At the top of Michael’s destination list is Iceland. So, how are we making this Icelandic adventure happen? Follow along with our Iceland trip planning…
UPDATE: Our Ultimate 2 Week (14 Day) Iceland Itinerary was published in December 2018 based on our completed September 2018 camper van trip to Iceland.
Iceland Trip Objectives
Everyone says, and all photos illustrate, that Iceland is a beautiful country. Our top priority is immersing ourselves in the Iceland outdoors.
We’d love to drive and camp across the entire countryside.
We’d love to see the Northern Lights. Official Aurora season in Iceland is from October till March; many report a longer season from September till mid-April.
We’d love to see some puffins. Nesting season of Icelandic puffins is late April through mid-August.
FUN FACT: Iceland is the home to more than half of the world’s puffin population. However, over the past decade the puffin population has been in decline, possibly because of shifting fish population as ocean temperatures rise.
Iceland Trip Planning Status
Planning has begun! Trip objectives have been defined, points of interest are being identified, and resources are being collected and collated. Our initial bucket list will inform our decision as to when to go and how long to stay.
Peak tourist season is mid-June to August. Shoulder season is either May or September. We opted for a September trip for better weather as well as the best chance of viewing both the Northern Lights and puffins. Flights have been booked for September 1 – 16, 2018!
Research on camper van rentals, car rentals, and camping gear rentals is in progress. Stay tuned for accommodation and transportation resources as well as our final booking decisions.
Research on our itinerary is in progress. Travel guides have been reviewed and purchased. And, most noteworthy, a deposit has been placed on a camper van!
May & June & July 2018
Research on our itinerary continues. The points of interest map and travel resources section continue to be updated as helpful information is identified.
Read all about our completed September 2018 trip to Iceland and the Ultimate Itinerary for 2 weeks / 14 days in Iceland.
Iceland Map with Points of Interest
This Iceland map was a planning tool for our upcoming Iceland trip. It highlights various points of interest and has a description and link associated with each point.
UPDATE: This Iceland map now includes a map layer that represents our actual itinerary!
Flights to Iceland
We’re flying United Airlines between Newark and Reykjavík with travel dates of September 1 – 16, 2018. Each round-trip flight was purchased with 29,474 Chase Ultimate Reward points.
Using Award Hacker and The Earth Awaits we researched the best non-stop award flights. The primary award currencies we have at our disposal are United Miles, Chase Ultimate Reward (UR) Points, Starwood Preferred Guest Points, and American Express Membership Rewards.
We prefer to get rid of United Miles first but, based upon the subset of options below, we opted to purchase the flight via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal using UR Points. The point differential between the required United miles and UR points was substantial and we’ll earn United miles on the flight (whereas an award booking with United would not earn miles).
United miles are valued at ~1.4 cent apiece so the 60,000 miles required is worth $840. Chase UR points are valued at ~2.1 cents apiece so the 29,474 UR required is worth $619. Redeeming points on cheaper flights isn’t often a good redemption but we’re cash-poor and point-rich so the 1.5 cent per UR point redemption was our preference as it eliminated the need to outlay $400+ cash per flight.
Flight options reviewed included:
- WOW Air: A round-trip flight was ~$300 for a basic fare. An additional $100 for a checked bag brought the cost to $400. We normally avoid checking bags but we’ll likely need one this trip for camping equipment and food to reduce rental and meal costs.
- United Airlines: A round-trip flight was $442. A checked bag is included. The flight could be purchased with award miles for 60,000 or via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal for 29,474 Ultimate Reward points.
- Iceland Airlines: A round-trip flight, via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, was also $442 or 29,474 points. Adding a checked bag increased the cost to ~$580 and the points required for a redemption also increased.
Accommodation in Iceland
Our Iceland trip objectives placed a priority on immersing ourselves in the outdoors. As such, we were set on camping (in a tent or camper van) in lieu of hotel or Airbnb accommodation.
However, we’ve read good things about the following (luxury) hotels and considered trying to incorporate a stay at one of these hotels during our September 2018 Iceland trip.
- 101 Hotel, Hverfisgata 10, Reykjavik, 101, Iceland
- The Retreat at Blue Lagoon, 240 Grindavík, Iceland
- ION Adventure Hotel, Nesjavellir, Hveragerdi, IS-801, Iceland
- Hótel Búðir, 356 Snaefellsnes, Budir, Western Region, 0356, Iceland
TIP: The 101 Hotel and the ION Adventure Hotel are both Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Design Hotels.
In addition, we found really cute glamping options:
- Gullfoss & Geysir Luxury Cabin, Eiríksgata 2, Reykholt, 0801, Iceland
- Glamping & Camping, Herjólfsdalur, Vestmannaeyjar, 900, Iceland
Camping / Camper Van in Iceland
We booked a rental of a 4×4 camper van from Kuku Campers for the entirety of our stay in Iceland. The full cost will be 2786 EUR (~$3399).
UPDATE: Read about our experience with Kuku Campers here.
We considered the following rental options:
- car + rent tent and camping gear
- car + bring tent and camping gear
- 4×4 + rent tent and camping gear
- 4×4 + bring tent and camping gear
- car with rooftop tent
- 4×4 with rooftop tent
- camper van
- 4×4 camper van
After much deliberation and research, we decided a 4 wheel drive vehicle was important to us. It is not legal to drive on certain roads (designated as F-roads) in Iceland without a 4×4. And, accessing one of our most coveted destinations, Landmannalaugavegur in Fjallabak Nature Reserve, requires a 4×4 high-clearance vehicle. We accepted that the decision to rent a 4×4 vehicle would significantly increase the rental cost.
The decision to rent a 4×4 vehicle narrowed down our options:
- 4×4 + rent tent and camping gear
- 4×4 + bring tent and camping gear
- 4×4 with rooftop tent
- 4×4 camper van
Ultimately, we decided on the camper van option. That decision was based on two primary factors:
- Increased comfort and warmth
- Ease-of-use (e.g. no need to pitch a tent on a nightly basis)
However, the camper van decision limits our choices for camping locations (see official camping rules in Iceland Resources: Camping section for further explanation). We decided to make that concession during our first trip to Iceland.
During the decision process we created a spreadsheet that contained possible rental companies and vehicles. We recorded basic information such as the vehicle and price. We also tracked whether unlimited miles were included, what extras were included or available, and, most importantly, reviews from other travelers. All in all, we looked at information from the following companies (listed alphabetically) as well as a few consolidation sites:
- Auto Europe
- Blue Car Rental
- Camper Iceland
- Camping Cars
- FairCar Iceland
- Go Campers
- Go Iceland
- Happy Campers
- Iceland 4×4 Camper Rental
- Isak 4×4 Rental
- Kuku Campers
- Lotus Car Rental
- Nordic Campers Iceland
- SAD Car Rentals
- Six 60
- Snail Campers
- Viking Car Rental
Many of the potential companies were eliminated because they did not offer an 4×4 camper van. Others were eliminated because they had no automatic 4×4 camper van. The final decision was between Go Campers and Kuku Campers. In the end, we selected Kuku Campers based on price.
TIP: If we weren’t renting a camper we may have identified a rental car using AutoSlash – a website that searches for the best price on rental car reservations and will subsequently alert you if a better price is identified.
Advance Bookings for Iceland
Although it is not necessary to make reservations for campgrounds in Iceland, there are a few activities that require advance booking. In addition to our Kuku camper, we made reservations for the following Iceland activities early in our planning process:
If you follow our Ultimate Itinerary for 2 Weeks / 14 Days in Iceland, an IceGuides kayak tour is slated for Day 6. We highly recommend this glacier lagoon kayak adventure. If you’re unable to schedule this tour, a guided glacier walk may be able to be accommodated on-site at Sólheimajökull on Day 4.
The Blue Lagoon
We recommend scheduling this activity for your last night in Iceland. Read about our experience at The Blue Lagoon.
Curated Iceland Resources
- We’re a fan of using the Lonely Planet Travel Guides as background and reference material. We purchased these two books:
- The Icelandic Tourism Bureau has an informative, user-friendly website. Most helpful is their interactive map covering everything from accommodation and dining to culture and recreation. Click View Map to the left of the Search button.
- Iceland Review has a number of area guides published in 2016. Their most comprehensive publication is free and can be downloaded here.
- Information and itineraries for trips led by travel companies you trust can be a source of inspiration. We love G Adventures and have taken 3 G Adventures trips (Thailand/Cambodia/Vietnam, Nicaragua, and South Africa/Namibia/Botswana/Zambia). The G Adventures Iceland trips look amazing. The self-drive itineraries from Viking Car Rental, such as Circular Iceland, are also a good source of information on timing.
- If you’re not renting a car at the airport, you’ll likely need to figure out how to get to Reykjavik. Reykjavik is about a 45 minute drive from Reykjavik Keflavik Nas Airport (KEF). Using Rome2Rio, we quickly see that taxis are cost-prohibitive at ~150 USD; operators such as Airport Express and Flybus operate shuttle routes between the airport and city destinations and cost ~29 USD per ticket (reserve in advance); and the public bus, Straeto, has limited hours of operation and costs ~15 USD per ticket.
- Visit the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration (IRCA) website for the most up-to-date information on weather and road conditions.
- Parking in Reykjavik can be difficult to find and is also expensive. The city walk site has a good map of the various Reykjavik parking zones.
- It is a fallacy that it is legal to park a camper van and sleep anywhere and everywhere in Iceland. Read the official camping rules from the Environmental Agency of Iceland on their May I Camp Anywhere? post.
- The camping card may be cost-effective for some travelers. It provides access, for 2 adults and 2 children, to 40 campsites across Iceland for 28 days for a cost of 149 Euros.
- Camping equipment rental is available. We found more competitive prices from our camper van rental company but this is a no-hassle option that might be better suited for some travelers.
Dining and Drinking
- Eating out at restaurants in Reykjavik is expensive. Dining options for the budget-minded traveler: budget dining options in Reykjavik and meals/snacks under 1000 ISK.
- As with other countries, grocery shopping is a less expensive option than eating out. The cost of living in Reykjavik, including the price of groceries at the markets, can be found here.
- Alcohol is also expensive in Iceland. It is most cost-effective to purchase alcohol at the airport duty-free shop upon arrival. Use the duty-free allowance calculator to determine how much alcohol you can buy.
Itineraries posted by Travel Bloggers
Shout-out to the many travelers that have documented their Iceland adventures! There are many travel blogs with generic articles. Here are the travel blogs we found useful when planning a detailed itinerary:
- Alex Cornell: an 8-10 day itinerary (using hotel accommodation) traversing the entire ring road (published June 2015)
- Miss Tourist: a 14 day itinerary (using hotel accommodation) traversing the entire ring road (published March 2016)
- Where to Next: a 9 day itinerary (with mileage and timing details using campsite and hotel accommodation) traversing the entire ring road (published July 2017)
- Foodie Baker: a 22 day itinerary (using the same campervan we will have!) traversing the entire ring road (visit in Sep/Oct 2015)
- Two Wandering Soles: a 6 day camping itinerary covering ground from the Snaefellsnes peninsula to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon (published September 2016)
- Ben Goes Places: tips and timing for visiting South Iceland attractions, Snaefellsnes peninsula, and other gems (published August 2017)
UPDATE: We hope you find our Trip Over Life 2 week / 14 day itinerary – based on our completed September 2018 trip to Iceland (published December 2018) the MOST helpful!
Android / iPhone Apps
In addition to the standard apps we use, we’ve downloaded the following Iceland specific apps. We’ll update this section when we return based on their usefulness. If you have any additional suggestions, please share!
- Be Iceland: discovering points of interest
- Locatify Smart Guide: listening to driving audio tours
- My Aurora Forecast: predicting aurora sightings
- Veður: checking the official weather
TIP: We use World Nomads for travel insurance when we travel internationally long-term. We believe they offer the best coverage for the money and they are super easy to work with! You can get a quote using the widget on our Resources page.
last updated: 08-Jan-2019