“Let’s just go!”
At the age of 25, I had never been on vacation without my family before. I’ve moved across America, even living in Tokyo for a couple of years, but never actually planned a vacation. One day me and my best friend Pat were talking, a lot of our friends had recently gone to Iceland due to the affordable airfare. Let’s just go we said, we booked our flights that night. Words can’t describe how excited I was to go, or how overwhelmed I was when I realized that I no longer had my mother and her well planned vacation itineraries to rely on.
We had no clue where to start, luckily, our friends recommended getting a camper. It was everything we were looking for, the opportunity to have a vacation with no real plans or structure. We looked up and saw how easy it was to find places to stay overnight- It gave us the flexibility that two poor planners and adventurous spirits needed. Once we arrived in Keflavik at 5 am, I was exhausted; I had gotten sick on the plane and had no real sleep. We picked up our camper and my solution was found, I cat napped in the bed and Pat just started to drive. He had no idea where he was going, he just saw scenery he found beautiful and went. I was so excited to be woken up next the one of the most breathtaking mountains I had ever seen. We had taken the toll road north of Reykjavik and decided it was time to finally make some sort of decision. After a few minutes of looking on our iPhones we decided the tip of the peninsula Snæfellssjökull was our destination for the night.
Everything took us so long for us to arrive at, with no real plans, you can’t be late for anything. So we stopped, constantly. And I mean constantly, a journey our phones told us would take a mere two hours had taken us seven. We realized at this point we were hungry, so we pulled over to a small little café surrounded by nothing for at least 45 minutes in either direction.
Pat and I are both vegans, so we felt like we would be lucky to even find some bread at this small shop, boy were we in luck. On the menu that only consisted of five items, one was a vegan sweet potato burger. Maybe we were just starving at this point, but it was honestly the best veggie burger I have ever consumed. We just sat there at this small little table giggling at each other.
We had made it! We finally had taken a breather to realize where we were, and the adventures ahead. So now what, what was next? We looked at each other, let’s just go! The café waitress gave us directions to the nearest grocery store (an hour away), I personally was looking forward to preparing our own meals with the little stove top outdoors. Once again we found ourselves distracted, in this little town with the grocery store, we happened upon a small hill with a lighthouse on top. After climbing it, the freshest wind I’ve ever felt whipped in our faces. It was awe worthy, this little harbor town was jaw dropping.
On our way out of town, back in the direction of our intended destination, there was a small graveyard. I personally have a fascination with all things religious and pertaining to the afterlife, so I was particularly moved. There was a faint pink sunset in the background, over these humble graves, all full of much more personality that I am accustomed to in the USA. In the distance there were snow-topped mountains, it was truly beautiful. We stopped at three more small graveyards on the way to the park, each had its own personality and charm. You could really feel the town’s presence in each one, a few times I was moved to tears.
After nine hours, we were at the park, we hadn’t seen another car in about an hour, we pulled over at a small beach. We ran around and played in the sand, two fully grown adults acting like the happiest children. Pat even tasted the ocean water, which he did not recommend. Exhausted, we decided it was time to find a designated campground. Once we stopped at one, we saw a little sign that told us the story of Iceland’s first serial killer. They chopped him up in three pieces when they buried him, so he wouldn’t come back to life. This was where he was buried. “Cool!” we said, we’ll stay here.
With the heat roaring, I was all cozied up in bed. We were talking about how this had literally been, despite having no plans, a perfect day. Then Pat decided to pop his head out of the camper van. He instantly started insisting I get up, but I was tired and didn’t want to move, that’s when he started tugging on me, and I’m so happy I listened to him. It had not been there even a mere five minutes prior, but now the sky was streaked with the Northern Lights. I have never seen something that has moved me so much, its beauty brought me to tears. It was pure magic, and being in the middle of nowhere with just my best friend and a camper made the experience complete.
In the morning I woke up to a text from a friend of a friend. Me and Pat both listen to Punk music so due to touring, we get to meet lots of people from all over the world. A kid named Fannar was asking if we had any plans for the day and wanted to see if we wanted to hang out in Reyklavik. We of course, had no plans, so we were stoked to see the city with people who lived there. We hopped in the camper and drove.
We met up with Fannar at the beautiful Hallgrimskirkja in the center of the city, and eventually wandered to a small café. It was so exciting to get to ask someone local about the music scene, the night life, what its actually like to live there. He showed us to the Einar Jónsson sculpture garden built by the same architect as the cathedral and told us how its a spot for local teenagers to hang. He then showed us the City Hall and started laughing when he realized that the large map he brought us there to see had been taken down. So instead, we watched some ducks outside for a few hours.
They were much more friendly than in the states! After meeting up with his girlfriend, we drove around town and got a real sense of how the city was laid out. They had band practice but let us know that there was a skate park in the city but it was actually its last day before they were shutting it down. They told us to check it out, and also to get some Taco Bell if we were homesick, har har. We showed up to the skate park five minutes after it closed, and there was just a teenager throwing out trash. We told him that we heard it was being closed for good, and asked if there was any chance we could look around real fast. He told us to have a ball, run around, be the last people to enjoy it. It was a really exciting experience to run around a skate park rather than skate, it felt very silly.
After, of course, we went and got Taco Bell. Later that night we met up with a friend of mine from High school, who is pursuing her Geography Masters degree in Iceland. We met at a local college pub and shared a few beers. It was nice to see even another view of what it is like to actually live in this country. Lucky enough, I found a skateboard in the trash, beat up of course, but it still was in okay shape! I was so excited to skate back to my friend’s house, I felt absurdly lucky. She had a driveway to her house, and let us sleep in our camper there, because we decided it was more fun than sleeping on her couch.
Black sand beaches & Jökulsárlón
Once again, we woke up, alright Lets just go! We headed down the southern coast, Vik was our first destination. The night was foggy and misty, so we sat in one of the caves on the black beach. The entire scene was surreal, everything was a shade of dark blue and black. It was all eerily beautiful. Of course on our journey to Vik, we had to stop at least five times, every pull off is worth exploring in Iceland.
What amazed me most about driving around was the rapid changes in environment. One minute its green fields and rocky mountains, then its snowing, five minutes later its all flat black sand with no snow in sight. Next thing you know, you’re in a cave, light by moonlight on a beach. That night was fun, it started raining so we found a campsite at the base of a mountain in Vik. Then we drank a couple of beers and honestly had fun hanging out and joking in the camper. We watched Netflix on an app on my phone thanks to the WiFi and pretty much hung out like we would at home, relaxing, but something about being in such an amazing land made it feel special.
We continued along the coast the next day, until we happened upon Jökulsárlón. Not only had I never seen a view like that, I had no idea something like that existed in real life. It looked like a Dali painting, I sat on an iceberg that had washed ashore just because I could. Pat at this point, had made it his mission to sleep in the most amazing places we could, so it was settled, we had found our place for the evening. At this point we were just astounded that every single day we had woken up with no clue what we were going to find, and every day was literally perfect.
Reykjadalur hot spring
We decided it was time to head back, we wanted to be closer to Reykjavik because we were meeting up with our friend who happened to be on vacation at the same time as us. We still had a day before we had to meet him so I quickly goggled hikes around the city. Reykjadalur Hot Spring trail seemed perfect, less touristy than the Blue Lagoon, but I wouldn’t have felt satisfied if I didn’t get to see a hot spring. I had no idea what I was in for. Quickly the hike became a beautiful view through snowy mountains. The sun was setting, but the moonlight was so powerful, it kept everything illuminated. Then we approached the steam, between the steam, moonlight, and the fact it had lightly started snowing, I felt like I was on another planet.
At this point, all of the other hikers had made their way back down, the isolation added to the mystery of the springs. It was cold out, very cold, but I couldn’t hike all this way to not feel the water. Its hot temperature was a stark contrast from the chilly winter breeze. I was enamored, I didn’t come all this way to have any regrets. I quickly stripped down to my undies and hopped in the stream. It felt so warm and crisp, the steam on my face felt like it was giving me new life. Pat called me silly and joked about how I was going to freeze on the hike back. I didn’t care, it was hands down the most incredible experience of my life, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Luckily, I had brought enough layers that I warmed up real fast and the hike back down was equally enjoyable. It, however, was nice to get back to the camper and put my feet right by the heater. We were so tired, we fell asleep instantly without even changing into pajamas.
Glýmur – The highest waterfall in Iceland
We were meeting our friend at night and were still in the hiking mood, so after a quick google search, we were off to Glymur. This was the experience that most spoke to Pat. Its a very harsh hike in the winter, the wind gets very strong when you approach the top of the waterfall, but once again the snow just added to the sense of isolation and wonder. It seems like a regular hike until all of the sudden, you can see for what seems like an eternity. You literally are looking down on the tops of other mountains, and the waterfall seems to appear out of nowhere. We had neglected the waterfall pulloffs on the southern coast due to the fact that they always seemed very crowded with people, and that deterred from the feeling that the majesty of Iceland had. But this, was how you should see a waterfall in Iceland.
All alone, at the top of a mountain, it literally takes your breath away. We sat up there for an hour, just listening to the rumble of the water and staring out at the scenery around us. We drove back into the city, and once again us and our skateboard hit the pubs. We met and danced with a bunch of locals, everyone had their own insight into this country, they all told us about the small little towns they grew up in and what drew them to the city. We were tired, we called it a night, we had one more day left to enjoy and once again no real plans.
Back to Reykjavík
In the morning we finally met up with our friend, it was exciting to swap stories and pictures and see the wildly different places our campers had brought us. It made the amount of incredible things to see seem infinite. This small island had literally more to offer than we would ever have imagined. We showed our friend some of the spots that the locals had shown us and eventually met back up with the Icelandic punks. We got even more amazing veggie burgers at a bar called The Bike Shop and told Fannar and everyone about all of our adventures and thanked them once again for really showing us the city and making our trip even that much more special. Excitedly, we made plans to see our new friends again when they go on tour through the USA this summer!
In the morning it was time to head back to Keflavik, we blasted some music, drank some Mountain Dew and all three of us (and my new skateboard) headed to the airport, taking in the beautiful scenes one last time. I would change literally nothing about my trip, and both of my friends can agree. I’m still in awe that thanks for the mobility and freedom of the camper I could go into something with literally no expectations and come out with memories to last a lifetime. Nothing about this trip seemed real, it was all too perfect and truly taught me that sometimes it’s okay to let go of control and say “Let’s just go”.
Read more: A Travel blog about Iceland
Happy Camping! #CamperStories
Iceland Travel Guides
If you like what you see, please subscribe to our YouTube channel!