Roy Chung is a photographer we recently met in New York City just before his trip to Iceland. Here he shares his tips on how to DIY Iceland by car. Just 5 hours from NYC and with all sort of crazy deals on Icelandair, isn’t it time you had a look?
It’s actually a lot more convenient than you think.
Turns out, you can book the car last minute. And they even pick you up from your hotel. There is no tour guide rushing you on to a shuttle, herding you and a dozen other not entirely awake guests to a bus terminal where you’ll board the real bus, already packed tighter than a domestic flight’s overhead bins. No, just a friendly rental agent that drives you and your friends to the car lot, followed by a painless sign this, swipe here, and have fun.
The GPS, while advisable, is not entirely necessary, provided you have some combination of a) a decent store of moxie, b) general comfort in being lost, or c) detailed knowledge of the Icelandic road system.
There is always room to improvise.
Sometimes, the best plan is to not have one. Or at most, just the vaguest idea of an itinerary, the faintest outline of one. You wake up with the intention to visit the Blue Lagoon, but a hearty breakfast over a shared table with strangers may convince you that, yes, the preferred thermal pools of locals just off the beaten tourist path may in fact be a better option. You don’t even have to go looking for the adventure. All you have to do is say yes when it finds you.
Traveling is always better with a soundtrack, especially a shared one.
Everyone wins, whether you’re watching the breathless scenery whip by while jamming out to Of Monsters and Men (they’re Icelandic, so it’s appropriate, see?), or being forced to listen to (or forcing someone else to listen to) Taylor Swift’s debut album while debating the finer points of her growth as a songwriter. Plus, Bon Iver’s Holocene was made to be listened to while quietly contemplating Icelandic glaciers, because the video told you so.
Note: auxiliary audio cable not included. Thankfully, you packed your own.
You choose where, when, and how often to stop.
The bus tours get you to the Golden Circle, but now you want to program your own tour (maybe even slide by some churches you read about). Also, snapping the occasional photo out of the albeit large bus windows doesn’t quite compare to pulling over on the side of the road, getting out of the car, and taking it in. The first thing that hits you is how quiet it is, the engine off, the soundtrack paused, in the middle of the Icelandic highway. You notice things you would’ve otherwise missed – the vividness of the mountains in the distance, the particular colors of the landscape. This, it turns out, is a great idea. Stop as often as you like, and stay as long as you want. The day is yours.
Also, horses. They dot the numerous farms that you inevitably pass while traversing the Ring Road, so you stop by and say hello. It’s the polite thing to do.
Getting lost, and the hijinks that ensue.
You may have come to Iceland with the sole intention of seeing the Northern Lights. Or you may have read about a hidden nirvana for coffee aficionados tucked into a quiet corner of the city. Doesn’t matter. Inclement weather, or uncharacteristically unreliable Internet-sourced directions will derail your plans. You force the issue; you travel an hour farther than the tour groups would’ve gone, or you circle the same four square blocks endlessly in dogged pursuit. You get desperate. You keep driving into the night, aimless now, or you keep walking down the street you can’t pronounce, casting out right turns and sudden lefts with reckless abandon.
Sometimes, you never find that break in the clouds. But you end up huddled and shivering in the darkness with a couple of friends, closer now than when you started, celebrating the tenacious twinkle of a faraway star that still manages to penetrate the featureless gray. Or fist-pumping to the small victory that is hey-I-think-that-was-a-shooting-star-unless-maybe-it-was-just-a-satellite-oh-fuck-it-it’s-a-shooting-star-in-my-book.
And sometimes, you get lucky. A day later, coffee hopes long abandoned, after indulging the disappointment-fueled impulse to get your first tattoo at a local parlor, you stumble upon an unassuming cafe. Walking in, the smell somehow richer, the menu more thoughtfully curated, the decor less manicured than what you were expecting, you stop.
What’s this place called? you ask.
You found your way after all.