As you may have noticed here on the blog, I’ve never been a big fan of campers in Iceland. It’s not that I was against campers per say, it was just the very specific and often hard-to-tackle camper problems that maybe got my knickers in a twist a bit.
There were two things in particular that I had issues with:
1) For some reason, when the campers first burst into the tourist scene here in Iceland they were advertised in a way that made people think they could just park them anywhere and everywhere to spend the night. This was never the case, although the laws were a bit muddy back then, but now it is specifically stated in the law that you are not allowed to camp in a camper outside of a designated campsite. But to save money, and maybe for bragging rights as well, a lot of people that rent campers still break this law. And to locals, that’s infuriating. For tons of good reasons.
2) The rough conditions in Iceland can make it downright dangerous to travel around in campers in the winter but people still insist on doing it. I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer here but it’s just not a good idea to stay in a camper in a crazy storm (which some winters occur every other week) with the wind blowing at 90 mph. Plus that most of the campsites are closed and then it becomes difficult to follow the aforementioned law.
So when Happy Campers suggested for the first time that we’d borrow one of their campers to travel around Iceland I was skeptical. Did I really want to contribute to this problem by introducing more people to campers? I know it probably sounds ridiculous but sometimes I just take my job as a blogger very seriously and I get tangled up in my efforts in being a good role model.
I also have to be completely honest (airing out my dirty laundry here) and admit that I’ve become quite used to staying in nice hotels with big fluffy duvets and fancy toiletries and I just wasn’t super psyched about sleeping in a car and share a bathroom with a bunch of travelers with limited access to showers. I fear I’ve become an accommodation snob – the first step is acknowledging the problem, right?
So I kept putting it off. I just wanted to know how I felt about it before committing to anything and to be sure it was the right thing. And apparently, it takes me two years to make a decision because that’s how long it took me to take Happy Campers up on their offer. I almost backed out last minute but seeing how excited Hrannar was, I put on a brave face and powered through it. Because I love him. And I don’t want to be accused of being middle-aged.
Full disclosure: Happy Campers provided us with a car free of charge but we paid for the insurances ourselves. We paid additionally for the extra SCDW because like I’ve said many times before I never rent a car without it. Everything else on this road trip came out of our own pockets. Furthermore, this post contains affiliate links so if you book with Happy Campers through these links we earn a little bit of commission. They won’t charge you anything extra but by using the link you help us out keeping the blog alive.
A little bit about Happy Campers
Happy Campers was one of the first camper rental companies in Iceland of its kind. It’s a small family owned company and the whole family still works there. The mom is the CFO, the dad the big boss and their three sons all work for the company in one way or another.
Talking to them we also learned that they seem to really care about what they do and their customers. For example, they share my view on it not being a good idea to travel in a camper in winter so they simply don’t rent them out during the coldest and darkest winter months. They also have a little booklet in all their campers where they remind people that camping outside of campsites is illegal and they give good tips on how to drive on gravel roads, how to replace a flat tire (with photos – good for car-idiots like myself) and all kinds of other important things.
Although I was still not completely convinced when we left Reykjavík I was at least happy to see the little details Happy Campers thought of to ensure a smoother ride for their customers and encourage a more responsible travel behavior. Because that kind of stuff actually matters to me.
Our experience with the camper
Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed traveling around in our camper. We got a Happy 3 camper (because I announced to them that I would not be sleeping in their smallest camper – the diva that I am), a converted Renault Master that sleeps up to 5 people. Realistically, I probably wouldn’t recommend it for 5 full grown adults but it’s ideal for families with kids or smaller group of friends.
There are two seats in the front and then three in the back that converts easily into a double bed. Above the three seats is a bunk bed of sorts where 2-3 people can sleep. We didn’t sleep up there since there were only the two of us but used it to store our stuff at night instead.
Although the double bed was more than big enough for us I can’t deny that it was a bit hard to sleep on. I’m not in the best shape (I have sensitive old lady hips) and am used to sleep in our fabulously comfortable Tempur bed so I didn’t get much sleep the first night and kept having to toss and turn. The second night was better, it was like my body was getting more used to it at that point but for the third night we bought a cheap eggshell mattress topper that made all the difference and I slept like a log. Hrannar did better but he also complained a little bit after the first night. So if you’re like me and you have any issues with your hips or your lower back I would recommend you buy/bring with you one of those self-inflatable air pads or something to make it a little softer.
The mattress on top is much softer than the lower bed so if you feel comfortable with sleeping up there then that might also be a good idea. From the photos I’ve seen of the smaller campers, they also seem to have softer mattresses so I doubt this would be a problem there.
The camper comes with duvets and pillows which we didn’t use because we brought our own but they seemed to be quite nice. If you’re worried about being cold there’s a heating system in the camper that you can put on at night before you go to bed (just remember to turn it back off) which we hardly used. We were wearing our woolen long underwear under the duvet, a standard fare for campers in Iceland, and woolen sock which probably helped but as the resident ice queen of our family that usually shakes and shivers in tents cold was not an issue for me.
The camper came with everything you need to make a simple meal, including cutlery and pots and pans for the gas stove. It’s really easy to replace the gas container if you run out and at least in our camper we had a couple of extras at hand, There’s also a sink in the camper that is connected to a water tank that is easy to fill but we didn’t use it at all. We just used the washing up facilities at the campsites we stayed at which seemed like it was easier and would cause less mess in the car. We used the sink mostly to store stuff we wanted to keep at hand while driving that we didn’t want to fly all over the place in case of a hard turn or a sudden stop.
We bought some pre-made pasta at Bónus which we warmed up the first night that was kind of great after a long day on the road. We also opted to get a BBQ, which you have to pay extra for, and used that to cook hot dogs and such for lunch along the way. Camping and BBQs go together like PB and Jelly in the minds of Icelanders so this was essential to us but it might not be for you. One thing we learned though is that if you use the BBQ to grill some lunch you have to factor in a bit of waiting time while the grill cools down after you finish your lunch.
The thing we used the most was the cooler. It’s great because it’s plugged into the electric system of the car so it keeps things constantly cool without you having to worry about a thing.
Finally, one thing we didn’t have but wished we had thought of were camping chairs. You can get them as extras with your camper but we just forgot to think about it. We talked about it at least once a day (usually in the evening when we wanted to sit down and enjoy a beer in the evening sun) how we wished we had them.
Campsites and such
We stayed at three campsites: At Höfn, Borgarfjörður Eystri and Hofsós. They were all clean (although Höfn was the least clean but also the busiest) and they all cost around 1100 – 1500 ISK per person. All of them had plenty of space available but we were, of course, traveling in May before the big tourist and camping season in Iceland. All of the campsites had shower facilities but the only ones I used were at Hofsós (very nice!).
Because we were traveling outside of the main season none of the campsites had personel on the grounds at all times. Instead, they relied on honesty boxes where you’re expected to pay for the facilities. So it’s good to keep a little cash on you so you don’t become the douche bag (get it?) that uses the facilities but doesn’t pay for it.
We visited the swimming pools in Fáskrúðsfjörður (which is tiny by the way) and Hofsós (one of my favorites) but visiting the pools is a great way to keep clean and get rejuvenated after a long day in the car.
Overall camper verdict
In the end, despite the problems we had with the hard mattress at first, we LOVED our time in the camper. It was so great not having to follow a specific plan and just go where the wind took us. The weather was amazing the whole time (close to 20°C and sunny one of the days) and the camper just made the camping experience some much more enjoyable and comfortable. My attitude towards campers took a U-turn and I feel much more comfortable recommending Happy Campers now.
And if you factor the cost of accommodation and everything, even if you include what you pay at campsites per night, it’s actually quite an affordable way to travel. Especially for families.
In fact, we liked it so much that Hrannar is now convinced that we need a camper of our own. We’ll see about that.