When I first got my country assignments for Let’s Go research this summer, I felt fairly hesitant about Iceland: traveling the Ring Road requires a lot of driving, and until then, I’d driven maybe 100 miles in my entire life. Sources can confirm that I was a little bit nervous. But this was a chance to really do Iceland—not just fly to Reykjavik and take an expensive bus to Blue Lagoon—and a chance, or rather a mission, to find out how to do it right.
I did end up driving the Ring Road (it’s actually not that much driving per day if you take enough time to do it), and, as many peers predicted, I had the time of my life. Since finishing the trip, and scrambling to write up everything I saw and did before my next deadline, I’ve been questioning more and more whether I actually did Iceland “right.”
Talking with travelers along the way and doing more research on each part of the country only worsened my sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) for all the ways I could have been doing Iceland—seeing more, planning less, spending more time in some parts and less time in others, for example—and making my structured budget-travel-guide-researcher-writer approach feel like barely an introduction compared to the exhaustive guide I hoped to produce.
Now, settling in for a night’s sleep on a stranger’s couch in Sweden and suffering serious nature withdrawals, I can’t help but wonder what Iceland would be like if I’d done it another way. The more time you spend in Iceland, the more ways you realize you could spend your time in Iceland: some pack bicycle panniers full of camping gear and cycle the Ring Road for an entire summer, enjoying every bit of scenery and struggle along the way. Others spend weeks trekking up the rugged interior, hiking difficult trails and sleeping in remote mountain huts.
Some travelers ride tour buses from one hot spring to the next, barely touching the trails or peaks, and getting just as much out of their trip as those journeying the trails. You could book every possible boat tour: whale-watching, puffin-watching, seal-watching, fishing, or even a trip to Greenland. Snorkeling, scuba diving, super-jeep, kayak, motorboat, ferry, or motorcycle, you could explore every feature of the country in a different way at every turn.
You could eat in small-town restaurants and taste every version of Icelandic seafood, or you could pack two weeks’ worth of Soylent and barely spend a cent. You could visit endless museum exhibitions, from viking history to modern art, from glacier to volcano, and from penis to punk. You could sip beer from renowned microbreweries all over the country, or caffeinate at cozy coffee shops with each their own personality. Walk the valleys and coastal cliffs, or scramble high to snowy peaks, camp in tents in the wilderness or sleep in homey guesthouses with horses just out your window. Hike through glorious endless daylight with 1am summer sunsets, or ski and bathe in hot springs beneath the winter’s northern lights.
No matter how you end up doing Iceland, you’ll probably end up spending way more money than you planned, and you’ll make incredible lifelong memories of unparalleled adventure.The possibilities are endless, and few places offer so much. Maybe I have to come back again for the bicycling and trekking versions that gave me the most obscene FOMO, but for now, this Let’s Go Ring Road adventure has been an absolute dream.
To take full advantage of the Northern summer’s endless daylight, Marissa will squeeze every last minute of hiking, running, splashing, and climbing into her outdoor adventures through Iceland and Scandinavia. Bananas and coffee are all she needs to fuel up for marathon-treks through rugged mountains, thundering waterfalls, jagged cliffs, and rocky fjords, though trying to keep her two sets of clothing clean in the process might be one of the greatest challenges this world has ever known. Marissa studied engineering and environmental policy, with lifelong goals of saving the world’s glaciers, oceans, forests, and wildlife from the perils of anthropogenic climate change. When she isn’t busy reading about solar panels and cursing modern consumerism, Marissa enjoys rowing on the Charles River, stopping to pet every dog she ever sees, running the occasional marathon, and cooking plant-based feasts for forty at the Dudley Co-op/commune. Her favorite legume is decisively the garbanzo, for its incredible versatility and protein-packed punch.