I never would have chosen Iceland as a destination. It’s the ‘ice’ part that deterred me. I am definitely a tropical girl and even the Gulf Stream and molten lava that lend extra warmth to Iceland weren’t enough of an incentive for me. My husband, with his Viking ancestry, talked about Iceland as his dream vacation, every time he was hiding out in the air-conditioned restaurant of whatever Caribbean resort I had dragged him to. Iceland, to him, seemed like a dream come true for a guy who hates the heat and loves geology. When his family members from far and wide decided to converge on Iceland for a family reunion / group trip, I gave in. It was his turn, I reminded myself, as I booked tickets to Iceland just as the snow was melting and spring was coming to our home in Paris, Ontario.
People thought it was cool and a little bit crazy that we were headed to Iceland for a family reunion, particularly since none of the family members were actually from Iceland. Then there was the toddler factor. Folks thought we were nuts to be taking our toddler on a tour of Iceland. A quick search on the web brought up a few articles by people who had taken their tinies there and had enjoyed it, even though they found it to be an enormous logistical challenge. Every day is a logistical challenge with Henry, so I figured it couldn’t possibly be too tricky if we took our toddler to Iceland, could it?
With some solid planning in place, it turned out to be the best vacation ever! Iceland has a reputation for being expensive, and it’s a well-deserved reputation. But if you plan correctly, it is doable. In an attempt to lure tourists to Iceland, they have made it very inexpensive to fly there. Iceland Air even offers stopovers to allow people to have brief vacations there while en route to Europe, without an extra surcharge for doing so. The Iceland stopover has, apparently, become quite a thing. In order to save wherever possible, I watched for a seat sale and nabbed cheap tickets on the red eye which allowed our busy boy to sleep instead of screaming “I’m stuck!” over and over again like the last time we flew. So it took less time, and less money, to fly to Iceland than it does for us to fly to Vancouver.
Instead of expensive hotels, which are both too costly and too tiny for a family, I found amazing accommodations for us on AirBnB. We had a fantastic flat, centrally located and fully appointed, for less than half the cost of a hotel room. Our host told us that the government would like to crack down on all the AirBnB listings that have popped up, but recognizes that the country would not be able to accommodate all its tourists without them. So they have become a crucial part of the country’s tourist industry. When we went south, to the coast, we booked a beautiful little cottage with a view to die for. Again, it was less expensive and afforded us more room and amenities to suit our needs. We loved our little cottage by the sea! And since we had access to kitchens, I was able to pack a suitcase of food from home, so that I could cook whenever possible. Russ is allergic to wheat and Henry is a picky eater. It was so much easier to just cook breakfast or pack some snacks, than to assume that we could find suitable food on the road. Then we were free to go out some nights for amazing dinners with the family, knowing we had saved elsewhere during the day. Going out and about was also an opportunity for us to connect with Icelanders, and everyone we met was very friendly and helpful.
Iceland itself is a natural wonder. It is stunningly beautiful in every direction, but in an other-worldly way. Unlike anywhere else we had ever been, it consistently surprised us. We hadn’t done a lot of research ahead of time and relied on the diligent and thorough planning of our group members. Even if you are just there for a few days, you can see most of the highlights of Iceland and promise yourself that you will return again someday to see the rest. It is a destination for people who like to be active. I realized this when I observed that everyone waiting to board the flight for Reykjavik was wearing hiking boots. Everyone except us!
What I really wanted to say here in this piece is that you should take your kids to Iceland. Seriously. It provides an opportunity for them to run wild and free. I could not have taken Henry to London or Paris without him wreaking havoc. I would have had to tie him down anywhere else, just to minimize the damage and keep him safe. In Iceland, Henry was able to be a kid - the kind of kid he was meant to be. He ran and climbed and jumped and explored. He was intrigued by everything he saw from the car window as we wandered about the countryside, along fjords, over lava fields and around volcanoes. “Water volcanoes” (geysers) and the black beach were his favourite features. In Iceland, it didn’t matter if he was dirty or noisy or distracted by pretty rocks or pretty horses. Every day was an adventure for him, where he was able to explore nature and learn about the world. He climbed volcanoes and glaciers. He soaked in hot pools and played on volcanic beaches. He watched goats being born and brand new little lambs learning to walk. He clambered along waterfalls and slid down sandy hills. He tossed stones into the ocean and threw sticks into mountain streams. And he played with other kids, wherever he found them, regardless of the language barrier. And even though Iceland is rugged and untamed and definitely has too few guard rails for my liking, it was safe. I have traveled all over the world and I don’t ever remember being somewhere that felt so safe. Personal safety and security didn’t really cross my mind. We weren’t going to be robbed or high-jacked. Henry wasn’t going to be kidnapped. We were just safe to explore and it felt wonderful.
Take your kids to Iceland for a family vacation. You will see things you had only ever imagined. You will experience nature in a whole new way. And you will make memories, together, that are out of this world. If you've been there, and have some tips for travelers that you'd be willing to share, I'd love to hear from you!
Kari Raymer Bishop
Lover of Jesus, cheeses and tropical breezes... seeking balance in life, even as I embrace new challenges and chase new dreams. I am wife, mother, daughter and friend, as well as teacher, entrepreneur, activist, writer, beekeeper and hostess. Come along on the journey through my long-awaited midlife crisis!