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

Iceland Road Trip - 17

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?

Iceland Road Trip

Seljalandsfoss

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.

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 by 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?

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

Dyrhólaey lighthouse

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 sandstorms, 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.

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.

Iceland Road Trip

Jökulsárlón lagoon

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!

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!

 

Iceland Road Trip

63 Comments on Do’s and Dont’s of an Iceland Road Trip

  1. Sofia
    August 27, 2014 at 2:51 am (3 years ago)

    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
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres
      September 2, 2014 at 9:01 pm (3 years ago)

      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
  2. Felipe Pitta
    September 2, 2014 at 7:08 am (3 years ago)

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

    Reply
  3. Eric
    September 2, 2014 at 9:13 pm (3 years ago)

    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
  4. Andrea
    September 2, 2014 at 9:15 pm (3 years ago)

    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
  5. Raymond
    September 2, 2014 at 9:16 pm (3 years ago)

    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
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres
      September 15, 2014 at 12:20 pm (3 years ago)

      I found that out while I was there that camping is SUPER popular. Great budget alternative to expensive hotels.

      Reply
  6. Yzzah
    September 4, 2014 at 3:40 pm (3 years ago)

    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
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres
      September 15, 2014 at 12:19 pm (3 years ago)

      Iceland is beautiful Yzzah, and I’ve only seen half of it!

      Reply
  7. Jay
    September 5, 2014 at 2:35 am (3 years ago)

    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
  8. Francois
    September 5, 2014 at 1:05 pm (3 years ago)

    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
  9. Escape Hunter
    September 7, 2014 at 6:35 am (3 years ago)

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

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres
      September 15, 2014 at 12:18 pm (3 years ago)

      It must be so rewarding and demanding to cycle around Iceland!

      Reply
  10. David
    September 14, 2014 at 12:53 am (3 years ago)

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

    Reply
  11. Lily Lau
    September 14, 2014 at 3:00 pm (3 years ago)

    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
  12. Eka Zahra
    September 22, 2014 at 8:06 am (3 years ago)

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

    Reply
  13. Sherry
    September 29, 2014 at 4:08 pm (3 years ago)

    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
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres
      September 30, 2014 at 9:31 pm (3 years ago)

      I hope this post sets off your Iceland wanderlust, Sherry! :-)

      Reply
  14. Lindsay
    September 29, 2014 at 6:37 pm (3 years ago)

    Can’t wait to go.

    Reply
  15. Allegra
    October 5, 2014 at 3:33 pm (3 years ago)

    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
  16. Kristin H.
    January 2, 2015 at 6:04 am (2 years ago)

    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
      • Kristin H.
        January 9, 2015 at 7:32 pm (2 years ago)

        My pleasure.. :D

  17. Lisa
    January 4, 2015 at 3:58 am (2 years ago)

    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
  18. Ragnar
    January 14, 2015 at 12:29 pm (2 years ago)

    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
  19. Tumi
    January 16, 2015 at 5:08 pm (2 years ago)

    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
  20. Shirley MacFarlane
    January 23, 2015 at 7:49 pm (2 years ago)

    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
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres
      January 28, 2015 at 2:23 pm (2 years ago)

      Yes, Icelandic people are super friendly despite their Nordic reputation!

      Reply
  21. Md Akhtaruzzaman
    February 7, 2015 at 9:52 pm (2 years ago)

    I love to visit that place in future. Nice post.

    Reply
  22. krystal
    March 27, 2015 at 3:20 pm (2 years ago)

    heya!! i am planning a trip there in July and am wondering how long you would suggest going for if we wanted to do a good road trip!? is a full week enough?
    thanks!!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      March 31, 2015 at 8:07 am (2 years ago)

      Seven days is a bit short if you want to circle the whole island. Ten days is a minimum, otherwise stick to the southern half like I did.

      Reply
  23. Ling Tan
    April 28, 2015 at 11:24 pm (2 years ago)

    Thanks for a most detailed write up! We are ourselves inspired to plan a road trip for ourselves and the kids. Yours just reinforced the idea… but now I am wandering – winter or summer?!

    Best, Ling.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      May 2, 2015 at 11:10 am (2 years ago)

      Thanks Dana! I hope they come in handy for your first trip.

      Reply
  24. Kellie
    May 25, 2015 at 8:39 am (2 years ago)

    My boyfriend and I are thinking about going to Iceland late September/Early October. We want to see the major tourist attractions (I know, I know) but we also want to travel a bit off the beaten path. Any suggestions away from the touristy places (e.g. Thingvellir National Park, Blue Lagoon)? Also, are the Hostels safe? We know we’re going to be spending a significant amount of money on car rental and tickets out there, any advice on how to save a little money would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      May 25, 2015 at 11:48 am (2 years ago)

      You won’t meet that many other tourists at that time of the year as daylight hours will be reduced. There is no such thing, in my mind, as touristy Iceland. Everything in Iceland is extremely safe, you need to worry more about handling the vehicle on dirt roads and volcanoes than your own safety to be honest :-) Unfortunately there isn’t much room to save money on car rental and petrol in Iceland, it is what it is: expensive but incredibly worth it. Make sure you take into account the quirky but costly volcano ash insurance as well.

      Reply
  25. Lindsay
    January 6, 2016 at 7:13 pm (1 year ago)

    Thanks so much for the car rental site! We just got a better price than I’d been able to find anywhere else. Can’t wait for our trip Iceland!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      January 12, 2016 at 5:35 pm (1 year ago)

      Happy to help! Have a safe trip!

      Reply
  26. Bianca
    January 12, 2016 at 9:38 am (1 year ago)

    Hi. I’m going with a group of 4 to Iceland for the first time in Mid-October. We are debating whether or not to rent a car or just schedule day trips from Reykjavik. Any suggestions? We are from Florida, USA so not much ice road experience ;)

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      January 12, 2016 at 5:25 pm (1 year ago)

      If you’re only going to be there for four days and don’t want the hassle, then yes, it’s probably wise to schedule a few day trips. Sure, having a car would give you more freedom to explore but day trips will take you to the main sights. Enjoy your trip!

      Reply
  27. David
    February 12, 2016 at 10:10 pm (1 year ago)

    I cant’s wait for Iceland! It’s on our hit list for this year! 4 weeks camping in the great outdoors!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      February 13, 2016 at 4:45 pm (1 year ago)

      Wow, what an amazing trip you’ll have!

      Reply
  28. Linnae Carlson
    May 19, 2016 at 8:05 am (1 year ago)

    Great Blog. I’m a photographer so Iceland has been on my bucket list for a very long time. I wouldn’t travel anywhere with out at least 4-5 extra large SD cards. I would love to have your job. I’m about 4 years away from retirement so that is a career that I have considered.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      May 26, 2016 at 2:06 pm (1 year ago)

      You should definitely look into it, especially if it takes you to Iceland!

      Reply
  29. Hafdís
    July 16, 2016 at 11:00 am (11 months ago)

    Good blog, nice pointers :). Being Icelandic, I feel that I need to pitch in on the advice too :D:

    I saw that someone else pointed this out, but this is important so I’ll do it too – Do not drive off road! That ruins this beautiful nature people are coming to see.

    Another advice I didn’t see anyone else mention – Never, ever walk on glaciers without a good local guide!

    The advice on Reynisfjara is also very important – this is a very dangerous beach.

    Never check out the temperature of hot springs with your hand (yes, some tourists do this). They can be boiling hot!

    Iceland sure is cute :), but it can be dangerous if people don’t know the conditions in some places, so be sure to get as much info as possible on the places you are planning to explore!

    P.S. And if you can’t go there yourself, you can listen to the sounds of Iceland here :D: https://hafdisbjarnadottir.bandcamp.com/album/sounds-of-iceland

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      July 17, 2016 at 3:44 pm (10 months ago)

      Thanks for your tips Hafdis! I appreciate it :-)

      Reply
  30. Anne
    August 11, 2016 at 6:50 am (10 months ago)

    Our second trip to Iceland is this September. Where/ how do you get MiFi?
    Thank you?

    Reply
  31. Deb
    August 15, 2016 at 6:58 am (10 months ago)

    In Iceland as we speak and am in love with this place. The beauty is breathtaking and the people are lovely. Tips-be ready for rain and wear great comfortable sturdy shoes. I packed for carry on only and still could have packed lighter. Glad I brought my camera that has a small zoom lens and lots of SD cards. The hot tubs are perfect at the end of a long day so bring a suit. Enjoy !

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      August 17, 2016 at 1:52 pm (9 months ago)

      Enjoy Iceland!

      Reply
  32. Heather
    January 19, 2017 at 6:57 pm (4 months ago)

    My friends will be flying into Reykjavik in a couple of weeks but am taking 3 online courses this semester. Does Trawire mifi have strong enough internet connection (for example in a hotel setting, not in the wilderness)? This is what is keeping me from buying my plane ticket! Or are there internet cafes with high speed connection and worth going to? Thanks for the advice!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      January 24, 2017 at 12:23 pm (4 months ago)

      Absolutely! You should have no problem getting a decent signal with Trawire or the hotel’s wifi if you’re not staying somewhere super remote.

      Reply

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