Folks, our favorite solo traveler just came back from another trip. Where’d she go this time? To Iceland, of course! This island nation is all the rage when it comes to backpackers in 2016, and Elina the Explorer’s travel impulses are right on trend.

This winter, she grabbed a friend, hopped on a cheap flight across the Atlantic, and explored the famed Land of Ice and Fire. Yep—this time, Elina the Explorer didn’t go solo! Here’s the lowdown on what it’s really like to travel with a buddy, while trying to survive the craziness that is Iceland. And, *spoiler alert* it’s pretty awesome.

1.) What inspired you to visit Iceland?

Elina 1Google Images! Just kidding—sort of. While I was searching for the top places to travel in 2016, Iceland was one of the places that came up. I did a lot of city site seeing in 2015, so this time I wanted to see some beautiful nature. With its black sand beaches, lagoons, glaciers, and the Northern Lights, Iceland is perfect for that!

2.) Why did you choose to go with a friend, instead of flying solo?

Elina 2

Even though I love traveling solo, after my recent solo trip in December, I promised myself I’d never do it again during the wintertime. The cold makes it a bit lonely. So, since I wanted to visit Iceland—a country full of ice and snow—I knew I wanted someone to go with! Plus, since I knew we’d need to rent a car to get around, I wanted someone who could split the driving with me and keep me company in the car.

3.) How was it different traveling with a buddy vs. alone?

Elina 3

Traveling with a buddy was super awesome and almost necessary. Especially in Iceland, with the unpredictable weather, the icy driving conditions, the long hours in the car, and all of the outdoor hiking in the cold. You’re constantly faced with challenges, and it’s really helpful to do that with a partner. I honestly don’t think I would have made it without my friend there!

Traveling solo is awesome because you meet new and diverse people, and you can learn more about yourself as you travel at your own pace. But traveling with a friend who you can really feel comfortable and honest with, you learn to support and encourage each other through tough situations. Especially when you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere because of unpredictable circumstances—it can be intimidating to face those situations alone, but with a friend, it’s not so bad! Elina Extra

This experience was completely different from traveling solo. It was super nice to have someone to share the experiences with, laugh about the crazy situations we found ourselves in, and to just enjoy each other’s company. I would say your travel experience can be more rich and memorable if you travel with the right person. You definitely learn more about your friend, learn to compromise, and—most importantly—learn to share everything and appreciate having each other. It’s a really unique and valuable experience.

4.) Did you learn anything new about yourself or your travel style, thanks to having a friend along for the ride?

Elina 4

Yes! Having my friend there really encouraged me to be bold and explore outside of my comfort zone. A great example was when we visited the Gullfoss Waterfall, and a passage leading up to it was closed due to weather conditions. My friend said, “We’re only here once in a lifetime, so shouldn’t we see as much of this waterfall as we can?” Her suggestion made me brave! Together, we passed through the closed passageway—it was very slippery, and one wrong move could have sent us falling into the waterfall—and the view at the end was so worth it. I learned that I can become bolder and more adventurous if I have a friend around to dare me—I guess two is better than one in some situations!

5.) Did you see the Northern Lights?

Elina 5Yes! We saw them on our fourth night. It looked like a long, wavy object dancing in the sky! It was amazing, but freezing cold, so we didn’t take pictures. I hope to see it again in the future at least once more in my lifetime—and next time, take pictures!

6.) What was the most memorable part of your trip?

Elina 6This is a hard question—but probably our dangerous moments while driving. One time, my friend was driving on the highway at 120km/hr. We were both so tired from the long drives and lack of sleep, so my friend drank an energy drink, and I took a nap for about an hour. When I woke up, she was driving super fast and was kind of hyper. After about 10 minutes, the road was suddenly covered with ice, and our car was sliding all over the place. The breaks were totally useless.

To make matters more serious, we were driving alongside a cliff, so if my friend lost control, we could have easily flown off the edge. The danger probably lasted about 20 seconds, but it felt like a slow motion movie, like we were filming a scene from The Fast and the Furious. We were both in such survival mode we didn’t even scream—we just had to keep pressing on the gas and trust in our driving skills. It was crazy!

Elina 10

Thankfully, the roads cleared up and our car stabilized. After we both got over the shock of the experience, we both just started laughing uncontrollably. Of course, we took this event as a lesson to drive more mindfully in the future and be really careful about the weather conditions, but the situation was so dangerous and we were in such disbelief, it was like we were laughing at our reckless craziness. It was really insane, and I’ll never forget that!

7.) Did you meet any other travelers along the way?

Elina Friends

Yes, you always meet other travelers on the road. There was one time when we were driving through a very thick, snowy area, and our car got stuck. We tried to push our car out ourselves, but no luck. A couple who spotted us from a distance tried to help us—the same thing had happened to them a few days earlier—and they ended up having to drive us 30 minutes out of the way to find help. We ended up getting our car pulled out by a big tour Jeep. Their kindness was incredible—what an experience!

We also met a married couple who we coincidentally crossed paths with three times in different locations. Each location was at least an hour to two hours apart, and still, we encountered each other three times. It was so cool, since that usually never happens! They were from France, and they were so lovely and kind. We even took a picture together after running into each other so many times! It was a bit hard to communicate due to language barriers, but we all felt so grateful and delighted to have met again and again.

8.) What was the most challenging part of this trip?

12671986_10153794155975379_2045053681270389017_oThere were so many challenges every day—from eating nothing but sandwiches for lunch because of how expensive food is there, to hiking up glaciers and driving three to five hours each day—but the biggest challenge was our drive to the northeast side of Iceland. Most travelers only go up to the Hofn area in the southeast and then drive back to Reykjavik, since as you go further, the roads aren’t safe. You’re literally driving through mountains, and the roads are sometimes rocky, icy, on the edge of a cliff, and super curvy.

Elina RoadWe really didn’t know what was ahead of us, and we drove through those mountains in a tiny car (not a 4×4, as recommended), and we ended up having to rely on paper maps to find our way when we encountered closed roads without any cell service. We had to trust our instincts, and just kept driving—believing that the road would take us to our destination. We eventually made it to our guesthouse by sundown, and even though it was terrifying, this drive from Hofn to Egilsstaðir was the most beautiful road we drove. The view was unforgettable!

9.) Which do you prefer: traveling alone, or with a buddy?

Elina 9

I love both. You learn different lessons from both experiences. However, if you go with a friend, make sure she or he is respectful, willing to share, can compromise, and most importantly—will stay cool under pressure. You never know what you’re going to get into on the road, so having a stubborn or close-minded travel buddy won’t be a great experience. Choose your friend wisely!

10.) Do you have any tips for someone traveling to Iceland?

Elina 11Definitely rent a 4×4 car, especially if you’re visiting in the winter. Buy hiking spikes for your boots. It’s slippery everywhere—these will seriously save your life. The food in Iceland is very pricey, so be prepared to bring snacks from home or cook on the food to save money! You’ll want to put that budget toward some of the amazing tours they have—they’re worth every penny—like the Ice Cave Tour. Go with a friend to keep you company during the long drives, and don’t miss the Northern Lights—no matter how cold it is!

11.) Where are you planning to go next? Will you fly solo?

Elina Final

I’m hoping to spend a long weekend in San Francisco, and to hit Japan later this year. And it’s looking like most of these trips will happen with friends! Exciting!

Have you ever traveled with a friend? What do you think of Elina the Explorer’s latest adventure? Let us know in the comments below!


One Response

  1. Katie

    The speed limit is 90km/h, so if you were going 120 in winter conditions, you were driving recklessly.

    It’s a good thing you didn’t hurt yourself, or someone else, but you should make it clear that people should NOT follow your lead in this regard.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

About The Author

Hannah Winsten

Hannah Winsten is a freelance writer and marketing consultant living in New York City. A total travel junkie, Hannah came to CheapOair as a French translator and SEM associate after returning from a stint living abroad in Paris. She’s also working on her first book--you know you want to read it. Find her on Twitter at @HannahRWinsten.