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How a Week in Iceland Changed my Life

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.

48 Responses to How a Week in Iceland Changed my Life

  1. Sheila August 16, 2011 at 10:30 AM #

    You’re one of my inspirations for long term travel. I remember being frustrated about work just about a year ago and I stumbled on your blog. After reading your posts, it just reinforced my belief that it is possible to leave the cubicle world and follow my dreams.

    I agree Iceland can really inspire you and change your life. I’m a bit high maintenance when I travel, but I saw so many people hitchhiking, biking around the island. I felt inspired, I want to be “Hard-core” like them.

    • Steph August 21, 2011 at 8:39 PM #

      Aww thanks, that means a lot. I saw a lot of people biking around Iceland and was amazed! It’s not a very forgiving place.

  2. Seattle Dredge August 16, 2011 at 11:30 AM #

    Amazing! I’m leaving for a week in Iceland, on Friday! My best friend & I got our tickets with our tax return money too. I wish that we had the time to rent a car and just drive around; I’m super jealous of that part. But, we have a ton of amazing tours lined up 😀

    • Steph August 21, 2011 at 8:38 PM #

      Yay! can’t wait to hear about it.

  3. Adam August 16, 2011 at 11:33 AM #

    We’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth mentioning again: Iceland changed my life too! Funny how such a small country can have such a big impact.

    • Steph August 21, 2011 at 8:38 PM #

      Seriously- I’ve heard this from multiple people!

  4. Josh Aggars August 16, 2011 at 11:41 AM #

    Not sappy at all Steph. Those are all valid points in fact as there’s never one reason or another why we go, I guess sometimes you just need that break from monotinous routine to suddenly realise ‘hey there’s more to this ride than whatever I’ve been doing.’

    I had much the same experience once when sat in a small Fiat looking out to sea one morning in Italy. I’m not sure if it was the hangover or the fact I hadn’t slept but I suddenly felt compelled to have more of these ‘it doesn’t matter’ feelings.

    Lush post.

    • Steph August 21, 2011 at 8:37 PM #

      hangovers can be life changing too!

  5. Shivya August 16, 2011 at 12:43 PM #

    Wonderfully described, Steph. The pictures alone can convince me to give up everything and go to Iceland. I can only imagine what a beautiful experience it must’ve been for you. Something tells me I’m going to be a regular here 🙂

    • Steph August 21, 2011 at 8:35 PM #

      Thanks! Glad to have you here.

  6. Erin August 16, 2011 at 2:27 PM #

    Steph, your story sounds exactly like mine (except my muse was Mexico). I’m a few steps behind you, but someday soon I hope to be where you are. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Steph August 21, 2011 at 8:35 PM #

      Awesome!

  7. Cailin August 16, 2011 at 3:19 PM #

    Love the photos! and I so love that I have been to Iceland now too, it really does change a person! Every time I travel I think about being back home in ‘that” reality and I can’t fathom doing it and i cringe at the thought of going home from a trip.
    very inspiring you 🙂

    • Steph August 21, 2011 at 8:34 PM #

      It’s definitely one of my top countries ever.

  8. Emily in Chile August 16, 2011 at 5:36 PM #

    Those photos are gorgeous! That trip sounds pretty great, just driving through the countryside of Iceland, so I can see how it would have inspired further travels.

  9. Audrey August 16, 2011 at 8:45 PM #

    I love the diversity you were able to capture through your photos! The scenery is absolutely gorgeous!

    • Steph August 21, 2011 at 8:32 PM #

      I swear, I didn’t even do it justice.

  10. Shtina August 16, 2011 at 10:04 PM #

    Great post! It’s not sappy to say travel was reinvigorating and helped you refocus! The photos are great too, makes me want to dust off my Iceland travel guide…

  11. Cam @ Traveling Canucks August 17, 2011 at 12:13 AM #

    Iceland looks so amazing! The blue lagoon looks interesting…

  12. Abhijit August 17, 2011 at 3:45 AM #

    Thanks for being a great inspiration Steph! I remember that the time I started getting interested in travelling and started following travel blogs, somehow your blog was one of the first ones that I started following (and you has started writing it maybe just a month or two before that). Great work!

    • Steph August 21, 2011 at 8:31 PM #

      That is really sweet! Thanks for sticking around.

  13. Fiona August 17, 2011 at 10:31 AM #

    Really well put and so inspirational can relate on many levels- thanks!:) Beautiful photography too:)

  14. Global Basecamps Ali August 17, 2011 at 2:23 PM #

    Beautiful Pictures! Thanks for sharing your story.

  15. Joya August 18, 2011 at 12:56 AM #

    Such a great story Stephanie! The act of buying a ticket can set things in motion instead of saying “someday”, at least for me!

    • Steph August 21, 2011 at 8:25 PM #

      Definitely- that ticket buying moment is the best!

  16. Martine Dudes on the road August 18, 2011 at 8:42 AM #

    Great story! Inspiration for travel comes from everywhere… “like taking a bath on the moon” : if that’s not inspiration, I wonder what could be!
    The photos are sooo beautiful!

    • Steph August 21, 2011 at 8:25 PM #

      thanks!

  17. Alexis August 19, 2011 at 6:38 PM #

    I just love your articles! i always wanna convince my friends that it’s easier than they think! it’s always “you’re cool for traveling, but i can’t cuz i have no money. i wish.” If i could just pay for their trips once, I would! Cuz I know they’ll get addicted and finally see what they’ve been missing out on.

    For me, study abroad was what got me addicted. I went to more countries than I thought I would in a span of three months. Now, I just love finding new adventures. Even if it’s just a 5 hour drive from home. There’s always something to see and do. =)

    I wish I could go to Iceland! But maybe…no. Definitely someday!

    • Steph August 21, 2011 at 8:22 PM #

      I always try to encourage my friends as well but I think you never really get it until you try it yourself.

  18. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy August 20, 2011 at 11:14 AM #

    Great post! Iceland has been at the top of my wish list for some time. It looks like there’s even more to see than I realized.

  19. jenjenk August 21, 2011 at 10:06 AM #

    Beautiful shots! 10 years ago when I first started traveling through Europe in earnest, my friend suggested we go to Iceland, which I had laughed at. Now I wish we would have, when the US dollar was stronger!

    After seeing your post, perhaps 2012 is the year for me to go!

    • Steph August 21, 2011 at 8:06 PM #

      I hope you do!

  20. gayE @ pinaytraveljunkie August 21, 2011 at 9:55 PM #

    “But you can’t do anything with a “maybe someday.” – Indeed! The photos are awesome, and I’ve added Iceland to my overflowing bucket list.

  21. ayan August 21, 2011 at 10:37 PM #

    i hope that “someday” come sooner than later. i need to gather funds first =)

  22. Gladys/ByahengBarok August 21, 2011 at 11:12 PM #

    Great photos! I hope, someday, I can go there and shoot landscapes!

  23. Greg August 22, 2011 at 2:38 PM #

    Wow, great post. This struck a chord with me, you are an inspiration. I too fell into travel, leaving a job, being bored etc. I don’t believe it was a calling but my round the world trip has left me addicted. I just got back from 2 days midweek in Gothenburg, Sweden before going back to work the next day! People said I was crazy but I have the same desire you have described….

    • Steph August 29, 2011 at 10:43 PM #

      Thanks! I really wish I lived close enough to run off to Sweden for a night!

  24. Heather August 30, 2011 at 2:13 PM #

    I love this post! I have been working towards my goal of permanent traveling for over 3 years now and I will be leaving in 4-6 months! I just started my blog a couple months ago to help keep me motivated and keep my mind on my travels! I’m loving your blog! Thank you!

    • Steph September 4, 2011 at 2:55 PM #

      That’s awesome! Good for you for staying focused- it will be so worth it.

  25. Becky September 8, 2011 at 10:27 AM #

    What an inspiring article, and such amazing photos! I lived abroad as a kid and travelled a lot around Asia, but it looks like there’s a lot to be said for Europe too.

  26. Danielle June 6, 2012 at 8:19 PM #

    I want to go to Iceland so bad! I’m considering it for my next trip and I love the idea of using your tax return money for it. That’s totally doable. Maybe next year i’ll be able to add a new pin to my map.

  27. Danica December 3, 2012 at 3:21 PM #

    I loved reading this post! A friend of mine and I are currently planning a trip to Iceland in March and I am already excited even though I have multiple trips planned before that particular excursion!

  28. Rob December 5, 2012 at 4:13 PM #

    I was just just pondering heading to Iceland for a week across the 2013 summer solstice and the first google result for “what to do in iceland for a week” popped up a link to this article. I don’t need to know I love travel, but it’s great to see what midsummer is likely to look like. Did you drive the entire ring road? How about booking the farmhouse/hostels ahead of time?

  29. Jose Francisco Sánchez Díaz January 14, 2013 at 11:54 AM #

    I have just find your blog and it’s great!
    I really enjoyed your post telling us how you become a traveler, it’s very inspiring.

    Iceland was one of my last journeys and your post made me to remember that trip. I didn’t see the country you as you did, I went just after Grimsvotn volcano eruption, so many of glaciers where completly black. The experience was amazing but now I want to go back and visit Iceland again!

    If you want to see some photos of “black glaciers” can do it here

    http://www.sigma-sl.com/jose/fototropia/galleries/islandia/

    Congrats for your blog!

  30. marta May 1, 2013 at 9:19 PM #

    I’m going to Iceland in August with my friend for a week. What do you recommend as must sees??

    • Steph May 2, 2013 at 9:05 AM #

      God, everything. Everything is so amazing! My biggest advice is get as far away from Reyjavik and as much into nature as possible.

  31. Danielle June 15, 2013 at 5:45 PM #

    Ironically, I’m sitting in the hostel in Vik while reading this. I come back to your blog often but hadn’t read this one… just google searched “iceland solstice events” and your blog popped up. Just told my husband that it’s a sign and I need to travel for a living!

  32. Barbara July 8, 2013 at 7:56 AM #

    Hey, this is a grand post – well written and with great pictures! Very interesting to read about someone who has has such a similar path in life: just like you, I was in London, then moved away and fell into the greatest trap of all ages – routine.

    Funny, because it took me two years to decide to change things and go – guess where – to Iceland. I hope that this will influence me just as much as it has influenced you!

    Keep on posting, keep on writing. I write my blog because I travel – I travel, because I write my blog. It seems that this is same for you 🙂

    Good luck and all the best with your travels!

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