Iceland’s dreamscape of boundless vistas, mist shrouded pools of geothermal heat and ethereal wisps of dancing lights in the night sky reveals its otherworldly mysteries to intrepid travellers, rewarding them with a renewal of wonder and awe. Its craggy mountains, towering waterfalls and glowing taffy pools of magma are a raw elemental power of nature and a mesmerising lesson in humility.
It is this mix of chaos and calm, danger and serenity that has caused this sovereign island country to be featured strongly in the travel plans of many as the next new frontier of travel. Of course, the Icelandic Government’s development of the tourism sector and devalued krona currency has also helped put the country on the tourist map. Close to 1.7million visitors arrived in 2015, more than double the number from a decade ago and 5 times the number of Icelandic citizens.
With age demographics showing 47% of these arrivals aged below 40, let’s have a candid look at what Iceland offers to the young and restless, through the eyes of your everyday travel junkie.
1) Why Iceland?
Elves, definitely the elves. It’s no surprise how intriguing it is to the outside world when there’s a mystique surrounding Iceland with its Norse mythology.
I’ve also got this knack for being a hipster when it comes to places I travel to – exploring the less mainstream destinations, climbing random mountains, going off-road trekking through bush and bramble, or even finding suburban gems.
I happened to be in the United Kingdom at that time and figured, why not catch one of the many budget flights there? After all, there are no direct flights from Singapore and the best routes to Reykjavik, the capital, transit in Europe anyway.
2) Which sites were on your itinerary?
The abandoned United States Navy DC plane on the black beach at Sólheimasandur, because it’s one of the most Instagrammable locations and Detifoss waterfall, largely due to my craving for negative ions from the most powerful waterfall in all Europe… And the film, Prometheus.
3) What was your impression of Iceland before you went
Icy, cold and barren (even in the summer), contrasted against red hot flowing magma. It had everything I expected… except the lava.
4) How long did you plan for this trip?
It was planned it over three months with my travel buddies, with a cumulative research time of at least 48 hours.
5) What was your budget?
Excluding the flight from Singapore to London, we budgeted about SGD 1.8K each for a week in Iceland (Flight, Accommodation, Food, Transport).
6) How did you travel around?
I must emphasise that the only way to get around and truly experience Iceland (outside the cities) is via renting a car. You would ideally want a 4WD/4X4 (snow chains are a must in autumn/winter) and make sure you get gravel protection insurance because grit getting kicked up and chipping/denting your car is a certainty. While most of the Icelandic Ring Road is well-maintained, you ultimately need to drive through the dirt to get to scenic spots away from tourists and if you want to explore.
7) What did you do there?
Picnicked by the lake, snorkeled the clearest water on the planet, walked on ancient lava fields, hiked up mountains, whale-watched, fished, indulged in geothermal spas, soaked in the scenery, took loads of photos/videos and had an amazing time!
8) Do you have any interesting anecdotes from the trip?
We underestimated the duration of our hike route in Skaftafell National Park. Ended up taking eight hours instead of four and missed our check-in window for our hostel. We reached the base of the glacier at 11.00pm (thank goodness for midnight sun) but froze our butts off by camping in our car beside a glacier lagoon.
Topping the whole trip was one of the girls losing her passport and only realising minutes before our check-in at the airport… So we did what all best friends do – laughed at her, wished her all the luck, ditched her and flew back to London first. Okay, before you guys jump to assumptions and start calling us the worst friends on the planet, we did ensure we found where her passport was before we made that decision. Ends up she conveniently left it at a hostel’s reception 300 kilometres away from the airport on the third day of our trip.
Flights in and out of Iceland are limited and the LAST flight for the next three days on that very evening with just ONE seat left. It didn’t make sense for any of us to stay on and Iceland is an incredibly safe/friendly place for solo-travellers. Got to give it to the girl though – She manned-up, rented a car, drove those 600 kilometres to-and-fro, grabbed her passport and made it back in time for the evening flight.
9) What are some recommended Do’s and Don’ts?
DO stay at hostels, you meet loads of travellers who share really awesome stories and extremely useful tips.
DO prepare for erratic weather, even in the summer! Make sure you have a good waterproof jacket/pants, thermals, a windbreaker and a good pair of hiking boots.
DO pack dry food (eg. Instant noodles, muesli bars etc.). Food is RIDICULOUSLY expensive in Iceland, even at supermarkets.
DO make sure you have at least two drivers to take turns, if not spread your itinerary over a longer period. Drives can be very long without proper pit-stops for hours.
DO bring a first aid kit and emergency supplies (eg. thermal blanket, energy bars)
DO check UAV/drone laws a few days prior to travelling to Iceland (or any country for that matter) if you wish to bring your drones
DO check airline regulations on check-in and carry-on for your drone/batteries (it differs from airline and airport)
DO NOT hog the DC plane for your personal Instagram photo for one hour (Yes we witnessed that happening)
DO NOT feel obliged to try local delicacies (eg. whale/horse meat), you’ll be surprised at the number of people who don’t actually support it in Iceland even.
DO NOT trespass or disregard private property (previously, visitors could drive up to the DC plane wreckage but, landowners were recently forced to restrict vehicular access because inconsiderate tourists kept damaging the land by doing donuts on the ground and going off the designated vehicle path – It’s now about 1.5 hours walk to and fro instead of a 10 minute drive)
10) Why is this a great place for aerial videos?
Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in all of Europe so the “human risk” in general isn’t as high. Needless to say, the scenery is fantastic and there aren’t as many flight hazards either because the country’s landscape is so barren.
Beware of strong winds, territorial birds and the fact your drone compass will likely malfunction due to the magnetic fields all over Iceland.
With the introduction of the new DJI Mavic and GoPro Karma, countless hobbyists intend to brave harsh weather conditions in countries like Iceland. I strongly advise against it. Winds are something you do not want to trifle with as they are very unpredictable.
Although the new Mavic seems to be more aerodynamic with its lower profile, people have to remember that wind does not only blow horizontally. There are often anabatic (upward) and katabatic (downward) winds in mountainous regions that can spiral your drone out of control. Compact drones are also incredibly light and can potentially struggle against strong winds as compared to their heavier counterparts.
11) How does Iceland compare to other places that you’ve visited?
– Mosquitoes do not exist in Iceland !!
– MacDonald’s does not exist in Iceland either !!
– Groceries, eating out and even fast food is relatively expensive! To give you an idea: A two-piece chicken meal at KFC cost us SGD 14 at that point in time.
– Phone reception and data is affordable and incredibly efficient in the countryside.
– People are remarkably friendly and speak really good English.
12) Would you go there again? Why?
Definitely. I hear from others that the entire place transforms in Winter! Glacier caves are one of the main attractions and they are never the same each year. I’ll probably go there to do another drone video, and even cover a story on how the whale-watching industry has become one of the fastest growing industries across the country…. In contrast to the former brutal whaling industry.
13) Why did you choose to go on a grad trip instead of starting work ASAP?
My rationale on that is far from straight forward. It wasn’t about enjoying life before I committing myself to work as do most youths feel about a graduation trip.
Antiquated views used to encourage young people to earn their money first, and spend it and travel in your “golden years”. I personally feel you should do the complete opposite and travel as much when you are young, as much as you can afford to! Cut down the lavish lifestyle, hardcore partying, drinking and all other guilty pleasures that contribute to that financial toll. Instead, divert some of that money into a travel fund, take a gap year if possible and travel as much as you can.
When you’re younger, your mind is receptive to new ideas that travelling the world exposes you. It also cultivates a stronger sense of awareness about yourself and your surroundings, essentially honing your street-smarts. With a fresh mind, experiences gained while travelling will almost certainly mould a person’s character and attitude. I believe the lack of early exposure to the world is a major cause of xenophobia in our society. The less-travelled and older generation have this tendency to form rigid stereotypes and if the youth propagate that mindset… Well, let’s say there is no reversing globalisation.
On top of that, I’m fortunate enough to be able to combine my passion for filming with both work and leisure. Every time I travel and film with my production team (Trippin’ Creatives) or alone (BJK Productions), it’s practically a holiday for me! Despite the long hours and sleepless nights, I truly feel like I have not worked a day in my life – As clichéd as that sounds!