Soon after I bought our tickets to Iceland, I quickly realized renting a campervan would be a convenient way to see the country and provide a new adventure for our family vacation. I looked at just about every campervan rental company to compare prices and options and I ended up renting a Go Camper 3 Pax for our week-long trip around Iceland. The major concern for us when choosing a campervan was a seatbelt in the back so that we wouldn’t need to strap in Benton’s car seat in the front seat and turn off the airbags. I realize that many European manufacturers expect that a car seat might go in the front seat and make it easy to turn off the airbags, but I still wanted the extra security of having Benton in the backseat. The Go Camper 3 Pax has room and enough seatbelts for 5 people and sleeping room for 3 people. It might be less important to some, but the large side and rear windows in our campervan allowed our son to experience the country as we drove around. Specifically, it allowed him to yell “sheeeeeeeps” and “big horses” every time we one of the hundreds of thousands of animals we saw. There were less expensive campervans out there with 3 seatbelts, but the 3rd seatbelt was always in the front seat, and they often included fewer things in the initial rental price (like pillows or blankets). Pay attention to what is included in your camper rental, because the extras can add up quickly.
Costs: Both the campervan company and the government require campervans to park overnight at campsites and not on the side of the road. Campsites charge per adult (kids are free) and cost between 1200-1800 ISK per person ($12-$18 USD when we went in May 2018). Most campsites charge extra for showers, electricity if you need to charge your van or laundry, but a few where we stayed had showers included. Read reviews of campsites, but every campsite seemed to have two types of reviews: one group about how convenient, well set up and lovely it was, and one group about how disappointing, overpriced, and dirty it was. We found that most campsites were about the same as far as amenities, cleanliness and costs, although a few had playgrounds, a lovely bonus if you are traveling with children.
The total costs of the campervan, insurance and campsites was only slightly under what it would have cost us to rent a small car with insurance and an Airbnb or hotel room, but the next two reasons made up for the balance in costs.
Flexibility: It is not always easy to predict how your day will go when traveling with a toddler. During our one-week trip Benton woke up anywhere between 5:00a and 8:30a and went to sleep anywhere between 7:00p and 10:00p. He also still takes 2 hour naps in the middle of the day. Fortunately, he is perfectly happy to fall asleep in the car and stay asleep if the car stops moving. Staying in a campervan meant that whenever we were ready to tap out for the day, we looked up the closest campsite and called it home for the night. We didn’t need to wait for a front desk to open or check out in the morning, we could just pack up and go. We never needed to worry about incorporating a nap into our daily schedule, because we were already home! We changed our route around the country almost as soon as we picked up the van because there were dangerously high winds forecast for the day we had planned to drive through Vik. Had we pre-booked hotels we would have been out of luck and stuck, unable to drive until the winds died down.
Food: Cooking your own meals is a great way to save some money and satisfy picky eaters on vacation, and with the campervan your kitchen travels with you, if you rent a certain class of vans. Some campers come with cooking equipment but no place to cook inside. We never had to wait for the hotel breakfast to open when we woke up at 5:45am, we could start boiling water for oatmeal and coffee as soon as we were awake. With a little bit of planning, you will always be able to pull off the road and feed your children with the most spectacular views. No one wants to be desperately searching for a reasonably priced meal when your kid is already starving and asking for lunch. Depending on what we were doing, we cooked dinners both on the go in waterfall parking lots or at our campsite for the night. Our campervan came with a single gas burner camp stove, a few different pots and pans, a few simple cooking tools, and enough plates, cups and utensils for 3 people.
Tips: Find a place for everything and stick to it. In a small space with a few people, which gets rearranged a few times a day including setting up and taking down the bed, it is super easy to lose track of items if they don’t have a designated home.
Take your shoes off every time you get in the back of the van to keep the floor and seats clean. If you are not traveling with a toddler in diapers, bring some disposable baby wipes to help wipe down your shoes and not track mud all over the van.
Fill up your water tank at every campsite. I had no idea how much water we would go through in one day, but between drinking water nonstop to stay hydrated, preparing food, and washing dishes, we used 80% of our tank every day. If you are traveling to less populated areas be conservative in your water use, since you might not be able to fill up every day.
Be prepared to spend money on gas and get over it. Regardless of what vehicle you’re driving, gas in Iceland is expensive. We found that if we got gas every day or so it never felt quite as painful when we were never buying more than a quarter tank at a time.
If you plan on driving the full Ring Road or heading inland do your research on F-roads and when roads open for the season. Only certain campers are rated to drive on F-roads and if anything happens to the vehicle while you are driving on a road you shouldn’t be, you are responsible for damages no matter how much insurance you bought.