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Iceland Trip Planning: a van, two kids, and a whole lot of miles

By TULA Chief Experience Officer and Co-Founder, Cody Galloway

Welp, it is officially vacation season and many families are packing their bags and hitting the road (or airways) to get their last minute summer trips underway. Personally, our family is about ready to take a trip that is actually two years in the making. We originally planned to go to Iceland in late summer of 2020....and well yeah....we didn't. We then rescheduled it for 2021 (and there was a thing called a Delta variant...and we didn't make it). So here we are, two years later and it's happening...finally. We're going. If I am being honest I am NOT sad about having a 5 and 7 year old in tow instead of a 3 and 5 year old (that would be an entirely different post) but regardless, planning a vacation for a family with children is a very different experience than planning a solo trip or a gals getaway.

I thought I would document a taste of our planning in this blog post & include a few quick tips in hopes it may resonate with someone (or maybe inspire you to do an adventure of your own...wink wink). Assuming we make it back in one piece- I will follow up with an 'How it Actually Went' blog update after we return. As much as I absolutely love adventures with my little crew....I would be entirely bluffing if I said I wasn't just a tiny bit nervous about flying 8 hrs with two kids (and a really big kid- named my husband) to camp in a van for 12 nights in a foreign country....but HERE WE GO! 

Here are my tips (or maybe mindsets) that have guided our planning to date: 

1. Get everyone involved

You may already know where you’ll be going as a family this year, but if you don’t the first step is to decide your destination and your travel budget. In our case, an airline voucher that was going to expire if we didn't use it this year was our motivating factor, the destination was already determined AND luckily we paid for the tickets back in 2020 so the financial impact had already been had.

We quickly got the kids involved on the planning immediately after we rebooked the tickets so they could start to get excited about it....and I was shocked by just how excited they were and continue to be. Their teachers all have asked me about 50 times 'did you go to Iceland yet' or 'when are you guys going to Iceland' because apparently they didn't really stop talking about it. Bonus- talking about the trip has also been a great opportunity to talk about geography, culture, timezones, currency, climate and a number of other teachable topics....which you could apply to every destination, even one just a quick drive away!

The more invested they are in the trip and where we are going, the more excited they are, AND if your kids are anything like mine- the more excited they are, generally the easier getting to the destination is. (Annnnd this is me crossing all my fingers and toes)

My kids are 5 & 7 and here a few necessities I will be packing for the 8hr plane ride:

2. Just enough planning

Last spring, as we were planning our second attempt at going to Iceland- I hired one of our amazing TULA Assistants to spend a few hours putting together a start on a trip planning document for me. She included suggested itinerary, flight options, hotels, must see sights, maps and more. It was an incredible jumping off point. I would highly recommend using TULA for this process! It made me feel immediately at ease about pulling off the trip.

Iceland is vast... and one thing I realized pretty quickly as we started planning was that I needed to have more realistic expectations about what we were and weren't going to be able to do, see and accomplish. We weren't going to make it to every single waterfall and glacier and lake in Iceland in two weeks...and actually that trip was not one that we wanted to take because that would involve non-stop driving. We want to enjoy the scenery. Drive leisurely. Stop randomly. Sleep in. Eat long meals. Enjoy random hot springs, and just take it all in without feeling like we scheduled out minute to minute day after day. We did after all opt for spending the majority of our trip sleeping in a Sprinter Camper Van (crazy? Maybe. I will let you know), so scheduling in more time to be at destinations and seeing what we want to see, doing hikes, & fishing vs. in the van all the time felt pretty necessary to ensure we all get the space we need.

As far as planning goes (especially for adventure travel or road trips) we are big fans of the free tool Wanderlog as well. You can save all your reservations in one place, budget, create and share itinerary, add sights you want to see, and map out your trip (and have directions to each stop along the way) all in one place.

3. Give Yourself a Little Grace

If the goal is to go on a vacation that everyone enjoys, give yourself grace and remind yourself that sometimes easier is just better.  We all know that traveling with children rarely feels like a true “vacation” for a parent.  Between packing, applying sunscreen, keeping track of all their stuff, chasing after them and making sure they have everything they need - it can really feel like the anti-vacation (usually amazing but fully EXHAUSTING).

A few things to consider (and as I type this I am also using this as a reminder for myself):

  • Screen time is not the enemy.  A big part of our trip will be spent driving- looking and enjoying the scenery, so obviously we're not planning to hand them their IPAD every time we get in the van but technology as a tool for getting through some typically rough spots like plane travel or when they just aren't feeling okay.
  • It's okay if things don't go as planned. The positive and the negative of trip planning (at least for me) when it comes to giving yourself grace is that I tend to feel like a failure if we don't make it to every single stop on the itinerary. What I have come to realize is that for every stop we don't make it to is a stop at others that were unplanned and no matter what.... we'll be in Iceland? So I will tell myself to breathe. take it in. and enjoy exactly where we are at.

Two years in the making is a long time to be anticipating this adventure and maybe since it's been so long it almost was starting to feel like it was never going to happen at all. I am SO excited that it is. I am positive there will be melt downs, arguments, and potentially some sleepless nights (did you know it doesn't get dark this time of year? Yikes!), but I am also positive there will be so much laughter, beautiful places to see, delicious food , ADVENTURE....and memories. so many memories. Thank you for being along for the ride. :) 

NOTE: If you're interested in seeing our actual plans (or packing list) I am happy to share our trip on wanderlog or my trip planning google doc (created by a lovely TULA assistant), email