Iceland was the first country I have ever visited outside of the United States, and it happened to be the first stop on my nearly six-week Eurotrip this past summer. I had just finished my first semester of college on May 8th, and I drove down from North Carolina to spend the week before I left on my trip in Melbourne Beach, Florida with my father and younger brother. The time passed quickly going to the beach everyday and regaining my tan that had been lost in the winter. I remembered staring at my Columbia jacket and khaki pants thinking, “It’s 95 degrees (35 C) here in Florida right now, but in a few days I’ll be in Iceland where it’s 40-45 (4.5-7.5 C).
Why was Iceland the first stop on my trip? There were a few reasons. I had seen album after album of gorgeous pictures of ghastly, stark, beautiful landscapes and waterfalls on social media. I’d also read dozens of articles on popular travel blogs speaking of the breathtaking natural beauty and friendliness of Icelanders in general. Everything about the country was beckoning for me to visit its vastness, and as cliche as it sounds, I was enamored from the imagery of Iceland in the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It’s also an extremely cheap way to get to mainland Europe, for those of you that didn’t know. I flew nonstop from Sanford International Airport outside of Orlando to Keflavik International Airport for 310 dollars after taxes. I talk about the benefit of choosing Iceland as your stopover to Europe more in depth here.
I’ll never forget when the captain announced that we were less than two hours from landing, and that’s when it hit me. I had left my home country without a return ticket, and with only 2700 dollars to last me nearly 6 weeks in Europe’s most expensive countries. I only had a few flights booked ahead of time and a Eurorail train pass. I had planned on Couchsurfing all through Europe, and the uncertainties began attacking my mind at all angles. The anxiety wouldn’t let me sleep, and I was stuck in my window seat next to an elderly Icelandic couple. I had just watched We’re The Millers and laughed far too loud for a red-eye flight, so I decided to open my window and see what had changed.
The local time in Iceland was around 04:00 and the sun was already rising. It was beautiful, the pastel colors gently painting the horizon. It allowed me to take a deep breath and have faith that everything would turn out all right. I kept checking the flight tracker to see where our plane was, and before I knew it, we were descending into Keflavik International Airport. I remember when we finally were low enough to get below the clouds, I was staring at the dark North Atlantic Ocean, and I saw what I thought to be the whitecaps of the ocean waves, but as we got lower, I realized they weren’t whitecaps. They were icebergs. Welcome to Iceland.
When we landed, the Icelandic couple finally spoke to me, and they asked me how long I was in Iceland for. I told them a week, and the woman responded with, “Oh, you might get to see the sun once or twice.” I stared back at her with big eyes. I knew Iceland’s weather was bipolar, but I came to find out it does rain a lot there. I asked them how they enjoyed the weather in Orlando, and they said they loved it because it never gets that warm in Iceland. The door opened to the hatch and it was freezing rain outside, and the old man asked with perfect timing, “How do you like our weather?” We all laughed in reaction. The ice pellets bounced off of my jacket when we walked onto the tarmac, but then it hit me even further. I was in Iceland. The air was so pure and clean as I inhaled it. I am still convinced I have never breathed cleaner air than the air in Iceland.
I navigated the airport, withdrew money (after a few failed attempts of conversion), and found the bus to take me to Reykjavik. In hindsight, it didn’t take me all the way to my hostel, but it took me to the B1 bus terminal, where I took a taxi right to my hostel for about 1000 Krona (roughly 8 USD). I was exhausted, and was told by the concierge at Loft Hostel that check-in wasn’t until 16:00. I paid for the tad pricey breakfast buffet and began eating. I was the first person in the breakfast area, and then someone came in, got their food, and sat at a separate table. A third person came in and did the same thing, at a separate table. Then a fourth person. Suddenly, I began to panic internally. I thought the travelers in Iceland were always down to group up and travel together? I thought they were friendly and talkative? I just watched three people sit at their own tables to eat, alone, just staring at the screens of their phones, silently eating. Doubt attacked my mind, and it made me wonder if this trip was going to be what I imagined it to be. I wondered if it was going to be as amazing as all the travel blogs made picturesque Iceland seem. Was it all too good to be true?
I would soon find out that I had no reason to doubt anything, and yes, Iceland is as idyllic as it sounded online. Suddenly, an Asian girl just plopped down at my table and we began talking. Her name was Jackie, and she was from Boston. Immediately I was so relieved to have met another American in a foreign land. Who knew familiarity would feel so comforting? Then, not to long later these two women with a slight French accent stood up, asking around if anyone had a rental car. When no one answered, I knew that this was my chance to have the time the travel blogs talked about. Grouping up, sharing rental cars to save money in expensive Iceland. They were two sisters, both Swiss, one living in France and once in the Netherlands. I proposed to them that I didn’t have a rental car, but if they rented one I would give them cash. They agreed and gave us a time to meet them. After they left, a dark-haired guy came up to me in the hostel and asked if I knew those girls. I said no, I just met them. He said that he and the girls crashed some boat party in the harbor and he wanted me to tell them goodbye because he was going to hitchhike to the North to begin his Workaway. I agreed and Jackie and I walked around Reykjavik for an hour before we met with the sisters to go around the Golden Circle. Reykjavik is a pretty incredible place.
Reykjavik is really an artist’s paradise. There is street art absolutely EVERYWHERE, but I will save that for another post. Onward to the Golden Circle.
There are lot of waterfalls in Iceland. LOTS. Here is my group of friends I met on the first day. The whole first day was a sleep-deprived, wondrous adventure. It was like a dream. Reality was constantly slapping me in the face over and over again like, “Look at this beautiful place, you are in f**king Iceland!”
We also saw the Geyser, Strokkur, and then on to the Gulfoss Waterfall. It was the most majestic thing I had seen up until that point in my life.
And then, after 30 something hours of no sleep, you are on top of a small mountain and cherish the fact that you made it, and that you are in the land of fire and ice.
But wait, there’s much more to Iceland! Black sand beaches, Icelandic Horses, and of course, more waterfalls!
Oh, so many rainbows. It truly is a magical place.
This super nice Icelandic guy came into the parking lot of Seljalandsfoss (in a t-shirt, keep in mind it’s like 45 (7.5 C) degrees out.) He told us he likes to take his horse here to let the tourists take picture. That is one thing I learned about most Icelanders, especially the younger ones, they love tourists! After the economic collapse of 2008, tourism began to boom. They realize it’s good for the economy, and they aren’t afraid to befriend the tourists.
The black sand beaches of Dyrhólaey are life changing. They take your breath away. This was just skimming the surface of the boundless beauty of Iceland. There will be more posts on specific places and things in Iceland, because I love so much about the country and there is so much more to tell. It is a very expensive country, but with the right tips I will give you on this site you can do it on a budget. If you have ever wanted to visit Iceland, now is the time. With Icelandair’s Stopover there is no excuse not to go. Do it. You’ll be enchanted by its landscapes forever.