This post may contain affiliate links, for more information read our full disclosure The travel industry is throwing around this term: Responsible Tourism or Sustainable Tourism. So what does Responsible Tourism mean? Each year we travel, consume, photograph and share on our social media channels, exposing friends and family to expand their knowledge of the cultures of the world.
Responsible Tourism is a multifaceted approach, which includes:
Minimizing negative social, economic and environmental impacts while traveling
Generating greater economic benefits for local people and enhancing the well-being of host communities
Improving working conditions and access to the worldwide industry
Involving local people in decisions, markets, and trade that affect their life and chances at life.
Making positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, embracing the diversity.
Providing more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.
Provides access for physically challenged people
Is being culturally sensitive, encourages respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.
There are many different ways that this can be addressed and focused on. The Culture Trekking Community is one that focuses on numbers one, five, six and eight. Creating a community where ideas, religions, cultural idiosyncrasies are both shared, respected and embraced. As the Community grows I want to improve awareness on environmental impacts as well as fight the uphill battle of having more meaningful human connections. Today I will focus on the latter.
Where the idea started for my own Responsible Tourism:
The video was quite graphic when I saw this 2 years ago, but it really impacted me in so many different ways. The moral of the story is…..you don’t know what you don’t know until you educate yourself on how small choices like using single-use straws can impact the environment. I now carry a reusable metal straw in my purse at all times. This video is where responsible tourism started for me….watching this turtle in so much pain made me feel like I needed to do more for the environment.
It isn’t just the plastic straws, it is garbage that is left strewn about in all the different places that I visit. I remember walking behind someone in Yellowstone National park…..they dropped a wrapper on the ground (a large one). I was so frustrated by this because they had a bag they could have easily slipped that wrapper into. I picked it up and gave it back to the tourist, who naturally acted like they dropped it by accident (even though I watched them look around before dropping it). It is not that hard to slip those wrappers into a pocket, a bag, in your shoe….anything but on the ground. Taking a few more steps to ensure your rubbish gets into the proper receptacle is not as hard as you think…..as Nike says ‘JUST DO IT’!
Another video that truly impacted me was one man in India, who returned to his home to find the beach he loved filled with garbage. He knew he had to do something so he started knocking on doors and aims to be that change he wishes to see in the world. Take a look at the video & then I want to think about how much of a difference we could make if each of us committed to picking up 3 pieces of trash wherever we travel to. What about taking an extra garbage bag on a local hike in your hometown? We could all use a few more squats in our day, right?
Why am I showing you all these videos? A picture is worth a thousand words (or so they say), but I feel that videos are the way to make an impact that can create change. What is better than a video? Visiting a place like the Washed Ashore Gallery in Bandon Oregon (several displays are located throughout the United States, see the Washed Ashore Exhibit Locations for more information) can both teach our generation and the generations below us how to protect our earth and save our oceans.
Traveling can be an exotic thing full to the brim with activities that will make your friends envy your life & maybe even despise you a little. The more I travel the more I realize that I want to make a difference in the world, no matter how small it is. Ecotourism and Volunteering for cleanups and service can help connect our communities, open minds and hearts, and help start the change we wish to see in the world.
Supporting Companies with good causes:
Save the Baby Turtles!
A Blogger friend of mine in Fort Lauderdale Florida was able to participate in the nighttime protection of hatching baby turtles. These baby turtles get confused by the city lights and instead of going into the ocean (following the moon), they follow the city lights. This leads them to be run over or crushed by bikes, cars or fall into holes they cannot get out of. What these volunteers do is once the baby turtles hit their 10-foot periphery line, they gather them up in a bucket and take all the confused little fellas to the ocean where they set them free. They also move beach chairs and sandcastles to allow for the mothers to come to the beach easier and lay their eggs. Check out her post on Saving Baby Sea Turtles and how you can help or participate!
Soul Flower Clothing Company
As soon as I found this clothing company, I know I had found my tribe. Just look at their tagline:
Soul Flower is a natural clothing brand for kind souls and free spirits. Mindfully made with natural fibers and heartfelt art, we design our threads with kind vibes from start to finish. We seek inspiration in the simplicity of everyday life – in nature and in music, in free-spirited adventures and in like-minded souls. We create clothing in a way that supports our planet, spreads a positive message, and most importantly — helps you express yourself.”
To all my big headed ladies out there (I’m talking literal, not egotistical) – this is the place you should get your headbands! Every time I wear these headbands I feel a little better about myself, I read the inspirational message printed on it and cannot help but feel inspired to finish out the day with a bang! Plus, let’s be honest, sometimes a girl just needs a headband to decrease the stress of doin’ da hur….ya feel me? To get your headband:
The other items I have personally tried and fallen in love with so far are the yoga pants and shirts. If I’m being honest, I wear the pants EVERYWHERE! Not just because the pants are comfortable, but because they have the most adorable prints on them that inspire me to continue to be Eco-friendly in my day to day life & inspire me to live a simpler life to help have less of an impact on the environment. I wore the shirt for two days in a row people! I know that’s gross but it has been so hot over here, and it is so light, airy and cute with the little leaves on it… I couldn’t resist
Personal Note: It is sooooo hard to find cute and comfortable clothing as a curvy woman — so to find a company that caters to my desire to be eco-friendly and embraces those of all shapes and sizes really just gives me warm fuzzies and I want to shout out from the rooftops how much I appreciate and love them for this.
You don’t just have to participate in environmentally friendly activities at destinations you visit. You can start being environmentally friendly to companies just like Soul Flower. Check out Soul Flower Summer Specials today!
Other Ways to be a Responsible Tourist:
Be Respectful of Religions and Cultures:
Look at local customs and rules when entering churches across the world. Do not make derogatory jokes or compare those within the country to something you deem as ‘more sensible’ or ‘better practices’. Do not impose your beliefs on those within the country unless prompted to. Respect the cultural idiosyncrasies of what is considered ‘normal’ for that country.
The bottom line is, just because something, someone, or a country as a whole does something different than what you know to be normal — doesn’t mean that it is wrong. There are some exceptions where it endangers basic human rights, practices, or harms/mutilates any animal or human being (obviously). Even if you do see something wrong, intervening as a tourist could land you in jail – be careful, be cautious and if you have a concern about the country/destination use a guide that you can ask questions about what is appropriate or if you can do something/intervene without landing yourself in jail.
Be Respectful of Shop Owners Overseas:
Do not take photos of products, items, or anything in different countries that could affect their livelihood. Do not get offended if they ask you not to take photos, there is a reason! Unnamed countries citizens will visit these economically struggling countries and take photos of their products and produce them at a fraction of the cost, but they are not authentic products.
Moroccans, for example, rely on their skill and artistry of furniture, clothing, architecture, woodworking to profit from their craft and provide for their families. How many times have you visited a country and thought, ‘Oh I can get that back in my own country, I don’t need to buy it here’. This is why it is so important….so many countries rely on tourism and the money it brings in to put food on the table. So please….before you take a photo in a store, ASK the owner if it is ok.
Be Aware and Educate Yourself on Regional Issues:
Human trafficking, terrorism, and so many more unsavory things happen in this world. I have too much of a tender heart to focus in on the negative all the time, so rarely listen to the news – but I do search for those individuals who have the capacity to handle situations such as this. I support them, I share their stories and donate when I’m able to.
It is important to be sensitive to cultural and religious practices (as part of Responsible Tourism) that help to positively define a culture, but that never means we should tolerate those who continually violate the basic human rights of food, safety, and shelter.
With having experienced Rape and sexual assault myself, the topic of sex trafficking is a very passionate topic for me. Operation Underground Railroad is a team of individuals of highly specialized individuals who have years of experience in special forces, law enforcement working proactively since 2013 with local governments that I wholeheartedly support. This is a video that had me in tears for how grateful I was to the men & women who do this. Please support them in whatever way that you can…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_CgQcNkUlw&feature=youtu.be If you would like to Donate to O.U.R. please feel free to do so, if you are unable to donate, then try and Volunteer for O.U.R. to help aid in their efforts.
Small changes can make a big difference:
Wear environmentally friendly products:
Keep any soap while camping at any location away from runoff areas (at least 100 feet).
Bury or pack out your human waste. Look at the requirements for each camping spot you visit for their rules and regulations.
Wear environmentally and Ocean friendly sunscreen as this often washes off the ocean, causing damage to coral and marine life.
Bringing your own straws, skip the straw at Starbucks. If this doesn’t make sense, please keep watching the video of the Turtle above until it does.
Get a recycling bin or start a recycling group in your neighborhood. (More information below on recycling that could be available in your country).
Make a list of low-cost companies that produce Biodegradable Products and keep a list. Hand the list out to anyone who uses straws, show they alternatives. Don’t force it down their throat — educate with KINDNESS! Honey works better than vinegar when trying to entice people to change their daily habits or companies to change the status quo.
Utilize the Reusable Grocery Bags:
This is such a simple change that we can all do (especially those of us in the States). In most other countries they are charging for the plastic bags, yet when we implement it here to try and help support the environment….everyone loses their minds! They tried to do this when I lived in Texas and I would stand there and see with my own eyes, these grocery baggers get verbally assaulted for doing their job and charging for the plastic bags. Come on people…..be better than that……do better than that…….realize that this isn’t just about YOU and YOUR needs, but for the betterment of humanity and animals. If you still aren’t convinced that plastic bags are a big deal, watch this video of the whale found dead with hundreds of pounds of plastic bags in its stomach. If that doesn’t convince you, well…..I don’t know how to help you become a better human being.
I need some advice myself on this one….grrrhhh….. I have all the reusable bags I can handle. I start daydreaming on the way to the grocery store, then out of habit, forget to take the reusable grocery bags I brought off the garage wall where I put them so I wouldn’t forget them. If you have some advice on how to remember these things…..let a girl know in the comments below.
A Call to Action for Responsible Tourism:
Here is a great resource if you would like to participate in Ecotourism on your next trip: Ecotourism.org
Straws:The Last Plastic Straw is a great website for a list of all the different types of straws, where to get them and how they are better than the plastic straws. There is also a site completely dedicated to Living a life without plastic, this is where I get my reusable metal straws (bamboo and glass is also available).
Home, Pets, Cleaning supplies and more:Life Without Plastic gives you so many bamboo or steel options that can replace many of the household items that have or contain plastic. Gift certificates, gift registry, and points program are also available on this site to help you invite friends to the #noplastic movement.
Recycling throughout the world: Recycling in the States (contact your city councils to arrange this), Recycling in Australia, Recycling in Canada, Curbside Recycling available in New Zealand please check your local city councils, Recycling is also available in the United Kingdom for each household (mandatory supply of bins from government), Spain also has recycling available in some areas, and the Netherlands actually pays you to bring in your recyclable materials (typically at grocery stores).
IF YOU HAVE RECYCLING IN YOUR COUNTRY AND IT IS NOT LISTED HERE, PLEASE LIST THE RESOURCE OR WHO TO CONTACT BELOW 🙂
A Must Read Plastic Free Blogger: If you are like me and feel a little overwhelmed by how many things in your home contain plastic, visit Beth Terry: My Plastic Free Life Blogger. She will teach you, take you step by step through the process and show you how to live a plastic-free life.
Worldwide Plastic Pollution Coalition – Now NO ONE has an excuse to not participate in reducing their plastic use. This is a global alliance of individuals, organizations and businesses working together to stop plastic pollution.
How To Tour Responsibly:
We have such a duty to protect creatures who outlived the dinosaurs, are essential to our planet’s ecosystem – the Sea Turtles. We don’t have to start being Eco-friendly or participate in Responsible Tourism practices only when we are traveling. Get involved in the activities now, one goal or plastic straw at a time.
Be respectful of religions, people, cultures, and races as long as they do not infringe on basic human rights to live life peacefully, safely without fear of bodily harm and can provide for basic human needs of shelter, food, and water.
Get involved in volunteer programs locally where you can help end human trafficking, gang violence, opioid epidemics, and so much more. There seems to be an Instagram hashtag or Facebook group for everything these days. If you have any suggestions for local groups you are passionate about, please let it in the comments below with a link to their site. Teach those around you, share the information on your social media platforms….it just takes one rock in a pond to start a ripple that turns into a wave. Be that change you wish to see in the world.
How do you like to contribute to Responsible Tourism?
What is the most important thing to you regarding Responsible Tourism?
No matter if you are traveling with children, alone, or just with your furry friend – Road Trips can either be Hell on Earth; or a vacation in and of themselves. So after driving all over the Western United States for most of my life, here are a few Travel Hacks for Road Trips I highly recommend following when planning your own Road Trip at home or abroad.
This is a fantastic app for your road trip, and can also be accessed online to help plan your vacation on the road. I first found and utilized this when taking a Road Trip from Dallas Texas to Nauvoo Illinois. I was going to be traveling through a bunch of open fields. After planning out my route I explored all the spots along the road that had a good rating and found this gem in the middle of nowhere! It is in the Spinach Capital of the United States. A statue of the spinach-eating machine himself has his own little garden and fountain. This also happens to be across from the Police Station, so you have ample entertainment for all!
This app and website are a fantastic way to make those 12 hour drives a little more bearable on the road. From a medical standpoint, it also gives you an excuse to get out of the car every few hours to walk around. People who sit and travel long distances can have swollen legs and blood clots at times as well if they do not walk around sufficiently.
How to stay awake while driving
Get enough rest the night before
Doing this will help you be more alert on the road and less prone to falling asleep at the wheel.
IF YOU ARE TIRED AND START TO LOSE CONCENTRATION THAT IS THE FIRST SIGN YOU ARE AT RISK FOR FALLING ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL.
Pull into a gas station and take a power nap.
I have done this a few times in the past, where I pull into a busy gas station and take a 15-20 min nap. This always helps me feel more refreshed.
Avoid sugary foods or high carbohydrate content as your snack.
When you eat high carbohydrate and high sugar content foods, it starts a vicious cycle of fatigue. Why? Well, you eat that doughnut or candy, your body sees it as too much sugar, so it releases insulin and then drops your blood sugar again. Then you become very sleepy or hungry again, starting the cycle over. I try to avoid sugary foods whenever driving for this reason.
When I get warm I tend to fall asleep much easier. It is more comfortable to be warm, but I would rather have cold toes and arms before risking crashing my car and killing someone else.
This is my favorite way to stay awake. Imagine this like the old radios back in the day that would tell the cowboy stories to the children. The children would be so enthralled by the battles and day to day explanations because they didn’t have TV, this was their entertainment.
Audiobooks typically have quality actors and actresses that are able to do multiple accents, voices, and inflections to keep the listener engaged. Yes, some of the audiobooks are entirely too boring and drab to listen to on the road, but there are many that are not.
I personally have signed up for Amazon’s Audible Book subscription for $14.95 per month. I am an affiliate with them, but I have never been more grateful for the positive entertainment value it provides and now listen to them on the way to and from work all the time.
This is something my flatmate is really into. She has several Podcasts that she listens to on a daily basis to and from work. I think this could also work for road trips as well, you may just need to download the podcasts to your mobile device prior to starting your trip.
What are some of your favorite podcasts?
If all else fails, just start swigging Caffeine. Think of all those boring meetings from work you have survived on the sweet nectar of the Gods.
Travel with a friend:
Switching off while driving is really important while on the long road trips and stretches of the road.
Stretches and Facial exercises:
This is an odd one, but I start stretching my legs, toes, fingers, neck, back arms etc…. It keeps your heart rate slightly more elevated than at baseline, thus increasing blood flow to your brain and keeping you refreshed.
Facial exercises also help to keep me awake at the wheel. I open and close my mouth as hard as a can, wiggle my jaw side to side, see how many animal sounds I can make with my tongue etc….
Check road conditions and weather conditions
With the age of the internet came the ability to check your road conditions prior to starting your journey. There have been several instances that I wish I would have, and others where I didn’t and wish I would have.
There was one instance where I didn’t want to leave my parents house to drive back to Las Vegas and did not look at road conditions. I ended up leaving the house when it first started to snow, and by the time I hit Cedar City Utah, I was in a complete blizzard. Traveling at 25 mph on the freeway because of road conditions, and was nearly hit by a snow plow.
Organizing the car
This is paramount for safety while driving. The less distracted you are on the road, the better off and safer you will be.
I will put all the luggage in the very back of the car, the cooler in the middle of the back seat where it is easy for your friend to reach if needed. If you are traveling alone, set up your ‘snack bag’ where you can easily reach it.
Make sure you have Sunglasses to help with Glare.
If you are driving at night, turn down the dashboard lights. This will help your eyes not feel as tired from trying to adjust to the brightness of the dashboard vs the road.
Have your music or audible book playing before you put the car in drive.
Garbage bag, paper towels, and Kleenex should also be nearby where you don’t have to bend over, reach, or stretch to access them.
Check Your Car for Maintenance
Before you pack anything in the car, make sure your spare tire is filled up and in good condition.
Have a small gas can handy, just in case you miss an exit and the next gas station or turn around isn’t for another 50 miles and you are on empty.
Make sure you check your tire pressure after everything is loaded and in the car.
Change your oil, cabin filter, and engine filter before you go. This will help with gas mileage in your car.
Have your local mechanic esure all fluids are topped off, and the washer fluid is the appropriate one for the area you are traveling to.
I once was driving from Las Vegas to Utah in the snow and went to use my windshield wiper fluid and it froze on my windshield. I had to do an ACE Ventura head out the window to drive to the next town to get it fixed. They had to thaw out the windshield wiper lines with a hairdryer and vinegar, then unplug them. This really cut into my total driving time and was a major stressor. So mention to your mechanic if you find you will be driving to different climates and what they suggest for those areas.
Plan for Gas Stops
Don’t push the car to the point the gas light comes on! I always make a rule for myself that should I take a long road trip where I have never been before I never let the tank get down past 1/4 tank. Even a 1/4 tank is pushing it for me, I typically will fill up at 1/2 tank because I know I will be able to drive for several hours to the next gas station.
Get On The Road Again
Road trips can be a fantastic way to make bonds with friends, and see new destinations. It is important to plan, stay safe and stay awake on the road. There are over 100,000 car accidents per year from people falling asleep at the wheel in the United States. Make sure you know your own limits on when you need a break, even if it is just a mental break. There are plenty of unique things you can see on the road, not every place has to be Instagram worthy. The best adventures will always be the locations that make you feel more fulfilled and productive in your daily life, spark your creativity or help you create a more meaningful connection.
Happy Travels, Happy Tales & See You On The Flip Side.
The first time I backpacked through Europe as a US Citizen, I was entirely overwhelmed and confused. I wasn’t the only foreign visitor who was confused, there were so many people who had questions about how this complex interconnecting system worked. So for those first timers out there, here are my Top 15 Tips for Travel by Train in Europe.
Just because you have a Eurail pass, doesn’t mean you have a reserved seat. So be sure to buy that extra ticket in order to reserve a seat. Also, make sure you are there at least 30 minutes early so you don’t miss your train. Especially if you are traveling across country lines. Only buy tickets from reputable places, there are a lot of scams in Europe around travel. Educate yourself on how to avoid scams in Europe.
2- Check Your Platform And Car Number
Get on the right train from the right platform. Look at the train names above the numbered platforms. Then make sure that the car you enter is the exact car you need to take. The cars separate at different stops and you don’t want to be left behind unknowingly.
IF YOU DON’T KNOW, ASK!!!! Ask someone after you get on the train if you must. They will close the doors when the conductor blows the whistle. The trains in Europe wait for no one.
3- Anticipate The Need To Run
Once seated, look at your ticket……look at the next platform you need to go to. Look at when your train arrives and when the next departs. You may need to run across the station to platform 12b from platform 1a in 15 minutes. There is always going to be someone slow in front of you, so take the stairs.
4- Scan Your Ticket To Get In And Out
Keep your ticket in hand! You need it to scan in and scan out of each of the train stations. The ticket must be current, or you can get a fine. If you have a Eurail Pass, you can just scan the code on the outside of the ticket to get through the gates. The Eurail tickets sometimes have their own gates. Try to go with the gate not everyone is going through (if you can’t understand the Language).
5- Check The Type Of Train You Get On
Make sure you are getting on the right type of train. If you get on the wrong train you can still get fined. It may be going to the right place, but if you get on the faster train or get on an inter-city train instead, you can get fined. B
6- Bring Your Own Supplies
Bring your own water, your phone charger, and a Travel Pillow— especially if you have a sleeper train — small backpacks are the best…..just minimize by packing like the news told you the city was going to be bombed and you had 15 minutes before you had to be evacuated. That will get you everything you need in one bag. Yes, you will probably smell……bring Febreeze…..trust me…..there are people who smell worse on the trains.7 – Take Your Trash With You
7- Take Your Trash With You
Take your trash with you when you exit the train. There are small little garbage cans underneath the tables or right under the window on most trains. These fill up very quickly, as well as the ones in the bathrooms, so take your rubbish with you when you get off.
8- Sit In Seats With No Reservations
Don’t sit in a seat with a paper at the top or an electronic name above the seat…..You will lose your seat. I had this experience once, and that is all it took for me to learn to not do this. Was very unpleasant to be laughed out of your seat by a group of teenage boys. Then I stood in the café car for two hours till the next stop, the train was so full you couldn’t find a seat even between the cars.
9- Treat The Train Like You Would Your Living Room
Don’t put your feet up on the seats, or let your luggage take a seat near you. Put your bags on top and your coat on the hooks. MOVE if there are people looking for a place to sit. You wouldn’t want to sit on a spot where someone’s muddy shoes have just been, ruining your outfit. Take your shoes off first at least before you do this. They don’t exactly clean these seats regularly.
10 – Be The First In Line, In the Right Spot On The Platform
Be the first in line to get on the train…..the seats run out very quickly. Don’t be rude and shove people aside, but if you have the chance, stay close to the train. I also would gauge where the train door would stop ultimately by the train next to us. You stand right where the train opposite would stop, and you get to be the first one onto the train! Worked like a charm every time. Most people just stand at the platform thinking if they are near the front they will get a seat, this is not true. If you are at the front of the platform, right where the doors are going to stop, THEN you will get a seat.
11- Pack Light
Please don’t bring 500 pieces of luggage that require you to ask for help onto and off the train. If you cannot easily get up and down 4 very tall 18-inch steps with both luggage pieces in hand…..people will get mad. The longer you take to board the train the less likely the people behind you will be able to find a seat.
12- Sitting In Between Cars Is Uncomfortable
If you are just going one stop, you can sit in-between the cars. If you try and do this for the entire trip….you will have to get up and move every time someone opens the car doors……very annoying.
13- Sit In The Cafe If All Else Fails
There are seats in the back at the café car that you can order food and sit or stand there. I wouldn’t recommend this, as it gets crowded very very quick. No one can eat for 6 hours straight…..you would go broke.
14 – Limit Your Bathroom Use When Possible
Don’t try to use the bathrooms unless it is an emergency. If you do try and use them— bring hand sanitizer and toilet paper in your purse. The few I did have to use were so gross I was gagging. One had a floor so sticky and stinky that I had to breathe through my mouth. A coin-operated train station in Amsterdam was another bad experience. This particular bathroom had no toilet paper (luckily I had Kleenex in my bag), the sink had a powerful water flow and you could literally see the poop near the walls of the sink.
I am a pretty laid back person when it comes to expecting things to always be perfect (if you do expect it, your trip will be horrible); but this particular restroom was the most disgusting one I have used in the ENTIRE world. Who would have thought that a train station in the Netherlands would be that gross…..they are usually a very clean people.
I will say this though, there are some trains (typically the newer ones) that have decent bathrooms with air-fresheners and everything. They give hefty fines to people who are caught using first class bathrooms without a ticket.
15 – Getting A First Class Ticket Can Be Worth It
If you get a sleeper car for an overnight train trip, get one in first class with one other person if you must. I’m telling you….. it is amazing, and I actually slept…..everything is so clean and really just like a hotel room. You even get breakfast. Second class sleeper trains are adequate but don’t expect to have it be perfect.
My experience with the Second class sleeper was with 4 people in it, and nowhere to put your things because the ladies on the bottom bunks took up all the space. On top of that, you are usually at the end of the train which is a lot more bouncy and less restful. The Air conditioner broke and it was so incredibly hot woke up drenched in sweat. The gentleman in charge of our car and cabin just apologized, said they tried to fix it, and there were no other rooms for us to go
Make Train Travel in Europe Easier
Now all these things may make you not want to take the train at all. These 15 tips, were constructed from the worst parts of my experience. These tips and tricks will help your experience better. There are many many more wonderful parts of train travel, that can end up being a really great experience. My luck on trains is not the greatest. Apart from the one time I got a first class cabin all to myself. Being in first class was sooooo worth the money! To be in a cool, quiet, restful place with an attendant who really cared.
So don’t let this article deter you from train travel, it really is a great way to get around. I hope these things have helped and will allow at least those in the Culture Trekking Community to travel with ease, by learning from my mistakes.
As always, Happy Travels, Happy Tales and See You on the Flip Side.
Iceland has for many years, been overlooked because of its name and the assumption that it is all made of ice with no summers and subzero temperatures. But as the popular series ‘Game of Thrones’ has been filmed there over the years, it has brought to light, how truly beautiful and breathtaking this country is; as well as some scenes in the new Star Wars movies.
Iceland holds the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa that is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The spa is located in a lava field in southwestern Iceland. Bláa lónið is situated approximately 12 miles from the Keflavik International Airport and 24 miles from the capital city of Reykjvik, that’s a 21-minute drive from the airport and a 50-minute drive from Reykjavík. It is also home to Geyser’s, Volcanos, Waterfalls (both moving and frozen), Viking history, Diamond Beach, Northern Lights, and Puffins. So needless to say, no matter who you bring with you, there is something for everyone to see.
Iceland is also laid out in an extremely easy path to follow, a ring around the island, that will pretty much take you to every place you like to see (with a few overnight stays). For me this is a very attractive way to travel, because I have problems getting directionally situated when travelling. See the maps below to see just how simple this would be to follow.
So now that I have peaked your interest, how do you go about actually getting there? How much should you budget for? Where do you go to book things? Do you book beforehand, or just fly by the seat of your pants and go? Can anyone go? Do you need a Visa? Are most sites wheelchair accessible? Do you want to stay on the path, or find those hidden gems of Iceland?
Let us guide you through how we plan a trip, and in Particular to Iceland……
First barrier most people face is, “How much is this going to cost me? Is it a trip just for me, or can I take friends/family?”. This boils down to the cost of the flight itself, and what the exchange rate is. Don’t tell yourself you can’t afford to travel until you actually answer these questions, you might be surprised how affordable it actually is to travel. You also don’t have to travel into the most popular place within the country, like when I booked my flight to Morocco, the flight into Casablanca instead of Rabat was almost $400 cheaper! So look at the country and the airports that are available. So for Iceland we have about 34 airports listed. I will pick 3 and compare them, and pick one central to the areas I would like to visit, lets take for example The Blue Lagoon, so the Blue Lagoon is located between Keflavik International Airport and Reykjavik. I will compare both of these airports and their flights, and watch them both on my websites I use for flights, as listed below.
For my flights I have some ‘go to’ websites that I use, apps, and one website that I paid $25 for the entire year to use, and it has been totally worth it for the updates and alerts it gives me on vacations. Here are a few:
Hopper (this is an app on my iphone that sends me alerts when prices on my ‘go to’ cities go up and down) —will take a lot of headache, and lets the company do the work for you.
Skyscanner (this is another app on my iphone that sends me alerts on prices for my cities, and when they go up and down) — this will take a lot of headache, and lets the company do the work for you.
Delta.com (for those with skymiles, this is a great way to use them)
Travelpirates – (app) this is great for both flights and vacations that you can plug in the cities you want to watch and they will send you notifications
TravelZoo – (app) this can give you flights, and all inclusive deals that are promotions that certain new hotels and companies are having, including cruises.
Nextvaca.com ($25 a year, but totally worth it to save hundreds on vacations), this site found a flight for me from Salt Lake City Utah to Iceland for $283; WHO CAN BEAT THAT?!?!
Now to pick the top attractions I would like to see, and when is the best time to see them. Here is a month by month list of attractions in Iceland and when the best time to see them is. January: average Temp 31.8F, length of day is only 4 hours 24 minutes, and is considered one of the colder months here. But those with skin of steel still make the journey and hotels near Reykjavík still sell out most weekends. But the more remote areas you may have an easier time connecting with the locals and getting better deals on Hotels. Dark Music Day festival is celebrated this month, along with their version of Valentines day, but separate it into two different days, one for the man and one for the woman. They also have the Þorrablót Festival, which is all about food/drinking/and festivities. Christmas is also celebrated here until the 6th of January, where they will have fireworks and such to celebrate the incoming year. Best Tours for this month are probably the Northern lights tours and the Ice Caves tours. I wouldn’t suggest doing the Ice Cave tours on your own, they are prone to cave in, and you will want a guide that knows which caves are prone to the cave-in’s and which are not. February: This is a time to visit if you want to see just how bad the snowstorms can get, average temperatures are around 32F. But it is also the best time of year to see the Northern lights, there are also a lot of activities in town that will keep you occupied. Festivals this month are the Winter Lights Festival (very pretty I hear), and the Reyjavik Bar Summit, where bartenders come from all over the world to see who is the best. Tours to go on are the same as for January. March: Roads and storms are still going to be an issue for travelers. Length of day is 10 hours, 2nd wettest month of the year. This is the last good month to see the Northern Lights, tours run til April 15th, but starting beginning of April they will be hit or miss. Don’t go during Easter, as everything shuts down to celebrate this (70% Lutheran population). Festivals: Food and fun: world renown chefs compete to who can come up with the best dish using only Icelandic food, Reykjavik Folk Festival – which will feature Icelandic folk music, Design March – Icelandic design showcase festival, and the Blues Festival (Icelandic blues that is). Tours: Golden circle snowmobiling and snorkeling tours, or Ice Cave tours (careful on picking Natural vs Man made) April: 37F average temp, with 13 hours of daylight. Sunsets are longer. Flowers start to bloom. April is typically a slower month for tour companies so you can probably find a pretty good deal outside of Reykjavik still. Festivals: Icelandic writers retreat, Childrens festival (with free entry to many events). Tours: this is a good month to check into Tripadvisor.com and Viator.com to see what outdoor activities you would like to do: Lava fields, hot springs, rivers and valleys. But be prepared, this month is the month that the weather is most polar opposites, and you won’t know what your going to get, so be prepared with Plan B always. May: Average of 43F, and 16 hours of daylight. More sun, least rain, least tourists but will get busier by the end of this month. The flowers don’t bloom completely and the grass isn’t quite green until the end of May to Middle of June. This is the month that do it yourself Roadtrips start. Mid may to the end of the month the prices start to go up in anticipation of tourist season. Festivals: Raflost- electronic artist festival, Reykavik art festival- international art festival. Tours: this is the month to start seeing Puffins, and touring inside the volcano, and all outdoor activities (other than northern lights/snowmobiling) are likely to be doable again. June: Temps are around 55. Daylight hours 21. Best chance for the most dry days of the year this month. Flights costs of $600-700 round trip, from the US are very rare for this time of year. You’re more likely to see prices as high as $800-$1000. High season rates will be in effect at hotels and car rental desks as well. The full range outdoor adventures are available nearly 24 hours a day because of how long the days are including: Hiking til 10pm, horseback riding, driving around the island in daylight, hard to get to areas like Hornstrandir in the Westfjords, puffins and whales begin to migrate and are seen all around the island. You can explore waterfalls and caves, walk on glaciers, and camp in the great outdoors in relatively pleasant weather. Festivals: June 3-4 2017 is the Festival of the Sea and day for Icelandic Fisherman, all the ships remain in harbor and there are games and festivities, the Color Run for 2017 in Iceland is on June 10th, Secret Solstice Music festival happens at midnight June 16-18th, June 17th is the Icelandic National Holiday, WOW cyclothon where teams ride around Iceland in less than 72 hours, Eistnaflug Music festival – Three days of non stop rock and heavy metal in an isolated fjord, Neskaupsstaður. July: Average Temp 58F, weather is a bit unpredictable still. Daylight hours 20 hours . This is the month when all roads are open, tourist season is at its peak, all hostels/hotels/guesthouses and summer activities are open. (See June description on available activities). Festivals: July 5-8 Folk Music Festival of Siglufjordur, 7/8 Golden Circle Cycling challenge professional to beginner, The Iceland Race (road running), 15th Laugavegur Ultra Marathon, 29th Braeoslan Music Festival. Tours: All tours (except Northern lights) are great to go on, see June recommendations and TripAdvisor.com or Viator.com. August: Average Temp 58F, but the weather is more stable. Daylight lasts 17 hours (sunset at 11pm). Days are still long but there are already less tourists. The puffins and other fowl start migrating this month. You may be able to start to see the Northern lights again at the end of August if you are lucky. Festivals: Iceberg firework show in Jokulsarlon in the Vatnajokull Region, Reykajavik Marathon, Reykajavik Culture night. Tours: most summer tours already mentioned above are still running, but Puffins may have already migrated along with most fowl, as a trade off you may start to see the Northern lights. September: Average Temp 45F, winds start to become quite strong and there are some mentions of ‘horizontal rain’. Daylight lasts 13 hours. The fall hits a little earlier in Iceland. October: Average Temperature 45F, winds are quite strong, and weather begins to be more unpredictable as winter approaches. Daylight lasts 10 hours. November: Average Temperature 42F. Daylight lasts 7 hours. December: Average Temperature 37F. Daylight lasts 4 hours.
For the most up to date driving conditions and road closures, call theses numbers (or go to weather stations within cities) You can call 1777 (if problems use +354 522 1100). Open 8am-4pm in summer and 6:30am-10pm in winter. An English answering machine with road information is available at phone number 1778. (Please check these numbers prior to traveling to Iceland to ensure you have the most up to date phone numbers available).
Check the Aurora forecast and the weather, drive to a dark place and look up. A bit of food and a hot drink in the car means you can stay as long as you want and you are guaranteed to get a good show.
If you like going to festivals, here is a website to browse with Visit Iceland that I recommend, it has everything from Swam Soccer, Writers festival, Gay pride festival, and Fish Festival…..lots and lots to choose from: http://www.visiticeland.com/things-to-do/culture/festivals
So now that we have some resources on how to watch for great flight deals, here are some different ways you can book accommodation. At first I started by searching for ‘best places to stay’ in the respective areas/attractions that I want to visit; this I found was not the best way to go about doing this, as the companies who will be listed on the top of the search screen usually are the ones that pay the top dollar to be there. So how do you find the best deal, and with the least amount of frustration and headache? I have used several websites, we will separate them into what are the best sites for solo travelers and those who are bringing families:
Solo Travelers: try and pick somewhere that offers free breakfast (saves a lot of money), and has free Wifi, and they allow you to store your luggage there before check-in, as well as a 24 hr front desk, I also check to see if the front desk staff can speak my language(not essential but definitely a plus), and what time check-in and checkout are, if they have free airport transport, and if the city has a good bus/railway system I try to choose a place on the map that is close to those areas.
Booking.com – this you can filter what kind of place you want to stay at ie/B&B, Hostel, Hotel etc…. and it will compare them and they have a bidding war against each other to stay on the top of the roster. I have used this for a few trips now and have not had any issues, as long as I write down and take the pin # and booking # they give me. I also email the company directly about 30 days before I go, just to make sure that they have my reservation in the computer, and while I have them on the phone, also ask if there are any discounts available or if they have any specials I could take advantage of & sometimes mention other hotels that are having specials that I have seen offered.
Hostelworld.com – this website provides pictures, ratings from travelers, tells you the accommodations that they have available etc.. Make sure to pay attention to the reviews about if the water is hot, if the bathrooms are separated, if their is breakfast included, if there is an electric plug for each guest, how clean they have been rated, and if there is a locker available or not for your valuables and passport. The locker doesn’t need to be large, just enough to put the valuables that are hard to replace like your ID’s, cards, medications, or any souvenir’s you may buy.
Trip Advisor is one that I use as well, but I find that they are becoming a bit overpriced and bought out, I mostly look at the reviews that people post about a certain area, and then go to the company website itself for the deals because it is often cheaper. (I rarely use Expedia or other websites of this nature because of the cost inflation that they seem to have– but that is just my experience).
Hotel Tonight or Airbnb: I personally have not tried either of these, because I am a bit nervous about being a single female and staying in a strangers home alone; but I know if you have family, it is a good deal and some even allow pets. Hotel tonight is a new one I have found that I will try out the next time I am looking for hotels, seems like they have good deals on hotels especially on short notice (they only do about 1 week in advance) this will likely get you the best deals as hotels are trying to fill their rooms.
Facebook is a great resource as well — I will usually type in the search bar something like this “Iceland travel”, “Touring Iceland” etc…… in as many different ways as I can. Typically Facebook with different websites will automatically translate the deals and such for you. This way you can connect with the local people and find the best deals this way. Just be careful who you book with as there are many people who say they are a tour guide but may not be a professional tour guide. To circumvent this issue, I usually ask a few questions: Do you have a website I could look at? Do you have other customers that I could chat with about their experience? If I decide to book with you, how do you accept payment?
Never give payment information directly to them, get an email requesting payment with their company name, address, telephone, and website on the receipt and all the things that will be included with the tour. I did this with Carolyn Barrett Adventures in Jamaica and it was one of the best decisions I have made in a LONG time. She had so much history about the island, and was actually an immigrant to Jamaica from New York. I searched her on Trip Advisor and found that about 6 other people had the same reservations I did about booking this way, but had the courage to go ahead and book it with her and it was an AMAZING experience. Can’t wait to go back and visit with her again.
If you want to backpack through Iceland here are your campsites listed on this website with all sorts of camping accommodations and hostels that accept campers/backpackers, this site comes complete with GPS coordinates and everything (THAT makes is SUPER simple to utilize!):
Note: you will want to know the transportation system of the buses, as well as where the nearest bathrooms are, or if there are fines for leaving your ‘business’ and not packing it with you. Where your snack/dinners will be, and realistically how tired you will be after a long day of hiking, and if the sites you visit allow you to store your backpacks or not.
There are some that just rent campers when the arrive in Iceland and then stay at these camping locations so as to avoid the unpacking/repacking that comes with hotels/hostels/backpacking. This may be the best option for those who have the budget to afford it.
After you find your flight and decide what hotel you would like to stay at in Reykjavik, it is important to know how you will get around. If you would like to Rent a Car vs the established system. Here is what I found for transfers from the Airport in Reykjavik:
After every flight you’ll find a Flybus right outside of the arrival halls at Keflavík Airport and they leave every 20 minutes or so.There are two types of tickets available: The normal Flybus ticket that will take you to the BSÍ bus terminal or a Flybus + ticket that takes you to your hotel or guesthouse. Please keep in mind though that you will read everywhere that this transfer only takes 45 minutes, it actually takes about 2 hours. The Flybus’s offer free Wifi when you are onboard.
Most rental care companies offer pick up in Keflavík for a small fee. If you are renting a car anyway, this may be worth it to you. Finding the way from Keflavík airport to Reykjavík is quite straight forward but I hear the biggest trouble is finding the way out to the main road.
Car Rentals: **Unless you have experience driving in EXTREMEMLY icy and windy conditions, I do not suggest driving in Iceland in the Winter months November to February are going to be the worse times. Many cars end up in ditches, and unless you have car rental insurance, this could mean a huge chunk out of your wallet. Of all the research I have done, people think they have experience on snowy roads, but its the high winds in combination with icy roads that will get you; 4×4’s don’t help in this area of the world, they can actually be like a sail for the winds to push you off the road easier. **
The best time to do driving by yourself or with a family in tow is usually in June/July/August as these are the typical summer months. If you plan to do a trip around the island, I would suggest at the very minimum 6 days, if you can a 8 day trip would make your trip much easier and more relaxing so as you can stop at different places along the way and really explore. I have heard people only spending 1-4 days in Iceland, but I would highly recommend you get on Trip Advisor and pick out a guide that can make the most of your time if that is the case.
Car rentals can cost anywhere from $464 to $561 for a mini car rental (2-3 passenger) in June and July for 7 days. I found the $464 price on Rentalcars.com — make sure the car has unlimited mileage, and ask for package deals, and see if they have a car that has GPS included, this will be essential in the more remote areas of Iceland. But if you have your own Satellite GPS that doesn’t require cell signal, then more power to you. (copy and paste into your web browser- this gets you to the waterfalls, volcano, lava fields, puffins, and glaciers)
Here is a tentative plan for driving in the googlemap website below, this will give you options of where to stop and how long you can handle driving. Make sure to leave 1 buffer day (as is recommended by every native there) for inclement weather plans (because its so unpredictable: Using the Bus system: There is a summer bus system in place to reach tourist sites, but it requires careful planning for overnight accommodation. Here are some links: https://www.re.is/iceland-on-your-own/http://icelandbybus.is/http://trex.is/scheduled-bus/ Accommodation in many areas with hiking trails is limited and sells out for the summer quickly, so it would be good to plan as soon as possible.
Specifics on what to Pack for Iceland:
Down jackets are basically destroyed when wet. My advice for clothing would be layers covered by a waterproof shell. This way you are covered for all eventualities. Layers layers layers is pretty much what you need. Umbrella, warm hat, wind breaker, and check to make sure you have the right outlet plug for this country.
Don’t forget your swim trunks or swimming suit as there are geothermal pools and the like, scattered all over the island, so taking a spontaneous dip is more likely than not.
Cell phone Service in Iceland:
AT&T passport service ($30) will be activated automatically once you get there. There are 2 companies in Iceland that cover their roaming services, so if you plan to use GPS this should cover you, but if not, get a car that has it built in, and as a last resort bring a map with you (in English).
Northern Lights Jeep tour
Better option so that you wont be surrounded by 10 buses of tourists while you enjoy the lights, or if you have already rented a car and its June/July with decent weather – then forego the cost of a tour and just pull go out when its fairly dark (which isn’t long since summers in Iceland are nearly 24 hours of daylight) and see if you can find the Northern lights when you are driving along the Golden Circle.
Golden Circle and glacier on snowmobile
Thingvellir National Park a UNESCO world heritage site packed with history and natural phenomena
Geysir hot spring area- put on a show about every 5-8 minutes
Gulfoss waterfall, one of Iceland’s greatest falls
Langjokull glacier – snowmobile this
Go down route 1 to Eyjafjallajokull the volcano that created such a mess in 2010.
See the waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss
Vik (a costal village) here is the Reynisfjara, the black sand beach. Here you will see the basalt column formations and the famous Reynisdranger peaks.
Here you will see miles of Lava fields covered in fluffy moss and beautiful mountain range
Ice Cave, Skaftafell & Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon- Eyjafjallajokull volcano/glacier, Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, Skofafoss, Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Vik Village
Ice Cave, Skaftafell & Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon-Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Vatnajokull National Park, Skaftafell National Park
Snorkeling/scuba diving in Silfra Caving tour – must do a tour for this, check Tripadvisor.com and reviews for the one that fits your needs.
Blue Lagoon (which if you plan it correctly, you can take a soothing dip before jumping on the plane, make sure you get the ticket that includes a towel, so you don’t have to lug around a wet towel in the airport.
For Summer: For a 10 day trip around Iceland: check this out: http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/tag/around-iceland-in-10-days/
*Don’t forget to Kayak in the Fjords (suggest a tour for this as well) , you may even get to ]]>