An old friend from another city called up one fine day and said she would be dropping by. What better excuse than this, to bunk work and the hundred other adult responsibilities you have?
Note, this was the same girl I had bitten as a child because she ate my grape. Life is weird that way, people you bite as a child become your lifelines, later. We met up over coffee and she broke the news of her marriage happening in a couple of months.
We girls decided to go on a long road trip, the location was to be decided by her. The bride-to-be in the picture got drunk and decided on Iceland. Fun fact, the group consisted of nerds who haven’t walked a kilometer in the last half-decade.
So Iceland was finalized for our get-away in the month of February. See the irony, a group of extremely unadventurous people decide to visit Iceland of all places, in the peak of winter. The tickets were booked before anyone could back out of the plan. And once that was done, the most enthusiastic of the lot decided to research more on the location. Someone else took care to research on what foods to pack and my husband took care of the Itinerary. Iceland is known as the 5th costliest countries to visit in the world.
We landed at Reykjavik airport in the evening and were smart to pick up alcohol for the next couple of days. There’s this saying in Iceland, “Only the bravest visit Iceland in the winters”. I could actually feel my willpower triple that very moment. But on a serious note, you feel like a total badass when another foreign country certifies you as a brave human.
Once we moved out of the airport into the open and the first cold breeze hit our faces, we understood what that message inside meant. We picked up our 4*4-wheel drive and moved towards our Airbnb.
We spent the first 4 days exploring locations around the small city, whale watching and drinking flasks of hot chocolate while waiting to sight northern lights. FYI, we couldn’t see the northern lights even after 3 hrs. But the experience of going to the outskirts and cozying up inside a blanket and sipping on hot chocolate is out of the world.
We had planned a road trip on the ring road including the golden circle. The Golden circle consists of 3 very attractive locations, Thingvellir national park, Gullfross waterfalls and Geysir Geothermal field. No matter how smartly I write about these locations in details, I can’t do justice to the beauty of these places. Not that I am a bad writer, but certain things are felt and words aren’t enough to express them.
One thing that surprised us all was, how organized and structured all those locations were. They would have a board listing of the Do’s and Don’ts at the site and not much manpower checking it. We had booked our Hotels, Guesthouses and farmhouses in advance along the road we were traveling. We used to pick up veggies, loaves of bread and cheese from supermarkets like Bonus and 7*11 along the way and used to cook as and when required.
Saying this 6-day road trip to be a memory would be an understatement. I also did things I didn’t want to, I wasn’t capable of and also learned some great lessons.
Here are my 5 top lessons learned from that winter road trip in Iceland-
- Food is Bare, have it sorted while on the road– Unlike other touristy locations, Iceland’s golden circle is not crowded. It’s even more scarce during winters. There were times when the only color we would see outside your vehicle is white. And there were also long stretches where you are the only one riding on the road. It’s possible to stop over at shops to buy a snack, so carry it along with you. We used to eat sandwiches and veggies because we were mostly traveling for the whole 6 days and stopping only at night to sleep. Traveling becomes difficult with an empty or upset belly. If you are someone like me who is very finicky about her eating habits, planning ahead will help. If possible, pick up fresh produce along your way on the ring road from local farmers. And don’t buy alcohol from supermarkets, unless you are willing to spend a lot.
- Talking to the Local’s is not just helpful but informative too– Our Airbnb host told us a lot about the places and activities in Iceland and what cheap deals to take. While on road we got stuck in the snow, just 4 times. We paid a hefty sum of money twice and the other 2 times totally random strangers helped us out. It’s wise to carry an ice shovel along with you to shove away snow from under your tires. We got stuck in snow once and I desperately tried to shove away snow with my hands. I still feel the numbness after 5 months. People here are helpful and have a great sense of humor. Our instructor at Silfra told us stories of trolls and dwarves while we drank hot cocoa to calm our nerves. Iceland is a mystic country, with extremely rich culture and heritage. Don’t miss out on experiencing that. And you don’t know when a local might invite you over for dinner.
- Don’t take a tour, rent a car and spend time on it- The total length of the ring road that we covered was, 1300+ kms in 6 days. Yes, it was exhausting but equally rewarding with the random sights out of calendars. Make sure you have multiple people willing to drive on new roads, we had just one confident driver in our group. Renting your own car doesn’t just give you the flexibility but also is very cost efficient. We could stop at random stopovers, click pictures and eat ice-cream standing on black-ice, only because we had the convenience of a vehicle. The bride-to-be, girlfriend of mine was starting out as a travel blogger & couldn’t have been happier. The places make for such beautiful frames and subjects for you to capture. Taking a tour would restrict you to selected locations only. While traveling in a foreign land, it’s wise to have the option to explore locations that catch your fancy.
- Take the signboards at the locations seriously- It is advised not to walk on hard ice without crampons or without guides. Chances are, you are walking on top of a river and fall into it and flow. I don’t know if you could survive in such low temperatures, most people don’t. There was this one time we were standing in front of a frozen glacier and contemplating walking up the distance without crampons and a guide. We saw a man slip inside halfway just in front of us. Lucky fellow, he just had to walk back with a very wet and cold leg on an extremely windy evening.
- Make sure you are carrying A LOT of winter wear- There’s a good reason people in Iceland spend so much on their winter wear. It is freakishly cold in this part of the world. Not just that, it’s very unpredictable. The very moment you thank the lord for a sunny day, it might rain and then gradually snow. And then you change plans and it stops raining and snowing. It’s wise to be prepared for such unpredictable weather conditions if you want to see places there. Take multiple layers, multiple pairs of shoes, socks and raincoats too. Wearing multiple layers would not only protect you from the cold but also give you the flexibility to adjust as per changing conditions.
This road trip told me lots about myself that I wasn’t aware of. Traveling for the soul on long stretches of roads encourages that self-introspection for your soul. Or in my case, self-loathing, I didn’t know I could cry as an adult. I slipped on black ice 4 days consecutively.
Are you already feeling the vibe? Feel free to ask more about any other details regarding this road trip on the Icelandic ring road.
Author Bio- Krushna Mishra is an Associate Editor at Page Potato. A terrible packer of Backpacks, a photo bomber and a lover of tales of unexplored destinations, she travels to feel alive. Her obsession to explore new places and cultures takes her to random locations, some touristy & the others not so much. Her craziness shows up clearly in all her blogs on travel and includes first-hand tips for those who live for the wanderlust. See more of her on her LinkedIn and Instagram.