The Icelandic Journey Begins!

[Terminal E – Logan International Airport, Boston, MA]

A year’s worth of planning has come down to this….and we couldn’t be more excited than we are now. 

Hoping all this work and effort translates into a perfectly executed plan. We have so much to see and only 11 full days to do it. Fortunately, with the help of the midnight sun – and the fact that nature is always open – we will have the pick of times to witness it all.

I’m still a little worried about the rental vehicle with mixed reviews for the company I chose (the ones about older vehicles that break down have me most concerned). I’m hoping that will work itself out because my biggest expense is the vehicle and we need a good one to see what we have on our list.

So we will spend the first five days and nights in the Greater Reykjavik area and four days and nights in Hauganes in North Iceland with lots of stuff to see in both halves! 

See you on the other side!


Too Early To Start 2017 Travel Plans? Of Course Not!

Iceland 2016 is still two weeks away, but that doesn’t mean we cannot think about 2017!  There a period of time just before a departure where I find myself yearning for planning, but tired of looking at material for the impending journey. This period is a mental struggle between “should I keep looking for more potential places” and “I’m tired of researching…lets just do it!”

Part of diverting from the mental acrobatics is a general discussion or though process for potential locations for the next big adventure. So what are the potential sites for 2017?

  • Route 101 in the U.S. Pacific Northwest along the coast of Washington, Oregon and California. Its been about 20 years since I have done it and my wife never has.
  • The U.S. Southwest including Arizona, New Mexico and lower California
  • Maui

Though Maui was discussed, its unlikely since Iceland is a “once in a lifetime” trip, so 2017 has to be lower budget. The Southwest is intriguing, as always, but very little I haven’t seen (New Mexico still has alluded me all these years).  So, the leading candidate is the gorgeous west coast and all of the incredible National Parks that come with it.

For as long as I have been a traveler, the U.S. National Parks have been choice destinations…and the more I can pack into the trip the better. Ever since the National Park Service introduced the Passport idea (and in recent times the coin/token collectable) – my wife and I have been avid seekers of the “cancellation stamps.” We have amassed 6-7 Passport books each and will visit every location in a park that offers a stamp. Two years ago, we started collecting the tokens and we each are filling up several token holder books.

The most likely route for 2017 would look like this:


Stops would include:

  • Olympia National Park
  • North Cascades National Park
  • Willapa National Wildlife Refuge
  • Mount Rainier National Park
  • Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
  • Lewis and Clark National Historical Park
  • Crater Lake National Park
  • Oregon Caves National Monument
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • Redwoods National Park
  • Cannon Beach, OR
  • Rockaway Beach, OR
  • Coos Bay, OR
  • Cape Disappointment, WA
  • Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

But this is for another year….

Iceland is approaching!

Just Over Two Weeks Until Iceland: ATCs Cause Airport Delays/Cancellations, Volcanoes On Edge And Football Heroes


[Katla volcano smoldering in 2011]

For the past eight months, I’ve followed two of Iceland’s news sources: Iceland Review and Iceland Monitor. During the winter, Icelandic news came at a pace of two stories a week – slower than it took for the darkness to break. As spring 2016 came, news picked up in intensity ranging from the fall out of the Panama Papers leading to the resignation of the prime minister to a dude who loved to rev his engine and do donuts in his car at 3am. Its fascinating immersing yourself into the culture of a nation you plan to visit not only for morbid curiosity, but general welfare.

As summer 2016 hit, Icelandic news turned to the election of a new President, the surprising Cinderella story of the country’s national football team and the fall out from the very recent ‘Brexit’ vote in the U.K. Nothing seemed so out of the ordinary, except for the impending volcanic explosions from some of Iceland’s very much overdue rumbling mountains and the fight over overtime wages for the country’s air traffic controllers?

Why does this matter to me?  Well, as for the air traffic controller (ATC) situation – it seems five overnight flights a week are either cancelled or delayed due to the fact that an ATC called out sick and no one wants to come in to cover. The volcanoes are self-explanatory.  Keeping my fingers crossed, my overnight flight from Boston won’t be delayed and the volcanoes can keep it in check for a while longer. As for football – even as a non-fans of the sport, we are still rooting very hard for Ísland.

With all the months of preparation and money already spent….its time to bring it on!


Iceland Travel Preparation, Pt. 4 (Down to the Wire)


As the lead up to our Iceland adventure gets into the home stretch, there are some final thoughts and preparations we are making to tidy up those “damn logistics.” In addition, we mapped out various day trips for both home base locations.

When you are within a month of traveling, its time to get into the last minute logistics, such as:

  • Checking health insurance for foreign coverage and, if needed, obtain international medical insurance for the period of time you are away
  • Notifying your credit card companies of a travel alert to avoid any freezing of your account when sudden activity appears in a foreign country
  • Notifying the USPS to hold your mail
  • Making sure you have bought all the items required to make your trip safe and enjoyable (e.g. – clothing, hiking boots, charging adapters, etc)
  • Making sure arrangements are made for your pets, if you have any

Most health insurance companies in the U.S. will not fully cover (or cover at all) medical expenses incurred in a foreign country. In 2016, as employers offer insurance plans with greater and greater restrictions and higher deductibles in the aftermath of Obamacare, when traveling abroad you must review your policy and decide if you need supplemental insurance while you are abroad. In an abundance of caution, I purchased a policy from Patriot Travel Medical Insurance through IMG. You can chose varying levels of coverage, but all in all it was worth the $58.00 to cover my wife and I for expenses of up to $500,000.00.

I’ve been reading so much about how Iceland is an almost 100% cashless society and credit cards are king. In an effort to assure there are no issues, I notified all of my companies of the dates and locations of my travel. Most of them allow for online notification, however, be sure to check to see whether a phone call is required.

An account with the United States Post Office (free to sign up) is useful, though not required, especially when you can notify them of your vacation travels in order to hold you mail while away. Even if you have someone watching your home, it is still useful to have the USPS hold the mail to absolve that person or persons of another responsibility.

Speaking of responsibility, your pets are family, so provide what you can – whether it is a trusting person to watch them at your own home, or boarding at a vet or other company.

 Now, in part three, we discussed plans for the first half of the vacation, where we are based out of Hafnarfjordur, a suburb of Reykavik. To expand that part, we have planned a variety of day trips for Days 1-5, which we will select upon waking up each morning based on some criteria:

  • weather
  • how we feel that day
  • length of the journey and if it would be better to split it over the course of the day

Having been to Alaska, we feel prepared for 24 hours of light. In that trip, we used the vast amount of daylight to adjust our schedule in case of weather or crowds. Now, we don’t expect crowds to be as big as some of the places we have been before, but since Iceland has become a hot travel destination and over 60% of travelers come from the U.S., I imagine we will have to account for crowds as well.

We have multiple options at our fingertips in all directions to allow for bad weather and the abundance of daylight allows us to adjust – whether its sleeping in (or looking at indoor attractions) when morning rain occurs or getting an early start with impending rain in the evening – thereby allowing for weather to potentially clear in the evening hours. Right now, Iceland’s “sunsets” are at approximately midnight, with no actual total darkness. This plays right into my plans as a photographer.

Some of the day trips for Days 1-5 include:

a. The Reykjanes peninsula – which includes the birding cliffs near Sandgerði and Hafnir, the “bridge between two continents” near Reykjanesta and the lava formations at the Reykjanesfólkvangur nature preserve.


b.  The “Golden Circle.” This is the one that should be the most crowded, but it includes: þingvellir National Park (“þ” is “th” as in “thing”), Geysir (with the Geysir and Strokkur geysers), Gullfoss waterfall and Selfoss waterfall in Arborg).


c.  The Snæfellsnes Penninsula, which includes: Snæfellsnes National Park (birding cliffs), the iconic Kirkjukfell peak (as seen in The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty in the background when Ben Stiller is in the bike riding scene), the basalt columns of Ytri-Raudamellur and the Glanni Paradise waterfall (among many other spots).


d.  Vik and Jokulsarlon.  When I originally planned the trip, there was a third base camp, which was supposed to be in the south. However, a lack of lodging forced us to rethink the idea. In any event, the road from Hafnarfjordur to Hauganes in the north may come in the form of a counterclockwise loop around the south or it may come from a clockwise route (much shorter) towards the north (and vice versa on the way back). My guess is, the weather will dictate the route. However, we do have a rather long day trip planned to one of the most sought after destinations – the iceberg filled Jokulsarlon Lagoon. The town of Hofn – just east – is the furthest reaches of the split in the country we had decided on. This part of Iceland also features the black sand beaches near Vik and a plethora of spectacular waterfalls.

south iceland

e.  A touch of the West Fjords. My wife wants to visit the West Fjords section for the spectacular birding cliffs of Látrabjarg. While most of this part of Iceland will remain undiscovered on this trip, I do want to make a run at Látrabjarg at least. It is the westernmost point of Iceland and a long road trip.



For the second half of the trip, we are staying in the small village of Hauganes, which features what looks to be a spectacular whale watching cruise company at

Some of the day trips for Days 6-10 include:

a.   Lake Myvatn. Even before Husavik and Akureyri, Lake Myvatn is tops the list of places we want to see in the North. Dimmuborgir’s craggy lava formations, Krafla’s crater and the psuedo-craters in the south are bound to be the highlights of the entire trip.


b.  Husavik, Asbyrgi and Raufahofn.  This day trip is a long drive, but involves whales (at the whale watching capital of Iceland), the “grand canyon of Iceland” (Asbyrgi), and, if possible – the “Arctic Henge” (the modern arctic answer to Stonehenge) in Raufahofn.

North iceland

c.  Grimsey Island.  The only item we actually planned an actual day for is Grimsey Island. This requires a tour boat or the ferry out of Dalvik (just north of Hauganes). Grimsey is the only part of Iceland that touches the Arctic Circle and there is a monument for photos. The island is small and has a huge puffin population on its outer cliffs. We did plan on a 9am ferry ride for a three hour journey with four hours on the island before heading on the ferry back. Depending on how tired we are, we may continue the journey after a meal to points west.


d.   Eastern Iceland.  We might not get to see too much of Eastern Iceland, except what we can see to and from (or both) our West and North home bases. However, seeing a reindeer is pretty high on my list, especially with variety of land animals at a minimum. Also, riding along road 93 (as seen in The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty when Ben Stiller is skateboarding) is high on my list.

East Iceland

It might not be in the cards to see the central highlands, since it is so remote and there are so many other things we want to see. I imagine if your interests include overnight or 2-10 day hiking trips, the central highlands are the place for you.

Trying to get to some other places just west of north or the deeper into east coast of Iceland will have to come on our journeys around the island from one home base to the other and vice versa. For a smaller island, there is a plethora of stuff to do, but the key is educating yourself on everything in the destination so there are no regrets except lack of time. Finding out about something after the trip is over is a mistake I never plan to make again.

All that is left now is going! My next report will be from Iceland itself! Can’t wait to show you!




Iceland Travel Preparation, Pt. 3 (The Gnome Is In The Details)

Iceland Little people

I’m really going to regret posting up a series of preparation tips for Iceland if this trip doesn’t pan out as I hope.  Its hardly “advice” if all of it is rendered useless when I get there! However, if years of preparation for trips have proved one thing…I’ve had some pretty decent success, so I’m not that concerned. All you can do is read, review, plan, reserve and execute, right?

So, in part 1 we had the idea and in part 2 we cleared up some logistics, so now we get into the part about specifics.  In August 2015, my first iteration of the trip consisted of splitting the trip into three parts: a. the west, northwest and southwest; b. the south, southeast, east and northeast and c. the north, northeast and interior.

By March of 2016, it changed to two parts: a. the west, northwest, southwest and south, and b. the southeast, east, northeast and north.

So why the change? Well, for one, it was really hard to find suitable places to stay in the south. By “suitable” it was a certain criteria that my wife and I had for a place to stay. Secondly, the majority of what we want to see is located in the west and north, with the ability to cover the parts of the south and east we most wanted to see from those two locations.

Secondly, the third base – which was set for either Vik or Hofn in the south – was only going to be either one or two nights and hotels in these areas are insanely expensive.

Thirdly, when I got to about the sixth month of preparation, I realized that I wanted to make sure that we relax. Unlike some of the vacations we built around National Parks in the U.S., Iceland doesn’t seem to have the time restraints or wildlife populations that we usually have to work around – which takes up those choice pre-dawn, dawn and twinight times.  In July – in Iceland – there is a whole lot more pre-dawn and twinight with the midnight sun. Also, we are that necessarily concerned with visiting visitor centers in Iceland’s National Parks, but it matters not since they appear to have much longer operating times than ones here in the U.S.  In addition, I wanted to leave the actual plans for each day wide open and allow the weather and road conditions dictate the route for each day.

Iceland may seem like a small country, but there is a tremendous amount of natural features we want to see. By zoning out areas and then creating itineraries within them so that we can choose based on weather coupled with 21 hours of sunlight, we can shift our plans at a moments notice. Also, though I have hundreds of viewpoints I would like to see – it is not necessary that I see them all unless it can be done with as little stress as possible. This is a vacation and I have to keep reminding myself.

The majority of my travels over the years have been little too meticulously planned with deadlines and locations. Since there are no herds of buffalo in valleys or bighorn sheep on a cliff side, those many waterfalls will be running in the same spot at all hours. The only native species of land animals in Iceland is the Arctic Fox. The rest of the animals consist of the introduced (and plentiful) sheep and reindeer herds in the east. Of course, this doesn’t include the plethora of sea and land birds as well as seals and whales. So Iceland seems to present us a much more relaxed atmosphere than anywhere else I have ever traveled. Then again…we shall see, right?

So in order to assure that there were no missed places of interest and plenty of potential itineraries to choose from…my research began with checking out the following material:

I don’t recommend you buy every available book as I did…that’s crazy. Plus there is plenty of free information online for each section of Iceland (West, Westfjords, South, North and East). As a matter of fact, let me save you the searching around and give you PDF’s of the various area guides:

There are two maps I purchased from Amazon, which claim to be the best one due to the detail and waterproof nature, and they are:

For free online maps and tips on driving, including a brochure on the various street signage, I offer these PDF’s for your use and enjoyment:

When deciding witch airport to leave from, there were two places to choose (when living in CT): New York City or Boston. We ultimately decided – based on parking costs (which are pretty astronomical) and cheaper fares – to leave out of Boston for a Saturday overnight flight. With the time difference, we land in Iceland at 4:30am and should have our car hire by 5:00am. For airlines, we ultimately chose WOW air – the prices weren’t even close. We hope the cheap price doesn’t mean we lose out in both quality and service. The reviews look pretty solid. 

Our base of operations for the first half of the trip is the town of Hafnarfjordur, where we have rented an apartment via Airbnb (which we are trying out for the very first time). The costs are way just too attractive compared to hotels to not at least try out (sometimes 1/3 of a hotel cost). I searched Airbnb for months viewing hundreds and hundreds of properties before settling on on 5-10 based on amenities, location, parking and, of course, reviews. My wife then made the selection from those 5-10. Again…staying in a house is a ste up from a hotel…though not having regular room service might be a drawback. We will find out for sure. I have a list of area grocery store chains (Bonus being the larger one) so we can save on eating out at every meal. 

Some of the planned areas and activities we have on our list for the first half of the trip include:

  • A Museum Day in Reykjavik – this is for a rainy day, which we hope won’t happen, but most likely will. There are so many museums on the list, but the Settlement Exhibition (Reykjavik 871+/-2) and the National Museum of Iceland are at the top of the list.
  • The Golden Circle – this is the typical route for tourists, but we will do it without the confines of a pre-packaged tour. It consists of visiting Þingvellir National Park and Geysir
  • The various geothermal places (but not the Blue Lagoon) and birding cliffs around the Reykjanes Peninsula area, including the Bridge Between Continents
  • Snaefellsjoekull National Park on the gorgeous Snaefellsnes penisula in West Iceland

In part 4, I’ll provide some areas planned for the second half of the trip.

Iceland Travel Preparation, Pt. 2 (Those Damn Logistics)

Out of all the books I read, websites I read and blogs I discovered, the one link that presented the most practical information on preparing for a trip to Iceland was a blog from Alex Cornell from San Francisco. You can check it out at this location. It gave me a starting point on pretty much all fronts of preparation for this adventure.

Now – if you read yesterday’s Part 1 of Iceland Travel Preparation, I needed to get some of some pesky logistical things out of the way, such as:

  • what do I need to get into and out of the country?
  • what are the general driving rules?
  • will my phone and computer work?
  • what kind of electrical outlets or power supplies will I need or encounter?
  • what are the hotels like?
  • can I rent an automatic car, because I’m hopelessly American?
  • do I need a travel guide for the language barrier?
  • can I do this on my own, or should I buy a pre-packaged tour? (which I have never done)
  • what is the food like?

…and probably the most important one of all:

  • can I afford to go?

First off, without even going to Iceland it was very clear: this place is EXPENSIVE!  However, don’t let this concern you at all – you can make it happen if you plan it right!

The short answers to my logistic questions above are:

  • A passport for U.S. Citizens
  • Same as the U.S.: drive on the right and use you common sense, right? The majority of roads (Road 1 or “Ring Road” especially) are paved or packed gravel. Any road labeled with an “F” in front requires a 4×4 vehicle. Road conditions can change from section to section (going from asphalt to packed gravel) and tunnels and bridges are one lane (tunnels with turn outs to allow oncoming traffic to pass and bridges have turnouts before to allow those already on the bridge right of way).
  • Of course, but you need to get an International Plan for your phone (I have an iPhone 6 plus, so its already quad band and the plan, though pricey, is worth it for me – AT&T offers various data plans, but the one I purchased is $120.00 for the “gold plan” or 800MB of data (WiFi zones do not count towards usage and $0.15/MB overage), unlimited texting and $0.28/minute for calling to/from the phone. Its good for 30 days. Pretty sure it will come in handy. As for computer – of course it will, but see the next bullet point
  • Iceland uses the standard European power two prong plug, so if you are from the U.S. you want to have an adapter that looks like this (keep in mind that just having this does not necessarily mean your electronics will work, you might need to step down the voltage. For this, I recommend a power supply that does this for you which you can find on Amazon over here) :


  • Hotels are pretty pricey, especially if you plan to visit in the high season (June – September). If you are American and are used to the “big American hotels,” then prepare to shell out $350-$400/night at the Icelandicair Hotels. Otherwise, prepare for the traditional double (which for us big guys mean…half of you (singular) will fit on this bed). Even the standard double with a shared bathroom means you should plan to pay $150-$250/night. Hostels are the cheapest. I settled on Airbnb, renting full houses for $150.00/night. I’ll explain more about that in Part 3.
  • Yes, you can rent an automatic car, but reserve it early. Like most places in Europe, they run out quick due to limited supplies. However, its becoming way more common than my last trip to Europe in 1994. You will find some of the usual bigger name rental companies (like Hertz, Enterprise), but I went with a company called Icerental 4×4 – a local company specializing in 4×4 vehicles, which you want if you plan to visit anything in the interior sections. If you don’t, then definitely use a 2WD. Since the cost is astronomical to begin with (especially automatics with the insurance), the price difference was negligible enough for us to just go with the 4×4 and expand what we can see. We will surely let you know if this works out and whether Icerental 4×4 lives up to the good reviews it has garnered. In Iceland, what Americans would call “comprehensive insurance coverage” (which we can waive to opt to use the rental coverage on our own auto insurance policies) is standard on all rentals. The “optional coverage” is the Sand Ash coverage (SADW) and gravel protection. Just for peace of mind, we opted for both. But expect to pay between $900-$1700 for a car on a 10 day trip in Iceland.
  • From everything I have read, nearly all of Icelanders speak or understand English. However, I certainly don’t plan to act like the typical American and expect that everyone know English, so i boned up on some useful greetings and phrases to make the lame attempt so I may charm what every source has said to be “the friendliest and happiest people in the world.” This way I can get the hand wave…the forgiving “dumb American look” and then we can speak English!  You can practice some yourself either over here, or through this video:
  • Based on the last point, I don’t plan to book any land tours. My wife and I really enjoy the freedom of a car and the imagination to explore. However, there are plenty of tours to choose from – even day bus trips from Reykjavik.
  • I’ll let you know what the food is like. Every menu  I have read (and I have read many) appear to have much of what anyone would like, albeit pricey, with some traditional Icelandic stuff (the rotten shark, Skyr based products). Since we are renting homes, we do plan to frequent the Bonus Grocery stores and stock up on snack items and other food we can prepare at home or enjoy from the car. Limiting ourselves to one or two meals at a restaurant a day will be a great savings.

Once those damn logistics were out of my mind, I was able to start mapping out a proposed plan to determine base of operations as close to the areas I wished to target the most. I call this step “Gettin’ Serious.” At the time, it looked a little like this (this photo was from August 14, 2015):

Photo Aug 14, 8 08 00 AM

In Part 3, I will go over some of the detailed plan we have made, how the trip itinerary had evolved since August and choosing the airline.


Iceland Travel Preparation, Part 1

The idea of Iceland came in July 2015. My wife and I were on our last day in Colorado, which was supposed to be a day at the ballpark, but we opted to not see the Colorado Rockies battle the Atlanta Braves and went straight back to Rocky Mountain National Park. Oddly, RMNP was sacrificed a few years back when we did our Great American Road Trip from Connecticut out to Yellowstone. As expected, my wife fell in love with Yellowstone National Park and I cancelled the entire back side of the trip home in favor of four more days at Yellowstone and a marathon ride back home. We sacrificed Rocky Mountain National Park and a ride on Mississippi river via steamboat in St. Louis for the change. We more than made up for it in 2015, with three days in the park on the front end and an extra at the end.  But I digress…this is about Iceland, right?

So – if you are planning to go to Iceland there are so many things to consider, even more so if you have never been to Europe (and no going to Quebec City or Montreal does not count). I visited Germany and Switzerland back in 1994, so this will be my first time back come July. My wife has never been to Europe. I will say this – with the rise of Facebook and more friends and communication than ever before, there is not only a wealth of information at your fingertips (many of it conflicting), but it seems the world is a whole lot smaller and together in terms of facilities and cultural differences than back in 1994. Of course, back then, I didn’t plan a single thing before leaving for Frankfurt. I winged it and found myself sleeping in the car a night or two. From that point on I vowed to never ever be unprepared. Today, trip planning is an obsession and the internet has made me a travel agent, sadly putting many people out of work at a time when I would love to do this as a living or others. It is not that there is anything special about the way I plan a trip, but with a passion for never missing a site within 200 miles of any of my destinations, I over prepare and have never had regrets since.

So the last day in Rocky Mountain National Park, like most last days of trips when the depression of it ending can only be fought off temporarily by the excitement of what comes next year, I asked Jenn – “what are you thinking for next year.” I proposed a bunch of different routes in the West Coast of the U.S., which that I had either not done or was hoping to do once again. Jenn answered: “Well, what about Iceland?” I replied: “Ohhhh…..kay, I’d love to, but are you sure? Once I start this, we are going!” She was pretty adamant.

A few years back, I had this vision of Iceland. I ordered a free travel guide from a tour company. The thought of a modern hip city (Reykjavik) and then “driving anywhere outside is on a lava field” felt otherworldly and strange. I had this immediate vision of high end 5th Avenue stores among highrisers and then a black ash road leading away from the city limits.When I started getting serious in my research, that certainly wasn’t what the truth was!

It was the land of vikings….


…and waterfalls….

Iceland waterfall

…and geysers…..

Iceland geysers

…in other words: WE HAD TO GO HERE!!

The travel planning began with a review of Iceland’s Official Travel Site: Visit Iceland. It expanded to Amazon and the search for the latest tour books, and then seeking out and recording every available website I could find from official to blogs like mine. Anything that will give me information I needed to start.

Unlike many people, before I start dreaming of particular places of interest at a destination, I need to get the logistics out of the way, which for Iceland meant answering questions like this:

  • what do I need to get into and out of the country?
  • what are the general driving rules?
  • will my phone and computer work?
  • what kind of electrical outlets or power supplies will I need or encounter?
  • what are the hotels like?
  • can I rent an automatic car, because I’m hopelessly American?
  • do I need a travel guide for the language barrier?
  • can I do this on my own, or should I buy a pre-packaged tour? (which I have never done)
  • what is the food like?

All of these concerns must be addressed before I can get to the point where I can plot out a loose itinerary based on must see locations. Many people can wing trip and just take it as it comes….not me. I want everything in order in advance so there are no questions. For me, the worst thing that could ever happen is my camera batteries wont charge, my phone won’t work, my computer won’t turn on and I’ll be sleeping in the car.

Well, in the next part of the Travel Preparation series, I will answer those questions and tell you how I planned it all out, including revealing some of the many locations we intend to see. I sure hope all of this preparedness pays off!