some type of hot pool which also included a really nice, clean shower experience post swimming instead of having to shower at campsites. Our camper van brought us to the fabulous and luxurious Blue Lagoon which will melt your stress away as you glide through the steamy 100 degree water with a silica mud mask on your face and a beer in your hand.
The following day we drove to Hveragerði, packed our suits and towels and journeyed to Reykjadalur, which translates to “steam valley,” and is the best hot spring in Iceland on our rating scale. It is an hour hike through the mountains alongside mountain goats past a waterfall and breathtaking views of a gorge. Once you arrive there are a few wood panels to hide behind as you change into your suit or no suit if you are really brave. Dipping into the 100 degree hot spring is a truly unique experience as you lie down as the shallow water rushes over you and you gaze up the mountains surrounding you. (Tip: bring a few beers or a bottle of wine to enjoy at this moment.)
I learned later that the further you meander up the stream the hotter the water becomes. Don’t limit yourself to expensive or the bold water adventures. Every town or community has a geothermal pool and for a few dollars you can finish a day of hiking floating alongside with the locals. Considering 98% of Icelanders speak English, this is an opportunity to pause life as a tourist and learn more about local customs and culture.
It is impossible to capture this country’s beauty and essence in photos; you have to see it, hike it, and experience it with your own eyes. Iceland will leave you speechless. It will cause you to elbow your partner sleeping in the passenger seat as you say, “Wake up, you have to see this!” And long after you return back home, you will be grateful that you dared to dream of this adventure and make it a reality. With a little courage and a camper van, Iceland could be yours.
Read more: Circumnavigating Iceland
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