Iceland Quick Facts
- Size: 40,000 square miles
- Population: 324,000
- Language: Icelandic, English
- Currency: Icelandic Króna (Ikr)
It felt weird to stick out my thumb as I walked down part of the Ring Road in Selfoss, Iceland. It was my first time attempting to hitchhike. I looked down at my watch. It’s 5pm. Let’s see how long this takes to get picked up. As an American, the idea of hitchhiking is a bit counterintuitive. The general consensus in the States is that it’s not safe, but I equate that to media sensationalism. When my American friends and family found out I was hitchhiking around Iceland, the majority of them were concerned. But you have to understand a lot of these people also think that the second you cross the border to Mexico, someone from a drug cartel will immediately cut your head off and bury your body in a shallow grave.
Nevertheless, just prior to arriving in Iceland, I’d read about the safety and efficiency of hitchhiking in this small European country. As a budget traveler, I was intrigued and decided to put it to the test. I ditched my rental car plans and decided to hitch my way around instead.
As I strolled down the Ring Road in Selfoss, I heard a horn honk. I looked down a side street to see a young Icelandic man standing outside of his van. He was a pest control guy on his way east to visit his in-laws.
“Thanks for the ride” I exclaimed as I climbed into the passenger side.
“Of course. I could use the company” the Icelandic man said with a friendly grin.
It was 5:10pm. It took me 10 minutes to get my first ever ride hitchhiking.
Much to my delight, I soon found out that Iceland is a hitchhiker’s paradise. In the summer months of peak season, it’s quite easy to find a ride. At 1,332 kilometers (828 mi) in length, Iceland’s Ring Road circles the country and provides visitors quick access to countless tourist attractions. These attractions include thundering waterfalls, fjords with steep bird cliffs, rocky mountains blanketed in green moss, encrusted lava fields, live and dormant volcanoes, streaming rivers, icebergs floating in glacier lagoons, and steaming geothermal pools. I’d list off some names of these locations, but you wouldn’t be able to pronounce them anyhow, so don’t you worry about that.
It’s safe to say I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks after several weeks of hitchhiking and camping around Iceland, which I would like to share with you now.
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Tips and tricks for hitchhiking in Iceland
- Two People or Less
I spent a little over a month hitchhiking around Iceland, the majority of the time by myself. I’ve found that it’s easier to get picked up if you’re a solo traveler or with only one other person, simply due to the fact that a driver needs to be able to fit all of your bags in their car. If you’re hitchhiking with two other backpackers, space can fill up quickly.
- Get Out of the City
If you are trying to hitch out of a large city like Reykjavik or Akureyri, take a quick bus ride or walk a short distance out of the city first. It’s much easier to find a ride with people already traveling on the Ring Road than trying to find a ride out of the middle of a busy city.
- Just Ask
Whether you’re at a gas station, campsite, or grocery store, asking for a ride face to face ups your chances exponentially. The majority of my rides came from small talk with travelers or by approaching Icelandic people and straight up asking for what I wanted. I found the Icelandic people to be extremely friendly. In fact, I was never turned down when I asked for a ride from an Icelander.
Kind of common sense, but if you’re hitching on the side of the road, make yourself visible to cars. You want to be noticed from a distance. Also, positioning yourself where a driver has adequate room to safely pull over and pick you up is ideal. You don’t want to impede the flow of traffic or cause a big hold up as you’re throwing your bags in a car.
This might sound a little ridiculous, but if you smile and wave you’ll notice a big difference in the reactions you receive from passers-by. I also am sure to make strong eye contact with each person. You’ll notice this elicits a reaction as well. I’ve had so many drivers throw up their hands apologetically, nonverbally saying that they would take me if they had the room.
Sometimes it can take a little while to get picked up, depending on a variety of different factors. Luckily for me, the longest I ever had to wait for a ride was 45 minutes. Hitchhiking can be stressful if you’re on a tight timeline. Just the other day I waited around for about 20 minutes before giving up and paying for a bus.
- Pack Light
This was a hard lesson to learn for me. I packed far too much, mainly due to the fact that I was carrying all of my camping gear along with electronics, food, gas and water. So all I can really say is pack as light as possible. Be ready to walk several kilometers with all of your stuff, which, unfortunately, I had to do numerous times. And again, I’ve learned my lesson. My shoulders have also grown much stronger in the process.
- A Note on Safety
Hitchhiking is never entirely safe. Use your head if you decide to hitch around Iceland. I was traveling around the country through the month of July, the height of peak season. This meant warmer weather and more traffic. I didn’t have to worry about freezing to death, and people were traveling around everywhere, so I never felt like I was completely alone with a driver. I was camping as well, so I had a food, water, and a tent with me at all times. If worst case scenario I was out somewhere and couldn’t catch a ride, I could get out of the rain in my tent and stay warm in a sleeping bag. But that never happened. Be sure to watch the weather and don’t get dropped off somewhere where you might have trouble getting picked up again.