How to Avoid Getting Electrocuted & 9 Other Iceland Road Trip Tips
Iceland vacation packages can save you a lot of money and time versus booking air, hotel and tours separately (especially if you’re paying for two), which is why I booked an Icelandair deal for my Travelzoo Experience. I also figured my mom, for whom this was a Christmas present, would be at ease knowing everything was taken care of.
But tour buses can make me feel like cattle, and I always crave some degree of independence on my travels. So I extended our stay by two days and booked a car rental on an Icelandic website, fingers crossed that it wasn’t a scam.
Fast-forward to day one of our road trip.
The goal: drive from the capital city of Reykjavik up and around the western Snaefellsnes peninsula and back in two days.
Ten minutes in, I didn’t think we’d make it. There was yelling. There was passive-aggressive volume changing.
I should’ve expected trapping mother and daughter inside a metal box for two days in a foreign country would get interesting. But for months leading up to the trip, I naively imagined peaceful country roads, frolicking horses, and Bon Iver/Sigur Ros playing in the background.
I didn’t imagine Mom white-knuckling the door handle, so many different kinds of passive-aggressive behavior and snowstorms in late April.
The main lesson I learned: choose your road trip partner wisely (kidding Mom!). But seriously: in Iceland, the best thing you can do is prepare for anything.
Here are 10 tips to help you survive a road trip in Iceland (or other lands).
Research car rental companies before you book — and go local
Choosing an Iceland car rental can be overwhelming. First, depending on the season, you have to decide whether to get a compact or 4×4. In late April, we got by OK in a compact as the roads are easy to navigate, in good condition and we didn’t go off-roading. Still, we were graced by an unexpected snowstorm, and the winds got so violent our tiny little Suzuki was shaking like a train car. Weather is always volatile, especially in winter, so in December-April a four-wheel drive is a good idea.
Second, American companies like Enterprise and Hertz are established but expensive, so it’s smartest to go local — but there’s a plethora of terrifying stories on the web about getting ripped off by random companies. My advice: Trust the reviews and be skeptical of any company that seems way, way cheaper than the others. I had a fantastic experience with Route 1, an Icelandic company with an easy-to-use website, reasonable rates, new vehicles and positive reviews.
Expect to make unexpected stops
Iceland is gorgeous, and every 15 minutes the landscape changes completely. Don’t hit the road with a jam-packed itinerary. Let your surroundings write your itinerary for you, and be flexible enough to stop wherever and whenever to snap photos of a crater, find another waterfall, lick icicles or pet some horses. Which brings me to my next point …
Don’t touch any fences
With their beautiful flowing locks, Icelandic horses pretty much ask to be touched. The animals are not just gorgeous but talented (they have five different gaits; most horses have four) as well as extremely friendly. When I tentatively walked up to a herd, they came right on over to say hello (and probably investigate for treats). I was so excited that I leaned over the innocuous-looking wire fence and yes, got electrocuted. It was a small volt, but beware — “harmless” fences they are not!
Come equipped with games, especially if you have a family.
Again, Iceland is gorgeous — but also vast and desolate. I’m talking miles upon miles of snow-covered lava fields. Even amazing attractions like frozen waterfalls are so plentiful that by the end of our trip, my mom casually mentioned she was “bored with waterfalls.” Besides the view, there’s not much stimuli, so the drive can get monotonous. For parents, I’d suggest packing games to avoid listening to “The Song That Never Ends” on loop.
Bring lots of snacks and liquids.
You’ll spend a lot of time in the middle of nowhere with no gas stations or restaurants for miles. Even once you get to a town, there are few options, and if it’s between lunch and dinner the one restaurant might be closed. Come prepared or be hungry!
Plan your bathroom (and gas) stops wisely.
On the upside, if you have to go on the side of the road, there aren’t many people around. On the downside, there are no real trees and there’s visibility for miles, so if a car comes barreling up the road they’ll be in for a treat. Make sure everyone hits the facilities when you pass a town, and fill up on gas frequently to prevent getting stranded in a lava field in 20-degree weather.
Befriend everyone you meet.
You never know when you might need solace on the road, have to make an emergency call, or just want someone other than your mother to talk to. When a sudden snowstorm struck and reduced our visibility to 3-5 feet, I pretended to be unfazed … but my heart was beating out of my chest.
We tucked into the nearest place of shelter, Hotel Budir, where I struck up conversation with an American couple similarly shaken from the drive. We quickly became Instagram friends. We also chatted with the hotel manager, who called the conditions “totally fine” like it was 70 and sunny but gave us his card and told us to call with any problems. It can be scary and lonely out there, and you never know when weather will hit, so make friends where you can!
Take the long way.
Because it’s all about the journey, isn’t it? We skipped the tunnel and took the long way back to Reykjavik around Hvalfjordur fjord, extending our trip by an hour. It was worth every minute. The views, especially in the overcast and stormy weather, were incredible: white-capped turquoise water, snowy mountains and rushing rivers. Certainly better than the inside of a dark tunnel.
Pack a car charger.
This should be obvious, but your phone is going to be overworked. You’re going to take tons of photos, play music and run GPS. I have unlimited international data, so I was also Instagramming, Facebooking – the works. Make sure you have a way to keep it juiced, or it will die in one hour flat.
And to bring it home: Prepare for anything, because everything will happen.
I certainly didn’t expect to be electrocuted by a fence, hit by windstorms, have to drive in white-out conditions, or even be as cold as I was (it was late April, after all!). But what you learn in Iceland is that anything can happen. It can be sunny one moment and blizzarding the next. Come prepared for anything, yet understand that the unexpected will happen. Welcome those moments and let the road take you where it will.