My name is Michiel, a 23 year old Belgian guy. I hitchhiked around Iceland two summers ago and to this day it was - without exaggerating - the most wonderful travel experience I’ve had. In this blog you will find some of my personal experiences as well as some practical information which could be useful when planning to hitchhike in Iceland.
“Isn‘t hitchhiking kind of risky?” you ask. This, my friend, is Iceland, and I can say for myself that there is no safer place to hitchhike than here! Also it is one of the best ways to get around the country, since you can follow the ring road, also known as Route 1 that goes alongside the shore. But before you start thinking: "No way I‘m walking alongside a highway – I‘m not tired of living!", let me give you some perspective.
Why hitchhike in Iceland?
The Icelandic road system is every hitchhiker‘s dream as I experienced two summers ago. The Ring road is comparable with an average village road - a very calm one, on a Sunday. You either go west or east on the ring road, and it makes it very easy for cars to know which way you are trying to go, and it is virtually impossible for you to get lost. Direction signs are easy to read and spot and you will notice junctions from miles away (unless you´re trying to do it in midwinter of course).
The best part of following this road it is that you‘ll rarely see any houses. Instead you‘ll lay your eyes on magnificent glaciers, lonely rising mountains, lava fields, wild rivers, endless grasslands, fjords, deafening waterfalls, mosses in all kind of colors, reindeer, geysers, hot water springs, icebergs, ferocious volcanoes and so on.
A lot of towns, villages and accommodations are situated alongside or close to this route, making it easy to find a place to sleep and to do detours without getting lost.
Getting picked up
After arrival on Keflavik International Airport (Southwest Iceland) you´ll most likely start your journey heading to Reykjavik. You can try to hitchhike from here or take the shuttle bus to downtown Reykjavik.
Getting out of Reykjavik, where cars are driving fast in various directions, will be the hardest part. Just standing alongside the road is dangerous and cars can‘t stop easily. Try to get a ride on a calmer road or at a gas station. If you really want to get out of town quickly you can use public transportation, or simply a bus as there are no railroads in Iceland. You should not at all be in a hurry to leave Reykjavik, though. It is a lively city with some interesting buildings and an even more interesting nightlife to discover.
Outside Reykjavik, you should not expect heavy traffic. At first sight this seems like a major disadvantage because no cars equal any progress. Nevertheless, with a smile on your face and a little bit of luck you will get moving fast enough! Both Icelanders and tourists who spot you alongside the road, surrounded by this massive emptiness, feel almost obliged to give you a ride. Of course you won‘t always be lucky and you should calculate an average of one hour waiting time before being picked up. Then again this is no disadvantage, after all you are lucky enough to wait in a never-ending postcard landscape.
The odds of getting a ride from locals or tourists are 50/50. Both ways have its perks. An Icelander could tell you countless stories about Icelandic and of how wonderful it is to live in Iceland. Being picked up by tourists you will have a better chance to see the popular tourism spots. Either way is good, in other words!
Where to go
Whether you‘re heading North or South is completely up to you. When starting in Keflavik/Reykjavik, going south-west will be the easiest. Tourists who rent cars for a short period will often head to Jökulsarlon, a glacier lake filled with icebergs. But tourists who drive the whole Ring road will go both ways. This increase your chances of being picked up.
When visiting Iceland there are a few spots you must definitely see. The Golden Circle (link) is always worth a visit, and why not top it off with a little excitementand go snorkeling between two continents when you are there? Furthermore you should go whale watching in Husavík, maybe bike around lake Mývatn, experience geothermal activity in Hveravellir, spot icebergs and seals in Jökulsarlon, see puffins in the Westman Islands and do a glacier hike on Europe‘s biggest glacier Vatnajökull. It is always an advantage to book the actives before-hand.
When to go
Hitchhiking in Iceland is recommended from May until the end of September. In this period the traffic is peaking (which is good for you!) and the weather condition is at its best.
With up to 20 hours of daylight you have the time to enjoy landscapes for longer and the chance for getting a ride late in the evening increases. If you‘re planning on hitchhiking into the highland roads, you should check when they open up. Their opening and closing timedepends on the amount of snow and melting conditions each year.
You should plan on staying in Iceland for at least 10 days. That way you can hitchhike in a comfortable, non-stressing way around the island. The longer time you have, the further away you can travel from the Ring road and look for amazing natural sights. Tourists often travel to surprising locations you´ve never heard of, so be friendly and there´s a big chance that they´ll let you join them!
What to bring
Proper clothing is necessary in Iceland all year around. „If you don‘t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes!“ as the Icelanders say. The weather chances fast because of the mountainous landscape that after all is in the middle of the North Atlantic. Be sure to bring clothes so you can dress in layers. If it‘s cold, pop on another sweater. If it‘s warm, put it in your backpack!
You should stock up in supermarkets before you get going. You can always buy what you need at gas stations, in cities or alongside the ring road. But if you are going into the highland and to the mountain huts, you have to bring what you need before you leave.
Make sure to put a tent in your backpack! It good to know you have shelter at all times. Most of the campsites open up between 1st May and 1st June and wildcamping is allowed outside National Parks. You should especially bring one if you are coming in June or July because all hotels and hostels will probabely be fully booked. When cooking your own meals you´ll find a replaceable pressure unit (both Campingaz and Primus) in any gas station with a shop. It‘s highly recommended to buy a map of Iceland as well, so you know where you are, where you‘re going and where the nearest bed is.
Dare to stick your thumb out!
Hitchhiking in Iceland really is a cool and unique way of exploring the country. Its easy road network makes it perfect when you are hitchhiking for the first time. Nevertheless it will always be a challenging expercience due to variabel weather conditions and low traffic which can turn it into a waiting game.
Luckily, the rewards are immense. You´ll have unforgetable encounters with both Icelanders as well as people from all around the world thanks to Iceland´s variety of visitors. Thinking back of the colorful people I met during my trip makes me smile again and again. And above all you´re meeting them surrounded by nature in its purest and wildest way. Prepare yourself for a journey that you will never forget!
Contributed: Michiel Ooms