Reykjavik solo

As a lone traveler, you can shed all your identities, become an anonymous observer, set your own pace, form your own impressions. Lonely at times, sure. But loneliness in small quantities is cathartic.

At last, one of those rare opportunities to strike out alone in a new place: no family, no work, no friends, no agenda, no plans. I am touching down in Reykjavik within the hour completely alone with just a backpack and some vague notions of possible activities, even vaguer notions about the city, people and culture. I couldn’t be happier.

Though It’s been a very good year on all fronts, it’s been especially hectic and busy recently. Renovations on the old “rekkehus” (row house) house are continuing apace with the full chaos and dust of our regularly shifting ambitions (and budget). The four boys have had a nonstop stream of birthdays, school events, sports, vacations, homework, friends. At work, the new job, new role, new team, new technology. So many new things to learn and do. Exciting times. Good times. But calendars have been a kaleidoscope of overlapping appointments, meetings and color-coded categories of activities. Any given day is a marathon of logistics Tetris that usually starts before 6am and ends after 9pm. Weaved into this too, a decent amount of business travel multiplied by four separate caregivers (my ex, her ex, the two of us) traveling the globe in different directions, mostly coordinated. At times we can almost high five in the airport as we pass each other.

I’m not complaining. It’s all good and I assume pretty typical for working parents. I’m happy and content and grateful. But I’m ready for a break as well. A trip alone without any expectations is the perfect tonic. I was not in the mood for a “guttehelg” (boys weekend away) as is the custom in Norway (the girls have their version as well).

I’ve always loved traveling alone. There’s just something pure about the experience, uncorrupted by the comforts of companionship and the insulating bubble of someone you know. As a lone traveler, you can shed all your identities, become an anonymous observer, set your own pace, form your own impressions. Lonely at times, sure. But loneliness in small quantities is cathartic.

When I travel alone, I prefer to settle in with the locals. It’s the only way to get to know a place and a culture. Hotels are for tourists and business, for spending money and being served. So I opt for B&B’s. And these days Airbnb makes it easy to find a real home in real neighborhoods surrounded by locals.

This time I’m staying in a basement studio apartment, blocks from the center. It’s not glamorous but it’s perfect.

On the bus ride from the airport, I overheard two people making small talk. They didn’t know each other. Both, however, were originally from Seattle. One was living in Norway attending university there. The other, a theater production assistant in Reykjavik for a time. They were young, in their mid-twienties, about the same age I was when I was living in Japan and then Russia. Grown ups and old people like me don’t really venture abroad alone for pleasure. I’m time traveling a bit this trip.

The other tourists are Japanese and Chinese young people and senior Americans from the Midwest. Small groups and small numbers overall.

Tomorrow I will take a day tour to the countryside. Looking forward to seeing the exotic Icelandic landscape in its full winter glory. I promise to post pictures.

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