Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Happy Holidays!

Hello! The holidays are here and steaming through in full-gear.

How was your Christmas? Was it filled with snow and endless amounts of cookies? Hopefully Santa brought you a few goodies and you all were able to spend some quality time with family. My two younger brothers and I spent about five days back at our parents home. It was a full house and it was wonderful. That prolonged time together  with all five members of my immediate family was the best present I received this year. When shopping for Christmas presents, at the very last-moment per usual Robby, I decided to focus on a theme of 'getting outdoors.' So I bought everyone annual admission stickers to our incredible batch of Wisconsin state parks and forests. Needless to say it was a big hit with everyone. My brothers and parents were stoked, thrilled to have unlimited access to all these cool places to adventure in until the end of 2017. I've always advocated that giving the gift of exploring is always an excellent and meaningful act. Plus, since Wisco has a self-sufficient park system, the funds from every sticker sold goes right back to supporting the state parks and forests. It's a win-win. If you're looking to buy a 2017 Wisconsin State Park online, you can do it here. My middle brother and his girlfriend recently also share a common lust for traveling, having lived in Spain for numerous months teaching English and recently trekking around the Midwest too. To my surprise, neither one of them own a tent. That changed on Christmas morning when Chris smiled when he saw his very first tent. I wrote "Home is where you pitch it" on the candy cane colored wrapping paper to spark some enthusiasm. Tents also make perfect gifts. You don't need to give a super expensive backpacking tent, rather, a simple basic starter tent from Walmart or Target is a reliable fit for casual camping a few times each year. My first tent I ever had was a two-season, cheapo $40 Coleman four-person tent I bought from Walmart and it lasted great for quite a while! Whether it be fore the holidays, a graduation or birthday- helping someone get into the outdoors and making it easier for them to recreate is an amazing gift. Which reminds me, I need to think of something to get myself for Christmas this year. Maybe a new kayak I can take on overnight paddle trips? Or more rock climbing gear to set top-rope anchors at Devil's Lake State Park once this summer rolls around? Maybe another annual pass to access all the U.S. National Parks, Forests, Recreation Areas and Wildlife Refuges? We shall see.

So 2016 is wrapping up and coming to a fast close. I mean, let's be honest, this year just flew by crazy quick. There are a lot of great things I'm looking forward to next year. Lots. I'm counting down the days and eagerly awaiting 2017 because it's a new year of adventure and personal growth both personally and professionally. There will be a blog post about that with new year's resolutions and the annual adventure trip bucket list. Thanks for continuing to follow along with my travel blog the past year...traffic to the blog continues to rise and I do very much appreciate it!



Friday, December 23, 2016

Zion National Park, UT

Whoa! So I realized I've had this post sitting in my drafts file and haven't yet published it. Better late than never. Enjoy! This is a segment from a past trip I made out to explore Utah's five stunning national parks.

Last but not least on this grand, Utah adventure is Zion National Park. It's Utah's biggest, most-visited and oldest national park...and it's definently a winner. It's called the "heavenly city," and at a whopping 229 square miles, you can't stand in one part of this park and not awe at its triumph. Unfortunately I didn't get to spend anywhere close to enough time here than deserved, mostly because of the crowds. In 2015 alone, Zion drew some 3.6 million visitors or some 9,863 people per day. That was my single biggest complaint about Zion, it was way too crowded for my liking. But this didn't stop me from exploring. Next time I return to Utah, I'll go during the way off-season to Zion to avoid the hordes of selfie-sticks and strollers.

Zion is crazy-beautiful. It's a massive set of canyons filled with waterfalls, rivers, thriving forests and vegetation and other surprises. Many upon many viewpoints and look outs, you just stare between the canyon's towering, copper walls and ask yourself, "Is this real?" I drove in through the east entrance to the park, coming from Bryce Canyon earlier in the week. You cross the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway which weaves through the national park, straddling along side some of the tall walls as you descended downward to the park's headquarters. I hopped on the free shuttle (yeah public transport, thanks for providing that!) and headed to the trailhead for Emerald Pools Trails. The hike doesn't take too long as you climb higher into Heaps Canyon. The terrain becomes denser with thick vegetation and gorgeous trees, not to mention  jaw-dropping views. Oh those views, so, so, so epic. I spent about 90 minutes exploring the Lower, Middle and Upper Emerald Pools. It's definently a surprise when you reach the top Upper Emerald Pool, quietly placed in the shadows of skyscraper-high cliffs above it. It's tranquility will definently move you. I headed back down the trail towards the Lower Emerald Pool, where the trail takes you behind a few waterfalls pouring out from the Middle Emerald Pool above. Super cool.

I had hoped to hike up Angel's Landing next but signs and alerts throughout the park noted it was closed. Bummer, sad face. The plus side of that however, is that it allowed me to divert more time to a particular hike I had been looking forward to accomplishing this entire trip; The Narrows. The Narrows at Zion is one of those hikes that are just legendary. The type of hike you tell stories about to all of your family, friends and future kiddos. You hike in-and-out, wading through the Virgin River that carves through the narrowest part of the canyon. According to the National Park Service, walls on either side of the gorge you pass through reach up to a thousand feet tall. You've got two options for tackling The Narrows, going from the bottom-up and vice-versa. The later requires a permit to do so. I started at the base of the Temple of Sinawava area and hiked a few hours upstream. It's an incredible hike- just so, so, unique and fun. Your'e crossing parts of the river by hopping across rocks or wading in the water up to your knees or even waist at times. Being October, the water was moving at a moderate to slightly-quick pace in places and the temperature was freezing. Totally worth it! I went up probably a little over three miles into The Narrows (making it a six-mile return trip) before the sun started setting. It was like you're in some dream. Every bend you peak around is just this massive display of impressive rock. You can see where and how the Virgin River changes depths and speed, eroding away the canyon's sky-high walls. It's like an on-going art museum. The colors and shapes of the canyon walls are constantly changing. If you're going to hike The Narrows bring three things: a walking stick or hiking pole (trust me you will need this), a down jacket or warm layers if you're hiking in the fall (once that warm sun goes down and you're still in the river up to your waist you're at risk for hypothermia, yes, even in the desert) and solid hiking boots. Even waterproof boots will get soaked through. Oh and bring your camera, you're going to want to snap a million photos. DO THIS HIKE!

Thanks for a fun day Zion, I'll be back again soon.



Sunday, December 18, 2016

That Time I Got Charged By a Bison

So you know what are really cool? Buffalo. Buffalo are awesome. A few months ago however, I got charged by a big buffalo. It was both terrifying and fascinating, yes, fascinating. Thankfully quick thinking kept me out of a potential search-and-rescue call.

(While they are technically bison, the term buffalo is also used in today's culture so I'll be dishing out this post using both words).

This past fall I made a trip out to the Dakota Badlands and Black Hills, a jaw-dropping part of the country that I often find myself dreaming of. I spent days at Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wind Cave, Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks. All five places above required me to limit myself to the amount of superlatives I used to describe their sheer amazingness. When I was at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, I spent a full-day hiking in the Northern Unit of the park, just twenty-miles shy of Watford City, North Dakota. This region of the national park is much quieter, remote and sees way less visitors. All three pre-requisites I envy for. The northern section of the park is also home to the Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness, a primitive wilderness area in the national park.

When I was hiking, I saw a big bull (male bison) grazing (which they do up to 11 hours a day!) off in the distance, probably if I had to guess maybe 15 minutes away. Close enough to be cautious yet far away enough to continue on. The path I was on, the Buckhorn Trail, took me farther away from the bison, so I kept on trekking. Going into the hike, I was aware that yes, there would be wild buffalo hanging around as it’s their home. Cool, I didn’t have any intention of bothering any of them or encroaching on their turf too closely. They’re majestic animals that I adore. I’d rather observe them from a safe distance and let them roam free than end up like one of the many foolish tourists who purposely provoke or take selfies with them and end up getting seriously injured or killed. Idiots.

But sir buffalo didn’t seem to particularly agree with my presence, even from afar. I looked over my shoulder about ten minutes later and saw he was walking towards me at a moderate pace. I continued pressing forward along the trail. Minutes later, I glanced again and he was even closer. “Cool. I’m getting stalked by a massive bison. I’ll just keep on walking away from it and not bother him,” I thought. The situation grew more serious. When I crossed through a small gulch through the Squaw Creek and climbed to the top, I turned around and he was only probably 30 feet behind me at the top of the other side I had just gone down. We made eye contact and in a flash of a second, he charged. Grunting and running towards me at full-speed down and up the gulch. I panicked on the inside and took off running for my life. I remember just hearing grunts and heavy clambering of his feet on the dusty ground. I found a branchy juniper tree and crawled as far into it as I can, getting scratches all over my arms. The bison ran past the tree and down the trail, while I cowered in the juniper waiting. I happened to have my camera in my hand while running so as soon as I hid in the juniper, I was lucky to snap a photo of him running by. I remained crouched there, for probably ten minutes after he ran by. Patience Robby, breathe, breathe, compose yourself. My heart was racing at a million-beats each minute. I just thought back to when I lived out in Colorado, where they told us that the best way to survive a moose charge (and I saw plenty of them on guided snowshoe hikes I led with families) is to put yourself between it and a tree, so I hoped that would be the similar solution with said bison. I would think this could work during the majority of bison charges if there are good trees around… but they’re crazy fast and agile… and if they do get to you- you’re getting hurled up high in the air, gorged or trampled. Cover your essentials if this is your fate. Was I scared? Oh hell yes, it was absolutely alarming. But it was just, just, just mind-blowing to see a giant, wild animal jump into a sprint.

So let me put some numbers on paper real quick…a bison can run more than 40mph, can jump up to six-feet vertically and weigh between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds than. Some are also taller than I am, and I’m 6’2.  a I’m a big fan of bison, they’re my favorite animal and recently, the Department of the Interior agreed. As of May 2016, the bison is now our National Mammal! Yeah! America! P.S. you know what’s really funny to watch? When a buffalo rolls around in a crater of dirt to help shed some its thick fur coat and thwart off some flies. It’s called wallowing.

Want to learn some even more rad facts about bison? Check out this list from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s blog.

There’s something intriguing and moving about seeing buffalo in their natural habitat. They’re strong, bold animals with an unstoppable amount of power. I feel like I could just sit and watch them for hours, well…I kind of did that when I was at Badlands National Park a few months ago and it was like a dream. You should probably do that too.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Iceland 2016: Driving An F-Road [Video]

So one of the bunches of reasons you should always opt to rent a capable 4x4 when traveling, is that you get access to some of the bumpiest, craziest and yet most serene roads you'll ever drive on. In Iceland (otherwise known as the most beautiful place on Earth), there are countless detours off of Route 1, 'The Ring Road' that take you to small towns, along scenic fjords and up mountain passes. There are also F-Roads, rough, rugged roads only accessible via a vehicle with high-ground clearance and four-wheel drive. In fact, you have to have a 4x4 by Icelandic law to drive on an F-Road. Here's a video I took of me driving an F-Road in Snæfellsjökull National Park. The whip is a Suzuki Jimny 4x4 with a proper manual-transmission. Oh! And since I've had a few requests to write a blog post on the cars I saw in Iceland, that's coming up soon. Stay tuned.



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

2017 Free Admission Days to All U.S. National Parks

A new year marks a new year of getting out and visiting our nation’s awesome national park system. It’s also a new year for free days from the National Park Service at all of its 413 properties. While I 100% advocate and strongly encourage you to purchase an annual 'America The Beautiful' National Parks Pass (in which all funds go directly back to support the upkeep and preservation of our parks), this list of fee-free days is perfect for someone looking to try-out a national park for the first time. If you’ve never been to a U.S. national park, now is the time. Across all fifty states and beyond, there are tons of national parks, monuments, historic sites, lakeshores, recreation areas....oh the list goes on and on! With over 400 options to choose from, you can definitely find something that fixes your taste for adventure.  If you’re going to visit anyone of the NPS places for free, do consider making a small donation in return as a meaning of thanks. These are our vast public lands we're lucky to own and have the ability to recreate on. We owe it to go and support them and experience their sheer, raw beauty. Here’s the upcoming calendar for free admission days:

January 16, 2017- Martin Luther King Jr. Day
February 20, 2017- Presidents Day
April 15 to 16, 2017- National Park Week Weekend
April 22 to 23, 2017- National Park Week Weekend
August 25, 2017- National Park Service Birthday…they’re turning 101 this year!
September 30, 2017- National Public Lands Day
November 11 to 12, 2017- Veterans Day Weekend

Miss out on a free day? Fear not, there are over 275 places run by the National Park Service that don’t charge an admission fee at all every day of the year, like the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site right outside of Badlands National Park.

So get out there and go #FindYourPark, I know I plan on making a trip down to Big Bend National Park in Texas, the Grand Canyon and hopefully out to the PAC-northwest too to check out Olympic or North Cascades National Parks.



Sunday, December 4, 2016

Natural Bridge State Park, WI

If you’ve been following along with the past few posts about traveling about Wisconsin, you’ve hopefully realized a key message coming across- we have some truly hidden gems of state parks here in the cheese state. Recent visits to places like Aztalan, Havenwoods State Forest, Buckhorn and Perrot State Parks have flat-out wowed me. We really are lucky to have such a diverse array of places to explore- which leads me to my next trip, Natural Bridge State Park.

You’ve got arches and you’ve got natural bridges. In essence they’re the exact same thing and each type of rock formation can look almost identical to each other. According The Natural Arch and Bridge Society, a natural bridge is a type of arch usually noticeably created by way of strong, flowing water underneath. A natural bridge can also be classified as such if the top of it is flat like you’d see on a man-made bridge, whereas most arches are more curved at their peak. Whatever you want to call these geological masterpieces, they’re incredible to see up-close in person.

I’ve actually seen probably a couple dozen natural arches and bridges across the country predominantly out west, especially in some of Utah’s national park properties like Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Canyonlands. Then there’s the motherload at Natural Bridges National Monument which is SO cool. But good news for us Wisconsinites, we don’t have to even get on an airplane to see one! We’ve got a great, small state park just outside of Baraboo that preserves one.

Natural Bridges State Park is nestled away, hidden in the wooded Baraboo Hills a.k.a Aldo Leopold’s stomping grounds (one of my absolute favorite areas in the state). This state park has been on my bucket list for years now and gosh I’m glad I went to check it out. It’s home to the largest sandstone arch in the state, spanning some 25ft high and 35ft wide. It’s beautiful and bold, carved away by means of air and water erosion. Park at the main lot and hike about ten minutes into the tree line to reach the arch. Your mouth will drop in amazement, I can guarantee that. At the foot of the natural bridge is a dark, cave or rock shelter where ancient artifacts from Native Americans found by archaeologists in 1957 dating all the way back 10,000-12,000 years ago. It's one of the earliest document sites of human occupancy in the nation. Please, don’t climb up on the arch because you’ll be damaging this fragile stonescape, but do take loads of pictures.

There are four easy hiking trails throughout the 530-acre, including some on the farmland side of the park across the road, you can tackle when you’re finished drooling over the big natural bridge. My favorite is the Indian Moccasin Nature Trail, an interpretive trail that continues on from the natural bridge, taking you back, deeper into the park past signs that describe the almanac of various trees and vegetation you’ll walk past. Fun fact, juniper berries when crushed and dried can be used to relieve cough and urinary blockage. Yep, learned that one. The trail traverses the wooded hills and if you look out through the collection of tall trees, you’ll see big bunches of big rocky boulders protruding from the hillsides. I capped off the hike by checking out the viewpoint at the terminus of the trail. The sun was slowly setting, flooding the forest with a soft orange glow and everything around was silent. I admire and appreciate that kind of solitude in the outdoors. It was a nature geek’s paradise. I’m very grateful for state parks like this. You win, Natural Bridge State Park, you win.



Friday, November 18, 2016

Lusting for the American West

Last night at the local climbing gym, I was chatting with a friend about a recent sixteen day trip he took through Colorado and Utah. We got on the topic about Zion National Park and shared a mutual excitement for hiking the park’s infamous ‘The Narrows’, a cold river running through a narrow, slot canyon with towering walls on either side. It’s truly a magical experience wading through the stream as you meander your way deeper and deeper, farther in. Hiking ‘The Narrows’s is just one of those legendary hikes that you have to tell your kids and grandkids about years later, have to.  Ever since I’ve returned from Iceland, and it’s been about two-weeks now today, I’ve had zero-luck sleeping. Absolutely zero.  I’m blaming it on the recent daylight-savings-time switch, lingering jetlag and the fact that over in Iceland the days were very, very short (in terms of sunlight). Speaking of which, I tremendously miss Iceland. It’s all I’ve been thinking about since I landed back in the states two-weeks ago. Hands-down the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. But bac k on the topic of sleepless nights… I’ve been waking up at weird, odd hours of the morning every night. 5am, 3:15am, 2am. 1:30am. It sucks, yes. And what’s the worst thing to do when you find yourself wide-awake in the middle of the night? Swipe through Pinterest and Instagram. But…but if you’re dreaming about and gawking over the ‘American West’ does it count as a healthy activity? Hell yes it does.

So I don’t get it. I just, don't, get the attraction. I don’t get what my draw to the ‘American West’ is and I'm lost trying to find the answer. It sucks me in fully and doesn’t spit me back out. My drive and desire to explore skyrockets when I see pictures of these mind-blowing landscapes in states like Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, the Dakotas, Utah, Nevada…oh this list continuously lengthens. I scroll through photos, watch videos, read stories in magazines and on blogs and hear accounts of friends who have set-foot in these places- and it all just fuels my wanderlust gene. Inspired, intrigued, hooked. That last adjective is the most appropriately matched to me. Back in 2014 I was in a rut, a hard rut and in need of fresh air and a new routine. So I applied for a full-time, seasonal job at a YMCA up in the Rocky Mountains and moved out to Colorado for six-months. I’ve preached it before and I’ll preach it again, if you want to start new and grow, head west. Nearly everyone I met while living the life of a glorified ski-bum in the Fraser Valley agreed. We were all out there to figure out who we are and what we want in life. It was excellent. That was my first time heading west. When my dad and I stopped at Badlands National Park (my favorite), I got out of the car and felt a wave of relief and just calmness flow over me. I knew this was the right decision to take this next-step.  For that half-year I lived in Colorado, I never once regretted moving out there. In fact, I even still think on almost a daily or weekly basis, because I miss the life I lived there that much.

Maybe it’s the land. The land out west plays games with your mind. It confuses you. You spend so much time trying to crack the disbelief over just how the terrain came to be and you shake your head because you’re just skeptical of the possibility that big, open places out there are that beautiful. From thick pine forests at the bases of snowy peaks and roaring mountain ranges to dry, waving deserts littered with abstract, abnormal and bizarre rock formations. Landscapes so desolate and quiet it feels like time completely halts to a stop.  Landscapes that seem unworldly, maybe even scary, but that good kind of scary. Landscapes that make your hairs stand up, forcing you to ‘Wow’ at every turn on the trail or on top of every overlook. Some of the very-best hikes I’ve ever done have been out west. In places like Canyonlands National Park, the Arapaho National Forest, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Devil’s Tower and Rocky Mountain National Park. I remember last fall, a hike I did through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument towards lower Calf Creek Falls, a waterfall diving down from the Utah blue sky into an oasis below. At one point on the trail, I walked into a small patch of white aspen forest and glowing green grass. I stopped dead in my tracks and my jaw dropped to the dusty canyon floor. It was like a dream, a fairy tale. The golden light shimmering down in between the flickering aspen leaves. I sighed out an ‘Oh my God…” to myself in sheer disbelief. You rarely get that amount of tranquility. Another place that really opened-up my eyes and exploded my mind was the Squaw Canyon area, in Canyonlands National Park’s ‘The Needles’ district. I spent three days backpacking here and it was breathtaking. By far, one of the most adrenaline-filled trips I’ve done.  Pure solitude and terrain that puzzled my mind. The land out there was wild. And I’ve just been aching, begging to get back out there.  It's an addiction, straight-up addiction. You just want to hike more, and more, and more and more because your curiosity is at an astronomically-high level.  The distance and detachment from everyday life and normal society seems far-off when you're in these surreal wilderness settings. You can completely remove yourself, from everything. And it's great. When you’re trekking around solo in unfamiliar places like these, you discover things about yourself and what you’re really capable of. You have time to actually think and clear your head. You can go at your own pace. Meet and talk with as many strangers or as few as you want.  You can interpret your surroundings and discoveries. I can page through my travel journal, a ragged notebook I keep and bring with me on every trip, reflecting. The writing about my adventures out west is like reading rich, romantic poetry. 

Maybe my hypothesis then is right. It's these dreamlike places out west and their magnetizing feels that cling-on to you and trigger that taste for high-quality outdoor adventure. These mysterious backdrops I want to chase and play detective in, trying to get the backstory on how they took shape.  Sure, there are places out on the east coast and down south I want to see at some point, but there are wants and there are needs. I need to get back out west and continue roaming its vast openness. Even re-reading this post and pondering more on the 'why', it's just so hard to explain through spoken and written words. You just have to get out there.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Where, Why and How to Camp In Iceland

Iceland is the most beautiful place in the world. There’s nowhere else I’ve been that even comes close to holding a candle to that statement.  And to experience Iceland’s sheer spectacular surroundings and connect with nature- you should campout while you’re here.

I recently traveled to Iceland for a couple weeks during the off-season in the end of October into early November. For 13 days I drove around the entire country exploring this country’s ultra-impressive collection of natural ‘wow’ spots in an effort to connect more with nature. On the way, I stopped at many small fishing villages that dot the Fjords, developed towns and two of Iceland’s biggest cities- Reykjavik and Akureyri. I like to travel on a budget, a tight one, saving as much as I can in accommodation so I can put it towards gas, the rental car and a few delicious meals or a cup of coffee. Plus this dirtbag-ish way is loads more enjoyable. There’s not this pressing time constraint binding you- you can come and go whenever, not have to worry about checking-in or out, cook your own food, get up in the middle of the night to watch the Northern Lights dance in the sky above and you meet some crazy-inspiring, awesome people traveling around with your exact same mindset. That makes for stove-top meals together and laughing with beers in hand under eachothers’ headlamps under the stars. So obviously, camping is always the way to go. Especially in Iceland.

True fact- you can pretty much camp anywhere in Iceland for free as long as it’s not on someone’s private land or marked with signage prohibiting it (you’ll see red and yellow signs saying ‘No Overnight Camping’). This could change, as the waves of tourists flock to Iceland. Do your research ahead of time to confirm.

Most established campsites have hot water showers, spot-less clean bathrooms and even WiFi. More developed, larger ones will have a common kitchen area or lounge along with electrical hook-ups for campervans and RVs. Speaking of the prior, renting campervans is an exploding trend right now and a clever way to explore the sprawling island. Places like GoIceland Car-Rental, Kuku CampersCampEasy and Happy Campers rent campervans that sleep two and sometimes up to six. Some even have kitchen sinks in them while most have a pull-out stove, WiFi and heaters that keep your living area warm when the car is off. Prices range from about $700-$1,000 USD for one week. The only downside- many of these campervans don’t have 4x4 capability (though a select, rare few do like this model!) so that means no F-Roads into The Highlands region of the country or some of the tracks that carve deep into some of the national park’s interior.  I rented a red Suzuki Jimny (Japan’s version of the Jeep) for two-weeks for a little under $600, with unlimited mileage, manual transmission and four-wheel-drive for off-road wandering (which happened every day). When I couldn’t pitch a tent due to hurricane-strong winds or pouring rain, I tumbled the back seat and folded-flat the passenger seat and easily put my blow-up sleeping pad and down-sleeping bag in place. I’m 6’2 and had a surprising amount of room. The Jimny was both warm and comfortable ‘lil RV that I could easily bomb-down Iceland’s notorious F-Roads and rocky detours off the ‘Ring Road’.

Iceland isn’t cheap, but it’s not at all as expensive as what people may exaggerate. Especially during the off-season months. I found prices fairly comparable (apart from gas, which when converted equaled out to like $6 per gallon) to what I paid for in the United States. All the campgrounds and campsites accept credit card for the night(s), bring coins ISK coins for shower/laundry at paid facilities. Prices are for one person per night. Some campsites only charge you by the night where as others may charge per person camping. If you arrive after-hours at a paid campground and the office is closed or there’s no-one around to take your payment, be honest and pay in the morning- your dollars are what keep these campgrounds (and national parks) afloat and maintained. Some campgrounds may have literally no way to pay for a night’s stay due to possibility of it being closed for the winter off-season, meaning the services (water, toilets, showers) could very well be shut-off. All-in-all I think I spent less than $100 on accommodations over the course of 13 days (including the hostel I stayed in my last night in Reykjavik).

-At the time of this post, November 2016, 1000 ISK = $9 USD
-Prices may change depending on when you visit.
-Some prices below include a 100 ISK guest accommodation tax.
-Some places may be closed or services shut-off in off-season.

So here’s a list of where I camped in Iceland and what you can expect:

Skógar Campsite
Skógar, Southwest Iceland.

*1000 ISK. No WiFi. Hot Shower ($). Water fill-up.
*Pay at the window near bathroom when open.
*Right at the base of the mesmerizingly-cool Skógafoss waterfall.
*Close to the Solheimajokull glacier and Solheimasandur plane crash wreckage.

Campground/Vatnajökull National Park
Skafatell, Southeast Iceland.

*1400 ISK. WiFi. Hot Shower ($). Laundry ($). Water fill-up.
*Support Iceland’s stunning national parks!
*Most car campers camp in the parking lot right in front of the visitor center, grass patches for tent camping are to the left behind the buildings.
*Close to the trailhead for all hiking trails in Vatnajökull National Park including the trail for the Svartifoss waterfall and Skaftafellsjökull glacier.

Höfn Camping & Cottages
Höfn, Southeast Iceland.

*1200 ISK. WiFi ($). Hot shower. Water fill-up. Kitchen. Lounge. Electrical Hookups.
*Less than 10 minutes from the ‘Ring Road’.
*Great community lounge and kitchen area.
*General store sells beer, food and camping supplies.
*Jaw-dropping campsites along the bay for stellar sunrises.
*Across from an N1 full-service gas station.
*Within walking distance of downtown Höfn and its harbor.

Public Campsite
Egilsstaðir, Eastern Iceland
*1200 ISK. WiFi. Hot shower. Water fill-up. Kitchen. Lounge. Laundry ($). Electrical Hookups.
*Right next to and managed by the Eglisstaoir tourist information center.
*Super friendly, knowledgeable staff, did not charge me for coffee or WiFi during the off-season.
*I saw the Northern Lights here!
*Nearby grocery stores.
*Cross-road location for continuing on the ‘Ring Road’ or venturing into the gorgeous East Fjords.

Campground/Vatnajokull National Park
Asbyrgi, Northern Iceland.

*1600 ISK. Hot Shower ($). Water fill-up. Laundry ($). Electrical Hookups.
*Support Iceland’s stunning National Parks!
*Big campground with many secluded tent and RV/campervan sites.
*Pay at the visitor center or when a park ranger comes makes rounds.
*I saw a sky full of Northern Lights here! Best display of them.
*Close to the trailhead for all hiking trails in Vatnajokull National Park including the trail for the Eyjan outcropping which you can climb to see views of the forested canyon.
*Close to Dettifoss waterfall and northernmost point in Iceland, Hraunhafnartangi.
Reykjahlio, Northern Iceland.

*1400 ISK (Free?). WiFi. No running water fill-up, toilets or showers.
*Tons of options for accommodation from tent camping to cabin rentals.
*Office was closed at night and in morning, therefore I did not pay.
*All services were winterized/not working. Maybe campground was closed?
*Close to the Myvatn Lake, Krafla geothermal area, Myvatn Nature Baths.
*Hard to find but uphill from the famous church, on the right.

Public Campsite
Borgarnes, West Iceland.

*750 ISK (Free?). No running water fill-up, toilets or showers. Electrical Hookups.
*All services were winterized/not working. Maybe campground was closed?
*Cool views of the Fjord and marshy shoreline in front of the campsite.
*There was not a ranger that came by to collect payments so I stayed here for free.
*Cross-roads location for if you want to continue on ‘Ring Road’ to Reykjavik or venture off into the nearby, incredible Snaefells Peninsula.
Tröð/Open Forest Entrance Area
Hellissandur, West Iceland.

*Free. No running water fill-up, toilets or showers.
*Not an official campsite, main campground in town was closed for the year.
*Large grassy area near entrance to town’s Open Forest recreation area.
*Located right across the street from the N1 gas station.
*Nearest bathrooms, water fill-up and food store is at the neighboring gas station.
*Very close to Snaefellsjokull National Park!
*The Open Forest recreation area has some fun hiking trails right behind the camping area.
*Leave no trace, please respect the fact this is free public land available for us to camp on.
Public Campground
Stykkishólmur, West Iceland

*1000 ISK (Free?). WiFi. No running water fill-up, toilets or showers.
*All services were winterized/not working.
*There was not a place to pay so I stayed here for free.
*Can get very, very windy.
*The campground area and whole town have WiFi.
*Plenty of restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations just down the road.
*Stykkishólmur is a sweet little town to wander around.

Campground/Pingvellir National Park
Pingvellir, The Golden Circle

*1400 ISK. Hot shower. Water fill-up. Laundry ($).
*Support Iceland’s stunning national parks!
*Pay at the visitor center or when a park ranger comes makes rounds.
*Close to many hiking trails and Almannagja riff, where the tectonic plates meet.
*Camp either in the campground down the road towards the Oxararfoss waterfall, in the front parking *lot of the visitor center or in the grass campground near the bathroom and shower building.
*The visitor center has a café attached to it for a quick bite to eat.
*Located right on the main ‘Golden Circle’ route.
*Awesome view of the snowy mountains when you wake up.

Should I Bring A Tent?
Well you can, but you have to, must have a reliable, all-weather tent. In some places of the country like along the southeast coast and near the western Snaefells Peninsula- it can get seriously, aggressively windy, causing damage to a tent with not the strongest poles or fabric. I've got a solid three-season, Eureka Taron2 backpacking tent that fought the wind hard but it kept me dry and warm. Just make sure your tent is staked down well or weighted with nearby rocks and prepare for a gusty night. But wait there's can also downpour heavily or snow at any time, so make sure your tent can fend off those elements as well. Iceland's weather can be vicious, rough and unexpected...changing completely within a few seconds. Do your homework, bring the right gear and study the weather. Don't have a tent? Places like Iceland Camping Equipment Rental rent tents (along with other gear too). Remember you can always try it and sleep in the back of your rental car if things become dicey.

What About Food?
Buy groceries at a local joint like Bonus, they’re in almost every medium to bigger town or city and their prices are cheap. Not to mention, healthy, not uber-processed food is a big plus when you’re camping. Don’t be shy about gas station food. Almost all full-service gas stations have a kitchen where they cook up soups, sandwiches and of course Iceland’s famous hotdogs. For the love of god, you have to eat one or several. Load up on onions (underneath the hotdog like Icelanders do). I spent about $60 for two-weeks’ worth of food. Living off PB&J (the peanut butter here is SO good), fresh produce, dehydrated cups of beefy noodles, cookies, tea and cereal every morning. Plus since it’s cold like all the time, you don’t need to refrigerate any of the milk or juice you buy. Grab a cardboard box from the grocery store and make it your cupboard for your trip. But! With all the money you’re saving on accommodation by camping and buying your own food, treat yourself to a few local meals. Half the fun of traveling to a new country is trying their food. Iceland has some bomb lobster caugh right off the shore by the way…. and a few legendary craft beers.

How Do I Get Water?

I brought a Nalgene bottle and three collapsible Sawyer water bags for filling. Almost all entrances to the natural attractions and national parks along with most gas stations, but not all (despite what you read) will have a water fill-up. Don’t be afraid to ask. The water that comes out of the tap in Iceland may smell a bit funky but it’s the cleanest, most-pure water you’ll ever drink. Leave all your filters at home and don’t be a goof who buys bottle water in Iceland. Sustainability folks! One last tip- bring a small cup or keep one handy, like reuse the free cup of coffee you get from Olis gas stations when you fill up. Some sinks in the gas station bathrooms aren’t nearly deep or wide enough to fill-up a tall Nalgene bottle or soft water bag.

Cooking Gas?

So I wrote in an earlier post and it still stands true, it’s illegal to bring a canister of cooking gas on a plane. Even in checked baggage. Fear not, every gas station I went to sold them. There are three main types of camping fuel canisters you can buy. The traditional screw-on ones that thread into your camping stove (like my Primus), the taller green Coleman ones that hook-up to a larger camping stove and these blue click-on canisters that only work with its accompanying stove. Know the difference so you don’t accidentally buy the wrong-fitting canister. And open-fires are a big no-no in Iceland.

Will I be Alone?
No (and if you are don’t worry because Iceland is the safest country in the world)! I was so happy to see tons of other people my age in their 20s and 30s, camping out in tents, the backseat of their cars and rented campervans at every single campground. Even in late October and November. It’s way more fun of an environment than any 5-star hotel. When the sun goes down and it goes down very early, meet other travelers who love the camping ways. I met a lot of inspiring people in Iceland trekking around with their best friends or solo like myself. We all told stories, tried to solve the world’s problems over beer, ate dinner together and what’s the best….is you get to hear everyone’s suggestions and secret tips on where to explore. Let’s just say I got a lot of recommendations from fellow campers that weren’t otherwise listed in my guidebook. What was also cool was getting to see some of the same, familiar friends at the next region or town’s campsite again. Hey-hey! Whats’up?!

So please- get over to Iceland and admire this surreal land. Respect the fragile outdoors you’ll eagerly explore and have a blast. Have any questions or need help? Shoot me a direct-message on Twitter or Instagram and I’ll respond as soon as possible. I always like helping out fellow travelers, for me it’s paying it forward.



Iceland 2016: Departure From KEF

Today's the final day in Iceland. I felt fully recharged this morning after a restful, solid night’s sleep and hot shower in the hostel. After tent and car camping for the past two weeks throughout the country, this was surely a treat and chance to spoil myself a bit. My flight today was at 4:30pm but per the airport’s regulations, you have to be there I believe 2.5-hours ahead of time, which worked out because the rental car was due back at noon. I had a quick breakfast in the hostel lobby and chatted with an American ex-pat, Thomas, now living in Iceland on the island of Hrisey in the northern part of the country along the Trollaskagi Peninsula, above Akureyri. He taught me a few helpful sayings in Icelandic and we talked about a mutual desire for winter backpacking and our favorite gear as he was seeking out recommendations on his next tent purchase. Speaking of tents….I had to compile all my outdoor gear on the floor in my hostel room and attempt to fold it all up compactly in my Gregory Baltoro 65l pack. No problem. But the tent and part of my down sleeping bag (!) were still soakkkkking wet from the past few day’s non-stop showers. Anyone outdoorsy should know, down + water = not a ideal mixture. I left the hostel around 11:20am and headed straight for the airport in Keflavik. Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik is about an hour or so from the main airport. So you know what’s been an interesting surprise over here? The music. Iceland’s music is killer and sooo good. From addicting house and dubstep, to trap and even rap. The diversity of tunes from around the world they continually play on the radio stations is sick too. From UK Rapper Fekky, our own Santigold to German DJ, Coeo. Curious? Read this article from FACT Magazine about the fast-rising rap scene in Iceland. Scroll to the bottom of this'll hear Icelandic rapper Emmsjé Gauti with his new hit that came out a few weeks ago, flooding the radio waves. I for sure downloaded this at the hostel after hearing it. Digging it, the beat is on fire.

Security was an absolute breeze at the Keflavik International Airport, way less stress than what you’d get in the land of red, white and blue. You don’t have to take your shoes off (because in the USA, apparently wearing a pair of Converse in an airport labels you a terrorist threat in the eyes of an over-paranoid TSA worker)...and there’s only a metal detector. Not some privacy invasive, unnecessary body scan or air-puffer tube you stand in. I caught up with a friend I met, another awesome and inspiring solo-traveler, in Stykkisholmur a few days ago and we both grabbed a quick bite to eat together before she flew out to Boston and later connecting to Atlanta. Now I’m on a plane called Grímsvötn (named after Iceland's most active volcano, with some sixty eruptions in the past 800 years, the most recent spurt in 2011), 36,022 ft over the North Atlantic heading west towards Greenland. If all goes well, I’ll be landing in Chicago around 6:15pm and back in Wisco by 9pm. By the way...THIS AIRPLANE HAS THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN IT! How cool is that? Look up at the plane cabin's ceiling. Only on Icelandair will you see a realistic imitation of the dancing Aurora Borealis in-flight. Amazing.
So that begs the question then...where to next? Well I plan to keep checking off as many of our incredible national parks in my home country, like Yellowstone, Big Bend, Grand Teton and gosh I’ve got to get up to the Pac Northwest at some point. One of my bucket list items is to visit EVERY single national park in America. I’ve also had my eyes on a trip to Alaska for quite some time, especially after reading Jon Krakauer’s ‘Into the Wild’ a handful of times. But let’s look abroad- we live on this huge, diverse planet with tons of lands to set foot-in and explore. I’ll have to save up for a while post-Iceland, but I’m hoping to do another global adventure sometime next fall or winter, maybe spring of 2018. As far as adding stamps to the passport, my two top countries I’ve been aching to visit are Nepal and Laos. Something about South East Asia is calling me towards there. I’ve got a best friend in South Korea teaching English I could visit and I’ve been missing Vietnam every, single, day since I left some five years ago. I’d fly back there in a heartbeat, it’s like a second home to me. Back-up travel ideas also include Greenland, Malaysia (ohhhh what I’ve heard about Kuala Lumpur), Japan for a longer time and Russia. I’ve been toying for the past year or so with the idea of spending a lengthened time abroad, either volunteering, working a paid job or just leaving my current job and living out of a backpack for a few months. Oh that’d be a dream. The most expensive part of worldwide travel, and it’s not even deathly costly (airfare continues to drop!) if you know how to book tickets right, are the flights. The rest is cheap and easy, as I’d rather have fun and travel humbly on a low-budget than flourish in expensive hotels and fill a secondary suitcase with souvenirs. We shall see, we shall see. 

I’m going to miss Iceland tremendously. It’s been the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to. The people are friendly and fun, the lands are quiet, desolate, stunning and wild. Every day, from late sunrise to early sunset has been just this on-going adventure. It was like time stopped over here and I could relax and feel at peace. I could connect with nature, every, single, second of the day. And that’s so important to me. Driving to the airport was very hard. I fell in love with this country. It was one of those trips that change you for the better. It opened up my eyes and mind to a lot of new things and seriously helped me reconsider a lot of things going on in my current life that I need to change. This place does magic and shapes you. Plus, I’m stoked to be able to proudly add my guidebook to my growing collection on my bookshelf. But I beg you, I beg you….please go to this small island in the North Atlantic and explore this incredible country that is Iceland. I know I sure as heck will be back here very, very, very soon. Especially with how cheap, quick and easy it is to get to there.

Takk fyrir, Iceland, takk fyrir.