Inside a Road Trip through Iceland

It honestly was an accident the way Laura Miserez decided to go on a trip to Iceland.  Two of her lifelong friends, Lauren and Brooke Micke, had already started planning their trip to Iceland and mentioned it to Laura.  Naturally, she told them how jealous she was, and they extended an invite—which she didn’t take seriously at first.  Still a dream seemingly out of reach, it wasn’t until several months later that the topic came up again.  During spring break, her dad said he thought she’d regret this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if she didn’t go.

That was enough for Laura; the next week she booked her flight to Iceland.  The women set out for a road trip in Iceland that summer, spending 12 nights there—and nine of those in a camper.  To choose an itinerary, Laura looked to the Lonely Planet guidebook checked out from the library and an Icelandic tourist app Lauren downloaded.  Laura answered some questions about what to see, what it’s like to live in a camper, what it’s like to travel with friends and what she learned about herself.

This post may include affiliate links, but all opinions are my own or that of the subject interviewed.

Iceland Road Trip Round Trip Travel Flower Field

Q: Where all did you go in Iceland?  Describe your favorite place and why.

A: Most of our days were broken up into little excursions like this. We left Reykjavik and drove east, which took us to the country’s most famous waterfalls, geysers, hot springs, and trails. Hoping to avoid crowds of other tourists, we skipped the popular Golden Circle attractions entirely. After about three days in the southern region, we drove north along the east coast. The roads here were almost like a moonscape, and I don’t think we passed more than five cars. On the main highway. Even though we felt utterly alone, the east stands out in my memory as being the region where we first saw puffins. Our tour guide at the glacier lagoon had recommended the tiny observation deck on the side of a steep cliff, about thirty minutes past a tiny village in the northeast. It took us a few tries to find the thing, but once there we spent probably two hours watching all the birds. I would have spent more time there if we could. 

The main stops in the North were the hot springs and geysers at Lake Mývatn, the infinity pool overlooking the Arctic Ocean at Hofsós, and Akureyri, the second biggest city in Iceland (population = 18,000). Each of these brought with them a unique new story, as well as a new food to try. That may have been the best part. We ate lamb stew, fish and chips, and goulash. It was a much needed break from our diet of ham sandwiches kept in a cooler in the trunk and potato chips. 

Iceland Road Trip Round Trip Travel Storm

After a brief day trip into the Westfjords, we made our way south along the west coast, spending the night in Stykkishólmur. This village fishing community was another stand-out for me. This is where much of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was filmed. It’s also where we experienced the Viking Sushi Party, a guided boat tour that took us to observe puffins, kittiwakes, and arctic terns off the coast and then fed us mussels and sea urchins we had caught during the ride. 

Then it was back to Reykjavik, where we spent three days exploring the charming city. Our cozy Airbnb was always only a short walk away. We found we appreciated the culture of the city a lot more having spent so much time in the countryside. This way of getting to know the country was the polar opposite of our road trip, and we felt lucky to experience both. 

Iceland Road Trip Round Trip Travel Rocks

Q: I hear your sleeping arrangements were a bit tight.  Tell me a little more about these.

A: Our little camper, which we fondly named Shoop, provided so much for us—a comfortable place to sleep wasn’t one of those things. When it was time for bed each night, we cranked the heater and drove around looking for an inconspicuous pull-off. Iceland has hundreds of these pull-offs, basically large gravel shoulders meant as a place for campers to safely park. 

Once we found a spot, we had to take all the luggage out of the back and move it to the front seats. During this process, we took turns changing into our pjs (we would have been plenty comfortable changing in front of each other but there literally wasn’t room in the back of the camper for all of us to do it at the same time).

Iceland Road Trip Round Trip TravelIceland godafoss

Then we straightened out our sleeping bags and put down blankets. One by one, we took our boots off and put our legs in our sleeping bags. Because it never really gets dark in Iceland in the summer, we had to cover all the windows with towels and our coats to make it dark enough to sleep. Then we would snuggle up (there wasn’t enough room not to) and hopefully fall asleep while the car was still toasty. 

Q: Tell me about your travel companions.  What was the best part about traveling with friends?

A: When I look back on Iceland, I don’t just remember the scenic routes. I remember gazing out our windows at the scenery with Brooke and Lauren while we sped down a dirt road jamming to the new HAIM album. I remember Lo elbowing me to point out a new waterfall and me screaming at Brooke to watch for that sheep crossing the highway up there. I cherished every moment of Iceland because I got to spend it with friends who have basically taken me in as a third sister over the years. It made everything I saw so much more memorable. I definitely recommend taking a trip like this with long-time friends. 

Iceland Road Trip Round Trip Travel Hot SpringsIceland Road Trip Round trip Springs

Q: What was the best experience from your time in Iceland?

A: A few times in my life, I’ve managed to briefly capture a feeling of pure exhilaration. I’m talking thousands of butterflies swarming around in my stomach making me feel invincible, not nervous. One of these happened in Iceland, on our way back from an excursion I hadn’t even wanted to go on. It was early in the trip, the second or third day. Brooke was dying to see Seljavallalaug, the elusive hot spring/swimming pool in the middle of nowhere. Lauren and I agreed it looked cool, but weren’t sure it was worth the decent drive down a one-lane dirt road and 15 minute walk along the mountains that required us to cross a river by hopping boulders. We went anyway.

It was already the coldest we’d been yet on our trip, and it started sprinkling the minute we got out of the car. It had been raining a lot that day, which had made the little trail almost too muddy to use. The rushing river had risen high enough to almost submerge the boulders, and they were slippery like ice. Brooke crossed without a problem, but Lo and I both stumbled and I ended up taking all three of us down like dominos. 

Iceland Road Trip Round Trip Travel Hike Nature

Finally we made it to the pool. I’ll admit it was beautiful, but it was fairly crowded and the water was room temperature at best. Certainly not the kind of temperature you wanted to be submerged in when it was 50 degrees and drizzling. We went to the tiny changing room and put on our swimsuits. Our feet nearly froze against the cold stone floor as we ran out to the pool. Being in the water felt just as chilling as being out of it. I didn’t even take any pictures I was so focused on staying warm. My teeth were chattering so violently I thought they might fall out. 

After about 20 minutes, we got out and dried off the best we could. We put our clothes back on and started the walk back. Somewhere along the way, I started to feel overwhelming happiness. I was so giddy I started skipping. I think it hit me where I really was. I never imagined I would get to do something like this at 20 years old, and the emotions hit me as soon as I did. That moment stands out to me as being about the greatest I’ve ever felt. 

Iceland Road Trip Round Trip Travel FlowersIceland Road Trip Round Trip Travel Glaciers

Q: What did you learn about yourself through this journey?

It sounds painfully simple, but I think the most important thing I learned was just how happy I could be with just the basic necessities in such a beautiful place. For most of the trip we just ate cold ham sandwiches and and potato chips. We weren’t concerned with what our hair looked like or if our clothes were wrinkled. We showered about every other day at small public swimming pools. I loved every minute of it, because it meant we focused 100% on the trip. I didn’t know I could be so at peace and so excited at the same time. I could feel my cheeks at the end of each day, tired from smiling for hours. I was pleased to learn that it was possible for me to be this happy, and I’ve tried to keep that feeling with me since then. 

{All photos courtesy of Laura Miserez.}

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