Did you know Iceland is one of the best destinations on earth for solo travellers? What are the advantages and disadvantages of solo travel in Iceland, and how do travellers make friends during their trip? What is it like for a solo female traveller in Iceland? Is it possible to partake in tours as a solo traveller, and what attractions and activities are recommended for the lone wolf? Read on to find out everything you need to know about solo travel in Iceland.
The lone backpacker is something of an enigma in the world; carrying all amenities on them, this unique breed of traveller is on a journey of personal discovery, following their impulse to explore, unearth and understand the world in their own right. This quest requires much of those who undertake it; a strong mind and heart, an openness to new experiences, a certain fearlessness and, of course, some free time.
Though we tend to stereotype these people as young, dread-locked non-conformists, in truth, solo travellers come in all ages, shapes and sizes. A strong will, courage, and the financial means to keep afloat all have little to do with age (in fact, these traits might even be more characteristic of the older traveller). While early backpackers might spend their experience working odd-jobs, bed-hopping and hitch-hiking around the country, others choose to focus solely on one destination.
There are countless reasons as to why one might choose to travel solo. Maybe you’ve found yourself a gap in employment, and decided to make the most of that time uncovering the planet’s hidden corners? Perhaps you've always wanted to try solo travel, but never found the time, nor the budget to make it a reality?
Conceivably, you don’t know anybody, and thus solo travel is your only option? Perhaps, you despise your friends and family and are looking for the first opportunity to escape them awhile? Whatever the case, the motivations for solo travel are certainly there, and more often than not, overlooked for the more family-oriented holiday packages.
As anyone who routinely enjoys Candy Crush, a hot bath, or self-flagellation knows, a whole lot of fun can be had by yourself. In fact, some of the best fun you’ll ever have can be a solitary affair, made all the more special by the fact that it was undertaken, experienced and held in the memory of that one certain, adventurous individual.
Iceland is the perfect arena for solo travellers. After all, it is expansive enough for them to experience the isolation they so crave, yet boasts a close and welcoming community of locals and visitors, thus easily remedying boredom or pangs of loneliness.
On top of that, there are a wide range of activities to fill up the solo travellers day: snorkelling in Silfra Fissure, glacier hiking, All Terrain Vehicles and horseback riding, whale watching, mountain trekking, sightseeing, ice climbing, snowmobiling and caving, to name only a handful.
That's not even mentioning the attractions themselves. Visitors in Iceland can visit waterfalls (Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, Dettifoss, etc), glaciers (Vatnajökull, Langjökull, Eyjafjallajökull, Mýrdalsjökull, etc), mountains and volcanoes (Vestrahorn, Snæfellsjökull, Hekla, Katla, etc), and so much more, including the country's only UNESCO World Heritage Site, Þingvellir National Park.
Let’s face it, solo backpackers are so prevalent in the travel arena, there must be good reasons for travelling halfway around the planet on your larry lonesome. So what are some of the biggest advantages to travelling solo? What is it that solo travellers are hoping to achieve on their journey?
How does one make the dream into a reality?
One of the greatest aspects of travelling solo is the sheer level of freedom that one experiences. What attractions you see, what time you wake up, which direction you’ll move and which activities you partake in… all of these are entirely up to you, and you alone set the pace of your holiday.
No more do you have to concern yourself with compromise, or worrying about other people’s energy levels; these worries are for the ‘tour groups’, the poor souls. No, you, free as a bird and hungry for discovery, act as your own master, unshackled of the burdens of home, of the responsibility of others… chase the horizon! Float with the wind! See where the road takes you!
Travelling alone presents a fantastic opportunity to start getting stuck into an entirely new language; in this case, the ancient, isolated, but incredibly beautiful Icelandic lexicon. There are approximately 335,000 Icelandic speakers in the country, and pockets of Icelandic speakers in other countries such as Denmark, Canada, Brazil and the United States. Icelandic is counted among the Nordic branch of the Germanic languages, having originated from Norway, Denmark and Sweden.
Icelandic is relatively unchanged from the Old Norse language that precedes; today, modern Icelanders can still read the medieval sagas, as written by the forebears, understanding their lesson and allowing to continue moulding the national character. The language is, intrinsically, a part of the national character, indistinguishable from it almost.
With the recent influx of visitors over the last decade or so, a quiet and unrelenting fear has once again been inflamed in the Icelandic psyche, that their language might, one day, die. That is why it has been one of the principal goals since the government’s founding to ensure the preservation of their unique, yet little-spoken tongue.
This prerogative has seen an explosion of Icelandic literature, as well as countless workshops aimed towards educating its visitors. In today’s Iceland, Icelandic is going strong, and there appears to be no signs of that changing anytime soon.
Now, with that being said, we’ve overlooked one of the greatest advantages when it comes to solo travel around the country; 99% of Icelanders speak fluent English. Now, for English speaking travellers, of which there are many, this couldn’t be any more of a welcome surprise. As a single, independent and semi-permanent resident of the country, this has made integrating an incredibly simple affair, at least superficially.
According to the global peace index, Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world. Unburdened by an air force, army or navy of its own, this small Atlantic island fulfils its obligations as NATO's "eye of the North" with only a coast guard and domestic police force.
Historically, Iceland's biggest threats have come from the neighbouring British Isles and the United States of America, both of whom invaded during the Second World War. "Invasion" is a strong word to use here—the local Icelanders were helping the Allied troops off their boats as they docked into Reykjavik Old Harbour. Aside from that, international relations are stable—no chance of being kidnapped by a Viking raiding party, fear not!
Today, the British, Americans and a wealth of other nationalities, continue to invade, though only for a couple of weeks at a time, and armed with little more than a selfie stick. Still, the "threat of the outsider" exists in the form of drunken or disrespectful tourists, especially those who consider Iceland's relaxed approach to everyday living as a license to misbehave.
Iceland's small population is, perhaps, the biggest factor as to why this country is so safe. Icelanders nurture a sense of community, of checking up on one another and ensuring that people are happy and content, meaning that such concepts as civil obedience, agreeability and reputation take on a whole new level of meaning.
98% of the Icelandic police force do not carry guns. The tiny minority that does is limited to "anti-terrorism" at large public gatherings, and this has only been policy since 2017, causing much controversy and ridicule among much of the Icelandic population.
Of course, criminal activity in Iceland is still alive under the surface, but it by no means has any impact on daily life here. Children are left outside sleeping in their prams whilst mothers enjoy the luxury of socialising inside. Houses and cars are often left unlocked, and graffiti is often endorsed, financed and celebrated as an artistic contribution to the city's character.
Besides, this country imprisons its corrupt bankers, rather than bailing them out. That should tell you a little about the perspective on moral justice here.
Something to watch out for is drink driving, which is as much a problem here as it is in the rest of the world. Drink driving comes with enormous fines, and you will likely lose your license if you are caught. And don't be one of those who gets behind the wheel thinking "Oh, they won't be catching me..."—Icelandic police routinely conduct traffic stops, especially in the evenings around the downtown area.
Iceland is the perfect destination for women considering solo travel because of a combination of low crime statistics and high regard for gender equality. Having been voted the top country in the world for gender equality repeatedly, women in Iceland feel very safe and exercise a high degree of personal freedom.
That's not to say Iceland is perfect and crimes against women do not happen, but considering Iceland has also been voted the most peaceful place on earth, a woman travelling alone can feel quite safe.
Not only can that, but women can experience a break from sexual harassment that is common on the streets of other countries. Unlike the USA or UK, there is no culture of catcalling in Iceland and you can usually walk down the street—no matter what you're wearing—without a threat of unwanted attention.
There's a strong women's movement in Iceland and people look out for each other. If you are feeling uncomfortable at a bar or restaurant, you can always approach the staff and ask for help.
The internet in Iceland is very fast and reliable in most places around the country barring the Highlands and mountain passes in general. Solo female travellers need not feel isolated or out of touch with those they need to contact at home or for assistance or advice.
A lot of people in Iceland use the mobile dating app Tinder, and this is a safe and easy space to meet local people.
There are, of course, disadvantages when it comes down to travelling alone, and these should be weighed up regarding where you plan to travel, how long you’ll be travelling for and, naturally, your own temperament. Travelling alone sure is rewarding, but that's not to say there are sizable challenges to face.
For instances, you will spend long stretches of time alone, much of which might very well end up occupied with indecision if you're not careful. Always set out with a goal in mind, and make sure to finish your day having achieved what you wanted to do, whether it's meet new people, check out some local attractions or kick an activity off the bucket list.
The thought of being away from friends, family and familiar surroundings can be a daunting one. The reality can be even harder, especially when circumstances get tough, as they are prone to do when travelling abroad.
The fact of the matter is, nothing brings out homesickness like travelling abroad. Instantly separated from all you know, you're bound to begin reassessing what, and who, you value in life; the trick is to understanding why you feel this way, and not letting it get you down during your vacation. After all, you're going to see friends and family again, so remember why you travelled... for you!
Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, there are a number of ways to counteract homesickness, however. Not only are such messaging services as Facebook, Whatsapp and SnapChat easily accessible, they also provide a truly deep, somewhat tangible connection to those left behind. Just hearing a loved one’s voice is often enough, and to see their face smiling through Skype can mean the world.
Some people fear solo travel due only to the fear that they will not be understood, or not be able to make others understand their intention. This is a worthy enough concern; language is a fundamental tool in how we form meaningful relationships with our fellow human beings. Language barriers act as an obstacle to that connection, making one feel more alone and more desperate to be understood.
With that being said, Icelanders definitely appreciate those visitors who, at the very least, show an interest in their mother tongue. Like the outsiders, they too are aware of their language's questionable relevance on the world stage, but it is that exact novelty, how tight-knit it is, that makes it all the more special.
With their existence of mobile language applications, those interested in pursuing as much of the language as they can while here should have no problem doing so.
Icelanders are immensely proud of their language, speaking English only for the tourists and those semi-permanent, uneducated residents (myself included). By enlarge, they are often more than happy to try and breakdown elements of their lexicon to interested parties.
If there is one thing solo travellers should be, it’s organised. Now, I have included this here as a disadvantage NOT because organisation itself should be considered a negative, but because of the many people who struggle with a rudimentary organisation, not just in travel, but in everyday life.
Without generalising too much, I would say this applies especially those spirited enough to take off independently around the world—let's face it... solo travellers are hardly considered the domestic sort.
Hey, we’re all human. This is not a perfect world; in my own life, I have missed three planes, two ferries and lost my passport five minutes prior to boarding. From experience, let me impart to you that each case led to high levels of stress, panic and the overwhelming, reoccurring consideration that I may be a manchild.
Now, I cannot pack your bag for you (and for that, I'm sure you are thankful), but make sure to remember the absolute essentials for your trip; your wallet, currency, driver's license, ID, passport, phone and chargers, your camera, warm clothing, hats, gloves and scarves, good hiking boots, your phrase book, etc.
If already it feels as though it's getting too much, fear not, for there are some handy ways of pre-arranging your holiday in Iceland that leaves the mass bulk of coordination to professional travel agents. All you have to is sit down, discover and research the thousands of attractions and activities on offer, then make your choice!
Take Guide To Iceland’s Self Drive tours, for one example. Self Drive customers are privy to a great number of benefits otherwise inaccessible to the average traveller in Iceland; they follow a prearranged itinerary, based on their own choices of attractions and activities, and are in 24/7 hour contact with their own professional, English-speaking travel agent.
Self Drive tours can range from 2 days to 14 days. Shorter tours will normally focus on specific regions of the country, such as the famed Golden Circle sightseeing route, whilst longer tours cover a much greater stretch of the country or the whole circle. Each self-drive is tailor-made to the customer's wishes, making it the optimum method of organising your own holiday package.
They also make the choices when it comes down to their accommodation and vehicle, choosing from various models that range from Super Budget to Luxury. This adds a real personal touch to the holiday and ensures that others don't make the wrong decision for you. When it comes down to your vehicle choice, you are able to opt-in for 2WD or 4WD, Automatic or Manual, whilst accommodation choices stretch across the country, comprised of cabins, guesthouses, bungalows and hotel rooms.
Did you enjoy our article about Solo Travel in Iceland? Have you ever travelled to Iceland alone, and if so, how did you find your experience? Is there anything you would recommend, or any disadvantages you found during your time here? Make sure to leave your thoughts and queries in the Facebook Comments box.