I'm going to need a minute to blow the dust off my keyboard here, I haven't posted in an inexcusably long time. Accordingly, I won't bother with excuses, I'll just get along with the post. To start, a relevant question I received:
Hi Brandon, just wondering if you'll convert your blog into a travel blog if and when you give up the truck to travel?
This is probably in reference to the time I was figuring out when I'm going to sell the truck. Short answer: yes. Slightly longer (and also rhetorical) answer: why wait until I give up the truck to start talking about travel?
For anyone keeping track, my list of travels is woefully short. At the beginning of the year it would have just been 'murika, as in I had literally never been outside the country in my 23 years on this planet, which was deeply troubling to me. Not even Canada. Not even Mexico. Hell, I didn't even have a passport. If not for a chance business trip to Canada and (randomly enough) Bulgaria, my entire list of visited countries would still be a single three-letter line.*
Well I'm excited to share that I added my honest-to-God-first-actual-leisure-travel destination to the list: Iceland.
My plan of record was (and continues to be) to save up, retire early, and travel for some indeterminable amount of time, but that doesn't mean the road to retirement needs to stay stuck in the States. Plus, reading about all of the potential journeys I could take made my travel trigger finger a bit itchy, so when $400 round trip tickets to Reykjavik, Iceland appeared, I had to bite the bullet (excuse the poor combination of expressions) and book the trip.
Preparing for the trip
It's not a huge secret that I don't have a lot of stuff. I've got a bed, a dresser, and about a week's worth of clothes. For reference, here's a recent picture of my closet:
Not a lot going on in there.
One thing worth noting is that my wardrobe is unarguably meant for California weather. After all, it's one of the main reasons I can do what I do. I've got a light sweatshirt and a pullover, but I'd still probably be a Brancicle** in Iceland wearing both of them together. Not only was winter coming, but I was heading for winter. Real winter no less, none of this Bay area oh-man-it's-dropped-below-sixty-it's-so-cold "winter".
So I started entertaining the idea of how to go about getting real winter gear. Did I want to borrow it from a friend? Should I find a place to rent it? Should I just buy some cheap stuff and dispose of it after? After all, truck space is limited. I had to think about this a little bit, and I did a bit of consulting with my past self and Thoreau's Walden. One thing that stuck with me from Walden (not that I've finished it yet) is the idea that if you are going to buy something, make sure it's high-quality. That way, instead of saving a little bit of cash in the short term buying something cheap that needs to be replaced regularly, spend a little bit more and make it last for life. This makes sense, and looking forward, I knew I'd be going to Boston (for Christmas), Zürich (for business), and Alaska (with friends) over the next few months, so I'd clearly be getting a lot of use out of whatever winter gear I bought. After a bit of review-reading and shopping around, I ended up buying a few things to start my winter wardrobe.
In total, I spent around $1,000 on winter gear. Not cheap for sure, but still less than a month's rent for a shared apartment in South Bay. Plus, it's unlikely I'll ever have to buy any of these things ever again. And now for the end result, a happy, unfrozen Brandon:
Me playing with chunks of ice on a black sand beach.
Since this was my first time traveling for no other reason than my own amusement and edification, I didn't really know what I was doing. I definitely had an idealized version of what travel should look like, but outside of that, I was pretty clueless.
To me, travelling isn't about collecting selfies to show off where you've been to people who couldn't care less. It's about learning, and experiencing something new. There's this natural human tendency we have to surround ourselves with people like us, which probably explains why my Facebook feed is an echo chamber for all of the things I want to hear. Unfortunately, that's not how you actually learn anything, or grow as a person. You learn stuff by stepping outside your bubble and looking at things from a new perspective. All of the interesting perspectives are hiding in other people's heads, and the vast majority of those people don't live in Mountain View, California.
Another thing that I'd been thinking about is how, more often than I'd like, I find myself worrying that I'm not living in the moment, that I'm mindlessly going with the ebbs and flows of my daily routine, than my headphones are buried too far into my head too often, which in turn is buried too far into some shifting racket of pixels. I worry that if I don't make a conscious effort to be alive, I'll just be mechanically going through the motions and I'll wake up one day shocked to find out that I'm old and had blindly let life pass me by. I know, I've had this particular flavor of existential crisis before (and it's pretty much the plot of the movie Click), but it's not entirely unfounded. Research shows that time seems to go faster as we age because our brains don't even bother forming long-term memories for our cookie-cutter daily routines. Getting back to the topic at hand, all I'm trying to say is that when I started travelling, I wanted to make sure I was living in the moment and really experiencing it, as opposed to passively observing it, particularly through the potato-quality camera on my phone, but I'll come back to that later.
Ice and Fire
So let's talk about Iceland. I knew almost nothing about the country before I left, having done a downright pitiful amount of research beforehand. Iceland was first settled by Vikings around the 9th century, which fits right in with my preconception of the Vikings as hardy badasses who looked frosty death in the face and laughed heartily. At some point in 11th century, everyone adopted Christianity, though locals tell me the real religion of Iceland is The Church of The Almighty Lamb Hotdog, with houses of worship on every corner.
The hotdogs have crunchy onions and some green Mayo-esque substance. They taste amazing, and I'm not proud of the fact that I averaged more than one per day.
Culturally, Iceland is super interesting, especially if you're from a more mainstream first-world Western country. Nearly a third of the population owns guns, but the police don't carry them, and on average, there's less than one fatal homicide per year. It probably has something to do with the fact that 97% of the population identifies as "middle class". Other factoids on the highlight reel include that Iceland runs almost entirely on renewable energy, mainly geothermal. Ooh, and Iceland's economy is dominated by the fishing industry, and more recently, tourism. I remember reading on the plane that during peak tourism season in 2017, there will be more tourists than Icelandic residents (>300,000).
Left: The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa. We went right from the airport.
Right: An open-faced breakfast sandwich. Fresh fish isn't hard to come by.
Aside from history and random factoids, the entire country looks like a tourism ad. It's stupidly photogenic. It's got giant glaciers, active volcanoes, stunning waterfalls, hike-able ice caves, unique architecture and so much more. At times, it's easy to believe you're on a different planet. Here's a random potpourri of photos:
Top Left: Hallgrímskirkja, a really mathematical-looking church.
Top Right: Downtown Reykjavik, as seen from the top of Hallgrímskirkja.
Bottom Left: Hundreds of square miles covered in volcanic ash from a past eruption.
Bottom Right: Hiking in some ice caves.
So, having completed my first international mini-vacation, it's time to reflect and see what I learned, not just about Iceland, but about myself. Unsurprisingly, I met a ton of wonderful people, locals and tourists alike, from a whole variety of interesting backgrounds, and had the opportunity to acquaint myself with an array of languages, foods, customs, and cultures. I saw the Northern Lights, ate and drank local delicacies, learned a few Icelandic words, and toured some of the most awe-inspiring natural sights I could imagine.
More personally, I learned to balance out my travel idealism with a bit of practicality. It's nice to want to live in the moment and appreciate things for yourself, but that shouldn't preclude documenting the journey. I've noted before that I keep this blog because I have a Swiss-cheese memory, and writing these posts is how I make sure I remember all of this. Well, the same goes for travelling. Watching the sun set on a black sand beach and taking in the beauty of the moment isn't mutually-exclusive with memorializing it in a photo. Stuck in my own idealism, I failed to realize that, and didn't really take any photos. Were it not for my travel companion, my future self would have no way of reliving this adventure, and it was definitely unfair of me to leave that burden on them. Without them, this post would certainly be less interesting, and missing most of Iceland's unique character. So I guess I learned a bit about how to actually travel, which I'll put to use on future excursions.
More than anything, I'm looking forward to seeing where I end up next.
*Just for completeness, the whole list would be:
…and nothing else.
**A portmanteau of the words Brandon and Icicle.