At each new destination, I try and find some sort of event or excursion that I have never participated in before, something that makes me a little bit nervous, but something that I have to do because I know I will regret it if I back out.
I looked out the window at the Cessna 172 and could hardly believe they were going to let me co-pilot this thing!
Being from the East Coast of Canada, it made me realize it was such a small world when I learned that the pilot I was flying with was actually from Montreal, only a short distance away from where I’m from!
We walked out on the runway and over to our plane where we did all of the ground checks together to make sure everything was a go.
Okay, so it turns out that I was a terrible co-pilot, and flying a plane is actually really difficult….
The best part was how low we were flying over the city, so we were able to see the KL Tower and Petronas Towers up close!
I learned some of the rules of the air, experienced take-off and landing from the cockpit, took control of the plane while we were in the air, and kept my official one day membership card from the day I got to be a pilot.
What types of excursions/events have you attended in a new place?
Iceland’s tourism has been booming lately. I think every other person I speak to has gone or is planning a trip in the near future.
Here are some recommendations if you’re planning to go:
An incredible sight, indeed! Our trip was in July – so we didn’t experience any darkness in Iceland. If it’s on the top of your list, I suggest going closer to December, you’ll get a great view of the lights.
The benefit to going in July was that it wasn’t too cold, we had sun almost every day, and we could visit attractions anytime we wanted. Having 24h sun meant you didn’t have to hit up all of the attractions during peak hours, we sometimes found ourselves sight seeing alone during the “night”.
Rent a 4×4 and drive the Ring Road!
You can do the ring road in about a week, I’d recommend 8 full days, with travel on either end if you don’t want to feel rushed, but we did it in 7. Having a 4×4 is key because there are a lot of places you can venture off the ring road.
If you only have a few days stopover, just spend your time exploring the first few items of the following list:
Spend a day in Reykjavik
It really is a beautiful city, and a great way to start the trip off. Grab a beer and sit on a rooftop patio, walk down to the waterfront, and visit the Hallgrímskirkja Church.
Visit the Blue Lagoon
I know, it’s so popular and “touristy” but hey, you’re a tourist. This is a must-do, no question about it. This geothermal spa has to be one of the most relaxing places I have ever been. The blue water is filled with silica, algae, and minerals, and your skin feels brand new after you get out! (Note – your hair, not so much, put some conditioner in before you go.)
We got the comfort package and found it was perfect. It includes a towel, a silica mud mask, an algae mask, and a drink. I highly recommend this package at a minimum because the algae mask was my favorite part.
Remember, you need to prebook this – it gets busy! We didn’t realize this, and we ended up with a really late booking, but it worked out really well because it was a lot less crowded, if I went again I’d definitely go back for a late evening appointment.
Sleep in a Bubble!
Especially if you’re here to see the Northern Lights!
Go Ice Climbing
At the very least, do a glacier walk! It’s well worth paying for a tour, the guides are amazing and they take you to some incredible spots that you would likely never venture to on your own.
Chase Waterfalls and Sheep!
My top favorites were Skogafoss, Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss, Svartifoss – My camera died for this one
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash
It was a rainly, windy, cold 4km walk, but it was such an interesting sight to see. Plane wreckage on black sand beach. A very unique photography location! You used to be able to drive most of the way down, but they have fenced it off now so you do have to walk down, so bundle up.
Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon and Diamond Beach
Both are sights to see! No one was really at either of these locations when we went, and we almost decided not to go. This is right on the ring road, so I highly recommend making a quick stop to see. And diamond beach is just across the road.
Ride an Icelandic Horse
Fun Fact! Once their horses leave Iceland, they’re never allowed to come back, even the ones that are sent for races, so they’re very careful on what ones they choose to go.
Thinking back, I can’t believe how much we did in 7 days.
There are a ton of things to see and do, and every time I put an activity in, I remembered something else. I can’t wait to go back, there is still so much to see and so much to do, we barely ventured off the ring road!
Not all who wander are lost. Except this time I was lost, very lost.
Only a few minutes after landing in Beijing I hopped into a cab. I handed the driver half an address and sat back in my seat. He looked at the piece of paper, then back at me, then quickly spewed out some words in Mandarin. With no internet available to find the rest of the address, it didn’t take long to realize this trip was going to be one of my more challenging ones.
“I learned once again that fear – and there’s a lot of it in our society – fear is to me for people that don’t get out much” – Rick Steeves
Here are some everyday travel challenges and tips to overcome them:
1.) Language Barriers
This was one of the more difficult challenges for me personally. Talking slowly and loudly to the other person in English doesn’t help when the other person doesn’t know any English.
Screenshot, or have reception at your hostel write down the name and addresses of both your hostel and destination(s) in the required language as well as in your own language so you don’t mix anything up. The most important thing is that you can always find your way back to your place of stay.
Take advantage of translation apps – but do not rely on them exclusively. They are great for basics, but they are not 100% reliable, so always have a backup plan. I always kept “I am a vegetarian” handy when I wasn’t in the mood to order strange meat. Try and find an app that is available offline.
2.) Limited to No Internet Access
Surprisingly, your cell isn’t useless! Your phone GPS doesn’t need WiFi to tell you where you are, but it does need WiFi to load the map and for you to look up your destination.
Before you leave a WiFi area, google map where you’re heading and ‘drop a pin’ on the location. Once you leave the WiFi area, your phone will continue to track you in reference to your pin without costing you a dime. I do this even before I cab places so I can be sure the driver isn’t taking me in circles to increase fares.
If you have one available, it doesn’t hurt to keep a spare battery and charger on you if you’re constantly using GPS.
How will you get around the country you’re visiting? There are a few things to consider here.
Population Density: If you’re travelling to a dense city, it is likely that they have an extremely efficient subway/train system that can cheaply get you around day-to-day and also on longer hauls to and from larger cities. If the city is smaller, you’ll want to look into cabbing, renting bikes, scooters, or walking. Some places, you can hire a driver for an entire day for a very reasonable price.
Cost: Before you leave a WiFi area, find out how much cabs normally cost in that area and their custom on negotiation, some people will attempt to charge you double the price!
Scooter/Bike safety: Try getting a feel for how safe it would be to rent a scooter or bike – look at the traffic patterns (if there are any) and if there are special lanes for scooters/bikes. Also, try to go somewhere that will also rent you a helmet. Keep in mind that sometimes it makes more sense to pay a little extra to take a cab in core downtown areas if you aren’t confident in taking a scooter or bike.
Every country operates differently, a little planning will take you a long way a lot smoother and a lot safer. Getting lost can lead to great adventures, but being able to transport back to your place of stay is very important.