DO IT! BUCKET LIST DESTINATION – ICELAND.
At some point there comes a day when you think you’ve done it all – while traveling with kids – that you say to yourself “let’s go somewhere completely different and travel in a radically different way!” You’ve seen the commercials, dear readers, where the thought pops up and the fantasy begins like the dream before devolving into something else… Well. My tale of taking two kids, aged 8 and 11 at the time, around and through Iceland in a camper the size of our pantry could have been predicted if I watched TV. But that’s a good thing. My recommendation: be experienced enough in family travel that you know how to plan really, really well AND you know from experience how watch helplessly as all those plans go to crap, exploring new ideas on the fly, all while still speaking to each other in civil tones and creating memories together.
Twice we were foiled in our plans only to discover another part of Iceland entirely. Only a few kilometers into Vatnajökull National Park, on our way to see a beautiful canyon, the back axle broke, made a fabulous noise, and the truck bed came down on the left rear tire. In the middle of nowhere. Unplanned. We used the one phone we had put international calling onto and the rented mobile hotspot (that’s good planning, for disaster) to reach the rental company, which sent out a mechanic in less than two hours.
No national park BUT we had a night out under the stars, observed an authentic cattle drive we would not have seen, experienced Icelandic hospitality in town while getting fixed, and were able to spend a day driving around the humanity-free, amazingly-tunneled Tröllaskagi Peninsula, which boasted views of the Arctic Ocean and Drangey Island instead, which most tourists never see.
A few days later the 40 mph winds (no-no with a tall camper, per the training and contract) and fogged-in-for-days-with-50-yds-visibility weather scoffed at our plans to spend a two days exploring the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, with its lovely (so we heard but could not see) Snaefellsjökull volcano and sea life views from the shore. Consulting the map revealed new options and we drove inland, found an amazing spring near incredible basalt columns (Geröuberg) and – using that phone again – got onto a last minute tour of the incredible Viögelmir Cave, the largest in Iceland.
Spontaneity is good thing. Tired of the constant driving, the man wanted to head inland instead of exploring The East Fjords of Iceland, earlier in the trip. The woman (me) was a little upset and decided to make a few phone calls. In an expanse of hundreds of kilometers there was little to attract the eye or the tourist, a few hundred kilometers of empty land to get to the next spot, EXCEPT a little used helicopter company at a town the size of your average corner mini mall, Mödrudalur. We scored a short notice helicopter tour on what the pilot told us was, unexpectedly, the clearest, most incredible weather day he had seen in Iceland the entire summer. We flew around the breathtaking Herdubreid Mountain top, very closely, then landed next to a fresh lava field, touching the 6 month old flow of black, sharp glass. We soared over the Vatnajökull Glacier, impossibly bright with blue ponds like you’ve never seen, flew around the difficult to get to and incredible Askja Caldera, and a restricted-to-cars reserve.
It. Was. Awe-making. An inland area it would have taken days to get to and explore by car, viewed from the air in painfully lovely strokes. What can I say? Just do it.
Traveling with children we have adopted the philosophy of ‘spend the money now to avoid regrets later’ and it has served us well. Following this maxim we went with the cooler, restricted passenger numbers sailing ship to watch whales instead of the crowded tourist boats. The kids both got to steer, pull in sails, and see amazing creatures. The stories go on and on to black sand beaches we explored alone, glacial lagoons that add new colors to the spectrum, and landscapes out of this world. We did not come close to doing all the things we planned to do in Iceland. What we did experience was far better, more meaningful, and greater.
Open up possibilities, let go of the plan, and free the credit cards a little too. We have zero regrets. Iceland is worth the (not insubstantial) price of admission. The Land of Fire and Ice is easily one of the most stunning, jaded-for-all-others, fascinating places I have been privileged to share with our kids.
For more trip reports from 80 Diapers and our wonderful Field Agents, click here.