My Solo Road Trip Across the South Coast of Iceland
If you know anything about me, you know I travel pretty much constantly. About a month ago, I found myself with a couple of weeks of no travel (I know, God forbid ?) and began to rack my brain for places I could go. I settled on Iceland and, after a few “can't make it”s from friends, I made a snap decision to take the adventure on solo.
It had been over a year since my last solo trip and needless to say, I was due for one. The couple of times I have done solo trips, I have absolutely loooooved them.
You can go where you want, do what you want, when you want.
You have massive amounts of time for self-reflection, which I love.
You learn you're capable of much more than you ever thought.
You get to know yourself on a deeper level.
And for a million more reasons.
When planning my Iceland adventure, I knew I would have to do a road trip of some kind. Some people do cruises around Iceland and others just take day trips from Reykjavik. I wanted to see as much as possible, so I knew that a real road trip was best for me. I chose the South coast because it was my first time in Iceland and the South coast is the most well-traveled.
I also knew I didn't want to be part of some organized tour – I much prefer the freedom to go where I want and do what I want on my own time. So knowing those two things, I settled on renting my own camper and setting out on a solo South coast adventure.
And what ensued was one of my favorite trips of all time – a week of adventure, self-reflection and beautiful nature that I'll remember forever. Road tripping Iceland solo was beyond incredible and I would highly encourage you to consider doing it.
In this post, I'll tell you everything you should know about traveling to Iceland solo and about visiting the country in general. I'll walk you through the exact itinerary and all of the places on the South coast you should hit during your trip, and give you an interactive Google Map of all the spots I mention.
Things to Know About Iceland
There's really no way to get around the fact that Iceland is expensive. In fact, it's one of the least budget-friendly countries in the world.
At a mid-range restaurant, the appetizers start at $25. Appetizers.
A coffee is $4.
A water bottle is $3.
Hotel rooms across the country start at $100/night.
All of that said, there are some things you can do to save yourself a lot of money:
Don't stay at hotels. Rent a camper and you'll end up saving.
Bring a water bottle. Small things like a water bottle will chew through your money. Iceland's water is incredibly fresh – from the tap and even from streams.
Limit your drinking. Alcohol in Iceland will rip through your budget because of the high taxes. I love a good glass of wine, though, so I bought a bottle of wine at a wine shop at the beginning of my trip for $20. This saved me a lot of money than if I had ordered wine or drinks at dinner (or a bar).
Grocery shop, don't eat out. Food is expensive in Iceland and even more expensive if you are eating out. It's much better to buy your food supplies at the beginning of the trip to bring with you in your car or camper. All guesthouses and campsites (and campers!) have kitchens. My total cost for 6 days of food was $175 (I did buy some unnecessary things ?) – which would be the price of an appetizer + entree + 1 glass of wine for two people at a mid-range restaurant. Pro-tip: BONUS has the cheapest food.
Bring food from home. To cut down on how much food you'll need to buy in Iceland, bring snacks from home. Bars, pre-packaged stove meals, etc.
Most people speak English
Islandic is one of the hardest languages in the world. Even trying to repeat the basic Icelandic word is like:
But not to worry. Most people in Iceland speak English, so it's very easy to get around and figure things out by asking someone. This made solo travel here very easy.
The weather is unpredictable
The weather in Iceland is very volatile – it will be sunny one day, snowing the next, rainy with blustering winds the next. If you're going in off-season or Winter, be prepared for anything and make sure you have snow boots, hiking boots, hats, gloves, rain gear, etc.
Go early for photos
If you're someone like me that wants to take tons of photos for Instagram or you just want to enjoy beautiful places without 40 selfie sticks, go early! In April I found that if I was at a tourist destination before 9 am, there wouldn't be more than 4 other people there with me.
getting up early will also allow you to see incredible sunrises like this one!
Best time to go
Iceland's high season is summer – it's when the weather is a bit warmer, when the snow/rain situation isn't as unpredictable. There is almost 24-hour sunlight and it's beautifully green. The downside is you will be dealing with higher prices and more tourists.
Then there's winter – the opposite of summer with loads of snow and only a few hours of sunlight. I'm sure winter in Iceland would be absolutely beautiful (and you'd definitely see the Northern lights!), but because of the weather, I would make sure you are a good driver in snow and that you're traveling with someone in case of emergency.
Personally, I think shoulder season is the best time to go, a.k.a. anywhere from late February to April or September to November. In February and March, there's still a large chance you'll see the Northern Lights. There will be less people and you won't be dealing with any extreme weather conditions in either direction. After going in early April, I personally can't imagine going any other time because there were already quite a few people at the tourist sites.
Camp in camp sites
Camp sites in Iceland can be found generally every 45 – 60 km. They will be marked with signs on the side of the road or to find one, you can just Google Maps “camping” and it will route you to the nearest one. All of the campsites are open in the summer, but if you'll be going in the winter or during shoulder season, I recommend checking out this website to see which are open.
As far as spending the night somewhere that is not a campsite… Technically it is illegal, but it seems to be a loose law. A couple of people told me it was illegal and police will kick you off. But more others in Iceland told me that I could sleep wherever.
Honestly, two of the nights I was there, the nearest campsites were just too far, so I pulled over into a picnic area/pull-off and spent the night with no issues. I saw others doing it as well. But be cautious – use a campsite when you can and ask some locals what the deal is.
I do need to mention with camping (anywhere!) that you should use your common sense. Don't camp blatantly on someone's property. Always be respectful of your environment. Do NOT leave any garbage. Don't go number two on someone's property and if you absolutely have to, clean it up. Leave Iceland as you found it. Leave no trace.
Be aware of gas
Iceland is nooooot the place to play tank roulette. Gas stations can be few and far between in certain parts on Ring Road Highway 1. This might be overly paranoid, but I wouldn't let my tank go below 40% without knowing from Google Maps that there was a gas station nearby.
Traveling Solo in Iceland
Traveling by myself in Iceland was so, so easy. Personally, I think it's one of the best places in the world to travel solo to because it is so safe, easy to navigate and free from any culture shock. It's also incredibly, incredibly beautiful and serene. If you're looking for a trip that will give you some needed self-reflection and/or time with yourself, Iceland is it.
That being said, here are some general tips for solo travel…
As with any travel (solo or not), be aware! Even though Iceland is the safest country in the world (proof here), I would be remiss not to mention this. If something feels off to you, listen to your gut.
Have cell reception
Make sure you have international service before heading off. You won't have a travel partner, so the ability to always be connected, able to contact people and able to route yourself is important. On the South coast, I rarely had issues connecting to service which was great.
You can do this! Don't stay cooped up in your hotel or camper. Drive to new places. Walk around with confidence, smile & meet new people, put yourself out there. Some of the coolest people I met on my trip were ones I met from going up and saying hi!
Eating meals while traveling solo can often be the most intimidating part, but it's super easy especially in Iceland where there are so many solo travelers. Enjoy your own company, text a friend, play on your phone. I personally always catch up on work on my laptop during solo meals!
Bring your tripod
If you want to get some pictures of yourself, bring your tripod! For tips on how to take your own travel photos, watch my YouTube video on this topic. ?
Do your research
This blog post is obviously a great place to start, but do more research! If you want to rent a car, look up the rental places with the best reviews (Lagoon Car Rental is great!). If you want to stay at a hotel, research the best hotels along your route. Etc. A little bit of spontaneity is wonderful (I love it ?), but for solo travel, it will save you a lot of stress and worry to have everything researched and booked in advance.
Just do it
Finally, just book the ticket. Seriously! A solo trip to Iceland will be the best decision you make.
How I Got Around
During my road trip, I rented a camper from Mink Campers. Now, this isn't just any basic camper… It's what's known as a “teardrop camper” and it attaches onto the back of your car like this:
photo from Mink Campers
Inside, there's a queen bed, heat, Wifi, ceiling and side windows, luggage storage and interior lighting. On the back, there's a full kitchen with a cooler, stove, pots & pans, utensils, water storage, etc. Basically everything you need for adventuring in Iceland.
I loved this option because it didn't seem quite so obnoxious as a full camper, I had more flexibility on where I could drive/park and it had all of the amenities that a full camper would.
If you're looking for a full traditional camper, I recommend checking out Happy Campers. I saw a ton of these all over Iceland. Or if you're looking for just a car to rent, check out Lagoon Car Rental.
I flew into Reykjavik and spent just one night there. It is definitely possible to spend multiple days here, but due to the fact that I would only be in country for 7 days, I wanted to start driving ASAP. ? My initial impressions of Reykjavik from the short time that I was there is that it is incredibly beautiful (surrounded by mountains), but there isn't a ton to do. There were some cute cafes and shops and beautiful sites, but I think after two days I would get bored. Feel free to let me know below if I missed something incredible! ?
From there, I picked up my Mink Camper and started driving. The first day, I drove all the way to Hofn on the far East side because I wanted to get most of the driving done the first day, assuming that I would be way too tired by the end to drive all of that way. This was definitely the right choice for me because I was solo, but you could make your way over to the East slowly and then drive all of the way back at the end if you're with someone else!
Once I made the 5.5 hour drive to Hofn, I spent the night there and spent the next 6 days driving back.
Here's a map showing the different points of interest on the South coast. This map includes both places I hit and places that I missed (either because I didn't have time or decided last minute not to go)!
Vatnajokull is Iceland's (and Europe's!) largest glacier. On your drive to Hofn, you'll drive alongside the glacier for a couple of hours and it's absolutely spectacular to see.
To get closer to the glacier, I recommend booking an ice cave tour, snowmobile journey and/or a glacier walk. I unfortunately didn't have time to do one of these activities, but will definitely do so next time!
photo from Guide to Iceland – wish I did this!
This is a beautiful glacier lagoon right next to the large Vatnajokull glacier. The water is a gorgeous blue and the icebergs are awe-inspiring. Sit here for a while and take it in!
The famous Diamond Beach is right across the road from Jokularson and is an absolute must-see. Every day, pieces of the glaciers wash up here and the black beach is dotted with ice chunks of various sizes and colors (white, transparent, blue). Stunning and unlike anything you'll see in your life.
This canyon was unfortunately closed during my trip due to road construction, but it looks absolutely stunning. Would highly recommend stopping by here!
photo from Iceland Unlimited
Between the canyon and Reynisfjara is the quaint town of Vik. Vik has hotels, restaurants and gas stations and will be the largest town you'll see between Reykjavik and Hofn. It's definitely not a huge place you could spend days in, but it has a grocery store in case you need to stock up on supplies.
Iceland's famous black beach, complete with black lava “sand,” beautiful black pillars in the sea and naturally formed basalt cliffs. On a cloudy day, Reynisfjara feels like you stepped into a black & white world. It is otherworldly and positively stunning.
A five minute drive from Reynisfjara is Dyrholaey, a massive arch in a cliff. Drive (or walk) up the steep hill to the lighthouse and you'll have amazing views of the arch and of the black sand beach. In the summer you can also apparently see puffins! ?
I soooo unfortunately did not make the trek up the hill because I wasn't sure my car could make it and I didn't want to walk because of blistering winds, but this is what I would have seen:
photo from Guide to Iceland
An old U.S. army plane crashed on the beach in 1973 and the plane still remains today!
The plane is about 2.5 miles from the road. You won't be able to see the plane from the road, so just walk straight from the road toward the beach. You will be surrounded completely by flat land and beach as far as you can see, so it would be a bit disorienting if it weren't for the fact that Solheimasandur is a very popular site and there will be other people walking down the path! Just follow them to probably one the most unique, eerie sites you'll ever see ? You can go inside the plane too!
P.S. Everyone survived the crash.
One of the most popular hot springs in Iceland, Seljavallalaug is a pool fed completely by warm spring water. It has become fairly well-known and touristy, but would make for a fun mid-day relaxation sesh.
photo from The Outbound Collective
A beautiful waterfall – one of the most popular in Iceland.
Another one of the most popular waterfalls – only about 30 minutes from Seljalandsfoss! There's also a campsite here.
A gorgeous, large waterfall that is bright blue.
photo from Guide to Iceland
The Silfra Fissure is a rift in the tectonic plate between North America and Iceland. Meaning that you can actually dive (or snorkel) between North America and Iceland!
I am so fascinated by this and diving the fissure has been on my bucket list forever, but unfortunately I am only halfway through my diving certification, so all I would have been able to do was snorkel. So I'll be coming back to dive it ?
I definitely couldn't do an Iceland guide without mentioning Blue Lagoon ? I stopped at Blue Lagoon the last day/night of my trip and it was the perfect way to end my stay.
You can visit Blue Lagoon for a day or you can spend a night (or two!). There is the Silica Hotel and most recently opened, there is now The Retreat – a highly luxurious accommodation option with rooms. I enjoyed a night in their Lagoon Junior Suite, swam in the private lagoon and enjoyed a few hours at The Retreat Spa and can very sincerely say it was one of the best hotels I've ever stayed at.
The perfect way to end an adventure-filled week in Iceland.
This post by no means covers everything that is open to you on the South coast. I'm sure there are some more under-the-radar spots that I missed, so would love to know if there are other places on the South coast you would recommend? Ready to book your solo Iceland trip?
Let me know in the comments!
(Disclaimer: I collaborated with Mink Campers during my trip. As always, all opinions are my own.)
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