One thing that occurred to me in Iceland, there should be more words for things, after all, Icelanders (or is it Eskimos?) have many words for snow. There is a need, I feel, for a word that expresses the feeling of being uncomfortably cold and knowing that you will feel better if you tuck your tee shirt in, but your hands are so cold you know it is going to be a seriously unpleasant experience. Suggestions?
Here, however, are a few random thoughts and bits of advice that might help you if you are planning to drive and camp in Iceland (log off now, if you are not)
Money. You can pay for nearly everything, even small things like coffee, by credit card. We had only a couple of occasions when they only took cash, one being the tyre repair. Even the young folk that come round to collect your camping fees carry a credit card machine. We used a Nationwide select credit card (Visa), and it was accepted everywhere.
Weather. Expect any condition from strong sun to snow, high winds to torrential rain and bring LOTS of layers, as well as gloves, a hat, good waterproof trainers (at least 2 of everything) and some breathable waterproofs. Do not expect to be able to replace anything in most of the country and when you can, it will be very expensive. If you start your journey in Seydisfjordur, there are no big shops for MILES.
Food. It is a bit more expensive than the UK but not massively so. You can buy a reasonable range of fresh veg and most is of good quality. There is plenty of fresh meat and fish available, meat being more expensive on the whole. The packs tend to be for 4 people and it is really hard to work out what you are buying. We bought cuttlefish by mistake but we luckily caught on that the large lumps of meat that look like good rich red beef are actually whale. It is hard to work out what individual packs cost but there are barcode readers in nearly very shop to help you out. The weather was cold enough to put us right off salad, although there is a selection available in all of the supermarkets that we used.
Cooking fuel. We have not been able to get refills for our large Camping Gaz containers in all of Iceland, and that includes Reykjavik. They have their own gas canister system here. You can get small canisters; Jetboil fuel, Coleman fuel, Camping gaz and Primus were the ones I spotted. Luckily our 1 and 2/3 of canisters that we started the trip left have lasted long enough for us to go in search for some back in Denmark.
Keeping warm. We brought a tent stove with us and did not use it because, a) we could not buy any wood and b) most campsites banned fires. They were quite happy with gas BBQs and central, large charcoal BBQS, however. The Icelanders use electric heaters in their tents, which makes a lot of sense, as you pay a flat rate for a day’s electricity. I am not sure what type of heater they used, maybe fan heaters?
Camping costs. I bought a camping card for 99 Euros, which, theoretically pays for 28 days of camping. It breaks even after about 6 nights camping (for two people) and we used it for 12 nights in all. Not every campsite is in the scheme and the campsites are often, but not always, basic, town campsites. The campsites in the top places that we visited were also not in the scheme. That being said, the other campsites were pretty cheap, charging 5 to 9 pounds a head. Nowhere charged extra for a tent or vehicle.
Camping facilities. Most are pretty basic; be prepared for a very limited number of toilets and showers. A common set would include 2 to 4 toilets and 1 to 2 showers. Many facilities are shared between the sexes and you should be prepared to brush your teeth and shave/do your makeup in public. Nearly all campsites provide washing up facilities, quite often in the open air, most, not all with hot water. The best campsites have an indoor cooking and seating area, which is great when the weather closes in and they often provide some cooking equipment and crockery.
Driving. Obviously they drive on the right in Iceland, but most drivers seem to like driving down the middle of the road. Icelanders will tend to want to go much faster than you, so let them pass for a quiet life. If you want to avoid driving next to the steep drops by the coast, drive clockwise around the island. We went the other way round and it was definitely more stressful that way. Route 1 is nearly 100% covered in tarmac but over half of the rest of the roads are what they call gravel roads. They are covered in harsh grit and are very hard on your tyres. Even bendy main routes over high hills are covered in this stuff, so be careful, as it gets pretty hairy. Only attempt an F road if you are driving a 4×4.
Repairs. The small local garages that we came across all seem to be able to repair tyres and get new tyres by the next day (there is a lorry that loads up in Reykjavik and drives overnight to remote places). We paid £30 for a repair and £850 for 4 new tyres, about 15% dearer than UK prices, we think.
Car fuel costs. These are actually a little cheaper that UK prices; the cost of is virtually the same all round Iceland, about 238 IK per litre, which was about £1.23 a litre. You get given a discount card as you get off the ferry, for a couple of garages, which give you up to 7 IK a litre off (about 3.5p). We had no trouble finding diesel, as there are pay at pump places in the most obscure locations. I could not work out how to get a receipt from most of them.
Booze. You can only buy half strength beer in the supermarkets, it’s not too bad (best value is the local beer). If you want wine or anything else stronger, you need to find a ‘Vinbuden’ and they are usually situated near the post office at the edge of town or in a minor shopping mall. It is expensive, but not extortionate.
Hotels. They often look very tacky on the outside, but are lovely on the inside. There are a range of options, but the best value ones are either semi hostels or guest houses, where you can eat your own food. We stayed in a couple that cost from £80 to £100 a night. ‘Proper’ hotels cost from £160 to £200 a night and then you have to eat out.
Eating out. We didn’t do this much, but the couple of times we did, the food was very good. If you only drink the free water and choose the things on the menu like pizza, you can eat out for about £10-15 a head. If you want wine and the more interesting choices, don’t be surprised to pay over £35 a head.
Shopping. The prices for things like clothes and shoes and Sumo Jetboilers are high. It’s worth checking if you can get the tax back, as it’s 25%. If the amount claimed back is over a certain amount, make sure you get the receipt and form stamped by a customs official (in our case a nice bloke that was behind the counter at the information desk/check in for the ferry). You then get the money back on the ferry, or, if you don’t like the exchange rate, you can post it off in the pre-paid envelope and the Icelandic government will refund you via your credit card.
Getting here. We came over with Smyril Line on the only ferry that now comes to Iceland, the Norröna. It is a very pleasant 2 day trip and you can be dropped off on the Faroe Islands, either on the way there or on the way back, if you want. (Check the times, we got dropped off at 10 30 at nigh on the way there, and they got dropped off at 5 in the morning on the way back and had to be out of their cabins 2 hours before. It cost 2279 Euros (and you have to get yourself to the north of Denmark), but there are cheaper options on the ferry and it is worth looking at the smyrilline.com website to check them out. Other ways to come are to fly and then hire a car, many 4×4 options being available or you can fly here, shipping your own car in a container for about £1000 each way. I suspect that, if you want to drive yourself around Iceland, the costs turn out to be quite similar.
Camping gear. Make sure your tent can cope with all conditions and bring lots of extra tent pegs, because they regularly seem to end up like cork screws. Include a generous lot of rock pegs. You will need a 4 season sleeping bag and a warm mattress, (or, like us, a 10cm thick self inflating mattress, two duvets, two blankets and an extra extra- large sleeping bag just in case. Glamping?, probably).
Kit that has worked very well so far. Really Useful boxes ( really tough, come in all sorts of sizes, but the 18 litre and 35 litre ones stack together very well). Sumo jet boiler (we bought one in Iceland, despite the extra expense and can now have a brew in less than 5 minutes rather than 30. Fantastic!) Bic megalighter, the large ones that come in green or black and cope with high winds, great for lighting the stove. All the Rohan clothes have worked extremely well, as they layer up a treat, wash easily and dry within a few hours, nearly all getting dry overnight. Dodocool Grid-all, which is a clever storage system with loads of wide elastic strips loosely woven together, in which you slot your chargers and leads and stop them getting into a muddle. eBag storage cubes, into which you can sort your different types of clothes so they are easy to find in your main bag/box. The Tentipi. It has performed very well on the whole. You can stand up in it and there is lots of room. It goes up and down very quickly with not huge amounts of effort It has kept us dry in heavy rain, cool hot weather, kept out most mosquitoes, and coped with the cold and high winds (hurricanes exempted). The only night that did not go well was when we caught the tail end of the hurricane in a campsite with such shallow soil that we could not even drive any rock pegs in. We have managed to pull the odd toggle off the groundsheet by wrong pitching, but it has been easily fixable. The only design fault we have come across has been the way that the small struts at the top of the tent tend to push their way through the webbing holding them. This has been very easily fixed with Araldite.
Useful stuff to bring. I put a box together with a selection of glues, including Araldite, superglue, uhu, seam sealant, etc, a sewing kit, a range of materials, some string, some elastic bands etc and I have used quite a few bits already. Also clippits, cord, clothes pegs, rubber gloves, zip- close food bags plus large tough food bags so fish does not leak in your fridge….