I’ve always loved to explore. My curiosity is usually in the driver’s seat. Ever since I was a kid, I remember overturning rocks in my backyard to see what was underneath (mostly bugs). I remember snorkeling and exploring the rocks and cliffs at Gunrock Beach, searching for crabs, lobsters, and fish. Occasionally I did the same thing at Allerton Point. As I grew up, I began hiking more with my family. North Conway, World’s End, Turkey Hill. My parents could never quite keep me on the trail. I loved finding places that few others had been to. It’s a great feeling to be one of the only sets of footprints left behind in a spot so secluded and pristine. So it was a logical next step that I would run off to Iceland to explore the mountains, waterfalls, lava fields, and hot springs for my 23rd birthday (September 2016). First stop? Keflavík.

Conquer Fear Keflavík
Base Hotel – US Military Base turned hostel in 2006 (my uber driver from Virginia Beach was stationed here!)

I’d not traveled much for the summer, so I was absolutely itching for an adventure. I decided against creating an elaborate plan or agenda for my time (a mere 7 days) in Iceland. Instead I opted to ‘go with the flow.’ I did, however, book my first night in advance, at a budget hotel/hostel. It had taken over an old NATO base that had been used by the US Navy and US Air Force until as recently as 2006. The plane landed at 4:15 am, and I was introduced to Iceland on a rainy, foggy, miserable morning. I tried not to let that completely dampen my spirits.

However, I made mistakes early on that were a bit painful.

I napped on my uncomfortable backpack and waited in the airport until 8:30 am. I should have known that Base Hotel is open 24/7, but I didn’t have the slightest idea. More research would’ve cleared that up. It was awesome staying there, by the way. Mistake number 2 was waiting until I got to Iceland to reserve a rental car. I would end up waiting 2 days here in Keflavík for a car that fit my budget. I hadn’t planned ahead that I’d be driving a rental.

The ‘go with the flow‘ style trip (a.k.a. buying just your ticket without anything else cemented into your itinerary) is a viable option, but not for everywhere. If you arrive sometime between 8 am and 1 pm in a big city, you’ve got plenty of time. You’ve got some options for transportation and for finding a bed for the evening. If you’re arriving very early in the morning or late at night, definitely book accommodation in advance. Even if just for a nap or night’s rest – jet lag can be rough.

You will also want to know how you’ll get there – whether through public transport or taxi/Uber. Perhaps you’re traveling at a time of year when the city is expected to be flooded with tourists. In that case, you’ll definitely want to reserve accommodations far in advance.

Keflavík International Airport is not located in a big city with lots of options, and so I should have figured out my transportation to Base Hotel before I arrived. 

Lesson learned.  

Conquer Fear Keflavík
Iceland has a very low crime rate – low enough that kids can leave their bikes out unattended!

Because of my foolish decisions,  I was effectively marooned in Keflavík for a period of two days. It gave me plenty of time to explore the small seaside town. Keflavík is an interesting little place. Only 16,000 or so people live in the whole area, which is made up of Keflavík itself and several adjacent towns. There was just enough to keep me occupied while I waited for my rental car to free up.

Conquer Fear Keflavík
The rainy streets of Keflavík were mostly empty outside of the business/food strip.

After getting settled into Base Hostel I took a (free!) bus to Keflavík in search of a meal. I ended up walking through what is considered the downtown area – it was as tiny as you’d suspect. Many classic American chains were present – Domino’s (horrifically expensive), KFC (horrifically expensive), Subway (etc. etc.). Anything that needs to be imported into Iceland is going to be super expensive. These chains were much pricier than what I am used to in the States. So I marched by all of these places and their tantalizing American aromas.

I only stopped to stare longingly into Domino’s for a hot minute.

My search for some local grub brought me to a small buffet place. I ordered a bunch of stuff that I couldn’t pronounce, devoured it (absolutely delicious), and kept on exploring. Eventually I ended up in the residential area that you can see in the above 2 pictures, and I turned around and headed back to the sea.

Conquer Fear Keflavík
Iceland thinks roundabouts > stoplights (and I’m a huge fan). 

The above picture was taken with my back to the Atlantic – which was choppy and unwelcoming on this brisk autumn evening. Though I suppose it’d be foolish to expect anything else north of the Arctic Circle in September. The smell of the air in Keflavík this day was very interesting – the salty sea air mixed in with the earthy scent that you get after rain.

I love that smell.

Iceland is far from any heavily populated areas and gets 85% of its total energy supply from renewable sources (65% geothermal energy, 20% hydro power in 2016). These facts left me breathing in what felt like the freshest air on earth.

Conquer Fear Keflavík
These lucky captains are in one of the most modern and productive fishing industries in the world.

I love being near the ocean. I can’t imagine living anywhere that’s land-locked for too long – I would go crazy! But standing at the water’s edge in Iceland gave me a different feeling than anywhere else I’d been. You feel… isolated. You’re just so far away from everything else in the world. Iceland’s closest neighbor is Greenland, and their whopping population of just over 56,000.

It’s a wild feeling.

Wild because you’re alone in an untamed place. You’ve left suburbia behind. I can think of a few other places that might give me a similar feeling. Q Pacific Island in the middle of nowhere. The middle of a mountain range like the Himalayas. Trekking across a giant desert like the Sahara. The places I used to read stories about as a kid have a special allure to me now as an adult.

There are still opportunities in this world to explore.

For a few years now I’ve had my sights set on Longyearbyen. It’s the northernmost publicly accessible settlement with 1000+ year-round inhabitants. I believe I can get a more intense version of the same feeling by going there. Same goes for Puerto Williams, the southernmost year-round settlement. These are two places that are on my short list.

Conquer Fear Keflavík
Here I am at the jagged, black coast of Reykjanesbær, feeling isolated from the world.

My desire to see the Icelandic Atlantic was at last fulfilled and my hunger was sated. I finally returned to my hostel to catch up on some much-needed sleep. The combination of the jet lag from the flight, the very early arrival, and my uncomfortable airport nap had left me feeling rather drained. I still had one more day to experience Keflavík, and I intended to make the most of it.

Conquer Fear Keflavík
The clouds cling to a range of mountains across the bay from Keflavík

The next day I woke up early, trying to capture a sunrise at 6:30 in the morning. Unfortunately, the cloud cover made my mission impossible. Instead of going towards the sea on my second day, I decided I would walk around the outskirts of town and see some of the landscape. This was my first time experiencing this particular type of natural setting.

Where were all the trees?!

It was so different from the wooded New England area that I grew up in. But then again, why did it look so familiar?

Here’s a fun fact about me. During my senior year in high school, I got sick with mono (also known as infectious mononucleosis). Because of it, I missed 11 of 20 basketball games in my last season. I was not pleased. I also missed over 40 consecutive days of school. That part was ok. Anyway, when you have mono you’re not supposed to do much.

Luckily for me, a widely renowned video game had come out just a few weeks earlier, in November 2011.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

It was one of the first games to bring that level of rich, high quality visuals to an open-world. It inspired the gaming community into giving it over 200 Game of the Year awards. You could be anyone, do anything, and go anywhere – a perfect combination for someone bedridden for weeks on end!

So yeah, I basically lived in the Skyrim world from dusk ’til dawn while I was sick. It was created with some fantastic Scandinavian inspiration. The graphics and art were definitely impressive for it’s time. You were only looking at a TV screen, yet you felt like you were gazing upon a beautiful landscape. And because I was playing so often, it might as well have been virtual reality.

That’s why it felt so familiar. I felt as though I’d stepped back in time – into the world of Skyrim.


Conquer Fear Keflavík
It’s like – welcome to Whiterun Hold, amirite?

Can you tell which image is from the game, and which image was my view from Keflavík? They look pretty similar, eh?

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much else to explore. That was the funny thing about the tundra – I could see everything from any small hill. There weren’t any trees to block visibility. Anything worth taking a closer look at was a drive away.

So I ended up going back to the hostel to watch Netflix and eat food. Some activities will always be classic.

Conquer Fear Keflavík
In the distance you can see (from Base Hostel!) the steam rising from the world-famous Blue Lagoon 

On the way back to the hostel I caught sight of the Blue Lagoon’s steam rising in the distance. I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures – they’re incredible. I wanted to go but didn’t know if it was in my budget… That would be a decision for another day!

Keflavík was a good first stop.

I learned a few lessons about managing my itinerary. I explored an interesting seaside town in the far north Atlantic. An important game from my past made me reminisce about life during a simpler time! And I was able to recover from my jet lag by laying in a comfy bed and watching Netflix. By the way, I’m certain that this is the best way to fight off jet lag.

The next morning I got in my rental car and took off eastward.

It was time to go chasing waterfalls.

P.S. This was Iceland Part 1.

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