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Iceland on a budget: Why you should seriously consider renting a campervan

Aug. 08, 2021
6 min read
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Iceland: a country where you can catch the northern lights, visit all the thermal pools and highlands to your heart's desire... the list goes on. Add in the frequent flight deals you'll find to this island, and it's no coincidence that Iceland is a popular tourist destination year-round.

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At the same time, Iceland is notoriously expensive. According to Numbeo's Cost of Living index, Iceland ranks as the fourth most expensive country in the world — just behind Bermuda, Switzerland and Norway.

Related: Traveling to Iceland during the coronavirus pandemic

Even though my mom and I snagged a bargain to Iceland for May (our flights were under $400 round-trip), we knew that prices would be astronomical once we were on the ground. You can expect to drop a pretty penny from renting a car to booking a hotel to dining at a restaurant.

Still, we were determined to do Iceland on a budget — and we were successful. We slept, ate and drove around the whole country in a campervan. While not the most glamorous of accommodations, we ended up saving a ton of money and had a blast.

Driving the campervan was similar to driving a van. (Photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy)

Campervan culture is huge in Iceland

Before this trip, I had never been in a campervan, RV or any motorhome of the like. But campervan culture is huge in Iceland, with more than 170 campgrounds in the entire country (and most charge just a few euros per person). The facilities were well-kept and safe.

One of my favorite campgrounds at Borg í Grimsnesi, located right off the iconic Golden Circle. (Photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy)

Likewise, there are a plethora of campervan companies to choose from. I booked our campervan through Lava Car Rental, and they offered free round-trip transportation to and from their airport. After a short five-minute drive, we arrived at the car rental center.

I was pleased with Lava's professionalism and customer service. (Photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy)

After just putting 43€ ($50) down at booking, we paid the rest at the counter for a total price of 285€ ($335) for six days. That breaks down to just $55 per day, which I found more than reasonable. Pickup was also seamless and was just like any other rental car experience I've had in the past.

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You can be spontaneous with your travel plans

The biggest draw for me when renting a campervan is that everything you need is in one place. This is especially helpful when you're in a country where you need a car to get around to visit all the sites.

The winds were brutal in the northern part of Iceland. (Photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy)

Iceland is also bigger than you may think, and throw in unexpected weather conditions, and it may take you a long time to get to where you want to be. Rather than limiting yourself to one hotel — or stressing yourself out planning multiple hotels to stay at along your route — the freedom to park our campervan at the nearest campsite and do everything on our own time (and pace) was a huge advantage.

We had just hopped off our five-hour red-eye with minimal sleep. Instead of overdoing it, we both agreed to take a nap before we started our adventure. We parked in a random gas station for about two hours, caught up on some much-needed sleep and felt refreshed to begin our journey.

The Rangárþing eystra: The most beautiful waterfall I've seen in my life. (Photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy)

In all, a campervan allows for the utmost spontaneity. While my mom and I drew out a rough itinerary of spots we wanted to hit, staying in a campervan helped us be as flexible as possible. There were winds of 40mph the first two nights of our trip, which made sightseeing much more complex, so we made sure to take things slowly at first.

Related: These are the best times to visit Iceland

The meals were delicious (and cheap)

When it comes to food, my mom is quite particular. Like Gordon Ramsay, she's quite critical of other people's cooking. Nine times out of 10, we'll leave a restaurant with her saying, "I could have cooked that better."

I can't blame her. She's an amazing cook, and I count the days until I can go back home and eat some of her traditional Korean meals.

Since Iceland isn't a country known for its cuisine, renting a campervan allowed us to have the freedom to cook our own meals to our tastebuds' delight. In her checked bag, my mom brought some of the Korean staples: gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), instant rice, seaweed, spicy ramen and more.

We bought everything else we needed at the grocery store, from Icelandic sausage for our budae jjigae (Korean army stew) and bagels and fruit for breakfast.

Best of all, all the kitchen utensils and cookware we needed came with our campervan. Not to mention, it was a bonding experience whipping up our meals after a long hike — and I swear the food tastes better in the fresh air.

Sleeping was not that bad

With such limited space in the campervan, the entire backside of the car housed our suitcases, cookware and our beds.

(Photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy)

We had to make our bed every night by pulling out these wooden planks, topping them with a mattress pad and nestling in our sleeping bags. In the morning, we had to put everything away so we could have space to cook.

Plus, we were so tired at the end of the night that we fell asleep almost instantly, and it was certainly much more comfortable than sleeping in a tent.

Related: You don't want to make these mistakes when you visit Iceland

Bottom line

The campervan life may not be for everyone (I appreciated my tiny NYC apartment tenfold when I got home). Still, in a country like Iceland, it's the most economical way to visit all of your bucket list spots in a short amount of time. The campervan came with everything we needed, including a portable gas stove, cookware, a water jug, heater, cooler and so much more. Finally, sharing a small amount of space with one other person was also an experience of its own and will hands down be one of my favorite memories spent with my mom.

Related: How to get to Iceland on points and miles

Featured image by (Photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.