The three words in the definition of adventure – ‘unusual’, ‘exciting’ or ‘daring’ –never existed in my life. I was desperate to experience each one of these words but never had the courage. And during one of those desperate phases, I made a decision – a decision that changed my life forever. I took a solo trip to Iceland in May 2013 – an experience that will always be etched in my memories.
Part 1 – The Planning
This phase was one of the toughest of my life. I had decided to do something that was considered ridiculous by my family and friends.
I come from a conservative Indian family and so does 90% of India. For us, travelling is limited to a bachelor’s trip to Goa, a honeymoon in Italy (if you are rich) or the extreme one might be a bike trip to Ladakh. Travelling is something that doesn’t come naturally to me or the people I know. I was at the stage of my life where the next logical things to do as per society routine were to buy a house, get married, have kids, be a good grandfather and die eventually.
So when I announced that I wanted to go to Iceland, it was madness ofcourse.
“What is this guy thinking?” “Has he completely lost it?” “Why are you wasting your hard earned money?”
Those were common responses. Even by own standards, I thought this was crazy. I questioned myself many times. ’Was I really ready for this?’ This was a trip that will involve lots of ‘Firsts’.
First time outside India.
First time camping.
First time travelling without my friends/family.
First time going to see snow.
Inspite of the staunch opposition and lots of counselling, I decided to stick to my decision of going to Iceland. When you are staring at a picture of Iceland, every criticism falls into deaf ears.
So how it all began?
It all started when I came across some pictures of Iceland on a website. The landscape was so mesmerizing that it was love at first sight.
The normal routine after seeing these pictures would have been to mark these places in your wishlist and keep dreaming about them for the rest of your lives. But that day something unusual happened. I don’t remember whether I was drunk or sober that night but the next thing I know it was 5.30 in the morning and I had been researching non-stop about Iceland for the last 5 hours.
Now that I had made up my mind, how do I convince my friends? I explained them the budget and tempted them with pictures. Though they seemed to be excited with the plans, none of them gave me a confirmed response. I decided to make the itinerary first and later focus on convincing them.
Fixing the budget and itinerary
I had fixed a budget of one lakh rupees for the whole trip when I began planning. The idea of spending one lakh rupees on a trip was still very difficult and scary for me. The only time when Indian parents will be happy about spending that kind of money is probably for your wedding. The last time I spent that kind of money was on my bike and I was thrown out of the house. So, I was very well aware of the risks but I had made up my mind this time and I was in no mood to back down. With the rupee value higher than Icelandic krona and Iceland unfortunately still recovering from the effects of recession, Iceland on a budget seemed possible.
With repeated failures to design the itinerary, I finally stumbled upon Regina’s travel pages. She is a travel writer from Iceland and her travel pages are like an encyclopaedia for anybody travelling to Iceland. I got to see Iceland from a local’s point of view rather from a commercialized travel site. The little unknown places that only the locals would know; that’s the sort of places I wanted in my itinerary. With a detailed account of all the places, I finally had a guide from where I could design the itinerary. After reading her pages, I made an itinerary for 12 days covering the best places of Iceland. I sent her the itinerary and she helped me fine tune it to make it the best possible itinerary. If you are planning to travel Iceland, do check her pages:
When to go?
This was a tricky part. After comparing prices, Iceland in May seemed to be the best option because it falls in the winter (off season) and also has almost 18 hours of daylight. June – August is usually considered as the summer season and also the peak season for tourism. The differences in prices for these two seasons can be very high. The downside to travelling in winter is that many inland roads might be closed and also it is going to be extremely cold.
|Summer (June – Aug)||Expensive||Bearable temperatures||Average 20-22 hours||Maximum time to travel with more daylight hours|
|Winter (September – April)||Relatively cheaper||Extremely cold||4 – 12||Chance to see the Northern Lights. Christmas and New year is a great time to be in Rejkyavik but the prices are higher during this time.|
|Winter (May)||Relatively cheaper||Still cold||18 hours||Maximum time to travel with more daylight hours at cheaper prices than June – Aug|
For instance, a rental car that will cost you 50 euros in the winter season, will cost 80 in the summer.
Temperatures in °F
It didn’t come as surprise when my friends backed out eventually. I realized that it’s not fair to blame them as this was my dream and only I can achieve it. I started reading different experiences of solo travellers but was still very nervous about travelling alone.
After lots of searching, I finally met Witold Rybski from Poland through a travelling site. He and his wife, Agata, had posted a request to share a car for a 10 day trip. We connected and luckily he liked my itinerary too. The flight tickets had already touched 65k; 10k more than 2 weeks before. I didn’t wait for their confirmation and booked the tickets. But fortunately they confirmed and everything slowly started to fall in place. With one seat still to be filled, I connected with Marie from Canada just 2 weeks before the trip on couchsurfing. Finally, the team was formed. I think travelling without my friends was a blessing in disguise as this was going to be a great learning experience. Travelling with regular backpackers and the joy of listening to their backpacking experiences – priceless.
The criticism and the obstacles
As the day of my departure started nearing, the obstacles also became more fierce. The criticism started getting more aggressive. For my family, the biggest concern was not the money but my relatives’ reactions. They wanted me to get married first and then go such places. The criticism started motivating me further. Maybe I wanted to prove a point that travelling is not just for the rich. But the obstacles just kept creeping up. All I wanted was to visit a beautiful place on this planet. Is that too much to ask for?
But somehow I still stood by my decision and the last remaining obstacle now was the Visa.