I love traveling. Wait, scratch that. I love being in new places. But, getting there? Not so much. Despite the fact that I cross the ocean at least a couple times a year, I still have a long list of worries that always seem to come along for the ride. Whether it’s a fear of flying, heights, unknown places or crowds of people, we all have moments that make us feel anything but calm, cool and collected. Nevertheless, we would never be able to see the world if we continued to let out fears block the way. Here are my favorite tricks and tips that can help ease the transition out of your comfort zone.
While we’ve heard it a million times that if you fail to plan you plan to fail (hello, 11th grade math teacher’s motto), it’s the truth. Make sure you have itineraries, tickets and times printed out and/or easily accessible on your phone. I prefer to highlight key data I might need when I’m rushing through a security line, such as my flight’s confirmation code. While having the information is key, run through your plan a few times in your head to ease your worries and determine the best way to execute. Imagine yourself landing in a new city and attempting to get to your hostel. Taxi, uber, public transportation? Play it out in your mind to familiarize yourself with your procedure. I read about how Michael Phelp’s does this before a race: plan each second accordingly and then act on habit rather than spur of the moment. Worked for him, didn’t it?
Give Yourself Extra Time
Nothing is more anxiety-inducing than being rushed for time. If you’ve planned out your day (see above), then you can take into account the distance between places and how much extra time you need to have. And be honest with yourself, if you tend to linger around and walk slowly, you might need more time than someone who is a power walking champ.
Occupy Your Mind
However, being early also means you have time to mull over horrible possibilities for whatever adventure you’re heading to. Instead of replaying the plane crash in Cast Away over and over again in your mind, bring some reading material on a subject more soothing to the soul. Perhaps listen to an uplifting podcast or read a funny memoir (Tina Fey, for the win), anything that will allow the time to pass while also taking your mind away from simmering worries.
Shocker! Yoga made it onto the list. Flow through a quick vinyasa (sign up for my email list to get a free guide!) to calm your nerves and center your mind. If you’re in a public place and not willing to downward dog in crowds, find yourself a comfortable seat and slowly count your inhale and exhales. Otherwise known as pranayama, controlling the breath slows down your breathing which can speed up if you’re worried or anxious. Try breathing in for five counts, holding for two, then exhaling for eight. repeat as necessary to bring your awareness back internally and away from external concerns.
Essentials oils have been around for centuries to help various health issues without the side effects of medicine. Lavender helps reduce serum cortisol, clary sage clears the mind and rose settles your emotions. Put a drop of the oil of your favorite on your wrist before your next event and breath it in deeply. Just as a courtesy, I would avoid using oils in tight areas. Just because you want to zen, doesn’t necessarily mean your neighbor does.
Releasing your concerns in a journal allows them to leave your mind and be entered onto paper. Although this is easier said than done, often times we hold onto feelings we don’t even realize we have. By writing down even the smallest worry, we acknowledge that it exists, recognize how to overcome it, and then move on. By letting it fester inside, it only adds more and more pressure to an already stressful situation. If journaling isn’t your thing, try writing postcards to friends and family. Simply channeling your creative self can help calm you down.
Avoid the News
This one took me awhile to understand. the more bad things I read about in the news, the more likely I thought that they could happen to me. It’s important to be informed, yes, but watching the fifth news segment on the disasters of the day isn’t going to contribute to your life. In fact, I found that the more I watched the news, the more elaborate the made up scenarios in my head got. Stick to positive outlets, or uplifting fictional texts instead.
Diet and exercise have overruled the health world for decades. And for good reason, too. Obviously eating all-the-plants and getting that treadmill desk have proven to improve your overall well-being. However, a whole new world of health is being redefined outside of the kitchen and the gym. On the days where your diet is less than stellar and you can’t make it to spin class, there are still numerous things you can do to keep your body, heart and mind happy. It’s time that we moved past what we eat and how we move, but focus on looking at ourselves as a whole machine so can understand how to take care of the parts that we can’t exactly see. There are my favorite ways that keep my soul and mind at peace!
This is one of the quickest ways to bring a little peace to your day. Try peppermint in the morning to energize, lavender to soothe anxiety, and frankincense to spark your enlightenment. Either add a little to your wrists or use a diffuser at home or at work to enjoy the benefits. From cleaner air, a better outlook on life and reduced stress, there’s not much essential oils can’t do!
While what you put into your life is important, it’s even more vital to take note of what you take out. While we know what we should and should not eat, we don’t always pay attention to what we put on our bodies instead of in it. There are numerous apps now that can inform you of what is in the products you use…and what you need to be concerned about. Think Dirty and Good Guide are my favorites!
Thank goodness #selfcaresunday is trending! Although #selfcareeveryday is more like it. Take time each day to do what soothes your soul. Whether it’s painting your nails and sipping tea, or saving up for a monthly massage, find what improves your quality of life and don’t compromise that time for yourself. Not only will it increase your confidence, it reminds you of you self worth and will motivate you to continue to make choices that make you feel good.
Environment that Serves You
Who you become as a person is often determined by who you surround yourself with. If you notice that you feel drained, stressed or overwhelmed, check what place you’re in and who’s around you that have caused you to feel this way. Once you identify what’s creating these negative feelings, you can work to eliminate them to finally have space for the ones that bring you joy.
When you’ve created an opening to bring in the new, find a crowd that fuels you to be brighter and loves you as you are. Feeling accepted is one of the greatest influences of overall well-being necessary for a healthy and happy life. But keep in mind it’s quality of quantity. A few honest, caring and inspiring people is far more productive than numerous people who do little to trigger your own personal growth.
Foster Human Connection
Outside of friendships, there are hundreds of people that you will encounter each day. Take the time to create connections, even as simple as eye contact or exchanging pleasantries to strangers to spread joy. The more you share a kind word, the more likely others will follow. Even more so, create connections with people who look different than you, who come from a different generation, a different country, even speak a different languages. We absorb the experiences of others so might as well make them as diverse as can be to add depth and meaning to your own worldview!
Feed Your Hobbies
After elementary school, we often loose the time invested into our own creative outlets. Whether it’s playing sports, writing poetry or taking long nature walks, busy schedules and obligations become our priority. Start by chunking out ten minutes a day to invest into a passion you had as a child. By delegating your time differently, you’re able to have options that bring happiness and contentment to your life…exceptionally useful for when going through a difficult period. Having an activity to ground you when life feels out of your control not only brings peace of mind, but a confidence to handle challenging times.
Learn Something New
Learning a new hobby creates new pathways in our brain to increase our knowledge and skill set. Not only can it be fun, but it also helps expose you to new ideas that open your mind and allow you to connect better with those around you, not matter what the task is. As a pastime or an escape, learning something new can improve your overall quality of life by giving you something to look forward to.
Meditation can mean so many different things to so many different people. My initial image of mediation was of a divine yogi in full lotus pose rising above the earth in some sort of trance. And while this image isn’t entirely far-fetched, it was an intimidating endeavor for me to actually sit down and expect to be lifted off the ground…even if not physically, but spiritually.
I didn’t seriously start considering a meditation practice until I was asked,
“We shower every day to cleanse our bodies, but what do we do to cleanse our minds?” Good question. I didn’t even realize that was something to consider. When quite honestly, how could you not afford to refresh the nooks and crannies in the place we spend so much time, our own heads?
Although my fears of beginning a mediation practice were valid in their own right, they were in no way going to stop me at least from trying. It’s a silly thing, how could sitting still be so tricky? And yet, it was. As an avid fidget-er and constant go-getter, doing nothing not only seemed unproductive, but impossible. Close to it, at least. But that’s the thing about mediation…as soon as I started to create these expectations for myself (such as not twitching my toes or clearing my mind entirely), I had already created hurdles for myself instead of merely accepting these moments and letting them go.
As soon as we cling to our shortcomings, we prevent ourselves from moving past them.
Ultimately, the purpose of meditation is not to be still, it is to take awareness away from petty everyday concerns we create in our minds and lift away from ourselves in order to view the world experience outside of our bodies. Um, what? Real talk, we’re creating space between our bodies and our existence which allow ourselves to be free of mental disturbance. In doing so, we can finally view our existence as a separate identity than our thoughts. After all, how many of your thoughts are not actually rooted in actual life? Fear and worries that you’ve completely made up in your mind? No, not me, never. Ha. Meditation allows us to seek what exists in actuality while accepting that, although we will have thoughts and continue to have a range of thoughts forevermore (a sign that we’re human after all), we can learn to control them in a manner that is productive and healthy.
As we sit still, specifically cross-legged to allow for a flow of energy (more on this later) we are better able to separate from the self. The more we resist temptation to scratch, wiggle or move, the more we build up tolerance for these annoyances. Fast forward to real life, we are then able to notice annoyances in our daily lives but not need to act on them. AKA, you can’t stand your coworker whistling every morning at 7am, but you’ve controlled your thoughts to overlook this annoyance and not have it interrupt your otherwise pleasant day.
So we know why we meditate, but how, exactly, does one get started?
Schedule a Time
Determine what time you’d like to practice and schedule it every day thereafter. While I know many people find meditation to be energizing and a uplifting start to the day, I prefer to meditate at night when my to-do list is complete so I have less anxieties floating around. Whether you prefer morning, noon, or night, take a moment before hand to jot down any left-over items that are still hanging around. Releasing these concerns, to-dos, or expectation before your practice allows you to physically empty of these ideas and bring a clean space into your meditation.
Choose a Method
While I fully encourage the use of a meditation guide to lead you through your meditation, it’s really up to you what you prefer. I initially began using Headspace and Buddhify, I’ve found that I prefer to just listen to the sounds of the ocean rather than getting caught up in the tone of someone’s voice, or hearing someone else’s breath going in and out. Set a timer for how long you’d like to sit, ideally aiming for 20-30 minutes (or longer), but allowing yourself to begin where you feel comfortable. 10 minutes? Awesome. 5 minutes? You rock.
Designate an Area
Find a comfy spot where you can sit up straight with your legs crossed, or legs extended long and crossed at the ankles. It’s important to maintain this posture to allow for deep breathing and keeping the energy circulating through the body. To prevent open circuits at your hands, touch your index finger underneath your thumb and rest them on your knees, or create a circle with your hands and rest them on your lap.
Because we are human beings, thoughts are a natural occurrence. Meditating allows us to react to these thoughts without attachment. I’ve used many imagery strategies to acknowledge these thoughts and then send them on their way. First, imagine each thought is a cloud that slowly drifts into your mind and then you watch it drift on, out of your sight. Recognize the clouds are there, but do not hang onto them as clouds must keep their movement. Another image, a personal favorite, is to view your thoughts like the dishes at a revolving sushi bar. Really. Imagine each thought as if it is a unique sushi roll that we occasionally pull of the revolving bar in front of us. Notice that you’ve taken the dish (thought) off the bar, and then gently set it back on and let it go on its way. both of these images let us view thoughts as their own entities, in no way a part of us. By viewing them through an outside lens, the more we can accept them and move beyond their limitations.
While we want to resist the urge to move to not break our higher existence, be kind to yourself and forgive yourself for disruptions. A skill not only for meditation, but life as well. Instead of dwelling on an imperfection (you just had to move that hair away from your eyes), acknowledge it existed, then let it pass through.
As you begin to close your meditation, come back to your breath and bring slow movement to your body. It’s important to be gentle with yourself so you can then extend that gentleness outwards to the world around you. Make time to revisit this practice each way, working to extend the amount of time and expanding to various location to practice. (I’ve even managed a 20 minute practice on an airplane that was glorious).
Have you tried mediation? If so, what helped you stick to it? If not, what’s stopping you?
As we talked about earlier, yoga is more than asanas, the physical poses. While building strength in warrior I and defying gravity in headstand is awesome, it’s not the only reason people keep coming back for more. The empowerment and inner-peace you carry off of your yoga mat is what matters most. As always, consult with your doctor before participating in a new workout. While I’m a certified yoga teacher, respect your body and don’t push into positions that feel sharp or painful beyond the level of discomfort.
Now it’s time for the juicy stuff. Here are my top five poses to not only help you handle the stress you have, but prevent it from coming back. Ever.
Oh yeah. Right into the good stuff. Child’s pose is golden on its own or in the middle of a sequence. In addition to being awesome for the nervous and lymphatic systems, child’s pose is a calming posture that helps quiet the mind, which in turn eases stress and gently releases pressure in the back. My favorite way is to keep the knees wide, let your belly drop down as you push your butt towards your heels. Your arms can be extended long with the elbows for a more active pose, or hand can lay down next to your heels to rest the shoulders.
Extended Puppy Pose is a great follow-up to child’s pose. Often times when too much is on our plate, we unknowingly tense our shoulders and totally abandon our posture. Not only does this crunch our midsection making it more difficult to breath, It also lower our confidence and strains our necks. Puppy pose reverses this damage. It releases the shoulders, where we hold our tension and our stress and lengthens our core to stretch the abdomen, helping us to keep this position when sitting upright. Push up into table top from child’s pose, keep your hips high as you lower your chest and chin down to the mat and walk your arms our straight ahead of you. Having your chin on the mat allows for a deeper shoulder stretch, but you can modify by placing your forehead on the ground instead for a less intense version.
The first time I did rabbit pose, I hated it. Knees pushed into my chest, top of my head crunched, difficulty getting air. The things that dreams are made of, right? No. But that’s the point. Rabbit pose teaches you to breath in tight spaces, to find comfort in being uncomfortable, which ultimately builds up your endurance in handling anxiety-causing situations. The longer you’re able to stay in the posture which brings on feelings of stress, the more you’re able to recognize it and turn inward to bring your anxiety back down. So the next time you’re boss is reaming you out and you feel like you’re suffocating, find ease in knowing that you’ve already practiced how to breath in distressing situations like this. From puppy pose, make your way back to child’s pose and reach your hands around to grab your heels. Place the top of your head on the mat with your forehead touching, or close to touching you knees. Gripping firmly to your feet, lift your hips up towards the sky. Hold for five to eight breaths, lower, and then repeat.
Eagle pose dependent on one’s concentration and balance, eagle pose forces us to focus on a single object, such as a point on the wall, in order to stay upright. This pose lends itself for when we are boggled down with a million things on our minds, in turn causing us to treat each task individually rather than drowning in to-dos. It teaches us to appreciate the single moment and not to plan for those ahead or worry about those behind. In addition, it also opens up the shoulders, upper back and hips, which can all carry tension unknowingly. To get started, plant down your left foot into the earth and slightly bend both your knees. Bring your right knee up over your left knee. You can double bind with the right ankle around the left calf, but it’s not necessary for the benefits. Right elbow comes underneath left elbow, palms of your hands together. Square your hips to the front of your mat and engage your core to prevent your butt from sticking out. Gaze to a spot in front of you to keep your balance. There’s also the option to take eagle post on your back as a modification.
Savasana, perhaps surprisingly one of the more difficult poses, considering we’re so used to being go go go that we can’t just be. By placing one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest, you connect to your breath and recognize the control you have over it. When we’re worried or overwhelmed, we’re like to shorten our inhales and exhales. With a hand over your belly, you can be sure to breath in deeply, hold, and then release. By altering the physical response (hyperventilating), we can change our emotional one (stressed). To get into savasana, lay on your back and let you feet fall to the sides. Scan your body from head to toe, surrendering to the position and letting go of any tension you feel (I often unknowingly flex my quads or neck instead of letting them hang heavy). And then, thank your body for carrying you through this practice and promise to come back to your mat the next time you feel your stress rising. Inhale peace, and exhale gratitude. Namaste.
YOGA UPDATES! Are you in the Washington, D.C. area? Do you have a pre-teen or teen that could benefit from practicing mindfulness and yoga (aka all of them!)? I’m offering a pre-teen to teen yoga summer camp at Your Life Energy that will focus on building strength, balance, flexibility and healthy habits for when kids need it most! Find out more info here.
Are you convinced yet? How has yoga improved your stress and overall well-being?
One of my favorite sayings about yoga is how it’s funny how outsiders think yogis are all calm people when, in fact, we’re all here because we’re all nuts. Ain’t it the truth! As my anxiety and stress levels only increased with my age, I realized I wasn’t utilizing the proper, or any, coping mechanisms to deal with the pressures of *adulting*. The shallow breathing, consistently feeling overwhelmed, unregulated emotions, ya know, the good stuff when you can’t get a grip on life. And while I’ve seen many friends turn to medication as a solution (all the more power to them), I wasn’t yet willing to give up this fight to modern medicine. I wanted to address my issues holistically, identifying the root of these emotions and develop strategies to handle them in any and all environments.
So, I had no choice but to finally get serious about my yoga and meditation practice. While my occasional Sunday evening classes were enjoyable, they weren’t enough for me to change my thought patterns. Yet, driving to the studio and rolling out my mat for 75 minutes every day just wasn’t feasible with a full-time job (and my addiction to watching Friends reruns). I needed my practice to meet me where I was, literally, at my house. Although I was initially shaky and unsure of my yoga sequencing, a few vinyasas followed by a series of slow stretching and meditation allowed me to recreate my nightly routine. By taking my mat out each night, I also picked up some other habits, like keeping my phone in another room, turning the tv off and shutting down my busy mind in order to focus on my movement..ridding all the usual suspects known for causing stress.
And, shocking to no one, it worked. I learned to control my breathing, to recognize the signs of anxiety and stop them before they drowned me. Ultimately, I made major life decisions that altered my entire way of life. Instead of concerning myself with how I thought my life should look, I got rid of all the fluff. Ya know, the expectations ingrained in me, both from internal or external factors, that didn’t entirely match my interests or passions. Can you relate? Now, I finally had a clear vision to determine what direction I truly wanted to go in. So, I changed my entire social circle, altered how I viewed my day job, and, most importantly, registered for my own 200 hour yoga certification, giving me the ability to share this revelation with others.
It’s important to note that yoga doesn’t avoid uncomfortable positions. I mean if you’ve ever seen someone in revolved half moon, then you know this is true. Ugh, that pose it TOUGH. I digress. Yoga doesn’t shield away from tight, suffocating spaces. Instead, yoga puts you in these places to teach you how to respond to them in a positive way. It *changes* how your body reacts to frustrating moments in a healthy manner so that your body will start to react that way on its own.
Still not buying it? Totally get it. I, too, am a “show me the data or I’m believin’ nothing” type gal. So here you go. Check out this study here that states that yoga can be considered as a possible adjunctive therapy for those dealing with stress and anxiety. Because it has no lasting side effect (only good ones..) or conflicts with any other form of treatment, yoga is shown to encourage overall quality of life. Or this one, where prisoners who completed a yoga or meditation program while incarcerated showed increases in their psychological well-being.
Even more so, in as little as nine days, another study suggests that “lifestyle modifications and stress management programs lead to favorable metabolic effects”.
Sold? Good. Now it’s time to put this into action. Tune in later this week for a simple ten minute sequence that will release tension, reduce stress, and empower your soul wherever you might be. For real. See ya then!
YOGA UPDATES! Are you in the Washington, D.C. area? Do you have a pre-teen or teen that could benefit from practicing mindfulness and yoga (aka all of them!)? I’m offering a pre-teen to teen yoga summer camp at Your Life Energy that will focus on building strength, balance, flexibility and healthy habits for when kids need it most! Find out more info here.
The web is a black hole, one wrong click and you’re suddenly taking a quiz on which kind of pizza topping you are (black olives, if you’re curious). To avoid those useless updates of what your coworkers ate for lunch, here’s another collection of items from around the web that will inform, enlighten or entertain you. If you’re going to surf the net, surf with purpose.
Ever think about taking up meditating? This just might convince you once and for all that this hobby does more than give you peace of mind…it might influence your bank account as well.
Any money too much money to be spending on a trip? Here’s a great list of ideas to travel for free, or close to it.
Introverts unite. Just because you’d rather keep to yourself doesn’t mean you can’t experience the world. In fact, it might even make you a better traveler.
I’ve taken over 500 hundred yoga classes in my life, which might even be on the low end. But with all the yoga classes I’ve shown up to, none of them did more for me than the one where I unrolled my brand spankin’ new mat for the first time, still smelling of fresh rubber and plastic. You might be thinking, there’s no way a single 75 minute vinyasa flow could actually change your life. Yet, that’s exactly where you’re wrong. In fact, it’s only those 75 minutes that will change your life, the classes that follow are simply a continuation of the path you’ve started down. But if you never opt to enter a lavender-scented studio again, here’s why a single class is still worth your time.
Yoga offers a different work-out experience than other fitness classes. Depending on the type of yoga, you can build an unbelievable amount of strength, balance, and flexibility over time. In fact, one could argue that yoga is the only thing you need to stay in shape..but more on that later. Although the results are similar to other physical activities, yoga opens up your mind along with your body. Your first class is, often times, the first instance you view your body as vessel. Which means what, exactly? Well, while we know we have a mix up of bones holding us upright and blood streaming through our veins inside, yoga opens our eyes to the other parts. Ya know, the other things. It’s our bodies that hold our thoughts, our souls, our breath and all of our love (which can be heavy). They might not show up on an x-ray, but they’re in there, #trust.
When you’re on your mat, you are working on more than your physical presence. You’re working on how to use these other parts to make you better as a whole. When our breath matches our movement, when our thoughts reflect how we want to feel, when our love is for ourselves and not just given away, we are far more successful in whatever we wish to accomplish. And here’s the thing that yoga teachers don’t tell you—>Once you’ve opened up this new way of thinking, you can’t go back. You’ll be putting the same intention into all of your routines. Spin class? Are you inhaling strength and imagining your legs moving with ease? You will be now. Stressful meeting? Are you recognizing these feelings and working through them rather than pushing them away to only pop up later? You betcha.
You view your body as constantly evolving. Rather than always putting yourself at a beginning point and believing you can’t be content until you achieve x, y, and z, yoga meets you where you are. Every pose can be modified or amplified to fit you, not the other way around. One yoga class shows you how so little time can change so much. You’re beginning downward dog will be stiff, calves tighten, shoulders crunched, neck strained. And then, you do it again. And again. And by your fourth downward dog, yous heels dip a bit lower, your shoulders slowly sink away from your ears and you release your neck. An extended amount time is not always needed for growth and progress, just a little yoga-teacher-assist can change the entire way you view your body: the tensing up you have an idea you were doing, the habitual clenching you hadn’t bothered to notice.
You learn to do you best, and recognize how that will differ from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. Your best is going to change, and that’s okay. The beginning of class your strength might allow you to hold you plank with the fierceness of a warrior king, but six chaturangas later your best might be belly-flopping to the ground #beentheredonethat. When you redefine ‘doing you best’, you can treat yourself with a gentleness and kindness that replaces the negative talk you have when you didn’t do what you *thought* you should be capable of doing. We are always capable, it’s the objective that you must allow to shift.
Lastly, yoga introduces you to the view that by working on yourself, you on working on everything around you. Your family, your friends, your community. Yoga itself means unity, and by finding the open parts of you and filling them up with the goodness, you are better able to serve yourself and others. A sentiment I use often in my classes: you can not pour from an empty cup. Looking out for yourself is not selfish, but the most generous thing you can do.
Like a dam with a single crack that inevitably will open up for floods of water pouring out, yoga offers a similar experience within our bodies. Once we allow ourselves to crack, even just a little bit open, it’s hard, nah, impossible, to stop us from overflowing with the benefits yoga has for us.
Taking one yoga class opens all of these modes of thinking, about our bodies, our minds, and everything surrounding them. So even if you never roll out your mat again, you have created a passageway to viewing yourself, and others, with a kindness and sensitivity that can’t be undone. Even more likely, once you step off your mat, you’ll be counting down the minutes until you can step back on it. But hey, that could just be me.
Have you tried yoga? What’s the one thing stopping you if you haven’t? I’d like to know!
The southern coast of Iceland is known for its unpredictable weather, icy mountain caps and steep cliffs. Which, while offering panoramic views in every direction, was taxing on the travelers passing through, to say the least.
It had been less than a week and our hiking boots had already been thoroughly broken in, covered in ash and dust. Although it was a bittersweet goodbye, we were looking forward to a calmer few days in the north coast, a reprieve from the the challenges we had endured. If you’re just diving in, click here to check out the first half of our trip around Ring Road in Iceland!
After climbing back over the mountain from Seyoisfjorour, we made our way to Dettifoss, and its baby sister, Selfoss, two of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe. The falls themselves were a magnificent sight to see, but the desolate rock fields leading up to them were even more intriguing. Looking something like District 13 in the Hunger Games, the deserted land offered the solitude one could only find on the moon. At one point, I wasn’t even sure if we were on planet earth anymore.
While continuing to drive through the volcanic lands, we headed up to the Krafla Volcanic Region where we would find Hverir, a geothermal area at the foothill of Namafjall.
If you can survive the strong smell of sulfur hanging in the air, you’ll be able to to witness a contrast of colors only few have seen in nature.
Spending the past week in temperatures hovering near freezing, we were looking forward to a group of natural hot springs that an AirBnB host had told us about on our way to Akureyri. While Iceland is often symbolized by its Blue Lagoon, the hot springs exist all through the country, although some are far too hot for people to go in or even near. Beyond the toursity appeal of the Blue Lagoon, the Myvatn area offers hot springs for the locals, or the few visitors who make it outside of Reykjavik.
A good soak rejuvenated us to venture onto the second largest city on the island, Akureyri, a colorful urban area at the base of Eyjafjörður Fjord. At the center of the city sits the 1940s Akureyri Church that overlooks the main streets. Graffiti decorated the pathways in a tasteful and clever way, adding to the city rather than detracting from its beauty.
Instead of staying within Akureyri, we found a once in a lifetime farmstay in a van a couple miles outside of town.
The Icelandic farm sat on the edge of a lake pillowed between mountains, the perfect vantage point for the midnight setting sun.
We spent the evening enjoying a home-cooked meal by the owner and gossiping with her 14 year old daughter, who dreamed of one day moving to L.A. After trading our stories, we cozied up in our camper van with the sunlight still hanging in the sky.
The never-ending daylight meant another early wake up as we prepared for our longest drive yet. Our kind host left us some freshly baked bread to take on the road. A much calmer drive than before, we headed to Snafellsness, a peninsula often overlooked on others’ trips around Ring Road. We stayed at another farmstay and took recommendation on where to explore.
We started at Dritvik and Djupalonssandur, another black sand beach where you can see the bright orange remnants of shipwrecks from hundreds of years ago. Not to waste the day, we quickly made our way to Vatnshellir Cave for a caving tour below the earth’s surface.
With a full day behind us, we savored another night on a new farm and set up a time to ride the farmer’s horses in the morning. Despite the chill in the air, we were eager and ready at 8am to ride off through the volcanic fields, observing lava tubes and glacier cuts through the mountains around us while on horseback.
After learning more about life on the peninsula from our horse riding guide, we were fascinated to learn that most people on the peninsula move back to the city during the winter. Only a farmer or two stay around to feed the horses, whose thick fur keeps them warm no matter what the weather.
As we packed up our things from our last stay around the island, we made our final list of sights to see on our way back to the capital. After a quick detour to Kirkjufell Mountain, the most photographed mountain in Iceland, we headed to Mount Esja for our closing hike.
Mount Esja overlooks Reykjavik and felt like the most fitting final stop on our adventure. The mountain appears to glow a lime green from the mix of wild flowers growing around the base.
A steep climb leads up to fresh spring water where you can fill your bottle straight from the creek, along with an extraordinary view of the city we had only left 11 days ago.
Heavy-hearted, we leisurely made our way back to Reykjavik, already planning our return to this unparalleled island.
For even more Iceland fun, follow us along as we tried out best to film through the wind, ice, fog and magic.
Stay tuned for a recap of what to do in Reykjavik! While I highly recommend traveling Ring Road to truly immerse yourself in the Icelandic way of life, a weekend in the capital will give you a taste of why Iceland has become loved by so many. I mean, Beyonce was here, wasn’t she?
I turned 29 this past week. Although, to most people, 29 isn’t its own age, it’s “The Year Before 30” *shudders*. Turning older no longer means new privileges, it means new responsibilities. I don’t totally know when it happened, but it seems that as soon as we pass the era of birthday parties and goodies bags we suddenly view our special day with disdain and resentment. When I hit my first birthday outside of my college years, I drew a blank as to how to celebrate another 365 days around the sun without quarter night at the local town-y bar. Is there even another option? All the years started to blur together, no longer signaling another life achievement, or graduation, or new job. I had already checked those defining boxes. Yet, despite how much was already behind me, so much more was up ahead. And why shouldn’t I be pumped about that?
So, this year I decided to feel nothing but gratitude and excitement as I edged closer and closer into my next decade. Quite honestly, things were so much harder in my early twenties that, if I wanted to feel anything, it would be relief to wave them goodbye. It was a time to celebrate what I overcame to be who I am now, and how I could reflect on the part 29 years to make the next 29 years the best yet. If you’re not thrilled about entering a new age on the treadmill or seeing your birth year get further and further behind you, here’s how to reclaim the joy and positivity that surrounds another year of getting older.
Establish Life Direction
Unlike your 18 year old self that had to declare a college major that would determine the rest of your life, at this age you have a pretty good idea of what you want to go after. Or, at least, an idea of what you don’t want. Whether it’s where you live, where you work, or how you spend your free time, you have the independence to go after what you want and the skills to recuperate if it doesn’t work out. Your birthday is the time to pencil in some life goals, or at least a guideline or two of what you’d like to accomplish in the next year.
Smart Enough To Know That Will Change
Along with constructing your life direction, you 100% know that it will not go according to plan (which is why you wrote it in pencil..). And that will not only be okay, but awesome. Perhaps two kids and a golden retriever isn’t exactly what you need to be fulfilled. While your job pays the bills for now, you’re comfortable knowing that a career change might be up ahead or you’ll finally make the leap into entrepreneurship. So for today, dream the biggest dreams you can and give them room to fit into how your life unfolds, in whatever form that may be.
Recognition For Where You Are Now
Congratulate yourself. You found yourself a job, a place to live, and people to do all of that with. Mostly, you made it out of middle school when it was touch and go there for awhile. That, alone, is enough to cheers to.
While Appreciating All That Comes Before
As much as you look ahead, it’s time to give yourself some credit for how far you’ve come. This is the day to remember the valleys and thank them for leading you to mountains. The heartbreaks you never thought you’d recover from, or the new cities where you never thought you’d make another friend, were a necessary part of the puzzle to build the skills you’ll need the years hereafter. Instead of shoving those low moments into the back of your mind, thank them for the strength they gave you and make peace with regrets that might still linger around. Maybe majoring in English wasn’t the most lucrative choice, or moving away from family wasn’t the easiest life to pick, but you did and you are doing the best you can. And that is enough.
Surround Yourself with People You Like
Establishing a new direction for my life led me to people who not only understood me, but pushed me out of my comfort zone. There’s no better way to celebrate your birthday than with those that helped you get where you are. Although it was a mishmash of groups, I wanted to have everyone I loved in the same room. Instead of everyone introducing themselves only for guests to forget a gazillion new names a minute later, I created goofy name tags for people to write down their names along with their defining characteristics. While I wanted to celebrate my birthday with all my friends, it’s even better if they walk out with new buds too.
Channel Your Inner Child
Nothing says you’re almost thirty like glitter sunglasses and fake mustaches, which were the goodies I decided to pass out for my celebration. But really, do you even need a birthday as an excuse to shine bright like a diamond? Strong no.
What’s your favorite way to celebrate your birthday each year?
The people in airports fascinate me. I often wish that travelers were required to wear a label when flying sharing where they came from and where they were going. Not in a creepy, stalker-ish way (although I get that’s where I’m headed), but more so because I believe you can learn the most about a person by seeing the places they value. Are the going home? Or faraway from it? There’s so many details that can be learned by merely scanning one’s boarding pass. It was during a conversation like this with the woman sitting next to me on a plane back from California when we got to talking about the greatest places we’d ever been. Without a moment of hesitation, she said that Iceland not only changed how she traveled, it changed how she lived. That sounds like a bit much, I thought to myself, but it didn’t stop me from doing a little research when I got home.
It quickly became apparent that the land where lava meets glaciers was drawing the appeal of millions. I, too, was not immune to its magical pull. Two months later, my best friend and I planned and booked 12 days driving around Ring Road for the middle of July (which allowed for optimal daylight hours and least chance of blizzards). Now that it’s been some time since our trip came to a close, I finally feel ready enough to pull out my journals and photographs to revisit the most enchanting country I’ve seen. Given the extent of this trip, I’ve split it up into three parts. Part one will follow us along Ring Road on the southern coast, part two is Ring Road leading up the northern side, and lastly, a separate post for all the gems to be found in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik.
So go grab your hiking boots and sheep’s wool, it’s time to explore this land of beautiful contradictions. Welcome to the the place where fire meets ice.
After landing at Keflavik, the Reykjavik airport, we headed over to Sixt to pick up our rental car. A small hatchback we would use to travel around the highway circling Iceland. Given that we were traveling in the middle of the summer and planned to stick to main roads, four wheel drive wasn’t necessary. However, we did opt for the WiFi router and GPS (life saver!). Although it’s difficult to get lost when going in one direction, the street signs are less than stellar, especially if you’re not keeping up with your Icelandic. It was reassuring to have a safety net in case we got lost. Lastly, we stocked up on groceries since towns were sparse along the way. This is what they created trail mix for.
Our first day was spent exploring the Golden Circle. This charming park is filled with rushing waterfalls, volcanic craters, steaming geysers and awe-inspring outlooks along the way. The route is easy to follow and we were able to see mostly everything in one day.
We spent the night at the Bus Hostel in Reykjavik and were up early to join a day tour to explore the glaciers. This hostel was more than just a bed to sleep in. We enjoyed the free breakfast in the morning and the ability to chat with others in the common area (and use the speedy Wifi!). It was the perfect spot to get suggestions from others who had been in the country for several days ahead of us.
This was our only pre-booked adventure, as we were determined to have the freedom to travel wherever the road took us. Yet, I couldn’t suggest this group enough. Although the high winds prevented us from walking across much of the glacier, a common weather disruption here, we were able to make up for it with other sites.
History buffs will be enamored with the Sólheimasandur plane crash that occurred on Saturday Nov 24, 1973 when a United States Navy airplane was forced to land on Sólheimasandur’s black sand beach in the south of Iceland due to severe icing. All of the crew members survived, and many of the Icelanders would visit the plane to use its leftover fuel.
Since we were in the land of waterfalls after all, the guide took us behind the sheets of water to view the world from another perspective.
Sometimes the smallest waterfalls were the most moving to stumbling upon, a hidden secret you weren’t exactly looking for.
In between waterfalls, we encountered grass huts built into the sides of mountains. The folklore of trolls and elves is alive and well in Iceland. So much so, Icelanders reroute their highways to respect the land of the trolls.
Lastly, we visited Reynisdrangar Ocean Cliffs and the Black Sand Beach. Known for its high wind, you could full let your body fall against the strong gusts and feel your weight being supported. While difficult to breath, the thin air only added to the dark contrasts of the black sand against the icy water. Straight out of Game of Thrones, the area looked more like a movie set than an actual landmark.
We stayed overnight in a small AirBnB in Hvolsvöllur and prepared our snacks for the next day. It was important for us to always check the weather for impending storms and make sure we dressed accordingly. Our next night would be in Hofn, a small fishing town in the southeast. We woke up early to beat the rain and headed off to Vatnajökulspjódgardur National Park (say that three times fast..or actually just try and say it once) and Skaftafell to hike to Kristínartindar Mountain and the Svartifoss waterfall, which tumbles over black basalt columns. A popular walk, we felt as though we were on the edge of the earth. Each turn led to a view across mountain tops and the glaciers sliding in between until we reached the diamond shaped rock of the basalt falls, signaling it was time to turn back.
Since we still had time left in the day, we drove past Hofn in search of another hike before doubling back for dinner. We began to notice a series of cars pulling off the road towards large sand dunes. Curiosity got the best as off as we followed their lead. After climbing over the mountains of sand, we were rewarded with one of the the most unique scenes of the north.
A large lagoon reaching towards the edge of a glacier lay on the other side of the sandy mounds. Ice chunks had fallen off the glacier and turned an electric blue when they hit the water, creating a pool of neon ice cubes.
When we’d had our fill of nature’s miracle, we trekked to our hostel in Hofn after a meal of skyr and langoustine, Icelandic lobster. We mingled with the locals and conversed with a geographer from Europe who was staying up near the glaciers to create topographic maps.
Our bed for the night overlooked a inlet of water with the mountains in the distance we would be driving to the next morning.
We enjoyed a communal breakfast in our hostel the next morning as we planned our trip up the eastern fjords. Little did we know that some of the most dangerous moments lay ahead of us as we penciled our route. One small turn off the main highway led us to a dirt road a mere inch away from the edge of a disastrously high cliff. I never realized how much I took guard rails for granted, or double yellow lines tbh. As we held our breath for the entirety of the drive, we were finally able to relax having reached our hike of the day, Hengifoss.
We lucked out that the Icelanders we spoke to were more than eager to offer suggestions for their favorite trails left off of google searches. This is how we came across Hengifoss, a strenuous trail tilted at a 45 degree angle with a rushing river below. Yet compared to what we just came from, this would be a breeze. Hiking through the bright green moss to reach a towering single stream of falls was worth the fire and ice to get there.
Although we believed we had had enough heart attacks for one day, our journey had one more in store. We found a quaint hostel in Seyoisfjorour, a small town that is typically only reached by boat from the east. Thus, the only way to get there from inland was to drive up a steep mountain with so many switchbacks that made you began to question your car’s breaks after each turn. To add to the fun, a thick cloud laid on top the mountain for a darling zero visibility.
Finally, we arrived on the other side, our hands still shaking from the day’s unintentional adventures. We made a modest dinner in the abandoned hospital-turned-hostel and recapped our snafus with the older gentleman who had just come off a boat from Norway for a fishing trip. After briefly considering leaving our car behind to sail away, we shook off our fear and got back in the saddle…er driver’s seat. After a restless sleep, knowing we would have to go back across the mountain a second time to make our way to Akureyri, we prepared for the second part of a trip filled with a little more than we bargained for.
Stay tuned to learn how you can go spelunking underneath the glaciers and horseback riding through volcanic ash as we continue around Ring Road. Check out part two here! SPOILER ALERT: we survived.
P.S. I lucked out to have a best friend who is an incredible photographer. I suggest you make sure you have one as well so you can catch these sights from unique perspectives. Check out more of her talents here.