Treading Lightly
Treading Lightly

What I Read This Month: June Books

My June books are full of quick picks and epic slogs. Regardless, I’m fully back on my reading habit. My numbers this month are shamelessly filled with a couple of tiny books, but the ideas they presented and the topics they covered were heavy and brain-intensive.

June Books

What I Read This Month: June Books

Hope in the Dark

I requested Hope in the Dark from my local library the day after inauguration –as did just about every other human in the Bay Area. It wasn’t easy to get my hands on this puppy. Hope in the Dark didn’t quite uplift me as much as I had hoped, but it was still a much needed reminder to see the whole picture, pick up our protest signs, and keep fighting for what’s right.

It also gave me a bit of a history lesson into events that happened when I couldn’t read and was oblivious to the world around me.

 

The Gene

Ug. This book took me well over a month of near daily reading to slog through. If you’ve read more than one of these posts you know that’s highly unusual for me. The Gene is a monster of a book with nearly 600 pages.

The jacket promised a woven tale of science and personal stories, but instead it was mostly science with random tidbits about people that are mentioned once and forgotten. I couldn’t get into it.

It just didn’t live up to the hype for me. The worst part? After all of that time reading I only vaguely understand genes better. I also remember very little of the history of the discovery. Unless you are a major science reader or are particularly enraptured by genes, I wouldn’t recommend this one.

 

Hidden Figures

There was something special about reading Hidden Figures on the plane home from Iceland (and then on the train once I was back to work). I mistakenly expected the book to be a bit more cinematic (more scene building, more time spent with one or two characters from a more personal vantage point), but I still really enjoyed it. The history is incredible, and I loved reading about the men and women I had never heard about before.

Next up, the movie!

 

Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do about It

Prepare to have rage course through your veins so fiercely that your chest hurts and your palms sweat. Prepare to launch yourself aggressively into discussions about sexual assault and rape cases currently in the news. Prepare to feel overwhelmed, discouraged, and determined to create change.

Asking for It left me feeling like my chest was on fire. I wanted to reform the legal system, fundraise to have every rape kit tested, and do whatever else it took to prevent sexual assault in the first place and have it properly handled when it did occur.

This book should be a must read for anyone who doesn’t think rape culture exists – and for everyone else who sees rape culture and its insidious effects every day. I want it to be required reading for all politicians, police officers, and emergency department personal. It should be sent to every man/woman/robot who forwards emails to women warning them about the dangers of wearing their hair in pony tails or walking through parking lots.

Please, just read it.

 

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

This book scared the shit out of me. It gave me cold sweats and made my heart pound against my chest. On Tyranny opened my eyes to what’s really at stake. Whether or not you believe the current president is intentionally marching us toward a tyrannical government, Yale University History Professor Timothy Snyder provides a clear view of the past and an eyes-wide-open state of our world today.

On Tyranny hit me so hard that I wrote down the core messages in my journal so I can refresh my will to resist and enliven myself to do something about the things that make me angry and restrict rights.

You could easily read this in one sitting, but I found it best to read it a couple of lessons at a time.

 

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

For some reason I thought this book would be dumbed down and make it easy to understand the workings of the universe. I was wrong.

I struggle with understanding the micro-scale and the absolutely massive macro-scale of the universe. My boyfriend, who likes time/space, really enjoyed the book however. If chemistry and physics make you warm and fuzzy, this is the book for you.

 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

After languishing for years on my to-read shelf, I finally picked up A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The forward of the edition I found did a complete disservice to the book. It left me thinking the book was going to be boring and a lot like Pride and Prejudice (one of my least favorite books).

I can’t really explain why, but I got wrapped up in this book. I would read it during my two hour journey to Oakland and want to read it the entire trip back too. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of those classics that is actually worth reading.

 

Want more recommendations?

Check out what I’ve read so far this year:

May
April
March
February
January

You can see all of my book reviews here.

Sustainable, Ethical Travel in Iceland

Traveling to Iceland is an unforgettable experience, but you want the land to forget you were there. It’s difficult to leave no trace when traveling in a country where everything is shipped in and most goods are heavily packaged. Add to that a unprecedented influx of travelers and you have a recipe for serious environmental damage.

There is a lot of discussion right now about the growing popularity of traveling to Iceland and whether or not it’s ethical to visit. Visitors have a lot of responsibility to leave the island as pristine as possible while supporting a sustainable travel business for the locals.

There are plenty of ways to make your stay more ethical and sustainable.

Sustainable, Ethical Travel in Iceland: Waterfall

How to Travel Sustainably and Ethically in Iceland

Sustainable, Ethical Travel in Iceland: Reusable Containers

1. Pack Reusables

I packed:

  • Bamboo cutlery set
  • Cloth napkin
  • 5 handkerchiefs
  • Foldable grocery/tote bag
  • Metal water bottle
  • Insulated metal water bottle
  • 3 metal food containers

These items made it easy for me to pick up food from a restaurant to eat on the go or take home leftovers without creating waste. I also filled my containers with food for my flights and skipped the expensive airplane/airport food. At one point we filled one of our stainless steel containers with handmade gelato!

You definitely don’t have to be shy about using your own containers here. People in Iceland were honestly thrilled to see our reusable containers and they would go out of their way to fill them (usually with more food than we would have had in one of their own containers). When we got gelato from Joylato in Reykjavik the kind woman who made our treats asked to take a picture of us holding our container just because it ‘made her heart happy.’

 

2. Pack Food for Your Flight

The trash created by food in the airports or on the airplane is staggering. Airline passengers created 5.7 million tons of waste in 2016 alone. That’s the same as throwing away 300 empty container ships each year. All trash created on international flights is promptly incinerated when you land which means that all of the chemicals in the plastic and other materials are released into the air. The rest from the airports or when you land is also a huge problem.

On both of our flights I was able to avoid throwing anything away by packing snacks/meals in reusable containers, bringing (almost) enough water for a long-haul flight, and not bringing anything with me that would need to be thrown away (wrappers, receipts, etc.).

 

3. Refuse Plastic Water Bottles

Every flight tried to get us to take a small plastic water bottle on the way in. We simply said ‘no thank you’ and drank out of our bottles that we filled in the airport. We used our bottles throughout our entire trip exclusively. The tap water in Iceland is the best I’ve ever tasted.

 

4. Choose Sustainable Housing

Not everywhere you stay is going to be perfectly zero waste or sustainable, but picking places that highlight what they are doing or put effort into reducing the impact of your stay is doable. Our first hostel, Vík Hostel, had composting, chickens that ate scraps and provided food for breakfast, signs about saving water, recycling, and cleaned only with safe, non-toxic cleaners.

 

Sustainable, Ethical Travel in Iceland: Whale Watching

5. Support Local-Owned Business

Travel has been a major boost for Iceland’s economy. Help keep your money in Iceland by seeking out lodging, restaurants, tours, and stores that are locally owned. Most websites of smaller locations will tell you about the owners, and you can always ask. You’ll likely have a better experience too by choosing someone who really knows the area and genuinely cares about your stay.

 

6. Choose Unpackaged When You Can

Most food is shipped in from other countries. It’s a cold island mostly composed of volcanic rock – you can’t grow a whole lot here. We did our best to eat local foods when we could, but it certainly wasn’t easy or widespread.

Grocery stores are mostly shelves upon shelves of packaged foods. Even the ‘fresh’ fruits and vegetables come in plastic packaging. Do your best to find unpackaged foods when you can, and opt for recyclable glass containers when they’re available. There are bakeries in Reykjavik where you can get fresh bread and pastries, but overall bulk foods are hard to find.

Sustainable, Ethical Travel in Iceland: Moss Covered Rocks

7. Request No Receipt

We mostly paid with cash (except our whale watching tour and our lodging). For the most part you have to sign a receipt when you pay with a card. When we used cash most places didn’t print a receipt if we didn’t want one.

Sustainable, Ethical Travel in Iceland: Save Water - Glaciers

8. Save Water

Many parts of the island use geothermal energy to heat the water which saves a lot of electricity/natural gas. Even though water is abundant and quite likely less energy-intensive than your water at home, do your best to conserve water. The water you are letting run down the drain came from a pristine glacier or snow melt. It may have taken hundreds of years to melt off and end up in the pipes. Be a good steward and use as little as you can.

 

9. Bring Your Own Toiletries

I’m not sure if anywhere we stayed provided small toiletries or not. Regardless, we brought our own from home to save on plastic bottles. My boyfriend brought his favorite shampoo bar and I packed all of my stuff as is. My shampoo and conditioner were the only things I had to put into something smaller.

 

10. Rent the Smallest, Most Efficient Car You Can

Since we were traveling in the late spring we chose a small compact car that got pretty good gas mileage. This is a bit more challenging in the winter, but there are still plenty of 4-wheel drive options that aren’t massive gas-guzzlers. The efficiency of your car is especially important if you plan on doing a great deal of driving like we did.

Sustainable, Ethical Travel in Iceland: Sustainable Tours

11. Book Sustainable Tours

Book tours that are sustainable or upfront about how they are working to protect the environment. Not only do you reduce your impact, but you also support a green, sustainable economy. Help the locals protect their environment and still get the full sight-seeing or exploring experience by choosing sustainable tours.

Our whale watching tour was the only tour we booked. We originally booked North Sailing’s carbon neutral whale watching tour (sailboat), but it was unfortunately out of commission the day of our tour and we ended up on their diesel ship.

 

12. Skip Paper Towels

Most public restrooms had hand dryers instead of paper towels. When both were available I chose the dryer to save on the paper and the energy required to ship them all the way to Iceland. [Iceland also has one of the best renewable energy programs in the world.] In hostels/guesthouses I used the provided towels or my own. You can easily slip a small towel or a handkerchief into your pocket for a reusable drying option while you are out as well.

 

13. Eat Local Foods

Iceland is known around the world for its success with sustainable fishing. This site breaks down which fish are sustainably fished so you can order without worry. Many restaurants also serve locally raised lamb.

 

14. But Not All of Them

While local, whale and puffin are mostly eaten by tourists. Both species are struggling, and they are especially challenged by the environmental and physical changes of having such a large influx of tourists. Do not eat whale or puffin.

 

15. Stay On The Trails

Stay on marked trails at all times. While it seems like a great idea to wander for that epic photo, your steps can dislodge moss and other vegetation that have spent years just trying to root. Iceland, despite it’s wild nature and robust land, is in fact a fragile environment. Treat it as such. Also, don’t tag lesser-known areas on your social media posts. It seems cruel to not share the exact details of your impressive find, but many places are not advertised or widely-shared for a reason. Help limit the amount of people who are going into fragile areas.

 

More Resources:

Want to travel zero waste? This guide from Zero Waste Guy for Iceland is great!

More general zero waste travel tips (and gorgeous pictures).

 

More about our trip:

You can see everything I packed and check out everywhere we went on our trip around the Ring Road.

5-Day Iceland Ring Road Itinerary

We spent 8 days in Iceland in the middle of May, including 5 days traveling the Ring Road (Highway One). While you can certainly do the Ring Road more slowly, I wouldn’t try to do it in fewer days. The road isn’t that long, but slow speed limits and unpredictable weather mean you may not get to explore very much if you try to do it faster. At 5 days we had plenty of time to explore, but we also did have two days with six hours in the car.

I’ve included our 5-day Iceland Ring Road Itinerary for those who are curious as well as what we did during the rest of stay. This post is packed with information, but hang in there – there are also pictures!

Day 1: San Francisco to Reykjavík to Vik

Since it’s hard to decide when day and night happen while traveling, this is going to be my full day. We got up early and went to the gym before our flight. I swam to relax and try to make friends with my body before being shoved on a plane seat for nine hours.

We flew from San Francisco to Seattle with a short layover to stretch our legs. From there we took a 4:30 p.m. PDT flight to Reykjavík. I had the best intentions for this flight. I bought an embarrassing sleep mask and I was prepared to do everything I could to sleep on the plane. But most of our plane wanted to hang out and make friends.

People didn’t seem to realize (or care) that we were landing at 6:45 a.m. Iceland time and staying up for at least 14 hours after. Some even had other flights to catch into Europe. The older gentleman next to us watched movies for seven hours while the ladies behind us made friends with just about everyone on the plane. Needless to say little to no sleep happened. It didn’t help that we landed when I would normally be heading off to bed at home.

Breakfast in Reykjavík

After picking up our rental car (which was the saddest rental I’ve ever seen, but it was cheap), we headed to the city for breakfast which is about 40 minutes from the airport. We cleaned our plates and caffeine-filled cups at Grai Kotturinn (Gray Cat). The food was expensive, but the prices were completely in line with the rest of the city. Bookcases line the walls and soft lighting made it feel especially cozy. The restaurant only has seven tables, but we were able to walk right in and sit down (although it was early on a Tuesday morning). Definitely get the pancakes and the stewed tomatoes (not meant to be eaten together). Our guidebook claimed the restaurant is frequented by Björk, but alas… we had no idea what she looks like.

Drive to Vik

We grabbed groceries from a small store before we set off on the first leg of the Ring Road. We were definitely tired by this point and feeling the jet lag coming on, but my boyfriend felt fine driving. (Ironically this is the only day I wouldn’t fall asleep in the car.)

The ride from Reykjavík to Vik kept us completely awake. My boyfriend had been to Iceland before in the winter, so it was fun to hear about how different the landscape looked. The further we got from the city the more waterfalls we saw and the greener it got. We frequently stopped along the way to stretch our legs and see the sites. And each time we did the cold breeze woke us right up.

DIY Waterfall Tour: Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss

We pulled over at Seljalandsfoss, one of the most popular waterfalls on the island. The view was gorgeous. It wasn’t very crowded when we got there so we were able to walk and explore pretty much on our own. There were a couple of people walking behind the waterfall, but when we saw how soaked they came out we declined to follow. The wind was already strong and it was only in the 40’s when we were there. If you want to explore behind the waterfall (which sounds amazing) you really need head to toe rain gear and a warm car to retreat to.

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

From there we drove a little while longer before a large waterfall appeared up ahead to our left. We impulsively decided to pull over, and I’m really glad we did. Despite the tour buses in the parking lot, Skógafoss wasn’t overrun with people. We took the stairs up the side of the water fall, which is an absolute must. There is a viewing platform at the top that overlooks the waterfall and the grasslands that spread all the way to the ocean.

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Skógafoss Waterfall

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Skógafoss Waterfall

Since being outside in the sun and moving made us feel normal and not at all like we’d been awake for more than 24 hours, we decided to keep going and see where the trail along the river went. It wasn’t the most exciting hike ever, but it’s worth hiking at least a little further to see the river cut through the hillside.

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Skógafoss Hike

Finally Sleep

I cannot put into words how excited I was to finally sleep. When we got to our guesthouse, Vik Hostel, all I wanted to do was go to bed. Instead we made dinner and marveled at the sunlight that was still pouring in. At 9:30 p.m. I couldn’t take it anymore. I put on my sweet eye mask and went to bed completely oblivious to the sunlight outside.

Day 2: Vik to Höfn

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach)

Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach)

After our included breakfast we hit the ground running with a trip to Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach). There was only one other couple at the beach so it felt like we’d somehow traveled to another planet. The basalt column cliffs are mind-boggling, both up close and from further down the beach. We were incredibly lucky that it was low-tide so we were able to see the cliffs and even explore inside a small alcove/cave. Even so, we didn’t stay long. The wind had really picked up and it was starting to rain so we only walked around for 15-20 minutes before heading back to the guesthouse to checkout.

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach) Rocks

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach)

Along the Ring Road / Highway One

This drive was one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. The scenery is unbelievable. We stopped at multiple pullouts along the way, but I wish I had taken more photos of the landscape. You drive past active volcanoes, massive glaciers, and sweeping landscapes of moss-covered lava rocks. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before.

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Highway One - South

While we were in Iceland there were baby sheep everywhere. They made the ride even more enjoyable, and I couldn’t stop talking about how cute they were, especially when they tried to run.

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Highway One - South Lookout

Jökulsárlón

Our first major stop for the day was Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoon). You could easily spend the whole day here – and a whole month’s salary. Tours aren’t cheap, but you can take an amphibious tour straight into the lagoon alongside building-sized pieces of ice. There are also ice walking/ glacier tours and even glacier cave tours in the winter. We stuck to exploring on our own and didn’t leave disappointed.

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoon)

Definitely follow the ice down to the beach. While the glacier itself and the massive chunks of it in the surreal milky blue water is impressive, you don’t want to miss the bright blue ice bouncing around in the waves and resting on the black sand beach. It was a bit crowded, but overall we were still able to explore without feeling like we were in one massive tourist trap. If you go to the water, go to the beach that’s on the same side as the little tourist center at the lagoon. There were substantially more glacier pieces on that side and much more space to spread out. Just follow the path along the edge of the river under the bridge to the beach.

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoon)

And this probably goes without saying, but dress warm. It’s definitely cold here. Even colder than some of the nearby surrounding areas.

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Beach

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Beach

Finish the Drive to Höfn

We got to Höfn and settled into our room at Guesthouse Dyngja, my favorite guesthouse of the trip. As the first group to arrive for the day, I’m convinced we got the best room. We had harbor views and a completely remodeled room. The place was cozy and the owner was really friendly and easy going.

Hoffell Hot Pots

Once we were settled we snuck off to a nearby hot spring, the Hoffell Hot Pots. I had been browsing online for things to do in the area while we waited to check in and happened to stumble on the hot pots. It ended up being one my absolute favorite parts of the trip.

The hot pots are located at the end of a gravel road. They’re surrounded by Icelandic horse pastures and have views of the mountains. There are five pots in total, each a different temperature. There’s also a little building with a toilet and changing areas for men and women. (Note, the building is not heated, and the outdoor shower that you should 100 percent use before getting in to keep the pools clean was barely warm when we were there.)

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Hot Springs - Hoffell Hot Pots Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Hot Springs - Hoffell Hot Pots View Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Hot Springs - Hoffell Hot Pots

I could have spent all day soaking here. There are no attendants (it’s donation based) and it was relatively empty. For the most part there were less than four other people in the area while we soaked. We were able to find a pool that was the right temperature for both of us, and a light rain kept us cool while we relaxed.

We went to three hot springs on our trip (more on the others below) and this was my favorite by far. It was so relaxing to sit outside in the quiet and watch the horses graze.

Day 3: Höfn to Mývatn

This was a loooong drive. It took us around six hours to get from Höfn to the Mývatn area. The beginning of the drive is some of the best scenery in Iceland with drop off cliffs and rolling green hills. Things start to get a little less picturesque as the drive continues. Part of the drive is on maintained gravel roads, which slowed us down quite a bit in our little compact Skoda. The end of the drive took us up through snow-covered (though melting) mountains with clear roads. Once we popped out of the snow fields it felt like we had been dropped off on Mars. The wind was intense and the smell of sulfur was everywhere.

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Northeast Highway 1 Mountains

Hverir

We pulled off along the road and froze at the Hverarond Geothermal Area. The bubbling mud pits looked like something out of a science fiction movie. The mud around the mud pits was also impressive. We declined to lose a shoe in it and instead covered our noses and peered out from solid ground.

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Hverarond Geothermal Area Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Hverarond Geothermal Area

The smell here was absolutely overwhelming. We kept thinking we got out of the wind and then it would rapidly change and blow it straight back into our faces. It smells intensely of rotting eggs and some other smell that both of our bodies instantly reacted to as a bad sign. Couple that with the biting wind and sub 40 degree temperatures and we didn’t last long here.

Myvatn Nature Baths

There’s always that one place that you see in a photo and think ‘I absolutely have to go there.’ This was it for me.

We knew we wanted to skip the Blue Lagoon (too crowded for our liking), but we still wanted to soak in some milky blue waters. Myvatn Nature Baths is essentially the Blue Lagoon of the north. It’s also man-made and it uses natural spring water that has been pumped through their geothermal power plant. I promise, it doesn’t feel anything like sitting in power plant runoff, although I guess that’s technically what it is.

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Myvatn Nature Baths

Like all of the hot springs in Iceland, you have to completely shower sans-swimsuit before entering the pools. In this case you had to shower in not-quite-hot-enough water and then walk a good 50 feet dripping wet to get into the pool. Did I mention it was in the mid 30s? It took everything I had to get myself into the pool without freaking out. I cannot imagine how people do this in the dead of winter. No thank you.

The baths have two main pools and one concrete hot pot. We spent most of our time in the hotter of the two large pools, although I was crowded around the pump where the hot water comes in because it wasn’t quite warm enough for my liking. I also wore a thermal headband to keep my ears warm, and I strongly recommend keeping your head dry to help you stay warm. Especially because you have to walk all the way back to the showers outside. We also brought a water bottle, which nearly no one else did. I was really glad we had it, although they did serve beer and other beverages. (Buy a beer or beverage ticket when you pay for admission and then they will serve you from the warmth of the hot springs when you’re ready. You do often have to get out to find the attendant and to order and grab your drink, however.)

We cooked ourselves the best we could in the very popular hot pot on the deck of the baths before braving the walk back to the showers. In all we probably spent 1.5-2 hours relaxing in baths. It was worth the money, but the more secluded hot springs had kind of ruined the experience for me.

Dimmuborgir Guesthouse

Our room for the night was a small cabin right by Lake Myvatn. The view was gorgeous, but I was more excited to have a private bathroom and some serious black-out curtains (technically metal ‘curtains’ that roll down and completely block the light). We slept great here and overall enjoyed our stay. The kitchen wasn’t as well stocked as we had hoped. I was also dissapointed because we never got to meet the two dogs who live at the guesthouse year round. That said it was a clean, relaxing place.

Day 4: Mývatn to Akureyri

Icland Ring Road Itinerary: Hverfjall

Hverfjall

Before heading out to Húsavík, the whale watching capital of Iceland, we hiked up Hverfjall, a massive exploded volcano that lurked over the area we stayed in. We had no plans to visit it (and really didn’t know it was there at all) until we were driving to our guesthouse. After reading a bit more about it there was no way we were going to just drive by it again.

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Hverfjall Crater Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Hverfjall Views Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Hverfjall Crater

The hike to the top of the crater is about 1km. It’s a bit of a butt workout, but the entire hike isn’t overly challenging. The rocks are on the looser side so I would recommend hiking boots. Once we got to the top we had some extra time so we decided to hike around the lip of the crater. In all it was about a 2.75 mile hike, and we had a blast (too soon?).

Whale Watching in Húsavík

When we first started planning our trip to Iceland we knew we wanted to go whale watching. Húsavík’s reputation for whale watching is actually what made us decide to drive the Ring Road. It was well worth it.

We started our day in Húsavík at Gamli Baukur, a delicious restaurant right on the harbor. This was one of the few places I was able to get a vegetarian, gluten-free lunch on the entire island, and it was also one of the best meals we had.

Once fueled up we hopped on our boat for our tour with North Sailing. We had originally booked their carbon neutral sail boat tour, but unfortunately the boat was out for maintenance and we were on one of their regular (noisy) diesel engine boats.

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Husavik Whale Watching

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Husavik Whale Watching North Sailing

We saw a large pod of dolphins and multiple humpback whales on our three hour tour. The views from the boat were incredible, and our ride was pretty smooth (although that didn’t stop one woman from feeding the fish). My phone told me I was out of space minutes after we left the harbor, so I don’t have any pictures of the dolphins or whales.

But my boyfriend has a couple.

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Whale Watching

If I were to do it again I would keep my phone in my pocket just the same. We saw so much more than the people who were desperately trying to take pictures. I highly recommend putting your camera away for at least part of it and taking it all in.

Akureyri Backpackers hostel

Post-whale watching we headed off to the largest city in the north, Akureyri. We spent the night at Akureyri Backpacks hostel and really enjoyed it. The room was clean and the bathrooms were nice. The eating area downstairs was a great place to hang out and grab a meal or drink. We spent most of our (short) time there in the shared kitchen.

Day 5: Akureyri to Reykjavík

This was a long drive. We drove six hours or so along a not too glamorous stretch of land that looks a lot like you would see in California’s Central Valley to make it from one ‘big city’ to the next.

About an hour outside of Reykjavík we stopped for lunch at The Settlement Center. I originally had misgivings about the place, but oh man was it tasty. They had delicious gluten-free bread. And gluten-filled bread. After days of stale gluten-free snacks and sad oatmeal for breakfast, I thought I might melt to the floor when the server brought me whipped butter sprinkled with lava salt to spread on my loot. If I could have fit that in my pocket, I would have. I most definitely pocketed my leftover gluten-free bread and did a little happy dance every time I nibbled off some.

Once in Reykjavík proper we explored the neighborhood around our Airbnb and picked up some food at the famous Bonus grocery store.

Day 6: Reykjavík

Our morning started at Reykjavík Coffee Roasters. We heard about all of the great coffee in the city, but we honestly only went here. It was too good to risk going somewhere else. We spent the day walking around the city and eating every bit we could. We went back to the Gray Cat for lunch after looking at countless menus and finding ourselves a bit stranded with the lack vegetarian friendly brunch options that were being served instead of lunch (it was a Sunday).

Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Reykjavik Sunset

[This is the sunset at 11:15 at night. It never really got fully dark while we were there, but the sun did dip below the horizon for a couple of hours at night.]

Later that night after a home cooked meal we headed out to Joylato for dessert. They do made-to-order ice cream that they make in mixers with liquid nitrogen. From your ice cream base (I went with coconut milk) down to your toppings, you get to create your perfect treat. Yum.

Day 7: Reykjavík / Golden Circle

It breaks my heart a bit that this is the most many people will see of Iceland. While the golden circle is worth seeing, it’s not even close to the most interesting or stunning sites in the country. If you are doing the Ring Road and don’t have time to visit the Golden Circle, don’t sweat it.

The entire Golden Circle is crowded. Even with a relatively early start we were parking along roads outside of the main parking areas and waiting for large tour groups to move so we could see. This is not an alone in nature experience.

Pingvellir Tectonic Plates

Our guidebooks made this seem absolutely majestic, and the science behind what is tearing Iceland in two is fascinating. However, when we got to the tectonic plates we didn’t know it. It was less visually impressive than I anticipated.

Iceland Pingvellir National Park Tectonic Plates

Iceland Pingvellir National Park Tectonic Plates River

This path goes right over the rift created by plates… I wasn’t a huge fan of that. We didn’t explore the area much, but if you have time it seems worth hiking around a bit.

Geysir

This is no Yellowstone – you don’t have to elbow your way through hoards of people only to stand around for over an hour… waiting. At Geysir there are multiple geysers (actually the origin of the name). The catch is that only one of the errupts with regularity. The others only erupt after volcanic eruptions or earthquakes. Thankfully only the one went off while were there.

The main geyser, Stokkur, goes off frequently, sometimes as close together as five minutes. We saw at least three eruptions while we were in the area, one a little too close for comfort for me. I’m pretty sure you can hear me in many tourist’s videos of the eruption panicking that we were about to get drenched and potentially scalded. Needless to say we did not. However, do take note to stay upwind or you will get an unfortunate shower.

There are loads of restaurants and a legitimate shopping mall inside of the Geysir Center, but we brought food from Gló in our own containers and picnicked in the car instead.

Gullfoss

Iceland’s most famous waterfall does not disappoint. Definitely hike down and check out the falls from the top of the canyon.

Reykjavík

After our long day we headed to The Laundromat Café for dinner. The diner is cute and the food was surprisingly good. Stick to water or beer here – mixed drinks were not worth it. We sat at the bar and watched multiple bartenders fail to make the drinks on their menu (ours included). And yes, there are actual washing machines/dryers downstairs so feel free to bring your dirty clothes. There’s also a kids play area in the laundromat area.

Day 8: Reykjavík to San Francisco

Laugardalslaug

Since swimming before our flight had worked so well the first time, we decided to do it again. We headed to Laugardalslaug, the massive indoor/outdoor pool complex in Reykjavík. The water is all spring fed and geothermically heated, and you have to shower off completely before getting in because they do not chemically treat the water. Attendants in the bathroom ensure that you wash thoroughly without your suit before you get in (and they take this job very seriously).

I swam for about 30 minutes before soaking in their numerous hot pots along the pool deck. (A note to other swimmers. You need goggles here since the untreated water will burn your eyes. Also, when I was there swimming in the ‘fast lane’ I was the only one doing flip turns and the only one actually moving quickly.) Once we were thoroughly warm we headed to their 4-5 story high water slide. I think my boyfriend would have been happy playing on the slide all day.

Take note: This is the most popular pool in Iceland, and Icelanders love their pools. Try to go at an off time if you can.

Reykjavík Coffee Roasters

We stopped by the coffee shop one last time to fuel up for our long day ahead of us. We also had time to sit back and read for a little while which was lovely.

Laundromat

Yes, we went back to The Laundromat Café for lunch, although to be fair I technically ate breakfast foods.

On our way to the airport we picked up more takeout from Gló for me to eat on the plane since it’s often difficult for me to find vegetarian/gluten-free food in airports.

Airport

The airport can get crowded, and flights back to the U.S. from Icelandair have passport control on the way to the gates. We made the mistake of relaxing in the main part of the airport until 20 minutes or so before our flight was set to board. If the line had been much longer at passport control we would have been late for our flight.

General Things to Know

Grocery stores close early, really early. We had a very sad cobbled together dinner one night because the grocery store closed at 6 p.m. On a Wednesday.

There are speed cameras inside the tunnels and along the roads near some of the cities/towns. Our rental car company also warned us about unmarked police cars that will ticket you for speeding. In general, there’s too much to see anyway so you might as well go slow. We didn’t have any trouble with people simply going around us.

If you have a special diet (like vegetarian or gluten-free for instance) bring snacks from home and be prepared to make most of your meals.

Cooking will save you money. A lot of money, but food is expensive. Everywhere. No exceptions. Even a trip to the grocery store is substantially more expensive than you might expect, and nearly everything is packaged or frozen.

Iceland is a popular destination, but we didn’t have much trouble with crowds. Nothing was really crowded like Yosemite or other popular places in the U.S. The Golden Circle and the shopping district of Reykjavík were the most crowded places we went, but they fluctuated greatly. Stay off long-haul tour buses if you want to skip the crowds.

Much of the Ring Road is inaccessible in the winter and a 4-wheel drive car is necessary for other parts of the year. We were completely fine in our tiny non-4-wheel drive car in the middle of May since there was no snow on the roads while we were visiting.

What I Read This Month: May Books

I have a million and one excuses for this month, but it really comes down to two things: I worked too much and I spent what little free time I did have playing Zelda.

At the end of April I started contracting with a magazine in Oakland. This has meant that I spend four hours commuting three days a week. In theory this would be a great time to read, but in reality multiple transfers and rude people who talk on their phone on the train often make it a frustrating experience. Top that off with too much work and I end up trying to squeeze in as much productivity as I can out of my disjointed trek across the bay.

When I did have time to presumably sit down and read, I often chose instead to sit down with my boyfriend’s Nintendo Switch and play Zelda instead. Why? Because my brain has been fried and I’ve really enjoyed playing it. I spent more time playing Zelda on our trip to Iceland than reading. This was aided by the fact that I was quite jet lagged and reading ended up with me falling asleep or not remembering the last 10 pages. No regrets there.

Cafe Skuld, Husavik, Iceland

[If you were going to read in Iceland, this little cafe in Húsavík would be the perfect spot. Or you could get on a boat and see whales like I did.]

May Books… Er… Book

All of this is to say, I read one book this month. And I’m slightly ashamed about it. I was close to finishing another book, but its technical science has slowed me down considerably. Look out for that one in June.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

Ah, another Fredrik Backman book. I just can’t get enough of these. His characters are lively and vibrant. So far every one of his books has fully sucked me in. My Grandmother was no different. I loved Elsa and her view of the world. Her grandmother would tell her fairy tales from a land she made up, and Elsa would in turn see the whole world through the lens of the fairy tale.

Add to that her grandmother’s antics like breaking into a zoo to cheer up her granddaughter and you have the making of a hilarious, touching book. Once I did pick this book up on our trip, I couldn’t stop. Not even Zelda could keep me from finding out what was going to happen next.

If you happen to be able to read this in Iceland or a Scandinavian country I highly recommend it. I read this mostly in Reykjavik and the story came to life for me. While it’s set in a small town in Sweden, the apartment buildings and bright colors of Reykjavik matched wonderfully.

What to Pack for Iceland in Spring

There’s a (good) reason things have been quiet around here. I spent the last few weeks working like crazy so I could take a full eight days off in stunning Iceland. While I have plenty more to say about our trip (and enough pictures to break the internet), I’m excited to share what I packed.

Why?

Because this was my best packing job yet! All of my stuff fit in my 45L backpack, including my bulky hiking boots and my plane snacks. My big down jacket? Oh yeah, that was in there too. Nailed it!

What to Pack for Iceland in Spring

I put weeks of thought into what I would bring to Iceland, mostly because the weather was constantly changing leading up to the trip. That didn’t change once we were there either – Iceland’s weather is unpredictable and extremely variable. I highly recommend being prepared for cooler or wetter weather than weeklong forecasts predict for a spring trip.

What to Pack for Iceland in Spring

I wore every item I brought, except for emergency underwear, a couple pairs of thin socks, a sports bra, and a short-sleeve athletic shirt that would have been used had we hiked another day or two.

Staying for more than eight days? Simply wash every 5-7 days. Most of the guest houses, hostels, and Airbnbs we looked at or stayed in had washers. No need to pack more.

Clothes

Tops

  • 2 long sleeve cotton t-shirts
  • 2 long sleeve technical t-shirts (if you aren’t planning on hiking, sub for any warm base layers)
  • 1 short sleeve shirt
  • 1 technical short sleeve shirt
  • Fleece sweatshirt
  • Swim suit
  • 1 bra
  • 2 sports bras
  • 1 knit sweater
  • Pajamas
  • Rain coat/ wind breaker
  • Down coat

Bottoms

  • Corduroy pants
  • 2 pairs of hiking socks
  • 5 pairs of regular socks (I wore 1 pair…)
  • 8 pairs of underwear
  • Fleece sweats (for hiking and lounging)
  • Thick leggings/tights (winter running tights, long underwear, or ski tights)

Shoes/ Accessories

  • Hiking boots
  • Athletic shoes/ warm, comfortable walking shoes
  • Flip flops (especially if you are staying in a hostel or visiting hot springs)
  • Scarf
  • Gloves
  • Beanie/thermal headband
  • Small backpack for hiking or a crossbody bag

My boyfriend and I shared his small backpack while hiking and my crossbody bag everywhere else. I used my medium-sized crossbody bag on the plane for reading material, my journal, passport, snacks, and my water bottle.

What to Pack for Iceland in Spring

On the Plane

I broke every single rule and packed my hiking boots. I HATE wearing shoes on a plane, and there was no way in hell I was going to spend 20 some odd hours shoved into my hiking boots. Or take them off and put them back on through security. No thanks.

  • Comfortable athletic shoes
  • Cords
  • Fleece
  • Short sleeve shirt
  • Compression socks (for my ankle)
  • Bra

What my daily wear looked like:

long sleeve base layer + fleece + thick socks + warm pants + down jacket (+/- rain coat) = warm, dry, happy traveler

Daily temperatures were anywhere between 14C (around 60 F) and 3-4C (mid to upper 30s) as we traveled along the Ring Road. Reykjavík was quite a bit warmer than the mountains in the north, but wind chill could still drop the temperature quite steeply in the city. Layers made it easy for me to stay comfortable throughout the 30 degree swing.

What to Pack for Iceland in Spring

lived in my cords and fleece sweatshirt, but we rarely stayed in one place for more than a day and no one could see my sweatshirt under all of my jackets anyway. You could easily bring another pair of pants if wearing the same pair frequently bothers you. I personally didn’t mind, especially since I was mixing it up on the days that we were outside exploring. I hiked in my thick tights (technically winter running tights) with my fleece sweats on top. Wind-resistant hiking pants would also work great.

Yes, I wore two pairs of hiking socks for our entire 8-day trip. It was too cold for my feet to get nasty, so I wore each pair twice before washing and hanging them over the radiator. It worked great.

Zero Waste Gear/ On the Go Eating

It was important to me to make as little waste as possible on our trip, especially because Iceland is a fragile environment that is suddenly experiencing a massive surge in tourism. All of these things also made bringing my own food on the plane a breeze. These were by far our most used items, and I am really glad I brought them.

  • Bamboo cutlery set
  • Cloth napkin
  • 5 handkerchiefs
  • Foldable grocery/tote bag
  • Metal water bottle
  • Insulated metal water bottle
  • 3 metal food containers (packed with food in both directions : ) )

I filled both of my bottles for our flights, and still had to ask for a bit of water on the plane (which they gladly poured straight into my water bottle). The extra bag was perfect for buying groceries, wrangling stuff for a short trip, and hitting the hot springs.

What to Pack for Iceland in Spring

Toiletries

  • Sleep mask (hello constant daylight)
  • Ear plugs
  • Bar soap
  • Mini hair brush
  • Floss
  • Deodorant
  • Small container of laundry soap
  • Medications as needed
  • Tooth brush
  • Hand towel
  • Nail clippers/file
  • Hair clip and hair tie
  • (Optional: full-sized towel)

Liquids

I ended up deciding to not bring a full-sized towel to use at hot springs or where we were staying. Most of our guest houses/ hostels had towels already included in the price, and the rest were relatively inexpensive. We went to one hot spring that didn’t have towel rentals (or an attendant), and we just brought one of our towels from that night’s guest house with us. It would have been difficult for us to get our towels to dry while we were driving the Ring Road, and I really didn’t want to have to worry about them. We paid a bit extra overall, but we always had a warm towel and it really wasn’t that expensive in comparison to Iceland’s prices in general. My small hand towel (below) was used for drying our hands and dishes as needed.

What to Pack for Iceland in Spring

[This is what happens when you have been up for 24 hours and you realize you haven’t taken a picture of your pack – you take a blurry photo in the airport at midnight on your way home.]

Bottom Line

Iceland’s weather changes rapidly year-round. It’s especially important to pack lots of layers in spring. If you plan on hiking or doing the Ring Road, definitely bring clothes that would keep you warm in snow just in case. You may not need them, but they will be priceless if you do (speaking of price, EVERYTHING in Iceland is expensive. This is not the place you want to be buying an emergency jacket). We also particularly enjoyed our extra-warm clothes on our whale watching tour.

Packing cubes are clutch, and highly consider bringing a backpacking backpack if you plan to go outside of Reykjavík. We carried our packs up muddy hillsides, down long gravel roads, and up many flights of stairs to get to our bed for the night.

What I Read This Month: April Books

I’m a little late on this one, but nonetheless I did actually read in April. Maybe not as much as I wanted or as consistently, but there are still April books worth mentioning. Spoiler alert, there’s actually fiction in here.

My April Books

What I Read This Month: April Books

The Borrower

As someone who practically grew up in the library or with a book in hand, The Borrower spoke straight to my heart. The story is about a young librarian and her star reader, Ian. The boy’s obsession with books and his mother’s oppressive censorship hit home for me. While my mom never limited what I could read, my elementary and middle school certainly made its opinion clear about the books ‘good Christians’ should read and those that are straight from the devil.

My heart went out to this little kid, but the author does a great job of showing all of his sides. His drama. His manipulation. His self-centeredness. His fear. His desire to escape.

I had to suspend my disbelief a bit more than I would like with this one, but overall I still enjoyed it.

 

Britt-Marie Was Here

I’m still talking about A Man Called Ove, so I was more than excited when another one of Fredrik Backman’s books arrived for me at the library. Britt-Marie didn’t disappoint either. I loved the humor of the story and the quirks of the characters. It’s an easy book to tear through, and I dare say a good one for a long flight if you happen to find yourself in that type of situation.

 

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

While Joan Didion’s piece, Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream, was part of the required reading for my college magazine journalism class, Slouching Towards Bethlehem was my first real dip into her writing. I was left mostly confused and feeling like I was standing just outside the main group at a party. I could pick up things here and there, but in general I was too far out of touch with the culture and time to know what was going on.

 

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016

The first Best American collection I read took me more than six years to finish. Not so this time. If you like stories about the impending catastrophic earthquake predicted to hit the Pacific Northwest or why sports bras are typically so shitty, this one is for you.

 

Want more recommendations?

Check out what I’ve read so far this year:

March
February
January
Best Fiction and Nonfiction Books of 2016

You can see all of my book reviews here.

The Best Waterproof Athletic Tape

Waterproof athletic tape that actually stays on in the water or extremely sweaty situations is nearly impossible to find. I have spent years suffering through terrible tape that falls off in just about every situation.

My swim coach used to wrap injured joints with what felt like half of a roll of athletic tape, and it would all have fallen off long before we got out of the pool. I was queen of sweating off ankle tape in the middle of basketball games.

waterproof-athletic-tape- waterproof athletic tape

I accidentally found my favorite waterproof athletic tape.

Back when I was healthy, one of my CrossFit friends taped my hands with tape made to protect my palms during endless pull-ups. I was massively skeptical. The weird tape had goats all over it. But it stayed put like nothing I’d ever tried.

I went home and bought myself a couple of rolls of Scary Sticky Goat Tape. A couple of months later my PTT was flaring up, and I couldn’t find my athletic tape. In a pinch I used my Goat Tape.

The hold was impressive. It outlasted the entire CrossFit workout and my shower after.

I’ve never gone back.

best waterproof athletic tape

The Best Waterproof Athletic Tape: Scary Sticky Goat Tape

Goat Tape stays on no matter what I throw at it. A hot, sweaty, dirty hike in the middle of the summer? No problem. An hour and a half swim with endless kick sets and sprints? You bet. Hot yoga? Totally chill.

To be extremely clear, this tape is not like Kinesio Tape. It does not stretch with you, and it’s not used in the same way. Goat Tape is more of a traditional, stiff athletic tape that is used to stabilize joints and limit range of motion. It has been a life-saver post surgery, especially in the early days when I couldn’t even stand the pull of the water on my ankle while swimming.

best waterproof athletic tape

Important things to know:

Goat Tape is extremely sticky. It’s in the name, and they mean it. If you have body hair, you will need to use pre-wrap to prevent an acutely painful, unexpected wax. My brother and I learned this the hard way when I taped his arches… but I bet his feet looked better in sandals!

I purposefully tape my ankle without any pre-wrap. I feel like it gives me a better hold, but there are pre-wraps with adhesives that would likely give you the same feel. Or you can just shave. No judgements here.

Like any tape, your skin needs to be clean and dry before applying or it won’t stick. If you sunscreen or even put lotion on hours before, the tape won’t stick to your skin once you start sweating or swimming. It will, however, still stick to itself.

Always wrap your tape longer than you need. I tend to add an inch or two to the end of the tape to allow for it to unravel slightly in the water without causing critical failure. The end doesn’t always come undone, but it gives me piece of mind that an inch or so can loosen and I won’t have any problems while swimming. This isn’t necessary if you aren’t going to submerge it in water.

Ins and Outs

There’s something satisfying about watching things go. Even if it’s not my stuff, a donation pile is soothing and full of promise. I love checking in on #minsgame and reading blog posts about what people choose to keep or get rid of.

I never really thought to track my own ins and outs until I saw this post from 600 Square Feet and a Baby. Her pile was so inspiring that I thought I would share my own. This is a list of everything we’ve donated, trashed, sold, or bought in the last three months.

Ins and Outs

Outs

Donated:

1 pair of snowboard boots
Plastic cutting board (was saving for camping, but it’s not in good shape)
Pair of socks (too big)
Sample mouthwash (new dentist, didn’t know to refuse)
8-year-old water filter jug

Sold:

Sweatshirt
Fancy bookmark
Leggings

Recycled:

Pair of black pants (replaced in December)
Broken raincoat
4 shirts
Old swim trunks

Trash:

An 80% full bottle of hair spray from 2009…maybe earlier. It hadn’t been used in at least four years.

In:

Matt:

1 pair of swim shorts, replaced dingy, two small trunks
1 t-shirt, replaced one of the ones that was recycled
1 raincoat, a much better fit than my old, broken one that he was squeezing in to.

Me:

Nothing.

Although to be fair I did try my best to find a new fleece jacket. So far no luck, but I’m still looking. Once I find one my two, sad fleeces will be donated and recycled respectively.