I have hitchhiked in over 30 countries around the world and Iceland is definitely on the easier end of the scale. Plenty of lifts from both locals and tourists made it easy for the most part to hitchhike around Iceland. In the east of the country and the Westfjords it was a little more difficult due to a lack of traffic at times, but it still wasn’t too hard. Once I got a lift in those areas people were usually travelling long distances.

What makes Iceland really great for hitchhiking is that in most of the country the roads are small, meaning you can hitchhike almost anywhere. The nearly endless incredible scenery helps too. On the few occasions where I waited longer than half an hour for a lift, I couldn’t help but marvel at the amazing scenery I was surrounded by. In 10 days I was able to see a lot of the country. The very long days definitely helped! Check out my tips below for making the most of your hitchhiking trip around Iceland.

Iceland map
The route I took around Iceland.

1. Go in the warmer (and lighter) months

It’s best to visit in or near summer, preferably between May and September. Not only is the weather much better, there are also a lot of daylight hours, making it possible to cover a lot in a day. More people visit Iceland then too, so there are more potential lifts. At that time of year, you don’t need to worry too much about being out after dark. When I visited in May, the sun only really went down for about 2 hours a night.

Sunset in Iceland
Watching the sunset in Höfn.

2. Bring clothes that will keep you warm and dry

Even in summer, Iceland can be very cold. The weather can change quickly too, with rain or even storms appearing suddenly. Bringing warm clothes doesn’t mean bringing heavy clothes. The secret is layers. I travelled to Iceland as part of a larger trip during which I was mainly in very warm climates and flew with only carry-on. I only had light trousers with me for that reason, but I also brought some compression tights to wear underneath my trousers when needed. This combination gave me more options and kept my legs warm. Plus, they were light and folded up small. I also had t-shirts, shirts, and a hoody that I could layer up when needed. Combining these with my lightweight down jacket and a thin waterproof outer layer worked perfectly.

Hitchhiking in Iceland

3. Pack light

This is good advice whether you’re hitchhiking or not. I have never heard a backpacker complain that they brought too little. When hitchhiking, you will occasionally want to explore a town, beach, waterfall, lake, glacier or hot spring. You may not always have somewhere to leave your bag, so make sure you can carry it comfortably.

4. Get a local SIM card

I generally buy a local SIM if I am visiting any country for longer than a few days. For hitchhiking in Iceland it is essential. It was perfect for checking where there was a hostel to stay at and whether they had any free beds. In parts of the country hostels can be few and far between so it’s good to check their availability when you think you know where you will end up that night.

prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com is a great resource for deciding which SIM card to buy.

5. Stay at hostels (and make friends)

Most people you meet in hostels will be driving around the country and many will have some space in their car. Staying at hostels and chatting to people will often result in the offer of a lift. Given the limited amount of directions you can go in most parts of Iceland, the chances of finding someone going your way are high.

If you are travelling at a slower pace, and can therefore accurately predict where you will be each night, then it is worth trying out CouchSurfing. Couchsurfing is a hospitality exchange website. If you don’t know where you’ll be ahead of time then it probably won’t work. It can be difficult to impossible to organise somewhere last minute. Keep in mind too, that between June and August, so many people visit Iceland that it may be hard to find a host.

Sæberg HI Hostel, Iceland
Sæberg HI Hostel

6. Have some patience

Even though Iceland is an easy place to hitchhike in general, some places (like the Westfjords, for example) can have very little traffic. There were a few occasions where I was waiting for 10-20 minutes between each car. The stunning scenery does help to alleviate the boredom though.

Westfjords, Iceland
A quiet road (and amazing scenery) in the Westfjords.

7. Bring some food with you

There can be long stretches of road without much food (or anything really) to buy. It’s worth having a few things to tide you over. Bónus is the best supermarket for those on a budget.This is where they are located: www.bonus.is/find-your-store. They have a good range of bread, sandwich fillings, yoghurts and other snacks. Try the skyr (a yoghurt-like, strained, skim-milk cheese) and harðfiskur (wind-dried fish often eaten with butter).

8. Don’t bother with a sign

A sign is unnecessary to hitchhike around Iceland as most roads only really have 2 options: one way or the other. In other countries, complicated road networks and myriad junctions can make having a sign extremely useful, but Iceland has neither of these.

Iceland sign
A different kind of sign.

9. Think about where you are standing

I know, I know; this seems obvious, but you would be surprised at how many people seem to not put much thought into it. Try to make sure there is enough space for a driver to stop safely and easily, preferably to the side of the road and out of the way of any other traffic. The easier you make it for people to stop, the more likely they are to do so. It is important to stand where oncoming cars will have enough time to see you too. If people can’t see you until the last second they probably won’t stop but it could also cause an accident if they do. Basically, try not to give the driver any reason to dismiss picking you up as being too much trouble.

10. Research places you would like to see before you go

Most of the lifts I got were with other visitors to Iceland. Some had very rigid itineraries of what they wanted to see, but most were open to suggestions and looking to explore the country as much as I was. What you want to see in Iceland is a good conversation starter, and these things work both ways. You may find out about amazing places that you had not heard about before, and even be invited along to some of them.

Jökulsárlón, Iceland
Jökulsárlón is a glacial lake in southeast Iceland. You won’t want to miss it!

11. Try to look presentable and friendly

Remember that people are doing you a favour by picking you up. They are much more likely to want to help you (and not feel threatened) if you look tidy and somewhat presentable. I try to never cover my face or head unless absolutely necessary, as I think it makes people suspicious, even if only subconsciously. That includes not wearing hats, hoods or sunglasses (although glasses are fine).

12. Bring sunscreen

For obvious reasons you may end up standing in the sun for a long time. If you follow my advice above to avoid wearing a hat or obscuring your face in any way, then your face may even be in direct sunlight, so sunscreen is essential. The cooler temperatures can be deceiving and you may still get burnt even if it doesn’t feel hot. You should be aware of the reflected UV rays from snow and water too.

Snowy Iceland
Snow reflects up to 90% of UV radiation, effectively giving you a double dose of UV.

13. Smile (and look at the driver)

One of the best hitchhiking techniques is actually a very simple one: smile! People often only have a split second to decide whether you seem like someone they are willing to let into their car or not. Smile and look directly at the driver. Often the glare of the sun reflects off the windscreen, but look at where the driver would be anyway. They can’t tell that you’re not able to see them.

14. Learn a few words of Icelandic

Nearly everyone in Iceland speaks fluent English, but I think it is worth knowing a few words of Icelandic to be polite. Plus it is an awesome-sounding language and is the closest living language to Old Norse, the language of the Vikings. Here are a few things to get you started:

 (pronounced high) is just like the English word hi.

Takk (pronounced tahk) means ‘thanks’. The more formal way of saying thank you is: þakka þér fyrir (pronounced thah-ka thyer fih-rir).

Talarðu ensku? (pronounced Tah-lar-thu en-skuh? with the emphasis on the first syllables of each word) means do you speak English?

(pronounced yaw) means yes. (yoo) also means yes, but is used for answering a negative question.

Nei (pronounced nay) means no.

Above all, hitchhiking can be a very enjoyable way to explore a new country as you can meet a wide cross-section of people and learn a lot about a country through them. If you’re considering hitchhiking but haven’t done it before, Iceland is as good a place as any to start.

If you found this advice on how to hitchhike around Iceland helpful, or think I’ve missed something important, please let me know in the comments section below.