Photographing Iceland: Traveling in Country

I’m scheduled for three weeks in Iceland this year. This will be my third trip in as many years.

With most of the population living in and near Reykjavik, much of Iceland is thinly populated. Even as tourism peaks in the Summer, the countryside outside the Capital area seldom seems crowded. Campgrounds are widely available, fairly priced and, thanks to the open style of camping, don’t really ever fill up in the way that American campgrounds, limited by individual sites, so often do. 1

It is also easy to stay in places that have ceilings, walls and such. Guesthouses, hotels, hostels, resorts and even rural schools offer weatherproof if often expensive places to stay throughout the country. Unlike the campgrounds, indoor accommodations do fill up in high season so advanced reservations are a very good idea.

So, staying indoors is dry, pricey and inflexible. Car camping, despite the logistics hauling of gear 5000 miles from home, provides the freedom to travel and photograph as weather and whim dictate. Not incidentally, campgrounds typically have hot showers (geothermally heated in some parts of the country) and clean restrooms with flush toilets.

Getting there requires, at least for we West Coast types, both Domestic and International flights. Each has different restrictions on baggage with international, aka IcelandAir, the more restrictive. Since I’m not about to become responsible for a typo that results in a violation of IcelandAir’s baggage policy, you should go here and read it yourself.

Generally, the roads in Iceland are excellent. There are also plenty of rough, 4×4 style roads but the rental car companies don’t want their cars on them. The interior then is basically off limits except to tours, busses, locals and folks who bring their personal vehicles in from Europe. It’s just as well – you only think you want to drive across a glacial melt stream/river. Those giant four wheel drive rigs the locals drive have snorkels for a reeason.

Vehicle rental is expensive and the price of fuel is just plain mean. As I type this AutoEurope (I have no interest or affiliation with these folks, they just have lots of my money…) is charging about $600 US per week for your choice of tiny car. Reserving early (as in February) or for travel off peak season can cut this price by one-third. Gasoline is sold by the liter and adds up to better than $8.00 US per gallon. That’s the bad news, the good news is that gasoline is widely available. Most stations are automated. Memorize your credit card pin – it is required in some areas to purchase at the pump.

With the rainfall totals in the Summer months less than you might expect, the wind becomes the most common camping problem. The Europeans are fond of tunnel type tents with large vestibules. After a first trip with a standard issue back packing type tent, I settled on this free-standing tent, with a giant wind-stopping vestibule, for year two.

1 Campgrounds can seem very full on the first weekend in July. This is the traditional start of Icelandic camping season and just about everyone with a tent trailer is out enjoying the 24 hour daylight and summer weather. This is also the only time that Iceland campgrounds get noisy. The rest of the year all is quite by midnight.