Damp ground softens the soles of your feet against the plumage of heavy boots, the only kind that will keep you warm. Every step you take in this land of vibrant greens and dark contrasts feels as if you are born anew. The wholesome air, a kind brewed by nature, reminds you that you are living in a dream of sorts. That picture you saved on your phone, that idea of a land less known, nature redeemed in its rawest form, you've arrived.
Iceland has been regarded as a staple of the natural world for decades, experiencing a recent influx of tourists and peaks of attention across media platforms. The country itself leads a fanbase of sorts in outdoor and travel enthusiast communities that reside on social media.
Many choose to travel to the iconic land-diverse country in warmer months, opting for highs in temperatures and greens. Everything is accessible in the absence of icy roads, the air more bearable than the frigid days that precedent spring and summer. But with better conditions follows higher density of eyes, feet, and smartphones. There’s a sense of originality in braving the winter months, right before spring brings its warmest efforts. With snow still plenty on the northern coasts, roads still closed, and temperatures still freezing, you can manage a trip around the country that almost seems as if it’s solely yours, anytime between November and March. In a time of yearning for what others do in the realm of social media, and longing for something new to share ourselves, perhaps the feeling of originality and authenticity has become a modern ingredient for fulfilling travel.
Rent a car, drive, and stop often. The formula to a successful trip in Iceland, and the secret to a million golden pictures. We started in Reykjavik and made our way east, before heading north. Reykjavik bears similarity to the Scandinavian place, specifically Norwegian cities like Bergen and Oslo. There is a sense of calm and bare to the culture, local bars with cozy lights, people sitting at fountains, tucked in shops. Icelandic people are humble but strong. The moment you leave civilization the land swallows you whole, as if insinuating that the land itself plays a larger part of Iceland’s culture than any single human figure.
Drive anywhere and you’ll find yourself in a flipbook of surreal sights. Waterfalls and lingering rainbows, misting over larger than life cliffs, birds circling above chiming hospitable chirps. A never ending field of mossy masses, rocks and boulders continuing into the distance as the sun blends in with a fog mixed sky. You would be mistaken to stick to a strict schedule here. Misinformed to follow behind one of the tour buses.
There are glaciers, lakes, oceans, beaches, rivers, canyons, falls, craters, snow capped hills and seven-colored geysirs. Must you miss any of it -spots unnamed and unmapped- I personally fear.
We drove and stopped, screamed and laughed. Played music in the car as the sun rested behind mountain cliffs. Bought cheap groceries from the stores we could find, avoiding the expensive exchange rate that gapes mouths of Americans who visit the country, stayed in AirBnB’s and slept like happy nomads awaiting the next day’s adventures.
It’s a place where you truly feel young. Because you are constantly put in awe.
We drove atop a dirt road that sounded as if it would swallow our rental whole, not to mention our savings with the damage fees. We almost ran out of gas once, and knocked on the door of what appeared to be a farm. A dog ran into our car, and a man approached to tell us that the next gas station was only 5 minutes away. If you’re lost in Iceland, but close to an Icelandic person, smile. You’ll be better than okay.
We drove up north to Akureyri, the second major city in Iceland - more of a town, but definitely worth visiting. When you brave the snowy roads in Iceland, you’ll adopt a sort of celebratory feeling upon reaching your destination. Because in total darkness, driving to the solemn sound of snow graining against tires, no one’s really sure.
The strange thing about Iceland is that it parallels a phrase in a land that’s quite the opposite. What happens in Iceland stays in Iceland, a phrase as equally true as its unlikely desert-metropolis neighbor. For other European places - Paris, Copenhagen, Sweden, Italy - the likelihood of visiting again is high. But this island? You are there, and then you aren’t. The odds of returning are slimmer, if not only because it is a bucket list destination. There is a feeling of ephemerality when you’re hiking these snow-capped mountains, or wading in the steaming waters of one of it’s many lagoons, perhaps sharing a couple beers with lifelong friends. It’s a reminder that life is as fleeting as the footsteps we print while chasing it. An encouraging spirit of not only doing things now, but seeing them now as well. Seeing them for what they’ll be seen as when we’re older. A trip of a lifetime. Sights of a century. Moments made for later nostalgia.