Iceland: The Restorative Power of Travel

Iceland: The Restorative Power of Travel

April 20, 2017

Most of my days are spent in the office or juggling the demands of family life. Everyday competitive commuting on Route 1 in Central New Jersey is my primary adventure. And much to my regret, I don’t have time to get outside much. But there I was last week, standing on the Svinafellsjokull glacier in Iceland, waiting for our guide to give me the go-ahead to step over a narrow crevasse. And even though I’m a frequent traveler who has been to Iceland before, it was one of those life-changing moments.

Travel has an amazing restorative power. It not only gives us a chance to stop and unwind, it also gives our busy minds an opportunity to think about things differently. Removed from our day-to-day surroundings we can let ideas percolate, and even have new ideas about ourselves or our circumstances. That’s what Iceland did for me on this trip.

Each year, my teenage daughter and I take two trips together. It gives us time to talk – a minor miracle when raising a teenager – and to do a little exploring together, something we both enjoy.  This time we chose Iceland for my third visit and her first.

We arrived at six in the morning and went straight to the Blue Lagoon, where the spa-like ambiance and the soothing waters gave us a head start on vacation relaxation. But it was the next day, as we headed across the South Coast that the landscape started to work its magic. Lava fields, mountains, glaciers, and black sand beaches opened up before us. We spotted volcanos and hot springs, and pulled on a second pair of mittens against the cold of early April.

Like the Big Sky Country of the American West, Iceland’s countryside is expansive and awe-inspiring. And except for the fellow travelers along the road, once you get out of Reykjavik, it’s largely empty, dotted by occasional farmhouses where residents clearly must work hard and love the land to remain. In the face of that expanse, it’s hard to see the bill-paying and laundry-doing at home as all that important. In fact, it’s hard to remember that you’ll ever have to do it again. The regular concerns of life begin to fall away.

Which brings me to that glacier. This was my first glacier hike and something I’d always wanted to do.  Outfitted with crampons, harnesses, helmets, and ice picks, we followed our guides up the ice, single file. The only sounds were the clink of the crampons on the glacier and water trickling through the crevasses around us. It was an otherworldly landscape, with striations of blue and black through the ice and crevasses so deep it took several seconds to hear a pebble land at the bottom. We tasted 800 year old ice so clear it looked like glass. Hiking was slow going, as we climbed slippery hills and carefully wound our way around deep holes called moulins.

Last year, I had a milestone birthday and it’s made me think. As I paused on the glacier to wait to cross, I thought, “This is the way I want it to be.” In the years that stretch out before me, I want to spend more time on glaciers and less time on laundry. I want to keep the busy world in perspective and remember that other things are older and more permanent. I want to share extraordinary experiences with my daughter, my husband, my friends, and my family. And I want to learn to slow down a little – something I’ve never been good at.

I had to step away from my life for a few days to gain perspective on it, to recharge, and to be able to come back to those same demands, commutes, and tasks with a clearer focus and a more relaxed outlook. I think – at least for a while – I’ll be better at it.

That’s what travel does for you. Whether it’s an incentive program or a family trip, travel helps people recalibrate, to immerse themselves in the things that sustain them, and to move ahead.  It is always a welcome chance to recharge, but it can also be meaningful in a deeper way.

I’ll be back in Iceland one of these days. It’s an important place that resonates for me.  What resonates for you? It’s worth finding out.

Góða ferð!

Bon voyage!

Here are some Travel Tips for Iceland based on our recent experience:

  • It’s close! Since we’re on the East Coast, Iceland is only about five hours away, with a four hour time difference.
  • Travel before or after the busy summer tourist season and Icelandair fares are excellent, as is their service. They even encourage you to take a stopover on the way to continental Europe.
  • We have stayed three times at the centrally located Hotel Odinsve. It’s clean and comfortable, the staff is friendly, and the restaurant – Snaps – is a destination for local Icelanders.
  • Driving the Ring Road is an amazing experience, but it’s only doable in the height of summer and you need at least a week. Although more crowded with tourists, the South Coast gives you a good example of the different landscapes, with easier access by excursion or by driving on your own.
  • For this trip, we used Extreme Iceland for our excursions, including our glacier hike. Service levels were very high and guides were friendly and knowledgeable.
  • For airport transfers, including one with a stop at the Blue Lagoon (Don’t miss it! Booking in advance is strongly recommended!), we used Grayline, which made booking easy and handled changes by email during our trip with efficiency.
  • No matter what you do, restaurant meals are very expensive. Two bowls of soup and two bottles of water were about $40 at Geysir! Dinners were routinely $40-50 per person without wines. If you’re planning to eat in restaurants, it’s a good idea to budget $100-125 per person per day for food. The best meal of our trip was at Messinn in central Reykjavik and it was worth every krona.