Everyone seems to remember that moment when they first decided they wanted to travel. Well I don’t. I just started one day, fell into it because I was graduating from college and didn’t know what else to do with myself. There was no a-ha moment for me to tell you about. So instead I will tell you about the time I lost my way, and how Iceland helped me find it again.
Almost a year after I returned home from London I was in a rut. I knew I wanted to do something big, I just didn’t know what. I could backpack around South East Asia, I could get a working holiday visa and head to Australia, I could try in earnest to get a job in the United Kingdom, I could do so many things. I had a lot of potential ideas and no focus, so instead I continued working 9-5, online dating stupid dudes and generally being very bored.
I did have one thing going for me: my friend Liz and I were planning a trip to Iceland with our tax refund money. Why Iceland? I don’t really remember. Liz was coming from Europe and I was in the US so I guess we just thought we’d meet in the middle?
In any case it turned out to be a terrific choice. We met at the airport and headed straight to the Blue Lagoon, a man made hot spring outside of Reykjavik. The surrounding landscape was harsh and volcanic, while the steaming water was an unnatural milky blue. It was thoroughly unlike anything I’d ever seen before; it was like taking a bath on the moon.
From there we rented a car and set out to drive the Ring Road- Iceland’s highway 1 which encircles the perimeter of the country, winding through farmland, misty mountains, and devastating deserts. Our little gray Yaris led us from volcanic craters to roaring waterfalls in ten minutes time. We spent the night in charming farm-houses turned hostels. It was the week of the summer solstice and we were so far north that the sun didn’t set once.
It’s not that I ever forgot how much I love to travel, but over the course of the week I started to remember how fun it can be. Seeing absurd things, trying weird new foods, exploring new towns. The joy of discovery and the thrill when something beautiful just takes your breath away.
I remember sitting on the beach in a small town called Vik, on one of the last nights of our trip. It was probably 1am, but the sun was still hanging low in the sky, giving the impression that it was early evening. The beach was black- volcanic sand, which gave it a particularly dramatic look. Staring up at a rock formation known as the three sisters, I simply couldn’t fathom the idea that I would be back at work on Monday. Sitting in an office felt so wrong when there was so much awesome stuff to be seen and discovered. This felt right.
This is starting to sound mega-sappy, so let me step back a bit. I think for many people the idea of long-term (anything more than a week or two) travel is just too abstract. They’d love to do it someday, because it sounds awesome in the same way that writing a novel sounds awesome or learning how to salsa. There’s no real motivation to pursue it now, it would just be nice “someday.”
But you can’t do anything with a “maybe someday.” You can’t save money for it (at least I can’t), you can’t plan for it and you can’t really make it into reality. What Iceland did for me, and what short trips do for quite a few people I think, is turn that vague desire into a pressing need. I am a traveler and I need to explore, move and discover. Kind of like a shark: If I stop swimming I’ll die.
I went home, bought a South East Asia guidebook and stared to get my butt in gear. A couple weeks later I started a travel blog, primarily to keep myself motivated but also to illustrate that the leap from idea to reality isn’t as hard as you think.