Otherworldly, is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Iceland. I was prepared for exceptional landscapes but this road trip far outdid my expectations. What’s more, I pushed myself, beyond traditional notions of comfort and my idea of ‘ideal travel’ and came out of the experience much richer than I could have ever imagined. Not just because of the money saved on renting a van rather than booking hotels in this expensive jewel of a country, but also because being so mobile meant the wildest sites became accessible, nothing too remote to explore and the great outdoors was largely ours for the taking. And with this, we experienced the incomparable beauty of Iceland’s black sand beaches, grand waterfalls and so close you can touch them glaciers.
Of course, wild camping is not permitted, and so designated campsites are dotted around the ring road for us van lifers to spend the night. Campsites ranged from the local farmer’s backyard to the touristy parking lot of one infamous waterfall. But best of all, were those sites that were slightly out of the way; that little bit more removed from the hustle of the ring road, where the tough roads reward the driver (and passengers alike) to some of the most breathtaking natural landscape one could hope to spend the night in.
One such campsite was Thakgil. After being told by a couple who had just turned around, half way through the drive up, that the roads were simply too bumpy and that we should do the same, we felt all the more compelled to push on. The drive, whilst bumpy, led us across streams, through fields and along the mighty glacier. Our awe struck silence only interrupted by momentary gasps and click of the camera as we took in the view. We drove into the campsite - a small canyon, enfolded by steep vertical mountains - with a knowing smile. The absence of noise and light pollution was a world away from London’s sirens and bright lights, a luxury outdone only by the unmistakable green tinge of the northern lights in starry, obsidian sky.
My better half’s travel sense and deep appreciation for slow travel having permeated my own, I cannot now imagine doing Iceland any other way. Our road trip in Iceland was less box ticking tourism, more free riding travellers. Venturing beyond my comfort zone allowed me the freedom to connect to nature and to myself, properly disconnecting from the pressures of my daily life, as what to eat, where to go and where to sleep became my primary considerations. Not only was the journey as exhilarating as the many destinations, with every kilometre travelled, grows a deeper appreciation of one’s own insignificance against the formidable purity of the landscapes. Though not quite off the grid, it was nonetheless transformative travel at its best.