As promised in part 1, here are my top tips for a great camping experience.
- Get to your site early – at every place we stopped I was amazed by the number of people arriving after 8, 9, even 10 at night. The long daylight hours in summer can encourage you to stay on the road until late, particularly those who are pushing to circumnavigate the ring-road in a week, but be kind to yourself, stay for longer or be less ambitious with your itinerary. Arriving early means you get the pick of the pitches, be it the best view, the flattest piece of ground, the nearest to the facilities or the furthest away. You have the leisure to cook yourself something nice, relax and enjoy being outdoors with no demands on your time.
- Get up early – this tip goes hand in hand with the first. If you arrive early, chances are you will go to bed early and get up early. Reject the notion that holidays mean lie-ins. You’ll be the first to the sites, beating the crowds, can fit more in to your day and pitch up at your next stop with loads of time to relax.
- Be flexible – I had planned an itinerary in advance which was useful as a rough guide but we didn’t stick religiously to it. You may find that you need more time at one place than you anticipated, or less. The weather might change (for better or for worse) and this can influence where you stop. For example, we had planned to camp at Vik, near to Reynisdrangar black beach but a sea fog rolled in. We had got up early and with plenty of time left in the day we pushed on to our next campsite, Svinafell, putting us a day ahead and meaning we could go further along the coast than planned. Without this flexibility we would never have made it to Höfn which turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.
- Save your small change – quite a few campsites charge for showers and they tend to take the smallest denomination coins. Most of the site offices will change notes for you but as we were there at the beginning of the season their opening hours tended to be short. Another shower related tip is to use the facilities in the evening. Whilst everyone gets ready for bed at different times they tend to get up all at once. Pick a quiet moment in the evening and you won’t have to queue.
- Plan your meals – if you are camping you are probably planning to cook for yourself at least some of the time. Like most countries Iceland has a range of supermarkets and some are more expensive than others. For campers Bonus (yellow sign with a big pink pig logo) is probably the best bet. We found it to be the cheapest and, whilst the choice was not huge, it has everything you need including lots of tinned and long-life options. Bonus is only to be found in the larger towns (we came across them in Reykjavik, Borganes, Selfoss, and Mosfellsbær) so stock up before you head for the rural areas. Our second favourite was Netto (for UK readers this is not Netto as we know it but more like Tesco). Slightly more expensive than Bonus it stocks a wider range of products and is less ‘basic’. Again, Netto is confined to bigger towns ( we visited one in Reykjavik and Höfn). Smaller communities have smaller shops and these tend to be much more expensive, fine for one off purchases but best to be avoided if possible. As well as knowing if there is a supermarket where you are going, it’s also best to check the opening times. These can be limited away from the big towns, particularly on a Sunday. Also be aware that alcohol is sold in a separate shop called Vinbudin. These are sometimes, but not always, next to the supermarket, and have more restricted opening hours. Buying alcohol from one will be significantly cheaper than going out to drink.
- Bigger is not always better – the great thing about Iceland is that you will be spoilt for choice with campsites. Do some research in to the area you want to stay and look at the reviews of the sites there. Also check what facilities are available and what you might have to pay extra for. With the changeable climate, a site with some form of indoor seating/cooking area is preferable to one without. Although good facilities are important if you are staying somewhere for a few days, consider sacrificing some creature comforts in favour of a smaller site in a good location. Bigger, well-advertised sites, are likely to be busier and, in our experience, were not always better than smaller family run operations. Keep in mind that there are a number of council run municipal sites that are less touristy in feel. If you do plan to stay at one of these, be prepared, bring a camping stove to cook with and visit the local swimming pool for a shower as generally all you will find on site is a toilet.
- Pay it forwards – most campsites will have an area dedicated to collecting things that departing travellers no longer need. This includes cooking oil, camping gas, food and even occasionally camping equipment and clothing. You can take items for free but if you do make sure to donate on your departure. Understandably the best pickings are to be had closer to Reykjavik where people have stayed the night before leaving.
What are your top camping tips?