A Comprehensive Guide to Solo Travel in Iceland 🇮🇸
Traveling solo in Iceland can be extremely rewarding if you are a person (especially a woman) that has been interested in traveling internationally or camping alone! Iceland is super safe and if you have a driver's license and aren't scared of driving on a few gravel roads or one-lane bridges, it's a beautiful country to explore alone. ✨
My first solo vacation to Iceland was in August 2021. I instantly fell hard in love with this country. So, it's no surprise, I've gone 2 more times since then (March & September 2022) to explore different areas, different seasons and to see the Northern Lights.
I have already booked my 2023 summer trip with a 4x4 camper to finally explore remote off-roads in the Highlands.
Here's how I approached my pre-trip planning and the route I followed for my first solo trip around the Ring Road in Iceland. I'll be adding future posts detailing the itineraries for my other trips I've taken in winter and late fall.
- How did I choose a camper rental?
- How did I plan my itinerary?
- What did I pack?
- How does camping work in Iceland?
- Essential travel links
- Day 1: Arrival
- Day 2: Snæfellsnes Peninsula
- Day 3: Northern Iceland & Húsavík
- Day 4: Mývatn & Eastern Iceland
- Day 5: Southern Iceland
- Day 6: Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon
- Day 7: Snorkeling at Silfra
- Day 8: Blue Lagoon
- Day 9: Reykjavík
- Day 10: Departure
How did I choose a camper rental?
Honestly, I didn't plan my trip planning to rent a camper van. I was thinking about staying in Reykjavik & take some tours out from there. Then, I decided I wanted to do the ring road around Iceland and looked at tour buses (ridiculously expensive). Then I looked into getting a rental car & renting hotel rooms. But I finally landed on getting a camper van since would probably be the most flexible option and the most affordable one for me travelling solo.
I rented my camper from Happy Campers after watching this video of a woman solo camping in Iceland using their van. I felt like if it worked for her, it would work for me! Their office is close to Keflavik International Airport and they offer a shuttle pickup from the airport every hour. I'm not affliated with them in any way, just a satisfied customer. I've rented from them for 2 out of my 3 trips so far (I rented a VW transporter AWD from Cozy Campers for my winter trip). I've never had any reliability issues on the road with their campers and I've never had any issues come up for damages when I've returned it. Plus, I found that I really liked how close their office is to the airport.
I also chose their Happiest bundle at an extra 60 euros/day to have the full insurance package (including gravel/rock damage) coverage (and complete peace of mind) plus any of their extras I'd like for the camper. I picked up a bluetooth portable speaker (this was a great idea!), camp chair, camp table, & an extra sleeping bag since in the package deal for free.
I'm that person who always takes the full insurance coverage, just to minimize my anxiety during trips of "what if I mess up the van". There are rougher roads, loose gravel and lots of wind in Iceland, so I'd at least consider purchasing the gravel/ash/windshield insurance, or make sure you have 3rd party coverage for that.
Of course, I checked out other camper rentals, but felt the setup for their smallest van, aka a VW Caddy Maxi (Happy 1 Auto) was small but well-equipped since it had everything I needed to comfortably cook inside the van if the wind and weather was bad outside.
It had a built-in cooking space with running water, sink, camping stovetop & fridge, a small foldup bed/couch, usb ports in the back of the van, and a great heater! The Happy Camper vans also include a free WiFi hotspot and navigation.
I would definitely take in consideration if you are looking at other campers to rent, if they have a cooking/sink area inside the camper or if you will need to cook all your meals outside of the camper. The weather (especially the wind) can be challenging in Iceland, so having the option to be warm and protected inside the camper after a long day of driving while I prepare my meals was a priority.
As you can see in my video above, I really fell in love with this little VW Caddy. I really fell in love with this little VW Caddy. I named him Karl the camper, btw. It was easy to drive and as long as I didn't go on too rough of a gravel road (some campsite roads are brutal 😅) the 2WD little chariot was a dream to drive & live in for a week!
It is advertised as a 1-2 person camper. If you are planning to rent a small camper van like this for 2 people, beware that it is going to be cozy sleeping together & limited storage for 2 people in the van. Make sure you like spending a lot of close time together beforehand 😅. I felt it was great for one person though. I spent my evenings drinking hot chocolate and watching Downton Abbey on my ipad in bed.
How did I plan my itinerary?
Honestly figuring out my route was my biggest stress going into the trip. I knew I wanted do a clockwise loop around the island and hit several geothermal baths & see cool land formations.
Since I was renting a 2WD low-clearance campervan, I was limited to main and secondary roads. F-roads are off limits if you don't have a 4x4 vehicle. The majority of my iterary was on Route 1 (ring road) that circles the island except for some excursions to some fjords off the ring road. Some rental companies have secondary roads that are not F-roads that are off-limit as well. Make sure to avoid any roads that are not permitted by your rental company!
I originally focused on main tourist sites around the ring road marked, but I didn't plan a stringent itinerary. I gave myself flexibility to plan my day the night before, but always keeping in mind roughly how far I needed to drive each day in order to complete my roundtrip in 7 days. Some of the best sights and activities were the ones I didn't even originally plan from this map (e.g. snorkeling at Silfra or camping at Illugastaðir).
Here is my completed itinerary for a 8-day Ring Road Loop:
I cross-referenced with the Happy Campers Campsite Guide and Campsites of Iceland Guide. I estimated I would be ok driving 4-5 hours a day to be able to complete the trip in 7 days and that's how I initially planned what campsites would stay at.
What did I pack?
I only packed a Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 carry-on bag & my trusty Fjällräven Kånken backpack. I knew the camper would be lacking on storage for a large hardcase check-in bag and also that the temps would be cool but not unbearable, especially since I love cooler weather. I figured it was not necessary for me to bring a lot of items for layering. Also, I'm ok with washing my underwear and shirts in the sink and letting them dry and re-wear them in order to save luggage space.
The most important non-clothing items I brought were my coffee making supplies! I'm a coffee enthusiast and daydreamed heavily about the moment each morning where I would prepare an aeropress coffee in the camper.
- Coffee stuff:
- Comandante grinder
- Snow peak titanium 450 mug
- Bonanza coffee beans
- Art stuff:
- Watercolor palette
- Camera Stuff:
- old GoPro 4 w/ floating selfie stick (No way I was risking taking selfies in the hot baths with my phone)
- SD to USB-C adapter
- Instax camera
- Gorilla tripod + smartphone adapter
- 3 packs of vegan jerky
- Ritter sport pfefferminz
- 2 swimsuits
- Dopper waterbottle
- Lonely Planet "Iceland"
- Face towel
- 2 pairs lululemon wunderunder leggings
- lululemon long sleeve running shirt
- Github hoodie
- Ragged old denim jacket
- Couple t-shirts
- Couple pairs of socks
- Ripped jeans
- Adidas Terrex Free Hiker shoes
- Adidas basic sandals
- Lululemon hooded rain jacket
- Dr. Bronner's tea tree soap
- Face wash
- Night creme
- Day creme
- Retinol creme
- BB cream
- Red & pink lip stains
- Eyebrow powder
- Sprekenhus Amber Infatuation travel perfume (I'm super extra what can I say? 💅)
In retrospect, I hesitated and didn't pack a couple items that I would NOT forget the next time. They were:
- Headlamp (for trips to bathroom in the night!)
- Nail glue (I have long beautiful natural nails, and the camping & hot bath soaks were brutal on my nails & I split a nail at end of the trip & paid heavily to find nail glue in a pharmacy to repair it!)
- Suncreen (for the sun in the northern part of the island!)
- AUX cable & iphone headphone adapter (The touchscreen of the infotainment system of the VW Caddy was unresponsive so I could not use BT to stream music & ended up driving all 7 days in silence 😧)
How does camping work in Iceland?
It is extremely illegal to camp outside of a campground in Iceland. Do not do this!
The Happy Campers Campsite Guide has been my most-relied upon map during all my trips to Iceland. It's regularly updated, have good campsite descriptions and allows you to filter by seasons which is a must especially for Winter (since there are not many campsites open then!).
No reason or real way to book ahead, there will be spots available. I had the most anxiety pre-trip about how the campsites worked when you arrived at them. Being neurodivergent and alone, I really wanted to know the process of paying and finding a spot beforehand. But, you basically pick a spot and park and that's it really. You either pay when you arrive at a reception area or if no one is there, someone will walk around the morning & knock on your camper. Fees ranged from free (donation encouraged) to 20 euros. Most I stayed at were around 8 euros/night. Everywhere accepted card/contactless payments. If you need to pay for a washing machine or shower, be prepared with some coins.
My campervan came with a large water reservoir container that was hooked up to the sink and functioned as my drinking water during the trip. Most campgrounds have an outdoor faucet with hose that you can use to refill your water reservoir.
During the trip, I spent some time checking the google reviews and photos of different campsites to make sure it felt like I would like the scenery and it would hopefully not be too busy because they offered many amenities (kitchen, showers, washing machines, etc). I actually ended up preferring the more primitive campsites that only offered toilets & perhaps an outdoor sink since they were less populated with families & kids.
Essential travel links
It is very important, especially outside of the summer season to monitor the road and weather conditions. Dangerous strong winds can cause travel advisories during any season and limit driving on certain roads or regions. During my winter trip in March, I actively had to plan my driving and routes by checking multiple times during the day to know which roads were open and cleared of snow.
- Road closures and conditions: Road.is has the latest road conditions and road closure information. They also have webcams so you can look at the condition along certain roads.
- How to drive in Iceland:: Safetravel.is also has information on road closures but general information about how to drive in Iceland as well.
- Weather and Aurora forecasts: Vedur.is has the latest weather conditions. They also have aurora forecasts for keeping an eye on where to see the Northern Lights!
- Campgrounds: The Happy Campers Campsite Guide is the best google map I found for finding campsites during my trip. I love I can filter their availability by seasons (so important for winter camping!) and they have detailed descriptions for each with prices and amenities.
My completed itinerary
During the entire trip I listened to Low Roar's album, 0 on repeat. It was recorded in Reykjavík. While visiting a record store in Reykjavík, the iconic Japanese video game creator, Hideo Kojima, heard Low Roar’s 0 playing and became obsessed and listened to it on repeat daily. Two of the songs are on the soundtrack for Death Stranding. I'm completely obsessed with the song "Please don't stop (Chapter 1)".
Day 1: Arrival
I picked up the camper and went to the nearest Kronan grocery store (next to Happy Campers office) and bought groceries. I opted to mainly eat sandwiches during the trip to minimize how much different food I bought. I "splurged" on Honey Nut Cheerios & Swiss Miss hot cocoa as I miss this stuff from the US. The only thing I really cooked during the trip was eggs.
I drove 2 hours (150km) to my first campground, Snorrastaðir Farm in Borgarnes.
Total driving time for Day 1 was 2 hours (150 km).
This campground was the priciest of the entire trip at ~20 euros. But, it had great facilities (Huge indoor kitchen/dining area, hot private showers) and I could pay at the reception upon arrival. It wasn't busy so it was a great first night camping experience.
Day 2: Snæfellsnes Peninsula
I accidently drove past some beaches I wanted to stop at, but kept going forward.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was taking Route 54 which is a slightly rougher dirt road between the Snæfellsnes peninsula and northwest Iceland. It loops around the fjords & is fairly desolate with very little traffic. It was marvelous. I stopped at a scenic picnic table & watercolored in my travel journal for a bit. It was windy, cool & moody. I love it.
I drove to the Illugastaðir Campground on the northwestern coast for Night 2. This is a famous location for seal watching. After picking a perfect spot for the camper, I walked down to the beach to try to see some seals.
I was not prepared to read an informational sign along the path that told of 2 brutal murders and subsequent burning of the house that happened on the site. The murderers were convicted and beheaded in 1830 and their heads put on stakes. It was the last public execution in Iceland. I became a little obsessed with the whole murder backstory of this campsite. A detailed history of the murder, trial and beheadings can be found here.
On subsequent trips, I visited the nearby church in Tjörn where the executed's (Agnes Magnusdottir and Fridrik Sigurdsson) bodies are buried and the execution site at Þrístapar about 1.5 hours east on the ring road.
It is a primitive (only 2 toilets & an outdoor sink) and quiet campground. I've stayed here on subsequent trips and it each time it's only been a few other campers that stay there overnight, or, if you stay in winter, it's possible to stay there completely alone! There is no office to pay at, but a nice lady showed up in the morning at my camper so I could pay. (In winter, no one is there to collect money, but there is a donation box.) This was my favorite campground of the entire trip and would 10000% go back to stay 1-2 more nights.
Total driving time for Day 2 was 5 hours (360 km).
Day 3: Northern Iceland & Húsavík
It was amazing to wake up at Illugastaðir campground with this view of the sea and have my morning coffee.
I continued driving around the penisula to see the Hvitserkur rock formation off the coast nearby. It is beautiful! It was even possible to scramble down the rocks to the beach, but I did not take this risk since I was alone. It was dreamy to look at.
The entire route to Illugastaðir & Hvitserkur is a gravel road with lots of sheep to look out for.
I drove a long stretch through northern Iceland to make it to Akureyri. The landscapes are serene and it was an easy drive on paved Route 1. This is the second largest city in Iceland.
I stopped in Akureyri for fuel top-up & few groceries (I found cheetos! A fun surprise for this expat.)
To keep driving east from here, there's a toll tunnel that you need to pay online within 3 hours prior or after driving through it! It's the only toll like this in Iceland, so don't forget to pay it! You can take a slightly longer route (~20 minutes) on Route 83 & 84 to avoid the toll.
I drove to Goðafoss, which is a beautiful waterfall right on Route 1. While I was there, I watch 3 brave kayakers go over it successfully! It was really fun to watch them.
I headed north to Húsavík, which is internationally known as a great place to go whalewatching. It was also popularized by the comedy film, Eurovision Song Contest: The Saga of Fire Island starring Will Ferrell. It's a real place! :) I stopped in town to visit the first thermal baths of my trip.
Geosea is a thermal seawater bath. In the middle of the last century, hot water was drilled at Húsavíkurhöfði. There was a hot, mineral-rich sea that was not suitable for space heating but turned out to be ideal for bathing. The bathing pools are located on a cliff and offer an infinity pool experience. It was beautiful to soak and look out on the sea and look for any whales (I didn't see any). The water was very warm. It was the warmest bath I visited the entire trip. It felt more like a hot pot! I had to constantly sit out of the water as I was getting too hot!
After I soaked and then took a nice shower there, I drove up to Camping 66.12 to camp overnight. It is located at the top of the fjord and is a beautiful (but slightly popular) campground. It's easy to see why it's popular, I could camp directly on the sea. The campground also had a kitchen, washing machines, showers and indoor bathrooms. The host was super friendly & he took the camping fee on arrival.
Total driving time for Day 3 was 4.5 hours (333 km).
Day 4: Mývatn & Eastern Iceland
I woke up and made coffee in one of the most beautiful spots in Iceland overlooking the Greenland Sea :)
I drove to Lake Mývatn and stopped at Skútustaðagígar (pseudocrater land formations), Grjótagjá (hot pool inside of a cave, however soaking here is no longer allowed)... I skipped some other sites here like hiking up to edge of Hverfjall crater or stopping at Hverir sulfur vents. There were large amounts of flying bugs (so many that hikers were wearing netted hats) that I skipped some things I had bookmarked (I visited them on later trips and th4y are definitely worth it, if there aren't a bunch of flying bugs everywhere!)
The highlight of the day was soaking at Mývatn baths. The baths have fantastic views of Lake Mývatn & Hverfjall and milky blue colored mineral rich water. There are a lot of bus tour groups that stop here so it was quite busy when I went. But the bonus to this was there was a group of boomer women from Texas that showed up and were loud and colorful and taking lots of selfies of each other while giving tips on how to take hotter selfies (best chin angles, using another app to retouch wrinkles :D) and it was super fun to eavesdrop them & literally lol from it :).
After the soak, I drove A LOT. I skipped many things that are worth checking out if you have time! But due to that and since there were a lot of bugs and it raining intermittently, I didn't stop for them. Dettifoss waterfall, Vök baths and Studlagil canyon are all worth visits and I visited them on later trips. I was worried about the long drive to make it to the southeastern part of Iceland to camp for the night so I opted to skip them.
I camped at Fossardalur Campsite in the southeast. It's a wonderful tranquil campsite with a friendly host, showers and wifi (definitely needed it as mobile service was 💩). But it was quite busy with families since it has indoor bathrooms and showers.
Total driving time for Day 4 was 5 hours (390 km).
Day 5: Southern Iceland
This was my longest & most tiresome driving day. I felt the pressure of my camping trip coming to a close in a couple of days. I made a last minute decision to go snorkeling at Silfra fissure on the 7th day, so I knew I had to get a massive chunk of driving done today to make it across the southern coast of Iceland back to the West. In retrospect, this section of Iceland is gorgeous with black sand beaches and waterfalls to explore & I ended up again skipping some sights I wanted to see on this trip, but visited them all on my subsequent trips when I planned more time.
The drive started out super sunny! I skipped Djúpavogskörin Natural Geothermal Pool that was nearby my campsite to see other sites. I stopped here in March 2022 and it was not busy (I even got some time alone) and fabulous. It's been temporarily closed for a bit, but hope it opens up again. s As I drove westward, I approached a looming fog. I went through a mountain tunnel at Vestrahorn Mountain & ended up in dense fog on the other side! I was going to visit the beach at Stokksnes but was deterred that I'd much out of it in the fog, so kept going.
Next stop was Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon & Diamond Beach. WOW. I could spend hours here immersed in the natural beauty.
I felt like I was walking into a fantasy world when I stepped onto a misty moody Diamond Beach with gorgeous giant glowing blue glacier chunks scattered on the black sands. Truly one of the most ✨ magical ✨ experiences with nature in my life.
I stopped in Vik to get a nice coffee and some beans to take home with me at Skool Beans. It's a cute little coffee spot inside an old american yellow school bus.
Right outside of Vik is Reynisfjara Beach with black sands and towering basalt rock. It's very important to not turn your back on the waves here, people have been swept off their feet by the brutal waves and killed. It's moody and menacing and it's another one of my favorite spots in Iceland that I keep coming back to visit.
I missed out thia time on stopping nearby and making the 7km (4.3 miles) roundtrip hike to Sólheimasandur plane weckage on the beach.
I stopped at the beautiful Skógafoss Waterfall. I was planning to camp here but after arriving, I changed my mind since I didn't feel like I wanted to stay at a campsite that's also at a popular attraction. There was still daylight, so I kept driving 1.5 hours.
I ended up camping at the deserted Álfaskeið campground near Flúðir. It was a bit sketchy to drive up the entrance with my little 2WD camper and I had a moment where I thought I might have gotten the camper stuck, but it ended up being a super quiet and pastoral setting for camping. I was exhausted and crashed hard this night. This campground is a primitive campsite with only cold water & toilets. Someone stopped by in the morning to collect the camping fee.
Total driving time for Day 5 was 7 hours (530 km).
Day 6: Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon
I didn't make coffee at the campsite as I was having a lot of anxiety about getting the camper out of the campsite without getting stuck 😅 and wanted to get moving as soon as I woke up.
I drove to Kerid crater and hiked down to the bottom of the crater where it is eerily so quiet since it is protected from the wind at the top.
I took a well-deserved break and spent my afternoon relaxing at the super chill Secret Lagoon. It's the oldest swimming pool in Iceland. It wasn't busy and it was so nice to relax in the water.
I drove to the campground at Thingvellir National Park where I stayed overnight. I booked a snorkeling tour at Silfra for the next day. The campsite was only a few minutes from there. Silfra is an extremely special place where the tectonic plates of Eurasia & North American meet (and are slowly drifting apart). I thought it was really cool you could go in the waters there and snorkel between contients! Thingvellir an incredibly important site for Icelandic history and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Total driving time for Day 6 was ~2.5 hours (180 km).
Day 7: Snorkeling at Silfra
I stopped at Öxarárfoss Waterfall, which was just a few minutes from my campsite and on the way to Silfra. If you visit in the morning and it's sunny, you may be treated to a rainbow 🌈 like I was!
The highlight of my day was snorkeling at between the tectonic plates of Eurasia & North America at Silfra! It's the only place like this in the world. The water was crystal clear but absolutely freezing. I suited up in a drysuit but my lips were completely exposed.
It was one of the coolest tours I've ever done. I booked through Troll Expeditions and would 100% recommend the experience. I felt safe and had a great time and got lots of gopro photos taken by our tour guide during the snorkel.
I drove to my last campground of the trip on the southeastern coast, GATA Free camping. This is one of the few free campgrounds in Iceland (though donations are strongly recommended -- I left the 1000 kroner I had left in the donation box). It was super windy (55km/hr winds) and rainy. I cooked my last supper & drank hot cocoa & watched Downton Abbey. I got emotional about my trip coming to a close and leaving the little campervan I'd grown to love. ✨
Total driving time for Day 7 was ~1.5 hours (100 km).
Day 8: Blue Lagoon
It was my last day with the campervan and I was emotional about my camping trip coming to an end since it had been the most magical 8 days by myself in my life. I made coffee in the camper and then drove to the famous Blue Lagoon.
It was stormy and windy and cringey full of lots of tourists fresh in from international flights, but Blue Lagoon is beautiful. ✨
Total driving time for Day 8 was ~1 hours (65 km).
Day 9: Reykjavík
After I returned the camper, I took a taxi into Reykjavík to stay and explore the tiny capital for a couple days. I had my first meal I didn't prepare in the camper (vegan fish and chips at Vegan World Peace). I walked on the rainbow street and got a warm greeting from a neighborhood cat. I walked through the tree-lined Hólavallagarður cemetery and admired the huge chruch, Hallgrimskirkja, that looks like a gaussian distribution/bell curve.
Day 10: Departure
As I was walking to my gate in the Keflavik airport, I saw this lyric
"I feel emotional landscapes, they puzzle me"
from Björk's song Jóga on a window in the terminal and it's how I felt during the whole trip... a bit unable to articulate my feelings about this place. I never felt so deeply for things and places I was seeing for the first time but yet felt oddly familiar already and comfortable for me to be there. <3
I think about how great I felt there every day since I got back from the trip. My anxiety and self-doubt was at 0% during the trip, I felt confident and strong. It filled me with so much happiness to fall asleep & wake up in the camper everyday. I honestly can't recommend enough that if you are on the fence about doing a trip like this yourself, to go for it!
One motivation for starting this blog was because I have so much love for this country and have had so much joy and confidence in my life from my experiences of doing this and other trips, that I wanted to share my experiences and encourage other neurodivergent and women to feel safe and confident to travel here as well.
Since this first time in August 2021, I've been back for 2 more camping trips. One was in the winter (March 2022) to see the Northern Lights and trying camping and driving in the harsh Icelandic winter conditions solo (blog post with itinerary coming soon). I also did my first non-solo camping trip in September 2022 with my partner whom I met last year (blog post with itinerary coming soon). Each of these trips, I did the ring road again (with one side trip into the Western Fjords).
Though it was mainly the same route, I stopped at different campsites and explored new places and had memorable experiences. I also had some stressful experiences (getting camper stuck in snow on a remote road or when I fainted after a soak in a thermal pool and hit my head pretty hard and had to drive myself to the nearest ER for stitches).
My next camper trip to Iceland is booked for July 2023! I'm renting a 4x4 camper and will finally explore the F-roads in the Highlands.