Last year, I had a moment.
It felt strong and imminent and undeniable. I needed to leave.
Don't get me wrong, I had always wanted to travel alone. After months of studying in Spain during college, I experienced the feeling of falling for a foreign land and being overwhelmed in the most terrifying and beautiful ways possible. Although that was many years ago, I know how powerful travel can be. After that I'd always figured someday I would take the plunge on a solo trip, but expected it to include backpacking (I'd still love to do that eventually). What I'm saying is I'm all about strengthening the relationship with myself & doing uncomfortable things when the time is right. I like personal growth... & I actively seek it.
Iceland had been on my mind for a couple years now. A few friends who had been there raved about its natural wonders, but also warned me about the bi-polar weather and the high cost of a trip there. I knew I could experience the mountains, hot springs, and waterfalls on a vacation with friends, but going alone just seemed to fit for me. It was all timing, I guess. Call it what you will, but I was in need of some soul-searching by the end of 2017. I was seeking inspiration, clarity, resilience, courage. I thought, Why not Iceland? The variety of nature seemed unprecedented... & I'd actually have the space to think. So I saved up and I left.
I traveled there the first week of June, which ended up being a great time to visit. Just after Memorial Day Weekend, there weren't as many American tourists & the scenery had just started to turn green as the summer months creeped in.
I had 7 days to explore Reykjavík and beyond, opting to stay in the capital for a few days before embarking on a 5-day roadtrip through most of the country (I drove clockwise). Although expensive, I decided the roadtrip factor was non-negotiable for my solo trip. I wanted to drive the Ring Road (which is the main route throughout Iceland) & I craved that time to drive & explore by myself. I knew there was so much to see & discover so I also held myself to a pretty loose itinerary, only booking my accommodations ahead of time. I didn't want to feel rushed, which was one of the beauties of traveling solo: I had no one to worry about but me.
It was quite the adventure. Iceland is a gorgeous country with some of the kindest people I have ever met. Everywhere I went left me in awe. I soaked in hot springs both touristy & hidden (trust me, the Blue Lagoon is beautiful & worth it), drove through the mountains for hours, ate by myself in restaurants, went on a glacier hike, met local people, hiked, read, wrote. But I also made some costly mistakes, although I tried to learn from them instead of getting frustrated with myself.
I had heard that Iceland is a relatively safe country, especially for female solo travelers, and I felt that. I didn't feel afraid because I was alone, but sometimes I just felt unsure of myself. Traveling alone had sometimes made me feel more uncomfortable than I thought it would. I consider myself independent, but this trip taught me how to really trust myself... because I had to.
For anyone interested or heading to Iceland themselves, here's an itinerary of my solo trip:
DAY 1 - Reykjavík
- Fly into Reykjavík on a red eye, arriving around 5:00 local time.
- Take transpo from the airport to the Blue Lagoon. Make a reservation ahead of time — also the face masks while in the lagoon are divine. I thought this place might be overhyped before I visited, but it was truly relaxing after such a long red eye flight. I also met a couple other solo travelers!
- Take transpo to Kex Hostel in Reykjavík, where I stayed for 2 nights.
- Explore Reykjavík + try to stay awake. I had heard that all you need is one day/night in Reykjavík to see most of it, and I agree. But here are a couple places to check out there:
• Hallgrimekirkja Church — you'll get a bird's eye view of the city
• Harpa Concert Hall — an iconic, beautiful concert venue / museum
• For food, I loved Kaffi Vinyl! It's an all vegan restaurant, coffee house and record shop, if you're into that sort of thing, which I totally am. A very hipster establishment indeed.
• Also enjoyed Emilie and the Cool Kids, a cute bagel + coffee shop near my hostel.
Additional tips: I recommend going to Bónus, the local grocery store, to stock up on some food and snacks if you're trying not to eat out as much. Going out to eat can get really expensive there, and one meal usually costs around $20. Depending on what you order, it can also be a lot more.
DAY 2 - South Coast
- Take a day-tour through the south coast. I booked the Fire & Ice Tour through Hidden Iceland and it was fantastic. I also opted to see the south coast through a tour instead of driving there, which meant I didn't need a rental car until a couple days into my trip. They picked me up at my hostel and the drive was about 3 hours one way, but there was so much to see along the way.
- First, we did a glacier hike on the Solheimajokull Glacier (so cool!)
- Also hiked around various waterfalls, such as Skógafoss, Skógar and Seljalandsfoss (note: "foss" means water)
- The tour also explored Vík and the black sand beaches
- I was back in Reykjavík by the evening, so I decided to go out and explore the nightlife there even though I was by myself. Although I was a little nervous, I'm so glad I did, because I ended up meeting some locals and having the best night exploring some pubs. Highly recommend getting out of your comfort zone if you're solo!
Additional tips: I was honestly hesitant to do a tour in Iceland as I thought I'd prefer to explore on my own, but I'm glad I did one. It gave me time to adjust to being there instead of just driving the south coast myself. I'd have plenty of time alone later on. Also it was SO windy and cold on the beaches, even in June, so I recommend bringing a windbreaker for sure. And/or a waterproof jacket so you can enjoy the waterfalls close-up :)
DAY 3 - Snæfellsnes Peninsula
- This was the first official day of my roadtrip, which started with my suitcase zipper breaking, which was fun. Blue Car Rental came to pick me up so I could get my rental car at their office, and I immediately drove to the only mall around and bought a new suitcase out of desperation.
- My plan was to drive the Ring Road northwest to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It was about a 2 hour drive, but I made stops along the way so I could arrive around dinnertime. In Iceland there are so many opportunities to pull off the ring road and explore — you couldn't see everything if you tried. I found a random hot spring among the mountains with no one else around — I wish I knew the name of it, but it was private and tucked away. It really allowed me to unwind.
- I stayed in Grundarfjörður at the Grund Guesthouse. It was hands down the most isolated area I have ever been in — but in a good way. Less than 1,000 people lived in that town (!!!) and there were only a handful of restaurants and attractions to see. But I loved that. I felt the power of silence and it seemed like my trip was really beginning.
- Ate at Bjargarsteinn, the best restaurant in town, which was known for their seafood. I don't eat meat or fish but they had this phenomenal local veggie dish that I loved.. with a glass of white wine. This was my most expensive meal on my trip as the place had this incredible view of the peninsula. I felt a little awkward eating at such a nice place by myself, but I read my book, sipped my wine, and just enjoyed it. Worth it.
- After dinner I drove a few more miles down the road to the Kirkjufell mountain/waterfall. It was really overcast but still absolutely stunning to see. Icelandic waterfalls don't really get old.
Additional tips: I was nervous to drive in Iceland, but it's really not different from driving in the states (you drive on the right side of the road). You just have to be careful that you don't speed, and that you go on roads your car is suited for. I got a 2-wheel drive Kia that worked just fine for the summer months and I stayed away from F-roads, which require a 4x4. You will drive and have sand, ash and rocks fly against your car and you just have to accept it when it happens, and be careful as much as you can. Get the ash/sand insurance when you rent if it makes you feel better!
DAY 4 - Akureyri
- I woke up to a sunny, beautiful day where I could actually see the mountains — up until this point, most of my time in Iceland was gray and overcast. That changed when I started driving up north to Akureyri. It was my longest driving day of almost 5 hours to my next guesthouse... and I stopped a lot on the way.
- About an hour into the drive I stopped to see a gorgeous group of wild horses. The guy there told me the youngest horses were 2 weeks old, such babies! It was amazing to see so much wild life when driving through this part of the country. I also saw lots of sheep and cows.
- I stopped at this gas station called Stadarskali which was a great half-way point between Grundarfjörður and northern Iceland. They had fast food and I got a veggie burger that actually wasn't half bad, but was still expensive. I stocked up on snacks before leaving Reykjavík which mostly held me over on a lot of my roadtrip.
- Akureyri is the 2nd largest city in Iceland but only has 16,000 people. It seemed like an urban New-England with mountains in the backdrop — there was sunshine and boats on the water. I really loved it, especially where I stayed, Amma Guesthouse. I had my own balcony and it was SO homey.
Things to Do in Akureyri:
- Climb the steps leading to the church of Akureyri (Akureyrarkirkja). It's gorgeous.
- Hit up Akureyri Backpackers for dinner + a beer (great local spot!)
- Walk to Brynja for some delicious ice cream (def stop by there if you can).
- Go to the geothermal outdoor swimming pool (Sundlaug Akureyrar). The sun was still out at 9pm as I people-watched and swam laps in the warm pool. I didn't want to leave!
- Go for a run along the water with the mountains behind you. Really enjoyed this.
- Get an icelandic hot dog here (or anywhere in Iceland!) They had veggie options too and whatever sauce / toppings they put on these is unlike anything I've ever had. Sooooo good.
Additional tips: You don't have to stay in Akureyri to see it — if you're on your way up north to Myvatn, you can make a stop. The views of the water and mountains alone are worth it, as well as a trip for ice cream :)
DAY 5 - Myvátn
- Hands down my favorite day of my trip. I packed a lot into the day & didn't need to drive as far (only 1.5 hours). This was the furthest point north that I would hit before I turned back around on the Ring Road.
- Hverir was one highlight — it's a geothermal area of Iceland with endless bubbling mudpots & steaming fumaroles. It felt like being in the desert.. and smelled like rotten eggs because of the sulfur. But it was a beautiful place that I really never expected to have in Iceland. It showed me how truly diverse in nature the country is. HIGHLY recommend stopping here for a very unique sight.
- Krafla was my favorite landmark I've ever seen. It's a volcanic crater that erupted over 300 years ago and is now filled with the most saturated aqua blue you could image. You can't actually go in the water but you can hike around it. I walked around it for a while and actually got really emotional. It was quiet and there were hardly any tourists there. A MUST.
- Checked out the Dimmuborgir Lava Formations, which was kind of like Bryce Canyon sans orange rocks.
- Stayed at Hotel Gígur which was right on Lake Myvátn. It was the most expensive place I stayed but most places in Myvátn were not cheap. I had a great breakfast the next day and there was also hiking + amazing views of the water right outside the hotel. This included the Skútustaðagigar craters which were neat.
- Got a super local meal on an actual farm — Vogafjos Cowshed Cafe. Great sustainable meat options if you're into that, as you can actually see the cows chillin' on the farm.
- Hit up the Myvátn Nature Baths in the evening, which is like the Blue Lagoon of northern Iceland. Really incredible to relax there while the sun was trying to set (which it doesn't really in the summer).
Additional tips: Going to Myvátn made my entire roadtrip worth it. I cannot imagine my trip without going and it's absolutely worth it to rent a car just to drive up there. I can't say that enough!! But beware of all the little bugs that surround the Myvátn region — they will follow you everywhere and swarm your car. They're annoying, but harmless, like little knats. Just know that is just reality while being in this region.
DAY 6 - Borgarnes
- I knew starting to make the drive back to Reykjavík would be a little sad, but I was intent on seeing different parts of the country than what I saw on the way up north. This was a 5-hour driving day where I decided to stop wherever I wanted... I didn't really have a plan.
- Godafoss waterfall — one of the most massive waterfalls I had yet to see. Worth a stop.
- Glaumbær — this is a farm with turf houses and is actually a museum. It's really cute, but also cool to see how Icelanders used to use the turf to protect their houses from climate changes.
- Stayed at Helgugata Guesthouse in Borgarnes, a small town a few hours outside of Reykjavík in the west. It was my favorite place I stayed and when I come back to Iceland to see the northern lights someday, I'll stay there again.
- Ate at The Settlement Center, also called Landnamssetur. They had great food and this amazing raw, vegan dessert that I loved.
DAY 7 / 8 - Reykjavik
- I woke up and ran a couple miles on a random track near my guesthouse. Cool views!
- Drove back to Reykjavík, about 1.5 hours. I was to stay there for my last night before flying out the next day.
- Ate at Krost, a yummy casual restaurant with legit the best vegan burger I've EVER had. And yes, I ate a lot of veggie burgers in Iceland because sometimes that's all I could eat. But no regrets.
- Stayed at Gestinn Guesthouse which was cute, but really tiny.
- I went on a Puffin Boat tour the morning before I left Iceland and it poured the whole time. Despite that it was disappointing and I wish I wouldn't have done it, although I did see some puffins.
- Dropped off my rental car at the airport the next day and then was back in NYC!
- Don't bother taking out cash before you go. You can, but you'll just end up trying to get rid of it at the end. Every place accepts credit cards which is really convenient.
- Bring an aux cord. You will need it to jam to that kick-ass roadtrip playlist!
- I used the Maps.Me app to pre-save my main driving routes and save data. Highly recommend, although Google Maps works as well if you download those to use offline.
- If you do a Ring Road roadtrip, don't pack in too much every day. There is so much beauty to stumble upon in Iceland that you'd miss out on if you had a strict plan. Just go with it!
- Don't try and drive the entire ring road in 1 week. You can, but you'll feel rushed & miss out on a lot. Right before I left I toyed with the idea and I'm so glad that I only did a portion of it. And now I can go back and still see all of the east side!
- Bring a sleep mask if you go in the summer. The sun hardly sets and that makes it really hard to adjust to the time difference. I had a sleep mask but still struggled with this.
I will never forget this trip. It freed me. Iceland will hold such a special place in my heart forever. So, go. Wanting to leave is enough. And of course, tell me if you do so I can tell you more :)
Feel free to reach out if you have additional questions!