Although Iceland’s stunning landscapes and otherworldly scenery mesmerize sightseers and photographers from all over the world, Icelanders—and the stories they tell—can serve as a tremendous source of inspiration for tourists in search of fond travel memories and fresh perspectives. A fiercely independent people with a long-standing literary tradition, Icelanders are intensively creative and resilient people. Furthermore, their geographic isolation, coupled with their proximity to both America and Europe, grants them a distinctive outlook on life and the world’s affairs.
Kate Tracy, who hails from Denver, Colorado, saw a large swath of the island nation during her week-long stint in Iceland, but it was the friendships she forged with the locals that left the deepest impact on her.
A Spur-of-the-Moment Decision
While some travelers methodically plan out their decision to come to Iceland, Kate booked her flights rather spontaneously after the travel bug bit her as she was filing her taxes earlier this year.
“Well, one night, after drinking some rum and trying to do my taxes, I was thinking about how I hadn’t been overseas for four years,” she explains. “That just wasn’t acceptable, so I booked my ticket to Iceland, since that was more fun than doing my taxes. Iceland was one of the cheapest places for airfare, and its unique landscape and culture had been on my mind for a while.”
Because she was flying solo, Kate did not hesitate to branch out and interact with fellow tourists as well as Icelanders once she arrived: “I tried making friends at my hostel and exploring Reykjavík with them. I also met some Icelanders, who graciously accepted my pleas to take me exploring.”
After she made friends and acclimated to the city, Kate’s numerous countryside adventures commenced: “I climbed Mount Esja, went to the oldest thermal pool in Iceland, camped under a glacier, and swam in geothermal rivers. I also went to the Blue Lagoon, but I was not impressed, mostly because I was alone, and it’s way too romantic to go there alone. What was I thinking?” she laughs.
For Kate, an outgoing writer and editor, one off-the-beaten-track destination proved especially memorable.
“The highlight was definitely visiting Seljavallalaug,” she describes of her travels to the countryside. “My friends and I decided to camp across the stream from the pool, and it was exactly the experience I was hoping I’d get in Iceland. The beauty and wildness of the landscape, as well as the people I was with on that adventure, blew me away. A glacier, a geothermal pool, huge waterfalls everywhere, a precarious stream to cross, and the ocean not far in the distance—yep, doesn’t get much better than that.”
Nestled in between two giant rock formations near Seljavellir in South Iceland, Seljavallalaug is often referred to as a “secret swimming pool” by travel journalists, as swimmers must first hike through a remote, desolate, winding valley to access it.
Bonding with the Locals
Though impressed by Iceland’s natural beauty, Kate thoroughly enjoyed the casual talks she had with Icelanders while exploring Reykjavík.
“The Icelanders I met and became friends with were so intelligent and kind,” she explains. “They were eager to show me their city and country; I just had to ask.”
She especially appreciated one informative conversation she had with an Icelandic woman while she was wandering through one of Reykjavík’s many outdoor recreational areas.
“I remember I was walking through one park in Reykjavík looking at all these incredible statues, and an Icelandic woman who was walking her dogs decided to explain the statues, as well as talk about her life and Icelandic culture in general. That was a very special moment to me, as it’s not every day that a local decides to strike up an in-depth personal conversation about art with a stranger. I loved it.”
Icelanders’ cutting-edge sense of style also struck Kate as she became better acquainted with the location and culture.
“I was surprised by how beautiful Icelanders are!” she remarks. “I felt very inadequate every time some gorgeous, tall, platinum blonde walked by me on Laugavegur. And I was surprised by how small the overall population of Iceland is, and how young adults have to check an app on their phones before hooking up with someone at a bar, just in case he or she is a relative.”
Worth a Second Trip
Although her first trip to Iceland was fulfilling and eventful, Kate would love to return in the near future to experience more of what Iceland has to offer.
“I would say my favorite thing about Iceland were the friends I made,” she says, adding jokingly: “And tasting shark.”
Her brief visit gave her a treasure trove of warm, unforgettable memories that she will carry with her for a long time: “Iceland was my first solo travel venture, and I’m very thankful I made genuine connections with Icelanders who were eager to tell me about their culture and their lives. I had wonderful adventures, all thanks to them. I will definitely come back, because there was so much I didn’t see, including the northern lights.”
When asked what she’d say to someone who is indecisively contemplating a trip to Iceland, she had a delightfully sarcastic response: “I would tell them: you know, it’s fine if you don’t want to ever have an Icelandic pony look you directly in the eye and teach you something important. It’s fine if you don’t want to see boiling pools of mud alongside a mountain covered in snow, and then go swimming in a warm stream. It’s fine if you don’t want to camp under a glacier, or see one of the 25 Natural Wonders of the World. Go on, keep living your life. I think Friends is still on Netflix—enjoy the reruns!”