The Land of Fire & Ice

The Ring Road in Iceland is a bucket-list trip for a lot of people and has been gaining popularity over the past few years. Rightfully so. I’ve been itching to get an international trip under my belt for years now, and since I originally started planning my travel aspirations after graduating college, my priorities have changed. Mainly, I’m more interested in seeing landscapes and wildlife rather than visiting big cities. So it’s clear to see why that renewed list brought me first to Alaska, and secondly to Iceland. 

Iceland is known as “the land of fire and ice” and it truly does have everything. From black sand beaches in the south, a glacier covering 7% of the country, hot springs, rolling hills and waterfalls (seriously, so many waterfalls), it’s a diverse land with much to explore. In my mind, that meant I wanted the time and freedom to choose what I wanted to see and when, which led to the camper van route. 

For 11 days, we traveled along the Ring Road (Highway 1 which runs along the perimeter of the country) stopping for miscellaneous sightseeing, excursions and other shenanigans. Here I want to share my experiences and some things that I learned along the way. 

Seasonality & Timing

Depending on what you want to see (i.e. Northern Lights & ice caves or general Ring Road sights & midnight sun) you’ll either be planning a winter or summer trip. If you’re planning on accessing the Ring Road (particularly in the north) or doing a lot of driving, summer is the time for you, as many of the roads don’t open until late May/early June. 

The peak tourist season tends to be July-August because that’s when the weather is most friendly. However, if you’re planning a summer trip, I highly recommend June. Wildflowers are in bloom, and it’s the perfect time to see baby animals (horses, reindeer, sheep and goats) and it’s also peak whale watching season. Plus, going in the earlier part of tourist season means you’re less likely to have issues with your rental car or camper because the maintenance is fresh. 

Our Itinerary

The number one piece of advice we heard from people who have done this trip is this: follow the weather. Iceland is known for some pretty intense weather that changes quickly due to the strong winds. Even in June (when we went) and 24 hours of daylight, sun can be a rarity. So follow it. When we arrived at Sea-Tac airport, the weather for Iceland showed sun in the north, so we decided to go north first and take the road clockwise.

Another advantage to going north first means that you get out of the crowds pretty quickly, as most people tend to head south first, which means you’ll be going against the traffic. This also means that there’ll be less pressure with fewer people to figure out your rhythm as you get going. 

Day 1: Arrive at Keflavik & Glymur Waterfall 

Day 2: Barnafoss, Kiirkjufellsfoss & Laugar Hot Spring 

Day 3: Godafoss & Husavik Whale Watching 

Day 4: Hverfjall Crater & Myvatn Nature Baths 

Day 5: Bruarfoss, Vattarnes Sea Cliffs, Stokksnes

Day 6: Skaftafell National Park, Reynisfjara Beach 

Day 7: Pakgil Campground, Glacier Lagoon 

Day 8: Skogafoss, Mr. Iceland Horseback Riding 

Day 9 & 10 : Reykjavik & Blue Lagoon 

Day 11: Journey Home 

Choosing Sights & Activities

With so many sights to see and things to do on a trip like this, being organized is important. Leading up to this trip I had a lot going on in both my professional and personal life, so I didn’t have time to do the preparations I would’ve liked to. I’m usually an over-planner, so I thought maybe being a bit more spontaneous would do me some good, and it would give us the flexibility to spend however much time we wanted in each region without the pressure of having to be somewhere specific on a certain date. But there’s a lot of logistics required for an 11-day trip, and I do wish we had been a bit more prepared. 

I think the sweet-spot (and my strategy for future trips) is to list out the items you’re interested in (be it excursions or restaurants or things to see) and note the general area. That way, when you’re in that area you have a list to consult and you can easily plan your itineraries 1-2 days in advance. 

Planning a few days in advance also gives you time to reserve spots for excursions, or other things that get booked. We had to backtrack over 3 hours one day because we didn’t book our Glacier Lagoon activity until we were a day away. 

In my book, there were 4 things that were absolutely worth the money: horseback riding, whale watching, glacier lagoon tour and hot springs & nature baths.

Transportation & Stays

We chose a camper van because we knew we wanted to see as much of the country as possible within the 11 days, and also not be held to specific schedules that hostels, hotels or AirBnBs would require. When choosing a van, there’s a few things to keep in mind. 

Prices vary depending on a few factors:

  • Size of the camper: how many people can it fit? How comfortable will it be? 
  • AWD/4x4 or 2-wheel drive: you need a 4x4 vehicle to access F-roads if you want to get off the main stops along the Ring Road
  • Automatic vs. manual: automatics tend to get booked quicker, and if you don’t already drive manual, learning before your trip may be difficult (although not impossible - I did it!) 
  • Different companies: some are just more budget-friendly than others. We saw plenty of other Happy Camper vans on the road as well as KuKu, CampEasy and Indie Campers. 

When in a camper, you have the luxury of having a ton of different campsites to choose from. In any given area there’s a few sites, and they’re much cheaper than other housing options. 

With that said, we did spring for a hostel room for our last two days in Reykjavik, and I would recommend throwing in another mid-trip to help keep stamina up and morale strong in the midst of likely cold and somewhat uncomfortable nights.


Iceland is expensive. There’s no getting around it. Having a budget for the trip and planning what you are willing to spend your money on beforehand is a great way to ensure you’re not overspending once you’re in the middle of it all. 

A few ways to save money: 

  • Food: Buy groceries at budget supermarkets like Bonus and make your own meals. Save your money for in-town restaurants near the end of your trip; you’ll appreciate it much more after cooking your own all trip.
  • Skip the booze: I know, I know. Hear me out. I’m all for a beer and a view, but alcohol is also expensive in Iceland, so making it an exception and not the rule can help keep your spending under control. 
  • Make your coffee: Most coffee at tourist destinations are made from an espresso machine. Read: watery and mediocre. If you’re doing the camper van thing or if you have a way to boil water, you’ll get the same quality for significantly cheaper. The exception: cafes in Reykjavik.  
  • Plan your camping: Camping is definitely cheaper than staying at AirBnbs or hostels, but not all sites are the same. Some you have to pay extra for showers or laundry. At others, you’ll pay a premium for the location but deal with less than stellar amenities. Make sure you’re reading up on where you’re staying. 

Things to definitely spend your money on:

  • Excursions: There are some truly once-in-a-lifetime experiences you can have in Iceland, and they are worth paying for. For me, these were whale watching, a tour at glacier lagoon and horse riding. Whatever those experiences are for you, prioritize them in your budget. 
  • End-of-trip hostel & food: By the end of a camper van trip, you’ll likely be sick of your camp food and aching from a not-so-stellar bed setup. End your trip on a high note and splurge on comfort in your last few days. 
  • Gas: Your time is precious on a trip like this, and driving around looking for the cheapest gas prices just isn’t worth it. 
  • Lagoons, pools, hot springs & nature baths: This is a signature of Iceland. There are plenty of hidden, free hot springs around, but we were never disappointed with paying for these. I recommend Hofsós Sundlaug and the Myvatn Nature Baths.

All this to say, go to Iceland.

However you do it, be it a fully pre-planned itinerary or a spontaneous, go-with-the-flow trip, you won’t regret it.