Best of 2017

Last year, I wrote a massively long Best of 2016 post and I still reread it constantly, every time I want to reminisce on how awesome that year was. I don’t know if anyone else found it as interesting as I do, but either way I really enjoyed writing it.

This year, I was thinking about writing one but I didn’t think there would be enough highlights since I didn’t travel as much. Then I realized I had been to Chicago, Vancouver, Victoria, Nova Scotia three times, Colombia, Greece, Italy, England, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. So I guess 2016 just really spoiled me; because objectively this was still an awesome year. When I actually got in to writing this post it was so nice to reminisce on everything wonderful that happened this year. Also this is long again. Sorry.

Sailing around Greece

Obviously, this is number one. I wrote a whole post about my week with MedSailors aboard a yacht, but suffice it to say this will be a tough adventure to top. Honestly, the best thing about this week was that I didn’t touch my phone after the first day. It was so freeing to actually live in the moment and not worry about posting the perfect snap story.

Me and Haley still text constantly about this trip, and we are definitely still planning to do the same in Croatia ASAP.

Exploring the Cotswolds

I LOVE England. I’ve been five times now, and I always try to make it to somewhere new while I’m in the country. In January I headed over to Surrey to visit my friend Brooke, who was au pairing for the sweetest family of all time. On her weekend off, we bussed to Cheltenham to visit my parents’ friends Rob and Karen. I’ve seen them lots of times over the years, when they come to Canada or when we go to England, and they are possibly the best hosts of all time.

Me and Brooke were just grateful that they let us crash with them, so we weren’t expecting the royal treatment we got: a personalized tour around the Cotswolds, wonderful home-cooked meals accompanied with lots of wine, and definitely more generosity than we deserved!

It couldn’t have been a more perfect weekend getaway, and I know I’ll be back to the Cotswolds. Every town was breathtaking and charming, especially since it was January and they weren’t packed with tourists.

Seeing the northern lights

On a related note, I flew to London via Reykjavik on Wow Air. I paid $400 CAD for the ticket, which was a darn good deal for a flight to Europe – but of course it came with the reduced service of a budget airline.

Right before I checked in, my dad sent me a message suggesting I get a window seat on the left side of the plane in case the northern lights were out. I took his advice, not really expecting it to happen. About halfway through the flight, the flight attendants announced that we were about to see the Northern Lights out of the left side. I immediately threw my book down and pressed my face against the window.

I don’t have a photo of the Northern Lights because I was busy crying. Here’s Iceland.

For the next twenty minutes I couldn’t take my eyes off the sky: as a child I loved the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, following a child named Lyra in a magical world. A lot of it takes place in the Arctic, and the northern lights feature heavily. I felt like Lyra, staring out at the sky and feeling strangely spiritual. It was a beautiful experience (I sound like a hippie) and I can’t WAIT to see the northern lights again.

Falling in love with Naples

Something I have learned this year: I do not appear to be destined to visit the Amalfi Coast. Three times I have booked and paid for a stay there, and three times something has gone wrong and I didn’t make it.  Our flight to Naples was so delayed that we couldn’t get to Positano without paying a truly absurd amount of money for a cab.

So we hopped in a cab to downtown Naples instead, at 1AM, without a place to stay. We went to the hostel we had booked for the NEXT night, assuming they’d have availability, but we were out of luck. We eventually found somewhere, and crashed around 2:30.

With this inauspicious start, our time in Naples could have been total crap. On the contrary, we fell in love! The castles and forts have stunning views, the people are so friendly, every alley is stunning. Naples certainly has a special Italian magic, and I would go back in a heartbeat.

Properly seeing Chicago

My previous experience in Chicago involved an unplanned overnight layover. I had been wanting to go back since then, so in June my friend Sunjita and I flew down for a weekend and had an absolute blast.

This was also the weekend that Porter Airlines delayed us over 4 hours on the way there and OVERNIGHT on the way back, and I swore off Porter forever. However, Chicago was worth it.

Ironically, in my Best of 2016 post I talked about two awesome girls I met in Austria. They lived in Chicago, so we stayed with Kim and spent the whole weekend with them!! It is so, so nice to actually reunite with friends I meet abroad, and I can’t wait to see them again.

Anyway, Chicago is awesome. We went to a taco festival, tanned at the incredible beaches (who knew?), and tried the life-changing deep dish pizza. 10/10.

Our Meteora Hotel Room

I am confident that this is my favorite accommodation of all time, and I’ve stayed in some pretty awesome places from houseboats to resorts. We stayed in dirt-cheap hostels for our entire Greece/Italy trip EXCEPT in Meteora. I came upon Hotel Doupiani House and once I saw the view I knew we had to stay there.

This was our view!

Everything about our room was perfect, and the staff at the hotel were unbelievably helpful and sweet, but the best part by far was our balcony. We sat out there until late in the night, drinking a bottle of wine and catching up on all the gossip that we had missed in eachother’s lives.

Meteora is a magical place, and staying at the Hotel Doupiani House is an amazing way to make it even more magical.

One of my favorite photos from Greece

Hiking Grouse Mountain

If you read my Best of 2016 post you may remember that I have suddenly found myself really into hiking. Obviously, there were gonna be some hikes on this list as well. I visited Vancouver for the first time since I was three in May, spending two days in Victoria and two days in Vancouver. The indisputed highlight of my trip was hiking up Grouse Mountain!

Look how Canadian I am in this photo. Shorts in the snow! It was great to hike this right at the beginning of the season since it was fairly empty, but I did trip into the snow and get soaked at one point. Good thing I was sweating from the hike!

The view from the top is gorgeous, but the hike itself was a great experience as well. I met a lovely Austrian couple and we chattered away in German and English about their trip to Canada and my trip to Austria. We hiked most of the way together which was a nice change since I usually hike solo! It was probably the hardest hike I’ve ever done but well worth the effort.

Going back to Carter’s Beach

Carter’s Beach is a specific place in Nova Scotia, but really this highlight is just about learning to appreciate my home province again. I never realized how much I would miss the ocean when I moved to the middle of the country, and now every time I come home for a visit my first request is to visit a beach.

Carter’s Beach in particular is one of the most surprising beaches I’ve ever been to. The water is beyond freezing, but from the look of it Carter’s could be in the Caribbean. Being away from home has made me fall so much more in love with my home and I have loved being back here for Christmas!

A Day in Paradise in Colombia

Every single day in Colombia was amazing, and I still need to write a few more posts about it. The best day, though, was on our boat trip to the Rosario Islands. I don’t want to give a ton away here because I’m dying to write a really detailed post and use every single one of my photos, but basically, I had no idea this kind of water existed off the coast of Colombia. The Caribbean coast here is such an underrated gem and I had the time of my life snorkelling, hanging out with a random extended family from Miami, and getting a really great tan.

This is the aforementioned random family from Miami

Jungle Living in Minca

Another Colombia entry. Warning, the next one is Colombia too.

Anyway, Minca was so cool. Staying in a jungle cabana was such a lovely way to connect with the sights and sounds of the jungle, and I will never forget how lovely it was to wake up and grab coffee while everything around me woke up. The second night, staying in a dorm bed perched at the top of the building, with a totally open wall to my right, was simultaneously terrifying and extremely peaceful.

Ugh, now I miss Minca.

The Most Fun Five Days Ever in Cartagena

A friend recently asked me what to do in Cartagena, and I said, “I went to a rooftop that was really nice. But it was my friend’s apartment so you can’t go there. Otherwise I don’t know, just like walk around.”

Really, that sums up my time in Cartagena. I didn’t really DO a lot, but I sure had a lot of fun. Our hostel, Republica, was pretty much the definition of a party hostel, and we took full advantage of the party.

From having a beer on the city walls, to exploring a different nightlife district every night but always ending up in the same club, to the pool parties at the hostel, there was definitely a lot of drinking involved in our Cartagena stay. The vibe of the city just makes you want to live it up, and we did.

Also, I met a very cute and very tall Australian boy, which never hurts.

Quitting my job

Remember what I said about sailing in Greece being my number one highlight of the year? I take it back, quitting my job was DEFINITELY the best thing I did in 2017. I was so deeply unhappy sitting in an outdated office in a sketchy part of town, doing work I physically couldn’t have cared less about. One day I arbitrarily applied for a few travel jobs, hoping someone would throw me a rope that would convince me to take the plunge and quit.

Now I have fun coworkers who do things like get me sweet 16 cakes for my 22nd birthday.

Flight Centre called me in for an interview, and I made it through the process. I was hooked! I make a ton less money and work a lot more hours, but I am also about 1000% happier as a travel agent than I was as a “Category Shopper Development Analyst” (Barf)

How fitting to end on the best decision I’ve ever made. To 2018 – hoping for even more adventures!

The Best of 2016

In my mind, 2016 is kind of broken into three completely separate parts. From January to April I was at university for the last semester, working at a cafe and hanging out with friends constantly. In May and June I went on an incredible whirlwind trip to eleven countries. In July I moved to Toronto and now I have a grownup job and sit in an office staring wistfully at my world map all day.

However, a surprising number of these 20 highlights happened in the school or the work part of 2016. Be forewarned that this is a very long post.

Going on a camping safari in Tanzania

I think in 80 years, my safari in Tanzania will still be the number one coolest thing I have ever done in my life. Sure, there were tsetse flies and both extreme cold and extreme heat, and a lot of time in a car, but thinking back on my 6 nights camping in the wilds of Africa none of that matters.

I watched thousands upon thousands of wildebeest make their way across the savannah, sitting on top of the Jeep and marvelling at how far I could see. I darted back into my tent in the middle of the night after seeing glowing eyes staring at me from the grass. I woke up to the most incredible sunset straight from my tent, and felt at peace.

Overcoming my fear of water by scuba diving in Zanzibar

Every time I think about the fact that I went scuba diving, I am in awe of my bravery. That may sound dramatic, but until literally last year I held my dad’s hand the whole time we snorkeled and sometimes cried into my mask because I was so irrationally afraid of the water. In Zanzibar, I saw a dive shop, marched myself over to sign up for a one day discovery course and then sat on the beach contemplating how afraid I was. I got in the boat, thought about all the ways I could die, and then threw myself backwards into the Indian Ocean with my heart in my throat.

And it was pure magic.

Taking the Sound of Music bike tour in Salzburg, Austria

Despite the fact that I only spent four days in Austria, three of the things on this list happened here. I think I need to go back to Austria…

Since the moment this tour began, I’ve been trying to figure out how to do it again and take my mom with me. We LOVE the Sound of Music and the only reason that this tour wasn’t perfect is that my mom wasn’t there to experience it with me. My morning of riding out into the Austrian countryside, singing along to Do Re Mi and dancing around filming locations pretending to be Liesl will always be one of my fondest memories.

Hiking Pulpit Rock in Norway

Have I annoyed you all yet by continuing to rave about Pulpit Rock? Yes? Oh well, I’m going to keep doing it. You may notice that five of the items on this list are hikes; 2016 was the year I discovered that I actually do like hiking and now the first thing I do when planning a trip is check whether I can hike there. Anyway, I already wrote a whole post about this hike and I even used the word magical in the title (so dramatic) – here it is.

Hiking Ben Vrackie in Scotland

Another hike you say? Yep…I started my two month trip this summer with this hike, and it couldn’t have been a better kickoff. This random, not very well-known hike in Scotland was absolutely breathtaking and all it made me want to do was hike all over Scotland. My sister did a 10 day Scotland trip in August and did basically all the things I wanted to, and now we are seriously discussing opening a hostel in the Scottish countryside or trekking the West Highland Way together.

Scooting around Cappadocia

Oddly, my hot air balloon ride was not the highlight of my Cappadocia trip. It was incredible, but the day where my American friend Julie and I rented a scooter and drove wherever the wind took us stands out more in my mind. I was lonely in Cappadocia, the sole backpacker in my cave hotel’s dorm and shocked by the sharp downturn in tourism in Turkey.

When Julie arrived in the dorm I literally walked over and said, “Oh my god I’ve been so lonely, will you be my friend?” Somehow that worked, and we spent the rest of our time together. We climbed castles, feasted on Turkish food, got lost, and later went on the weirdest double date of my life with these two creepy Turkish guys. We also spent an amazing night dancing in a local bar, this time with less creepy Turkish guys.

I often say that Turkey is my favourite country, and I am heartbroken for what has been happening  there. It’s a magical place.

Visiting Anne Frank House in Amsterdam

I had a weird obsession with the Holocaust as a child, and I’ve read Anne Frank’s diary a million times and cried every single time. I managed to find a last-minute ticket through sheer luck (if you’re going, try to get one in advance) and on my last rainy day in Amsterdam I went and cried for a few hours. It’s impossible to describe how impactful this place was; they have set up the exhibits and memorials incredibly well and I believe everyone should know the story of this incredibly inspiring girl.

Spending the evening with the orchestra at Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna

It’s no coincidence that two of these favourites happened with the same people. I met two girls from Chicago on my Sound of Music Tour (see above) and we traveled to Vienna together. I told them about a free concert by the Vienna Philharmonic happening at the Schonbrunn Palace, we picked up a French boy from their hostel, and off we went for one of the most special nights ever.

After an epic quest to find the only store in Vienna that was open (I think it was a public holiday) we bought a crap-ton of wine, bread, and cheese and made our way to one of the most beautiful palaces in Vienna. Obviously, it was packed, so we made our way to a hill behind the actual orchestra, ignoring signs that said we wouldn’t be able to hear.

The signs were in fact correct, but it didn’t matter. We got tipsy, talked about our favourite international misadventures, chatted to random strangers around us, and I kept having those moments of perfection where I stopped to take it all in.

Near the end of the concert, we decided to leave and avoid the rush. We ended up walking by the orchestra at the perfect time to hear AND see the final flourish – that’s right, there were fireworks.

Amazing.

Hiking Lion Rock in Hong Kong

If you had asked me during this hike if it would ever make it to a highlight list, the answer would be a firm no. This hike was REALLY HARD and I thought I was going to die. I actually hiked to Amah Rock first, which was a waste of time, then up to Lion Rock, and it was so hot. I’m much better at handling cold than heat (thanks Canada) and I have never sweat so much in my entire life. I considered giving up about 7 times but when I made it to the view, it was all worth it.

Hong Kong itself was a highlight, just like I expected it to be – it’s an unbelievably cool city with so much to do and see, and the cute Swedish boy I met certainly didn’t hurt.

Hiking Daimonji Yama in Kyoto

Japanese temples and shrines are gorgeous, but I find when I travel solo, going to these kinds of places means walking through in half an hour and leaving. In Kyoto I felt kind of listless after hitting the major highlights in a day, so I googled ‘hiking in Kyoto’ and found this gem. It was extremely confusing to find because there were no English signs, but if you use these directions you’ll be set.

The hike isn’t too hard, especially compared to some of the others on this list. At the top, there’s a very convenient area to picnic, chat, or read and journal – I did all of the above. I was the only foreigner for most of the time, and tons of Japanese families and groups were there. The atmosphere was great and the view was just incredible.

Hiking Mount Tampa in Brasov, Romania

When I arrived in Brasov, it was raining. When I left three days later, it was still raining. I napped and hung out in the hostel lounge much more than I would care to admit, because I couldn’t motivate myself to get out and do anything.  Luckily, the one time I dragged myself out of bed was great enough to make it to this list.

I booked my hostel (Kismet Dao) solely because a dog lived there, and when I got there I learned that if you walked the dog you got free beer. Um, win-win situation much!? I put on my sneakers and leashed up Zara for what I expected to be a light stroll around town. However, Zara had a mind of her own and since all I knew in Romanian was  thank you and no, controlling her was a challenge. She led me to what appeared to be her favourite path and we ended up climbing a mountain.

Going on a pub crawl in Edinburgh

I loved Edinburgh in general, but one of the highlights was the pub crawl I went on. I may not have thought so the next morning, but the girls I met were so fun and the pub scene so buzzing that the hangover was totally worth it. The hostel employee running the pub crawl was also a riot, with the most Scottish accent ever and the most Scottish beard ever.

Strangely, one of the highlights of the pub crawl did not happen in a pub. I only took one piece of photo ID with me because I didn’t want to lose my passport three days into my trip. At one spot the guy refused to let me in without another piece, which made me sad because the drinking age in Scotland is 18, and I was 20. I look sixteen.

Anyway, I had to run back to the hostel to grab my passport and the walk took me down the most charming little alleyways and streets I’ve ever seen – and the fact that I was already a pint of beer in just made me more pleased with my surroundings. It was strangely lovely and I will never forget how happy I was in that moment!

Visiting Iceland

The only country which is itself a highlight on this list. Iceland was the last destination on my insanely packed 2 month trip so I was worried that I’d be so tired (and maybe even jaded) that it wouldn’t impress me. Not so. Yes, I was exhausted, but Iceland is so COOL. I wrote about the logistics of planning a trip to Iceland already, and still need to sit down and try to remember the details of both tours I took.

But suffice it to say that there is a reason everybody gushes so much about Iceland. The sights are beautiful, the people are beautiful, the prices are horrifying, and you will never forget your time here.

Touring the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg

Totally never thought something in Winnipeg would be on this list. My sister moved to this fairly remote Canadian city for work. I had visited on a layover just to be able to say I’d visited all ten Canadian provinces, but hadn’t explored the city in depth. We found a cheap flight, split the cost and I was off to visit on a packed weekend.

Most of the time was spent snuggling doggies and eating junk food, because dogs and junk food are two of our favourite things, but we also made time for some sightseeing. The only must-see on my list was the Human Rights Museum, which I’ve heard only amazing things about.

It lived up to my expectations: the design, exhibits and educational value of the museum is stunning. I learned a ton. I was very moved to see Malala Yousafzai’s bloody school uniform on display; I have so much admiration for Malala and loved her book.

Wondering at the Austrian National Library in Vienna

I am SO obsessed with libraries. Many of my fondest childhood memories occurred in our local library and I read a lot, so anywhere with books is a draw. When a library is historic and stunning, I can’t resist but to stop by. That’s why in Vienna, my very first stop was the Austrian National Library – I saw it on Instagram and immediately knew I had to go.

Did I wander the library pretending to be a Hapsburg princess? Perhaps. I was totally captivated by the amazing room, the exhibits on Hapsburg royalty, and even the smell of old books. I could have spent hours here.

Spending a solo Thanksgiving at the Stratford Theatre Festival in Ontario

I love plays and solo travel. I couldn’t afford to fly home for Thanksgiving, and it’s never been a huge deal in my family anyway, so I decided to take a weekend trip in my new province. When I realized that I could get youth discounts on tickets to shows at the Stratford Theatre Festival, I was sold!

I stayed in the weirdest hostel ever (it was attached to a hospital and I was the only one staying there) but at least it was cheap. I saw incredible productions of Shakespeare in Love, MacBeth and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!

My emotions were all out of whack in October; the three-month mark was one of the toughest adjustments in moving and starting a new job. Solo travel always centres me, and this quick trip was exactly what I needed.

Pretending to be rich in Muskoka – Ontario’s cottage country

One of my best friends, Nicole, was working at a swanky resort (the JW Marriott) in Muskoka, which is the gorgeous lake country 2-3 hours north of Toronto. I headed up to visit her and see if I could take advantage of the resort facilities without staying there. The answer – yes. During Nicole’s shifts I walked in like I owned the place, plopped myself down by the pool and tried to put on my best snooty rich person face.

It was so relaxing to pretend to be rich for a day, and having my every whim catered to was just delightful. Top it off with the chance to see one of my best friends and the gorgeous surroundings of the resort and it was the recipe for a much-needed escape from the blistering heat of Toronto.

Visiting New York for the fourth time

It never gets old. My friend Emma was in Toronto, so of course we decided to travel a 10 hour bus ride south to NYC and spend like 36 hours there. Because we took Greyhound and Greyhound is the worst company in the history of capitalism, our bus was delayed almost five hours and we were stuck in Scranton, Pennslyvania for EVER. We did make it, though, and once we made it we had a blast.

Our hostel had the comfiest beds known to man and we took in two shows: Fiddler on the Roof and An American in Paris. I literally go to New York just to see Broadway shows…no regrets. It was HOT and EXPENSIVE and TIRING but would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

Graduating university!

Somehow, this milestone pales in comparison to all the other amazing things I did in 2016. While during my third year of university I travelled more than I went to school, in my fourth year I think I only left the province twice, and it was all job interview-related. Despite this, I had the most incredible time during my last semester of school.

I worked at an Italian espresso bar, finally falling in love with the community vibe of my small university town. I finally made the close groups of friends I’d been searching for, spending my free time with so many people I absolutely love. Since I was also finally legal drinking age for the whole school year, I took advantage of that a bit as well..and by a bit I mean all the time.

I also barely had to put any time into school because I had completed most of my courses. I may have skipped classes every now and then (or all the time), but by fourth year I had mastered the art of getting good grades while putting in very little work.

I never understood why people say your university years are the best years of your life, but now I get it. I will remember how happy and free I was during my last semester of university forever.

Extending a work trip to Boston

My second week at my new full time job in Toronto, I flew off to Boston for a work trip. I felt very glamorous and everything about it was very exciting to me. I think it’s funny that my superiors, who travel all the time for work, are so jaded about it while the hotel bed is enough to make me clap with glee. I guess that’s what happens when you have a spouse and children to come home to!

Anyway, I wanted to extend the trip for a weekend and managed to get my way. I stayed in a lovely Cambridge Airbnb and powered through the Boston heat to sightsee. A highlight was ordering a cocktail at the Cheesecake Factory and not getting ID’d (I was 20). After my whirlwind weekend I was off to a paid-for Marriott and a packed week of meetings and orientations, which at the time was fun and exciting!

I completely adored Boston, but the highlight here was the fact that my flights were free 🙂

It has been the most incredible year and it has felt like an entire lifetime of experiences. I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings – in the first two months, I already have trips to Boston, London and Colombia booked!

How to Plan your Weekend Trip to Iceland

If you live on the east coast of North America, it’s becoming almost frighteningly easy to visit Iceland. Flying from Toronto, it would be cheaper for me to fly to Iceland than it would for me to fly to either coast of my own country. That may have more to do with the insanely overpriced domestic flights in Canada, but in any case you can find flights to Iceland for $100 one way. And how could you say no to that?

While I was in Iceland I saw some of the most beautiful natural wonders I’ve ever had the chance to see, and the best part was the incredible variety. On one tour I saw a black beach and a sooty glacier. But, this post isn’t about what I saw – it’s about how I saw it! Planning a trip to Iceland is a bit different than it is to the rest of Europe, but it’s easy to do independently and solo – here’s how to plan your weekend trip to Iceland!

dscf2959-1Iceland definitely isn’t the hidden nature paradise it may have once been, but that doesn’t make it any less special. Before I went, people kept saying it was otherworldly and felt like another planet, and I thought that was stupid. Just cause there’s some weird rocks doesn’t mean it’s like Mars! However, I will confess that I was totally wrong.

When I arrived in Iceland, I was already deeply sleep-deprived. On my last night in Zanzibar I barely slept, then I had an overnight layover in the Qatar airport where I obviously didn’t sleep, then my Berlin hostel was loud and way too hot to sleep, and then I arrived in Iceland at 1AM and didn’t get to my hostel until 4:30AM. Ah, the joys of budget travel.

2016-06-23_1279334477461757028It would only get worse, because I was there in the summer, and Iceland doesn’t get dark in the summer. It was totally surreal – I went out at 2:30AM one night and it was just maybe dark enough to feel like twilight. Luckily my hostel had blackout curtains, but my body was still so thrown off that I ended up just napping several times a day and not really sleeping at night.

I was also pretty frustrated that I couldn’t travel independently with public transport like I usually do – I don’t have a driver’s license so I couldn’t rent a car, which meant I was stuck with expensive tours. All this aside, Iceland is worth every inconvenience and every penny.

2016-06-24_1279870827994821924

FLIGHTS

If you’re coming from Canada or the US, there is basically a 100% chance that you’ll be flying either WowAir or IcelandAir. I flew IcelandAir home direct from Reykjavik to Halifax and weirdly, it was one of the best flights I’ve ever taken. I can’t quite explain why, but the atmosphere was really pleasant, the entertainment was great, and I was just really happy with the overall experience.

dscf3009I just flipped back through my journal to see what I wrote while on this plane, and it’s one of my embarrassing monologues about how wonderful the world is and how happy I am in this moment. Usually by the end of a trip I’m either devastated to go home or very excited to do so, and on this one I was right in that perfect spot of contentment. So that might have had something to do with it, but my parents also loved IcelandAir.

I haven’t flown WowAir, but from what I’ve heard it’s a very typical no-frills budget airline. You pay for basically everything extra (bags, food, water) but you paid so little for the ticket that it’s probably okay. I actually just bought a ticket to London with Wow for the end of January, so once I take the trip I’ll post an update here.

Update: it was great! No frills, that’s for sure, but I slept really well on the way over. ALSO, we saw the Northern Lights from the side of the plane and it was unbelievable – they even turned the lights off; I got a great view. On the way back, delays at Gatwick meant that I missed my connection in Iceland, so they put me on IcelandAir and I was delighted.

ACCOMMODATION

Hostels in Iceland are pretty expensive, but they’re also pretty nice! If you’re just going for a weekend, I would recommend just staying in Reykjavik and making day trips from there – more on some day trips I think you should take in the next section.

dscf3029I chose Hlemmur Square because I found a discount code, which they have pretty regularly – I saved 35% which made it an awesome deal. I paid $130 for three nights in a 12 bed female dorm. I’ve also heard great things about the other hostels in Reykjavik; most of them tend to have really cool hipster vibes.

If you’re travelling on a bigger budget, check out Airbnb – there are some really awesome properties in Reykjavik. My parents stayed in this little cabin and when I asked my mom if they liked it she said, “We did. It was cool and in a quiet place. One problem was no blackout curtains but probably the same everywhere. Well equipped”. So that’s another option!

ACTIVITIES

Like I mentioned, public transport in Iceland is not really a very helpful thing. If you can rent a car and it makes sense for the weather while you’re there, do it – otherwise, you will have to rely on tours. Usually the word ‘tour’ sends a shiver down my spine, but the ones I took were actually pretty great! I had two full days in-country and used one for a Golden Circle tour and the other for a Southern Iceland tour. Separate posts are forthcoming about each of these experiences – but here are links to the ones I used! The pictures throughout this post are mainly from these tours.

Golden Circle Evening Trip from Reykjavik

Southern Iceland Glaciers, Waterfalls and Beaches Day Tour

dscf3018The main thing that most people want to do in Iceland is the Blue Lagoon. I went, and meh. I’m glad I went, because I absolutely would have regretted it if I hadn’t, but….it just honestly wasn’t that exciting. The stories I’ve heard from others who have visited more secret, out of the way thermal pools have made those sound like a much better option (check out Unlocking Kiki’s blog for suggestions).

If you go, buy tickets in advance on the official website and time it with a flight. The Lagoon is much closer to the airport than it is to Reykjavik proper, so it’s the perfect place to stop in between. I visited on my way to the airport to fly back to Halifax, and it was the perfect way to unwind and finally feel clean after two months of being a grungy backpacker. You can purchase your transport along with the entrance ticket – Reykjavik Excursions will pick you up at your hostel, drop you off at the lagoon and let you know what time you can catch a bus the rest of the way to the airport.

2016-06-25_1280468325641824068Allot some time in your itinerary to wander around Reykjavik as well; it’s charming. It really reminded me of Halifax, where I grew up – the maritime vibe and mix of small-town and big-city feel made me feel at home. There are a ton of incredible bars and restaurants, and although you will pay a million dollars for anything you drink or eat, at least it will be good. My favourite was the Laundromat Cafe.

I wouldn’t recommend the free walking tour; I was bored and it moved much too slowly for me. The number one thing people say to do in Reykjavik is to visit Hallgrimskirkja and get a great view over the city. I somehow forgot to do this?! My parents loved it, though – here’s a picture. Otherwise, just go for a stroll! But dress warmly.


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TRANSPORTATION

Aside from my recommendations above on the Blue Lagoon, I used Gray Line to get from the airport to my hostel at the beginning of my trip. It took forever for the bus to leave, which sucked because I was already arriving in the middle of my night, and then I swear the bus was air conditioned. At 4AM, in ICELAND. It may have been June, but it was freaking cold. I crashed immediately at my hostel. The best part of transportation in Iceland is that everybody picks you up and drops you off right at your accommodation.

If you take one thing from this post, make it the fact that Iceland is worth it. Even if you can only go for two days, the WowAir prices might make it worth your while.