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Iceland: How it REALLY went....

By TULA CXO and Co-Founder, Cody Galloway

WE SURVIVED! We went to Iceland and camped in a van with our 5 and 7 year old for almost two weeks and... it was AMAZING.

I wrote a blog post the week before I left about how I was preparing (mostly mentally) for the trip. Here is how it actually went...

Iceland is a dream country....the landscape is incredibly magical. Photos simply don't do it justice. There are miles and miles of beautiful volcanic rocks covered in thick neon green moss, misty waterfalls, turquoise crystal clear waters, dramatic coastlines, and a whole lot of space... it was exactly what I needed... and more so what we all needed.

Sure, the 'must see' spots (the popularly photographed waterfalls or coastlines) had a lot of visitors, but you could almost always no matter where you were find solace and peace to take it all in. My favorite places or moments were honestly just random places we decided to pull off to explore because they were just so darn beautiful. I loved just driving while listening to music just watching the landscape change before my eyes. From hot springs to glaciers, waterfall hikes and black sand was almost surreal how captivating it was. As we were planning- I was pretty bummed about not tackling the ring road (the full ring around the country of Iceland) but ultimately I really appreciated our slower pace (not being tied to driving more than a couple hours a day to get to the next camp site). We took our time...we had a few places or hikes each day that were planned out, but we also had plenty of time most days to pull off to see that random wild horse or cave or stop for a snack of a coffee. It was just the right pace for us ... this trip.

The van was took probably two days to adjust to the space (or lack there of)- and my husband and I walked away saying IF we ever decided on a much longer trip (involving travel/staying in a van) we'd definitely do things differently. Everything would need to have a place (a very thoughtful, deliberate place) and I would invest in some cozy bedding too.

What went well: 

  • The flights: The flights were easy (and very snack filled).
  • Packing: I used packing cubes, which allowed me to pull just what I needed out for everyone at any time. It was imperative to be organized in the van.
  • The weather! We had lovely weather- with only a couple of truly rainy days. Iceland is notoriously wet (lots of rain) so we got lucky!
  • The Van: It ran, the fridge worked, we didn't crash, and the kids slept great!
  • The food: The kids found plenty to eat & there were way more options than I anticipated.
  • The plan: HERE is our itinerary on Wanderlog (that we mostly followed)...feel free to use it, make a copy and start to create your own itinerary!

What didn't go well: 

  • The flights: While the flights were super easy...we also did NOT get any sleep. So a 6am arrival (11pm our time) with a full day ahead was not the easiest. A quick afternoon nap and a 7pm bedtime for all of us helped...
  • The Van: It had seen better days... we sort of knew this might be the case but by the end of the trip we had cardboard shoved in cabinets to keep them from banging down while on the road and towels hung over windows. (oh- they also failed to give us comforters for BOTH beds, so Cort and i had to buy a mini blanket at a pit stop). Needless to say we were super relieved when we rolled into the rental place for drop off in one (mostly) piece.
  • The hotels: We booked a hotel in the middle of the van stretch to enjoy a nice shower and do laundry and enjoy a real bed....however my husband accidentally booked a twin room (two twin beds for the four of us) So.... it ended up being the worst night of sleep of the trip and ironically he actually ended up back in the the hotel parking lot. So that was cool. (Pro tip: Have TULA book them and ensure no details go overlooked!) :) 

The people in Iceland were very nice, and it was incredibly clean. A local told me they have just 12 inmates in their ONE jail?  We felt incredibly safe.

In summary, all of that alone would have made it a once in a lifetime experience- but as I reflect on the trip I think what I wasn't really anticipating and what surprised me the most was watching my kids explore, appreciate the experience and become best friends all over again.  They have always got along fairly well (with the occasional sibling spat)- but it was so cool to see them entertain themselves and each other for hours and hours on end. They searched for lost treasure, and found pretty rocks, they played make believe, made up songs, ran around and truly came home a whole lot closer and way more content and happy just being with our little family and having just each other to play with. Who knows how long that will stick but for now...I will take it and I hope that at least one of them will remember the experience....because I know I will never forget it.


Food: Restaurants are real expensive but we thought the food there was yummy. We bought and cooked most of our food from the local grocery stores. There are also a lot of food trucks at the bigger sites (waterfalls, diamond beach etc.) that were all delicious! Lobster soup FTW!  Almost all gas stations and rest stops have pastries, sandwiches etc.  

Must go to Black Crust Pizza in Vik.... So good. My kids were Obsessed with the cheesy breadsticks. Also cute little coffee shop - school beans cafe (school bus coffee shop in Vik) served up the best latte of the trip. :)

Some of the public toilets are paid (usually 200KR) so that's really the only reason to have cash....most everywhere else took cards (make sure to have pin for gas stations)

Make sure you book tickets for Blue Lagoon far in advance.  If you don't get the time you want you can check every day as tickets get released.  I changed our tickets twice. :) We ate at the Restaurant at the Blue Lagoon and while very $$$$ it was delicious.  Also places like the Lava Show require advance tickets.

Favorite places:

  • Golden Circle Area: The National Park was just amazing to walk around.  Oxafoss was also one of the only waterfalls with nobody pretty and you can walk right up to it. You can buy a fishing license for the day from the little community building near the campsites (just past the visitor center) if you want to fish the lake....and you can drive down to the shore.
  • Highly recommend hiking in to this little hot spot: Hrunalaug Hot Spring (there is a car parked at the trailhead (the ranger) and you pay him and hike a very short distance up to the hot spot) We were bummed when we saw a few cars there...but there's actually quite a bit of space and theres a time limit for how long people can stay so definitely still go, we had it to ourselves for a bit.  
  • Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River - a worthwhile hike in but must plan in advance (as it's probably at least a 4 hour commitment)
  • Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool -  while this 'swimming pool' was actually a bit gross, the hike in (very short) was one of my favorites...there's not really a trail and you have to cross a river....and it's just gorgeous.  The pool however is NOT hot. The kids were troopers- on this rainy walk that we promised a hot pool at the end of. However- we heard if you go to the far end of the pool there is actually hot water coming in- so its warmer.  The changing areas (literally a brick shack) are real gross- buttttt I'd still stay it was an experience I would definitely suggest you have.  The scenery is just unreal.
  • Skógafoss - we camped at the base of this waterfall that also happens to be the trailhead to a bunch of trails that follow the river if you hike to the top and then keep going for as long as you'd like...super beautiful.  
  • The section of road between Skogafoss and Svartifoss (glacier area) was out of a movie. Horses and waterfalls, cliffs lining the roads etc.  It was all kinds of magical.
  • Svartifoss was a pretty dramatic waterfall that you hike into not too far with the columns. and there are lots of other trails.
  • We fished a day on a couple Lake spots (we rented a 'beat' from fish partners) and rented waders from a shop in Selfoss...We didn't catch a lot and the bugs were NUTTY (only place where the bugs were bad- they didn't bite they were just annoying gnats) but it was BEAUTIFUL (currently doing a search for 'Magical' + 'Beautiful' synonyms).

landing at 6am with 1 hr of sleep calls for a fresh pastry the size of our face
Meet Willy! (Our home for 8 nights)