Do’s and Dont’s of an Iceland Road Trip

Posted on 18. Aug, 2014 by in Destinations, Europe Travel, Iceland

Iceland Road Trip

Let’s just start by stating the obvious: Iceland is amazing.

Like, I-almost-didn’t-blink-for-a-week kind of amazing. But the rugged, raw beauty of the country is not something to simply marvel at; it is also something to take into consideration when planning a trip, for Iceland is a land of extreme conditions (you will notice that I emphasize on that point A LOT). Volcano eruptions, sand storms, remote locations and unpredictable weather make for unstable conditions that need to be addressed before they even occur. One can never be too safe.

Going on a road trip in Iceland is definitely one of those iconic, once-in-a-lifetime types of trip that you will tell your grandchildren about - but if you want to be alive to tell the tale 40 years from now, you better read these tips very carefully.

In no particular order, here are 14 things I learned during my Iceland road trip in this summer. Are you prepared for the longest post on this blog?

What you SHOULD do in Iceland

Do: Get a MiFi

Internet access may hold more importance to me than it ever will to non-blogging people but I feel like my trip in Iceland wouldn’t have been the same without my trusty MiFi, provided by Trawire. I was able to share updates with my followers on my social media accounts, plan itineraries for the next day when my hotel didn’t have wifi and even get directions whenever the car’s GSP acted up.

Iceland Road Trip

Do: Be prepared for one-lane bridges

Because even though Iceland is now on its way to becoming a major tourist destination, it isn’t exactly familiar with traffic jams. Most of the bridges along the Ring Road (Route 1) only have one lane. Number one rule here is to stay calm! Just slow down before you get to the bridge. Chances are there won’t even be anyone on the other side - except maybe a sheep or two.

Do: Bring multiple layers

Icelandic weather is only predictable in the sense that it will always be unpredictable; forecasts are valid for roughly 15 minutes. If you travel with a car you really don’t have an excuse not to carry numerous layers, which should always include: rain-jacket, wind-stopper, scarf, long-sleeve wool sweater and thick socks. Possibly thermals if you are going hiking, diving or snorkeling. In Iceland, you NEVER know what the weather will turn out to be!

Iceland Road Trip

Do: Get out of the car

There’s something utterly exhilarating about making unexpected stops during a road trip -some would even argue that those leaps of faith are the whole point of road trips- whether it’s for exploring an elf’s cave, admiring puffins or interacting with locals (of the human or animal kind). Be spontaneous!

Do: Send your itinerary to SafeTravel.is

You may be the best trip planner or driver there is, the truth is, your skills simply don’t matter in Iceland. Too many people forget that this is a land of storms, volcanoes and harsh conditions, all of which are highly unforeseeable and to which most visitors are not accustomed to. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so why not send your itinerary over to SafeTravel.is just in case?

Iceland Road Trip

Do: Get a large capacity SD card

Never underestimate the number of photos you will take in Iceland, even from inside the car. The scenery is incredible everywhere you look, and you will end up taking over 200 photos every day (true story). The last thing you want is to fill up your SD card before you reach your final destination!

Do: Plan for the appropriate car

If you think you can wing Iceland with a compact economy car, chances are you could, but you won’t get to enjoy half of the sights. Unless you have a 4×4 you won’t be allowed on F-Roads (in the Highlands), and unless you have a powerful engine you will struggle on mountainous roads.

It’s also worth pointing out that since Iceland is technically in Europe, automatic transmission isn’t the norm. If you really can’t drive a stick, make sure to request an automatic car far in advance as they tend to go quickly. Have a look at CarRentals.co.uk (the company I used to book my car) and see what they have available in accordance to your plans.

Iceland Road Trip

Do: Plan for expensive car rental insurance

Car rental will definitely take up the largest chunk of your budget; this is partly because of the crazy insurance policies required in Iceland. Where else in the world do you have to be insured against sand storms, volcanic eruptions, gravel road and ash damages?

My tip: call your credit card/life insurance provider before you leave and have them send you a list of what your insurance covers.

What you SHOULD NOT do in Iceland

Don’t: Drive like an asshole

I get it. Iceland is astonishingly pretty. But don’t be a moron. Don’t stop in the middle of the road; that’s what shoulders are for. Don’t take your eyes off the road to point at something or worse yet, take photos (I’ve seen that). Don’t drive like the roads belong to you, and that you are the only one there — because it’s not the case.

Iceland Road Trip

Don’t: Book accommodation on the fly

I’ll say it again: Iceland may be on everyone’s lips, but the tourism offer just doesn’t match demand at the moment. There aren’t that many hotels or inns in the country (I mainly stayed at Edda Hotels, for example), and most of them are only open during the summer season. Plan your accommodation as early as possible to save money and ensure you’ll have a place to sleep; but if being tied down to an itinerary isn’t your thing, you can always rely on camping.

Don’t: Forget stocking up on petrol cards

Just like hotels are few and far between, the same can be said about petrol stations. The general rule in Iceland is: whenever you see a station, stop and fill up the tank, even though your fuel tank is nowhere near empty. Because you simply don’t know when the next station will be.

And while you’re at it, stock up on petrol cards that you can use at self-service stations.

While you’re at it, you should read my Icelandic pal Audur’s post on gas prices in Iceland - this could come in quite handy!

Iceland Road Trip

Don’t: Skimp on expensive activities

Yes, the currency exchange in Iceland doesn’t give visitors much bang for their buck. But if you’re spending a sh*tload of money to get yourself to the island, you might as well enjoy it while you are there. Once in a lifetime opportunity, remember? Do pay that hefty $60 Zodiac boat ride through the icebergs of the Jökulsárlón glacier bay, do pay for that unbelievably cold yet otherworldly snorkel trip in Silfra with Dive.is. They’re worth the expense in the long run, trust me on that one.

Don’t: Take out too much cash

One of the things I learned while in Iceland is that regardless of how small the shop or town you’re in is, they accept credit cards. And that is VERY cool if you have a travel points reward program!

DON’T: FORGET TO ENJOY YOURSELF. That’s the whole point!

* Disclaimer: I received media rates with Trawire, Dive.is, Edda Hotels and CarRentals.co.uk, but as always, all opinions are my own. I would never endorse a product I don’t fully believe in.

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39 Responses to “Do’s and Dont’s of an Iceland Road Trip”

  1. Sofia

    27. Aug, 2014

    Getting a large capacity sd card I believe must be taken seriously, because you’re right, a gorgeous country like Iceland in any angle is just gorgeous.. who can resist that? no one!
    I love your photos and I love your post! And the sheep, they can have all the time they need to cross the road while I admire their beauty. And yes, I haven’t been disturbed by a sheep on the road.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      02. Sep, 2014

      Thanks for the kind words, Sofia! I have had to stop to let sheep cross the road multiple times during the trip, so this is definitely something to watch out for.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Felipe Pitta

    02. Sep, 2014

    Awesome post Marie! Will definitely help planning my trip to Iceland!

    Reply to this comment
  3. Eric

    02. Sep, 2014

    Headed to Iceland next week and I’m so glad I read this before I left! There are definitely a few things I hadn’t prepared for (like car insurance and MiFi)

    Reply to this comment
  4. Andrea

    02. Sep, 2014

    Just bookmarked this for my Northern Lights trip - although I’ll be going under very different circumstances I’m positive these tips will come in handy.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Raymond

    02. Sep, 2014

    I really suggest camping in Iceland. Hotels usually aren’t worth their high price, and I mean, where else can you camp right in front of a waterfall for absolutely no fee? Iceland is the best place to camp, stat.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Yzzah

    04. Sep, 2014

    Such beautiful landscapes!
    I totally agree with you about the SD card and the MiFi.You ought to take more pictures as much as you can and share them. Be prepared at all times!
    Thanks for sharing these smart and useful tips when going to Iceland!

    Reply to this comment
  7. Jay

    05. Sep, 2014

    I was looking at plane tickets just last week … I might have to book now seeing how beautiful it is!
    Peru and Iceland are my dream destinations and I think Iceland will be the first to be completed (it’s the closest to France too, which helps).

    Great post and advice!

    Reply to this comment
  8. Francois

    05. Sep, 2014

    great article and pictures! I would add another tip: book with a travel advisor, it’s always safer in term of risk and cost.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Escape Hunter

    07. Sep, 2014

    Amazing views.
    Worth taking a bicycle for some off-road biking… I guess.

    Reply to this comment
  10. David

    14. Sep, 2014

    Great rundown of Iceland … can’t wait to get there next summer!

    Reply to this comment
  11. Lily Lau

    14. Sep, 2014

    My God, I’ve to admit it! I’m one of those clumsy people who feels identified with some dont’s… thanks for teaching us from your experience, Marie!

    Reply to this comment
  12. Eka Zahra

    22. Sep, 2014

    Hi Marrie…thank you for the tips. And The pictures are so great..!

    Reply to this comment
  13. Sherry

    29. Sep, 2014

    I’ve always wanted to drive through Iceland. This is totally helpful in my future plans to drive through this country. Especially leaving my itinerary with SafeTravel.is - I never would’ve thought of that.

    Reply to this comment
  14. Lindsay

    29. Sep, 2014

    Can’t wait to go.

    Reply to this comment
  15. Allegra

    05. Oct, 2014

    Hey, I’m planning a trip to Iceland for about 2 weeks next August. I’m trying to do so on a budget. How expensive are car rentals? What’s the daily rate? At this point, I’m thinking we’ll rent for a week.

    Reply to this comment
  16. Kristin H.

    02. Jan, 2015

    Good pointers here for travellers… I however want to add some if that is ok, being Icelandic ….
    *When travelling during winter, and have to rent a car be sure your car is a 4×4 AND on tires that have those little metal studs in the tires.. very helpful on icy roads…
    *if driving around Iceland in winter DO NOT take the ringroad just blindly… East Coast ringroad is located in all the wrong placese, takes you to a isolated mountain dirt road while i recommend strongly you drive along the shoreline, small villages and very interesting museums and awesome scenery..
    *While driving in winter, days are short.. BEWARE of big herds of Reindeers close to, and on the road on the East coast.. there is a lot of them there… It is easier to spot them in summer when days are long.. (and they are great to photograph)::..
    *Don´t drive off road.. That is frowned upon, and you can get a really big ticket from the police if you do.. Which can leave a big dent in your budget..
    *When going to Reynisfjara, VIK.. Do be super cautious when photographing the ocean. People have been dragged out, and not found again.. SO EXTRA CAUTION!!!!! Although it does not look like calm ocean.. It probably isn´t so calm!!!! (Hold the hands of your kids extra tight there)….These are just things that came into mind while reading a good article… So.. Plan ahead, drive safe, be careful, and have an awesome time - and visit again… :D

    Reply to this comment
  17. Lisa

    04. Jan, 2015

    I’m in the early stages of planning my first trip to Iceland. Glad I came across your blog at the right time! Thanks. I can’t wait!

    Reply to this comment
  18. Ragnar

    14. Jan, 2015

    Great post! Between you and Kristin H there is not much to add except Do keep tap on the local weather report and Don’t set out for a recluse area alone (that also means do not drive to a recluse area in one car, there is safety in numbers)

    Reply to this comment
  19. Tumi

    16. Jan, 2015

    Maby want to add, dont plan a long car trip in the winter time.
    The weather as you said can be very bad and often roads are closed due to that but Reykjavík roads are almost always open just not suburban roads.
    Unless you get lucky ;)

    Tip from a local :D

    Reply to this comment
  20. Shirley MacFarlane

    23. Jan, 2015

    I have been to Iceland three times and actually would love to go again! Good advise about the petrol…I kept a close eye on the gas gauge, making sure to fill up at every opportunity since you don’t know how far until the next service station. Amazing country with friendly people.

    Reply to this comment

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