Iceland Changed the Way I Think About Traveling

It’s 4:30 am and I cannot sleep. I am sat here in my kitchen with a cup of coffee, some vanilla wafers to hold me off until brunch, and Khalid playing in the background. This morning I am reminiscing on my trip to Iceland, thinking about how such a place can exist and reflecting on my experience. A city as large as Phoenix is a weird thing to come back to after being on the road for five days. Something within me is different and I can feel it. Iceland changed the way I think about traveling.

“Send me your location”

Location has always been everything to me. It’s no secret that I’m a city girl. I get such a high from exploring new and old cities, learning about the culture, wandering around art galleries, trying the best restaurants, and hearing the sound of my boot heels clack on the pavement of some posh street. Iceland was much different.

Before I set off on my journey I was super nervous because I had never booked a trip like this for myself before. While I could say at the time that I appreciated nature and hiking, I had no idea how much I didn’t appreciate those things until I came face-to-face with them for five straight days. My real appreciation for nature was actually quite little and something I probably felt I needed to say because I’m from Arizona. Iceland changed all of that.

“Young dumb & broke”

Iceland was one of the most special places I have ever gotten the privilege to see. I have never seen such beauty for miles on end. I felt young but alive, like I didn’t need anything to survive. It was just me, my camera, and a van. Our days consisted of money-saving gas station food and lots of shouting, “pull over pull over!” when we saw something breathtakingly amazing.

The word ‘breathtaking’ will never hold the same meaning for me. I truly experienced what it means to have your breath taken away; to be almost on the verge of tears. To have your eyes so fixed on something that it was hard to put one foot in front of the other. I am not convinced that you will never know the meaning of ‘breathtaking’ until you visit Iceland.

I remember thinking what a privilege it was to be driving through Iceland seeing so much beauty; how lucky we are to be born in America where we have freedom and choices and options. My thoughts were running deep, thinking about how right now someone is trying to find their next meal, and here I am in the presence of so much beauty. I told myself “I am so eternally grateful for this experience and I’m not going to take it for granted.” And that’s exactly what I did.

Every day we lived off very little, as if I was a teenager again with no money and no cares in the world. I filled up my water bottle in streams we found, sometimes didn’t eat breakfast, and chased rainbows almost every day. Every turn in the road was a new adventure, a new sound, and a new sight. At times I felt like I was on another planet, and after another bend in the road, I felt as if I was in Sedona, Arizona, only a few hours from my home.

I was dirty, smelly, and tired, but every next stop was worth the journey we took to get there. The way of life in Iceland is one to be mimicked. There’s a gratefulness in the people and an appreciation for nature that’s beyond anything I have personally experienced. It seeped into me like little veins of water diverging away from a waterfall.

“She’s over the city”

Am I over the city? Not entirely. But this is the next Khalid song that’s playing, and it’s quite fitting. Yesterday, I drove to the store to grab a new hairbrush because I had left mine at the Blue Lagoon. It was the first time I had driven in the city since I got back. Besides adjusting to not driving manual anymore, I couldn’t stop replacing my views with something else. I wanted everything to be as it was a day ago: mountains for miles, a single compact road, waterfalls, and lots of sheep. Instead, I was greeted with hundreds of people, cars, buildings on top of buildings, dogs on leashes, and smog. Something in me felt a little anxious and even a little angry.

It’s Sunday today, and I’ve been home for about 35 hours now. I still cannot comprehend how different it is where I am sitting as I am typing this, and how absolutely grateful I am to have gotten to experience Iceland. Iceland truly took a city girl and changed the way she travels. I want to see mountains and glaciers again. I want to be out in nature with nothing at all and live off the land. How does one live after experiencing something like that? I assume it won’t be easy.

For now, I will live through photos and memories, and this blog. I have a new appreciation for nature Instagrammers who shoot in groups and adventure all day long. What a freaking life!! As for the future, I would love to switch gears as often as I can and travel with other content creators, hiking and exploring. As for city travel? I still love architecture and people. I always will. It was my first love.

Iceland is something you must see in your lifetime. See it over the Eiffel Tower, see it over the the Berlin Wall, see it over the Golden Gate Bridge. Those are just photographs. Iceland slips into your soul like your silk eye mask on a jet plane; easy, soft, fixed. Iceland becomes a part of you forever.

xoxo Emily


  1. Awesome ! That’s how i felt after backpacking for the first time. All we had was, all we had in our back packs and fresh spring water. Which eventually made bottled water taste crappy once we got back to civilization. Everyone should go backpacking or go on a trip where you have to live so minimally. I remember how rewarded I felt when the trip was completed that I had back packed so much for days with my food and my place to sleep all on my back. Ahhh this makes me want to go be remote again! Good read.

    1. I want to go remote again so bad! I mean, we did have wifi in the van haha. But yeah, it was a really really cool experience. I enjoyed the outdoor photography too! Much more than I thought I would.

  2. Emily, this is just…wow. First, your experience sounds amazing. Irreplaceable. But second, your writing is incredible. I can almost visualize and imagine some of these places and feel like I’m experiencing these things at such an incredible depth. I haven’t read anything that’s put me in a space like that in a very long time!

    1. Aw thank you Amy! That literally means so much!! I tried to bust out my best writing for this one haha. It’s been a while since I’ve written this way. 🙂

  3. Sounds like someone had a great and rewarding time in Iceland. You’re definitely enticing me to visit the place. Where are the photos you took though? Ha!! Don’t be stingy with the photos girllll. Lol!! I love nature and I can definitely relate to the appreciation.
    I’m waiting for the photos in your next post. 🙂

  4. I have been waiting to read this post until I had time to properly sit down an read it. I used to adore vacationing in a similar way in the PNW (though it’s beauty doesn’t hold a candle to Iceland’s). I loved living off the grid, traveling from day to day, drinking from fresh streams, and just absorbing life. I am planning on going to Iceland next year and so wish I could do a similar trip as you did but, due to my changing physical needs, it’s no longer feasible. I am so happy that you had the opportunity to take such a meaningful trip and even happier that you really took the time to absorb and appreciate it. I have been living vicariously off your photos and hope you have many similar adventures ahead in years to come. If you ever want to do a PNW trip along similar lines, let me know. I have a good friend (he actually introduced me to my husband!) who is a budding adventure photographer and puts together some seriously amazing trips.

    1. Aw thanks Kasie! I will definitely let you know if I go that way! I would seriously LOVE to connect with other adventure photographers. So that’s really nice of you and I will totally take you up on that ;). The PNW is so beautiful. I’ve only been a few times and never really had a chance to explore. But I do follow a lot of people over there who regularly take weekend trips and go hiking and such.

  5. Emily,
    I’m relatively new to your blog, and I have to say, that everytime I visit, I’m not disappointed. This really resignated with me. I have only ever been to Iceland as a layoer to London, and though Iceland is on my bucketlist, You have made me want to shove Iceland to the very top of the list. I can so relate to what you said …that when you drove in the city you “felt a little anxious and even a little angry”, I can so relate.
    When I have been on a travel journey, I always feel a little down as well. I can also relate to how you felt with the beauty in nature that surrounded you in Iceland. I felt that way in Ireland and in Washington State, The Quinault Rainforst and Mount Rainier… I just stood there… Looking, as if I could not believe I lived on such an amazing planet.
    I now look forward to also seeing Iceland, I’ll do a road trip when I go, so that I can also see and explore as you did. Thank you Emily!

    1. Yay! So glad you’ve put it at the top of your list now. And glad that this post resonated with you so much. I always get nervous writing stuff like that because it’s a bit deeper than “5 ways to do THIS” etc. But it was definitely needed! I had so much on my mind when I left Iceland. It definitely created ad impression that will last a lifetime. I do want to explore more of Washington State!

  6. How beautiful. Europe had that affect on me on my return, though again, PALES in comparison to Iceland. I came back wanting to be surrounded by centuries old architecture and crystal clear waters. I want to drive on the “wrong” side of the road again, but I think for me most of all what I missed was how friendly everyone is over there. Locals saying hello and always smiling. Here everything feels cold and secluded. My Airbnb host in Lisbon said something to me that has stuck. (In particular Portuguese people and this is something along the lines of what he said to me) people here know they have very little and they understand they will never have more in terms of wealth and money, but we don’t care and we live life to the fullest and enjoy every moment. I can’t stop thinking about this. This can apply to anywhere really the only difference I think is how much in denial we all are and how hard we work at trying to change that. And in the process time passes and we forget to live.


    1. Omg!!! What an amazing conversation to have. Ugh I am so jealy, and thank you for sharing it with me. It’s so exactly how I feel about the Portuguese too. I tell everyone to visit because when we visited we noticed that so many people were just full of life and love. They say that Paris is the city of love, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. But Lisbon, omg. People are so in love! Holding hands, laughing, dancing. It’s so insane. I am so glad you experienced the same thing. It confirms I’m not crazy haha. My life goal is to own a home there.

  7. Hello Emily, I love the name of your blog! I enjoyed reading your Iceland travel experience, especially the transition from city to wilderness and back again to the city. It reminds me of my years living in Alaska and my yearly trips to New England to visit family. During my trips, even though I was excited to be around people and beautiful architecture, I missed the stillness and beauty of Alaska. I now live in rural Maine so I am grateful to live in the woods and have a beautiful commute daily, but feel like I am a hop and skip away from lively Portland. My husband and I are planning a trip to Iceland in July with Happy Camper. Any tips on where to find yummy coffee or did you bring along your french press? Also tips on yummy gas station food? I heard the ice cream and hot dogs are delicious!

    1. Thank you Jackie! You’re going to have an amazing time! And Happy Campers is such a great company. If you are driving the ring road, really the only coffee is gas station coffee. But it’s actually really good! I did bring my French press but I barely used it because I opted for the convenience of gas station coffee and it was really good. Also, Happy Campers leaves you a coupon book in your van that has free coffees! There are like 4-6 coupons for free coffees. Gas station food is definitely next level in Iceland! I would also recommend the burgers! Their burgers are freaking amazing. And definitely try the fry sauce. SO GOOD.

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