For the last 10 days my sister Helga and I drove around 2000 kilometers all over Iceland. That doesn’t include the kilometers we spent as passengers with the very welcoming locals that took the time to show us around their area. So many words could describe what we went through and how we feel about it but yet words are not enough somehow. It seems like the walk to Seljavallalaug and the hike to Hjörleifshöfði on our first day happened years ago and coming back to busy bustling Reykjavík after being alone on the road for so long was very strange. Except it wasn’t that long, it was only 10 days.
As I mentioned in some of my posts from the road, throughout the summer I’ll be sharing with you more detailed information about the places we slept at, where we ate and what we saw and experienced. It might take a while since I will have to start work soon and then I’m going to Israel in less than three weeks (which I will tell you more about later this week). However, since I know a lot of you who were following us will be going on a similar trip soon I thought that today I’d give to some practical advice about traveling around Iceland that we picked up on our way.
We were driving a Skoda Oktavia Combi (group N) and we filled up the tank 2 and 1/4 times. I haven’t done exact calculations but I think we spent somewhere around 22.000 to 24.000 ISK on fuel. On GSMBensín.is you can find up to date petrol prices by areas listed by the type of fuel and the station that sells it. Orkan, ÓB and Atlantsolía are generally cheaper than the rest but the difference is not great. You will also notice that there’s no difference in price when it comes to gasoline versus diesel.
I’ve always been told that the ring road is paved the whole way and that’s what I’ve been telling people also. This is not exactly right because once you reach Berufjörður in the east a portion of the road is a gravel road. Normally when people are driving to Egilsstaðir they drive a road called Öxi which I don’t think is paved (please correct me if I’m wrong) but the road through the fjords (Stöðvarfjörður, Fáskrúðsfjörður, Reyðarfjörður) is paved the whole way. There are also some gravel roads between Bakkafjörður and Þórshöfn in the north east, although they’re pretty good, and the road from Siglufjörður to Hofsós is gravel in parts and not very good. Finally, the road over Þverárfjall, from Sauðárkrókur to Skagaströnd, is very bumpy and no fun to drive but if you go slowly and according to instructions you should be fine. For more information about road conditions in Iceland visit The Icelandic Road Administration online. If you are on the move and you are not sure about the road ahead of you, you can always call their service number 1777 for information.
As you know if you were following our journey we pretty much experienced a little bit of everything weather wise. We sat outside in T-shirts and shorts in Siglufjörður, didn’t see a thing due to snow and wind on our way from Egilsstaðir to Vopnafjörður and almost rained down in Stöðvarfjörður. We never felt we were in any danger, not even in the middle of the snow mess, but of course we had checked both the weather forecast and the road conditions so we knew exactly what to expect. The people who stopped and were too afraid to carry on hadn’t. We also knew we had good tires and had faith in our car. So if you don’t feel comfortable figuring out whether something is safe yourself, just ask at the reception at your hotel or hostel and they will check it for you. The Met office and the Icelandic Road administration give out regular updates about all areas in Iceland and if they say something is impassible it really is impassible.
What to pack
My first advice to travelers trying to figure out what to pack (and one I never seem to be able to follow myself) is that less is more. You always end up wearing the same stuff anyway and if it needs cleaning you can arrange to stay in a hostel or somewhere with laundry service to wash your clothes. Helga and I brought our whole world with us and it ended up being in the way most of the time. What you will need is good waterproof hiking shoes, street shoes for when you are in the towns and villages, a waterproof jacket, waterproof pants, some base layers and then some warm layers that you can mix and match. I mostly lived in a pair of leggings, a skirt, my woolen socks, my Cintamani Merino wool underwear, some t-shirts, my lopapeysa and either my parka or my rain coat. I had the luxury of bringing both but if I hadn’t I probably would have brought my Cintamani Björg jacket that with the right layers can both keep me warm and shield me from the rain. On top of that I of course had a hat and mittens with me too. Although we may have moaned a bit about the rain in the east it was never THAT cold or miserable.
I was somewhat surprised, because I’m so used to everything being open all the time in Reykjavík, to see the limited opening hours in some of the places we visited. This wasn’t a problem per se but something I wished I thought about before we started our trip. So make sure you go to the supermarket if you need to on a Saturday because it might be closed on Sunday and pack basic stuff to battle a flu or headache because you will not find a pharmacy in every town and they too have limited opening hours. Even restaurants in some places were closed by 6 or only served food between certain hours. It’s important to keep in mind though we were traveling just before the season starts so this may be better in summer.
As I mentioned before, Síminn gave us 3G mobile internet to use on the trip and I was interested in seeing whether their claims that you can be online pretty much everywhere in Iceland with them was accurate. Helga and I both have mobile services from a rival company so it was interesting to see the difference. As it turns out Síminn kept us online more or less everywhere except in the Langanes peninsula and in spots around the south (mostly beneath the glaciers). To be fair our phone company didn’t have 3G in those areas either. The only place where we were without a phone (where we couldn’t even call anyone) was at the edge of the Langanes peninsula.
Traveling in the off-season
The one thing I would change if I was doing this trip again it would be not to plan so much as we constantly felt we were late for something and loosing out on something else. Of course because we wanted to meet people and check out certain places we had to have a plan but for the normal traveler I would recommend having a rough plan and modify it according to weather and what your heart tells you along the way. Once we got past Höfn most of the places we stayed at had vacancies so finding accommodation on the fly didn’t seem to be a problem. Please note though that traveling in the high season is a whole different ballgame.