Picture one of those TV documentaries where the camera pans across deserted icy tundra… and you have Iceland! The unparalleled natural scenery makes it the perfect place to take a road trip like no other.
Driving in a strange country in wintery conditions can be daunting. You could take a tour, but the freedom of being able to pull over whenever you want just to take a look at something beautiful was what made it feel like a true adventure to me.
Ready for your road trip? Here are my ten top tips to help you plan an unforgettable journey:
1. If you’re visiting in winter, bear in mind that the F-roads that cross the middle of the country are closed and don’t open until June or July depending on the weather. Even if it is summer and you’re feeling brave, you’ll need a serious 4×4 to take them on.
2. Hold on to the… doors! There’s one thing that no rental insurance in Iceland will cover, and that’s having your door blown off! You might think that sounds unlikely, but as soon as you feel the strength of the Icelandic gusts you’ll believe it. When you’re getting in and out of the car, hold on to the doors to avoid a chilly, red-faced drive back to the rental company and a big bill.
3. You don’t need to worry about getting lost. Every road tripper’s fear, there’s only really one main road so it’s hard to go wrong! We had a sat nav as a back-up, but the trusty old road map would have been enough. Speaking of which…
4. It’s important to map your journey in terms of distance travelled before you set off. Though gas stations are fairly frequent, in the more remote parts you can easily go 200km without one so it’s worth thinking it through in advance or getting a spare gas tank (or both!).
5. Take some cheap crampons. Imagine the situation: you get to a picturesque icy waterfall far off the beaten track. It’s snowing lightly. As you try to get nearer you realize it’s basically a skating rink, fall on your backside countless times, and have to give up and admire it from afar. Don’t be that person!
6. Traffic isn’t an issue — we passed about one car an hour on average — but what will slow you down are the unplanned stops to check out the incredible scenery. Whether it’s to get the perfect picture or just admire the view, factor in plenty of breaks to your journey time.
7. Take snacks! The only bad thing about Iceland is the food. Between an abundance of overpriced lamb or junk food served in a delightful gas station setting, it won’t be the highlight of your trip. If you don’t want to pay $10 for a pack of Pringles, make sure you’re well stocked with car snacks before you land.
8. As roads are mostly de-iced, the toughest part of Icelandic driving is the cross wind. When the wind is up, you find yourself gripping the steering wheel really hard to stay on an even keel — even after just an hour of driving my wrists and forearms were aching! Make sure you have both hands on the wheel as sometimes the wind can whip round the mountain and take you by surprise.
9. The Blue Lagoon ain’t all that. Despite being a bucket list staple, it was a bit of a letdown. Having driven round Southern Iceland and seen all the untouched natural beauty, the Blue Lagoon suddenly felt crowded and commercial. If you can fit it in on your way to/from the airport great, if not, don’t worry about it.
10. Allow enough time. Done right, this will be the road trip of a lifetime. Make sure you allow enough time to enjoy Iceland at its best — outside on a glacier! Booking tours and mini adventures will mean you don’t get sick of driving, and get to appreciate Iceland.
This was just my take on Iceland. Do your research to find out what’s right for you: Travel and expat forums such as InterNations or Trip Advisor can be a great place to ask locals and other travellers to create your prefect road trip.