Iceland: My First Trip Outside Scotland

Hayley Graffunder University of Edinburgh, Scotland


March 1, 2017

By now, most people in the program have already been on a number of weekend trips to Copenhagen, Paris, Amsterdam, and more. I spent nearly every weekend on trips around Scotland or simply enjoying the city I chose to study abroad in, and I’m glad I did. By the end of February, however, I was getting excited for my first trip outside the country with my friends.

In January, my friends and I sat around for a weekend in one of our flats planning our four day trip to Iceland. We had to settle plane tickets, Airbnbs, a car rental, activities, travel to and from the airport, and more. It was a lot to get through. Luckily, fueled by take away from the Italian place down the road, we were able to get everything squared away so that we could relax and wait for the trip to arrive. It came up faster than I expected.

Everything started off smoothly. The bus to the airport was easy and on time, security was a breeze for almost all of us (though one friend had to spend 15 minutes explaining to the security guy what gel deodorant is), and we were somehow the first to board. Even picking up the rental car once we touched down in Reykjavík was surprisingly easy for someone who had never done that before. I only got talked into one unnecessary extra insurance coverage, which I’m counting as a success. Walking outside the airport and hopping into our car was when it hit me. I was in Iceland. With my friends. And I was going to get to drive after six long, carless weeks.

The first thing we realized is that Iceland is expensive. Like, $20 for a veggie burger and fries expensive. So after caving and going out to eat the first night — weirdly, we ended up at a Big Lebowski themed restaurant — we went to the grocery store and planned out our meals for the next few days. We were staying in a small but cute Airbnb with a kitchen, so we were lucky to be able to cook for ourselves while we were there, saving us hundreds of dollars altogether. Plus, it ended up being one of my favorite things about the trip; each day after hours of driving and sightseeing in the cold, we came back to our little Icelandic home, cooked together, and watched movies. It definitely made me want to buy a big house someday and live there with all of my friends, eating ice cream and going on adventures.

I won’t go through everything we did each day. I will say that we saw waterfalls, glaciers, geysers, hot springs, mountains, a black sand beach, and the most beautiful snow-covered rocky landscape in the world. Driving through it each day from one natural wonder to the next felt like I was transported to a different planet. There were amazing moments, like seeing the geyser erupt for the first time, standing in awe of the natural rock formations around the country, eating the single best cinnamon roll I’ve ever had (from Braud and Co.), and meeting some adorable Icelandic horses.

There were also things we didn’t anticipate, like the snow storm that prevented us from going to Vatnajökull National Park or the fact that we might get drenched by the “mist” from a waterfall on our first stop of the day and spend the next five hours in wet jeans. We also didn’t anticipate our flight home being delayed 12 hours and the road to the airport being shut down due to snow. But, part of traveling is dealing with the unexpected and reminding yourself that it’s a small price to pay for incredible experiences.

The best part of the trip — and maybe my whole life — was our last night in Iceland. We spent it at the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. It was three hours of floating around in essentially a gigantic natural hot tub with face masks on. We saw the sunset, got snowed on while we swam (which isn’t something I ever thought I’d say), and afterwards on the way home, we saw a faint green stripe across the sky: the northern lights. It was the perfect grand finale for our wonderful, intense, once in a lifetime trip. We didn’t know what we were in for the next day at the airport — that we’d run into obstacle after obstacle, that we’d have to take a car, a shuttle, a plane, a bus, and a train just to get home to Edinburgh — but that was one of the things that made the experience so memorable. Nothing was more peaceful than our last night at the Blue Lagoon, and it made it just a little bit easier to deal with the chaos to come.


Scotland Semester Travel