I promised someone I’d post a recap of things I experienced, learned, and realized after coming back from Iceland. Since I went on another trip since then I figured I’d combine the two somehow. First step: Iceland. Those who have already seen numerous photos of Iceland may not feel the same, but for me seeing them again always gives me a sense of joy. The country stole my heart and soon you shall know why.
Iceland was the first destination I ever planned and went to on my own. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect and everyone insisted that I go with at least one other friend. Well, that one other friend never appeared and I didn’t want to just do nothing. My flight was purchased after some research via Google Image Search. That’s how it happened. Two months before the trip I found out about ice caving and booked a tour for that. Two weeks before leaving I did more research and planned my route and booked two hostels out of the five I eventually stayed at.
Isolation and loneliness right off the bat. Getting off the plane and the rest of the day after that was a period of adjustment that didn’t quite got adjusted. Knowing no one and not knowing the area well (other than from a Google Maps perspective) made me feel lost. Lost. My being there at that point was meaningless, pointless, and useless. The memory that stands out most from that day is pulling over at the side of a road, pulling out a map, and alternately staring at it and the outside of the car. I probably sat there for a good 30 minutes unable to make any decisions. It felt like hours. Finally, decision made: get out of the car and just look around where I am. Outside the car the air slipped through the cracks of my clothing, the wind tried its best to push me away from the comfort of the rental car I had. My fingers by that point started to feel like they were expanding and contracting at the same time and I started to shiver. I grinned and let a warm chuckle escape from my mouth. “I’m in Iceland” I realized. And for the first time on that trip I felt excited. But it didn’t last the whole way through.
Experiences like this taught me that, sometimes, moments of loneliness just happen. I can never expect to get rid of them forever, even when doing something that is supposedly fun or exciting. Experiencing isolation and loneliness can feel either positive or negative depending on the context and realizing that only made me more comfortable in doing things on my own. That being said, I can never get away from the desire to share an experience with another person. By that I mean one of those “I wish you were here” moments. In any case, enjoy the moment. I do so more now than I used to as a result of this trip.
Excitement, wonder and confusion at being in Iceland. The things I could experience, see, and do! The oddity of how everything seemed to be. Recognizing nothing was refreshing. The newness made every experience wondrous. Not knowing anything was confusing. Doing things such as grocery shopping was always tough since most things were in Icelandic and half the time I couldn’t figure out what the item itself was. That made it fun. A typical experience born anew. Realization: “boring” things can be made fun or exciting by throwing in a different context to it. We need consistency in our lives, but it’s always nice to change it up and going on far flung trips isn’t always necessary for that. Admittedly, this is one realization that I have yet to apply in my own life.
Calmness is pretty important for travel and especially for life. The being lonely part helped me rethink priorities, goals, and needs. Admittedly, this is easier when you aren’t stressing out about any events that actually affect your life. My main concern for the trip was finding things to do on certain days the day of. It seemed like a waste of time to be doing nothing or not seeing sights, but at some point I just stopped caring. As long as your enjoying yourself there is no need to be having some life changing experience every moment of every day while traveling or being able to see everything. Doing so (if it were even possible) would make every travel experience the same. What sights others found beautiful I found bland and vice versa. Just be calm and enjoy the moment as it is. If it’s boring, then it’s boring. If it’s amazingly life changing, then it’s amazingly life changing. No big deal if it isn’t what you expected. Don’t stress when you travel, you went traveling to relax. Why stress if things aren’t going like you expected? One of the big things I got back from going to Iceland.
Traveling can be boring.
Strangers can be more fun than you realize.
Make it your own when you travel. Being asked “Why Iceland?” sometimes out of genuine curiosity, other times out of shock as if “Why would you ever go somewhere cold?” reminded me of how often people tell you how to travel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing of course since the experiences of others are often extremely helpful. It all depends on what you want to get out from traveling. If you want to go somewhere different then you don’t necessarily have to go off the beaten path. If you don’t want to be surrounded by other tourists then off the beaten path you may go. If you want to go and find yourself then the way you travel is probably going to be more grabbing your own bootstraps.
There are all these posts telling you about what traveling has taught people (case in point, this one) and how amazing it is (it isn’t always going to be the case, sometimes your trip will suck, briefly or the whole time). Travel itself isn’t what gives you life lessons or amazing experiences. It’s what you decided to do when you go travel. Each experience is different and not every form of travel works for everyone. And here’s something that’s possibly blasphemy in the travel world: You don’t have to travel to live life, learn things, or be open minded. Traveling doesn’t always make you a better person, be happier, or help find your life’s path. If it were that easy, then holy crap go travel! You don’t have to travel to some far flung place with a different culture. Sometimes doing it all at once is just too much and sometimes it backfires. Rather than appreciate a different culture, a person could just as easily find it below their own and use that experience to justify being superior. Yeah, that happens.
If you do learn anything, it doesn’t stop once you get back from your trip. Even now, I find myself discovering or rediscovering realizations based on my experiences from my solo Iceland trip. If anything, traveling does tend to enhance certain qualities of a person more so than others so traveling has that going for it.
TL;DR Travel your own way, don’t always listen to others. Especially those talking about how traveling is amazing, more amazing than rainbows.