Why Iceland is perfect for the social distancing vacation – By Helga Stina

I have been working for and with fantastic people for many years now who all have had in common the dream to visit my home country of Iceland.

Photo by Helga Stina

People are different and have different needs. Some people love exploring cities, street art, restaurants, cafés, museums, and watching the locals in their daily routines.

It may still be unfeasible to do a normal city vacation these days. But our small but lively capital, Reykjavik, has urban amenities that are open and accessible. Restaurants and cafes are open, museums and thermal pools are back in business as well. And the city is easily accommodating the continuing need for social distancing.

Photo by Helga Stina

Of course, Iceland has a lot more to offer than a comfortable socially distanced city break.

Indeed, that´s why I often guide people to go straight to nature upon arrival in Iceland. Arriving in Iceland in the middle of the lava field where the airport is located is an amazing experience in itself. But going straight to your first destination with fantastic views and peace is unforgettable, especially when you already know where you are going and have a nice idea of what awaits at the first accommodation.

Photo by Helga Stina

Even though Iceland is now accessible, preparation for an Iceland trip is all the more critical now than before. Socially distant accommodation that gives people get the space and peace they need is plentiful. Such accommodation can range from spacious chain hotels to private villas to summerhouses to boutique hotels. But the right accommodation is not always easy to find. Beyond Reykjavik, dining and catering options need to be identified in advance of arrival.

Once that´s handled, there will be vast spaces available for sightseeing and exploration, and even the most popular spots will have significantly more space than previous years. People in the tourism industry are focused on making the most of it during this unique situation, and offering additional experiences to add to the Iceland Adventure.

Photo by Helga Stina

Every season has it´s charm in Iceland, depending on your wishes. Midsummer sun, northern lights, snow activities, autumn colors or refreshing spring are all great options to explore this amazing place.

Summer is the most traditional tourist season, and this year´s version will have the bonus of having the best travel conditions of the year, combined with the least crowded tourist population in recent memory.

Photo by Helga Stina

More on personalized travel planning here

More on Iceland opening up for tourists on the 15th of June

Contact me for an informal chat about your Iceland dream. If you are traveling in 2020 or 2021 or even 2022 it is a joy to start exploring and planning.

Here is a bit more on the looking forward to.

Greetings

Helga Stína – Founder and owner of Iceland Unwrapped and Places Unwrapped

Photos by Helga Stina

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Iceland is open – Are you ready? By Mike Klein and Helga Stina

This week, Iceland’s prime minister,, Katrin Jakobsdottir, announced that the island nation will be accepting visitors from 15 June, setting up an unusual tourist season at a time when much of the world is slowly emerging from lockdown.

With Covid-19 nearly eradicated from its shores and the probability of in-airport testing for arrivals, Iceland stands on solid ground in extending its invitation to the not-yet-travelling public.

But what awaits the Iceland traveller?

Iceland will continue to practice social distancing. So don’t expect packed bus tours to the iconic if less-than-overwhelming Golden Circle. You’ll need a rental car or a local guide.

But it will be worth it. The magic of Iceland is that the scenery – and the weather – changes every ten minutes. Alpine peaks give way to rolling hills, which give way to rock formations, plunging valleys and the occasional if small bits of desert.

With 2/3 of the 360,000-strong national population comfortably ensconced in the agreeable capital of Reykjavik, population density is negligible in the rest of the country. Open spaces, big landscapes, waterfalls, and steam fields beckon, generally with little worry about being 1 meter from the nearest civilian.

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A geothermal spot in the Myvatn area. Iceland is a geothermal hot spot. Photo by Mike Klein

Practicalities

Icelandair, the national airline, will expand its service to cities yet to be identified. With competent, professional service, Icelandair is taking full precautions under the current circumstances.

For those with no desire to fly and time on their hands, Smyril Line offers auto ferry service from Hirtshals in Northern Denmark to the scenic if small town of Seydisfjordur on Iceland’s East Coast, home to Nord Austur, a sushi bar with Michelin-star aspirations.

Socially distant accommodation is relatively easy to find. Rental homes, boutique hotels and country hotels make good bases, and there are also comfortable options in Reykjavik. Iceland Unwrapped offers personalized itineraries and bookings at www.icelandunwrapped.com

Restaurants have been open for a while, and meal delivery is also well-developed in Reykjavik. Some country hotels offer room service, and self-catering is easy with the country’s main supermarket chains: Bonus, Netto, Kronan and Hagkaup.

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The space in Iceland is endless and geothermal pools are easy to find on your path – Photo by Helga Stina

Soon, the jewels of the nation – public swimming pool and hot tub complexes – will open as well. More human in scale than the famous Blue Lagoon, they offer a year-round warm-water experience for about $10 a visit. Safety is ensured through good hygiene and only a tiny amount of chlorine.

Iceland is known to be a pricey destination, but this season will see lower prices in an all-important effort to kick start the vital tourist economy.

Mike Klein is a Netherlands-based writer and communication consultant who is planning an Iceland move in August.

Helga Stina is the owner of Iceland Unwrapped, a travel service specializing in personalized and customized Iceland itineraries and bookings.

Keep dreaming – Iceland is ready for another comeback

This nation of mine has managed to surprise me through the years.

Let me take a couple of examples.

Cod wars – Iceland has fought a few wars. The Cod wars against the Brits. We won. Here are some more information on the subject.

The economical crisis in 2008 – Iceland had a total meltdown in 2008 when all the banks in the country collapsed. People lost their jobs and homes and this nation needed to rethink it´s values and priorities. That was a success in many ways where Iceland continued focusing on fisheries and added a huge focus on tourism, having about two and a half million tourists visiting the country in 2019. Seven million went through the airport in Keflavik. Have in mind that there are 360.000 people living on the island.

Iceland´s national teams in football – Have in mind again that there are 360.000 people living in Iceland. We have sent both our women and men’s team to the Europa Cup in football and the men´s team even made it to the world cup.

Photo by Helga Stina

These achievements are something to be proud of and are important to have in mind when thinking of where you want to travel to in the future. What options are you going to have and where will you feel safe.

Iceland has been managing the Covid-19 crisis successfully and that is important to know when choosing a travel destination in the future. The information flow and the structure of the response has been noticed internationally.

Photo by Helga Stina

Have in mind that crisis are nothing new for the Icelanders. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, weather conditions and isolation has been a part of this nation since the beginning. The fish has come and gone and the weather changes constantly at times.

Being first with something is important to the Icelanders and sometimes it kind of happens, that the Icelanders are first with random things like

First woman democratically elected in the world

First parliament in the world – The Althing

First people to put licorice and chocolate together

First people to find America

and

Greenland

..and did you know that the name Iceland is a misunderstanding? Think about it. Why is Greenland called Greenland and not Iceland?

Photo by Helga Stina

Iceland is ready for another comeback

The ability to adapt to new situations is something the Icelanders are extremely good at and just as we speak the Icelanders are promoting traveling in their own country this year to support the amazing work that has been done in building up tourism in Iceland in the past years. Thinking out of the box and doing the job is a very Icelandic thing to do.

In my opinion there have been too many tourists in Iceland at times, making it difficult to preserve the fragile nature and authentic culture. In a new beginning there is a possibility of a change for the better in offering more personalized approached with respect for the nature and culture. See more about my thoughts here

Photo by Frida

The solidarity of the people is something the Icelanders are brought up with, knowing that everyone needs to take action to survive in crisis. Everything is interconnected and persistence and optimism is key, coming out of this challenging situation.

So Iceland is ready to have another comeback and will be ready to receive tourists again as soon you are ready.

Photo by Helga Stina

Me and my partners in Iceland will make sure to offer you a personal approach, hidden gems, connecting to the locals, having social distancing in mind. There is so much to see and do and there is plenty of space in Iceland.

More on what season to choose when traveling to Iceland

More on the importance of looking forward to

Contact Helga Stina for more information

Iceland Unwrapped by helgastina is a personal travel planning company with focus on personal approach, hidden gems and connecting with the Icelanders, Icelandic culture and nature.

We are also on Facebook – Twitter – Instagram

Listen to the locals please – An interview with Hrútur Ærson The Sheep

With only 350,000 human residents, some people think Iceland lacks a diversity of opinion.  But at Iceland Unwrapped, we have what it takes to seek out local expertise where it can be found.

Happy sheep can fly

For a thoroughly different perspective, we interviewed Hrútur Ærson, Iceland’s oldest sheep, for a special perspective on the place he has called home since 930.

IU: You’re very old for a sheep.

HÆ: Yes, I know.  I’ve been roaming around Iceland since end of settlement 930.

IU: How have you managed this?

HÆ: Iceland isn’t the biggest country and I know all the good hiding places by now.  

IU: So you’ve seen all of Iceland?

Sheep rule Iceland so please make sure to drive safely if you encounter them on the road.

HÆ: No. Haven’t been to the Blue Lagoon yet.  Or the Westman Islands because I’ve never been able to stow away on the ferry

IU: But you have been everywhere else?

HÆ: Yes – certainly everywhere a visitor can get with an SUV.  I used to be more adventurous, but then again, I am several hundred years old.

IU: What are your favorite places to visit?

HÆ: I usually walk the Ring Road every two or three years.  The main thing is to do it in opposite directions, because the look and feel of everything changes based on the direction, time of the year, and the amount of light at any time.  The amazing thing about the ring road is that the scenery is constantly changing. In a couple of hours’ walk – or ten minutes drive time – the landscape is unrecognizable. Mountains change to desert to prairie.  I always love that trip. The Highlands of Iceland are also extraordinary. Only important to get down from there before winter arrives or you are toast. Or as we sheep say – A toast with smoked lamb. 

IU: What do you do in the years you don’t walk the Ring Road?  

HÆ: I really like the Snaefelsnes Peninsula.  It has a varied landscape, and it’s a bit grassier than the Ring Road, which I find quite satisfying.  The glacier is also a wonderful place to chill.

IU: What do you recommend for visitors to eat?

HÆ: DEFINITELY THE FISH

IU: Why?

HÆ: I’m a sheep. You can figure out the math.

IU:  OK, I’ll keep quiet about the lamb.

HÆ: Thank you.

IU: Do you think Iceland has too many visitors?

HÆ: Not too many, yet.  It depends on how people visit.   It’s always nicer to see Iceland on one’s own, but you have to really look out for the environment.  Don’t leave a mess. Listen to the advice of us, the locals. Stick to the tap water and respect the rights of sheep, horses and wild animals. 

IU:  Thank you for the guidance

HÆ: So you didn’t think that was baaaaad?

IU: Not baaad at all.  Thank you!

Be aware of sheep crossing the roads in Iceland during summer – They are in full right – Photo by Guðmunda Magnúsdóttir

2020 – Your Travel Year – Is Iceland just a tick in the box? By Helga Stina

“That´s over and done with” is something an old friend of mine sometimes said about both good and bad things and events in his life.

But is traveling something you should just get over and done with, to tick a box, to show off on social media?

Is it time to start thinking of how you want to travel in the new year 2020?

Iceland has been a very popular destination in the recent years due to a famous volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajökull glacier, great marketing of tourism authorities and amazing entrepreneurship and courage of people working in tourism in Iceland. The innovation is quite incredible and worth exploring.

But is Iceland a destination to tick the box? Where are people traveling to in Iceland and how do they see this destination.

Many people contact me with a very solid view on what they would like to see in Iceland, and perhaps want me to confirm that that is the only thing to do in Iceland. The Golden Circle, The South Coast and Reykjavik are usually the destination people mention as an absolute must see on their journey. Others don´t have any idea on what to do or see and are up for an adventure.

Sometimes it is good to take a break and focus on where you are at and where you are heading – photo by Helga Stina

More and more of my clients mention that their friends and family have been to Iceland and that they don´t want to take the same pictures as their friends did. They want something new and more and more people have the need to get connected to the Icelanders. With this social media focus I think we are heading in that direction, more face to face encounters like in the old days 🙂

Every Icelanders pride is shown by the books in the shelves of his home – Photo by Helga Stina in Laugarvatn Iceland

Is it possible to connect with the locals?

Dining with the Icelanders has been a great success since I started offering this possibility 4 years ago. The 14 individuals and families around Iceland who work with me on this are all unique people with a big heart and a lot of knowledge and curiosity about people and other culture. It always works both ways. Not to mention the great food they make for their guests.

It is quite incredible to be able to connect people with all kinds of interests together for a meal in the warmth of a home in Iceland. Politicians with politicians, health professionals with health professionals, teachers with teachers, feminists with feminists, knitters with knitters, cross fit enthusiasts with other cross fit enthusiasts and so on and so forth. The consequences are sometimes incredible and sometimes people come from completely different directions and just enjoy each others company and form friendships for a long time, and continue talking and even meet again.

Iceland is for sure not a tick in the box, been there, done that. When traveling around Iceland and into the highlands in the summer of 2019 my husband, who is American, mentioned that any one of the beautiful gems we visited would be enough as an attraction in any other country. Iceland has thousands of these gems and they are located all around Iceland. You just need to now what you are doing to enjoy and yes, you might need to come again. And for goodness sake take your time to enjoy and relax at the same time. Vacation is about recharging and enjoying and nature is in charge over there, you can plan as much as you like, at the end of the day nature can decide if you have to stay in one place for longer, reading a good book or if you can move forward to explore. That is the beauty of it. Iceland puts you in your place and Iceland is the perfect location for that if you don´t think of it as a tick in the box destination.

More on personalized travel planning, dining with the Icelanders, Icelandic culture, people and hidden gems on www.icelandunwrapped.com

Contact me for a chat on possibilities and to see if we match together in making a perfect travel plan for you and your fellow travelers in Iceland.

Here you can find out what season fits you the best when traveling to Iceland.

Helga Stina – Founder and Owner of Iceland Unwrapped

The national book flood – By Helga Stina

In Iceland we have two kinds of floods. We have normal floods when glacier rivers flood because of unease and geothermal activities under glaciers. This is something the Icelanders are used to being aware of and manage reactions very professionally.

The magical Black water fall in the glacier area on the South Coast of Iceland – Photo by Claudia a client from The Netherlands

The other type of flooding in Iceland is the Christmas book flood.

One Christmas I didn´t get a book for a Christmas present from anyone.   The family was in total shock and I got looks of comfort, guilt and some kind of a pity, „poor you, didn´t you get a book“?, said with a mix of bad conscience, disgust and shock.

All cats in Iceland love to read..- Photo by Helga Stina (Model is Belle)

 

Well..there is a reason for this reaction. Iceland calls itself the book nation. Since the Viking age, Icelanders have been known for writing the Sagas and that has been the pride of the nation. When some of our old manuscripts were returned from the Danes some years a go, people gathered by the harbor to receive the coast guard ship bringing the manuscripts home.  It was a celebration, this was a proud day in the nations history and kind of made us fully independent even though we became independent in 1944, while Denmark was occupied by the Germans.

The Sagas are extraordinary and Icelanders can in most cases still read the original manuscripts as the language hasn´t transformed as much through the centuries, as for example in the other Nordic countries, due the isolation of this island in the North Atlantic.

Iceland is sometimes Iceland – Photo unknown

This is totally understandable, as the language, traditions, history, culture, literature, music and the arts are such a big part of the identity of a nation.

There are 330.000 people living in Iceland. We have had a football team, both women and men in the World Cup, we have had amazing musicians conquering the world, we had the first female president in the world,  we even have a Nobel Price winner in literature, in 1955 when Halldor Laxness was honored. We have almost won The Euro-vision Song Contest twice, but who´s counting…The winner takes it all. That said, I know that Icelanders are very proud to be a book nation and proud to be known for that in the outside world. Therefore there is a good will towards authors in Iceland, it is respected by most, and especially if the authors “make it” internationally. Here are some suggestions. 

Every Icelanders pride is shown by the books in the shelves of his home – Photo by Helga Stina in Laugarvatn Iceland

But back to the books and my book less Christmas trauma.

The season for books in Iceland, is before Christmas. That is the harvest time for our amazingly hard working authors. Some who have made a great success in the international world, such as Arnaldur, Yrsa and Jon Kalmann. It´s sometimes like there is a factory of making books for the book flood season, as these authors, and others, somehow manage to create one book after the other, almost as by demand, every year, for years. Kind of like Santa Claus (Some people believe exists) in Finland, having a factory for toys. Quite extraordinary.

And the funny part is, that these authors always manage to write good books, interesting books, fresh books that mostly  keep the reader in a spell until the book finishes. You should try it.

A beautiful Christmas eve with good food and presents or treats. At least one book per person is a must – Photo by Helga Stina

I agree. It was horrible to not get a book for Christmas ones. I felt that I wasn´t a part of the community anymore. God forbid that ever happens again. My family has sworn that they will use all methods possible to prevent this from happening, no matter where I am located in the world 🙂

Because there is nothing like the smell of a new book, a cup of warm chocolate and some scones with smoked lamb, and maybe a home made cookie, on Christmas day morning. Then the holidays have arrived for me.

Icelandic Chocolate is delicious – Photo by Helga Stina

 

More information on how to connect to the Icelanders, their culture and beautiful nature at Iceland Unwrapped 

or connect Helga Stina directly.

Four years of Unwrapping Iceland

It feels quite incredible that four years have passed since I founded what is now called Iceland Unwrapped, my Iceland travel planning business. Iceland Unwrapped offers unique travel experiences based on a personal approach, deep knowledge of the country‘s hidden gems and a commitment to help visitors connect with the Icelanders, Icelandic culture and natural beauty. Read More

The Icelandic people – Entrepreneurship and travel in Iceland

 

Are you kidding me? That‘s what came to mind when I visited a travel presentation market in Iceland this week.

Entrepreneurship in Iceland is extraordinary, in my opinion, for three main reasons:

First of all, as there are only 330.000 people living in Iceland, the need for people who can wear multiple hats is immense. When I used to work with young people in the municipality of Reykjavik many years ago, we used to hire really multi skilled people. The engineer and mountain bike geek, the actor and social worker, the musician and journalist  and I could talk forever about the diversity of these combinations.

In Iceland you need to wear many hats to make things work. You need to be able to take a chance on trying new things, be brave and believe in yourself. That is why, in almost every tiny town in Iceland, (sometimes with less than 500 inhabitants) we have a swimming pool, restaurants, choirs, acting groups, reading groups, schools, shops and so much more.

Always good to have dried fish with you in Iceland as you cannot just grab something to eat whenever you need to.

This facts makes it common that the Icelanders use the term „Þetta reddast“ (which means ‘all will work out’) often when things look impossible. You can always find someone, somewhere who can help.

This is what makes entrepreneurship accepted and treasured atop this rock in the Atlantic. People need to help each other, finding solutions and putting on different hats.

Secondly, entrepreneurship is important and common in Iceland due to resources.

Every season has it´s resource needs and you need to work fast in making the most of each season. If it is blueberry picking in fall, mussel picking in all months that have the letter R in them (September, October, November, December, January, February, March, April), trout fishing in the summer, getting wool from sheep in the fall. The summer months are crucial, and the winter months as well, where you can use the time to smoke products, preserve them in sour, and so on.

In Iceland we can promise you weather. All kinds of it. Even in one day.

This means again that people have to work fast together to make the most of things, to be innovative from how to preserve food so you can enjoy it all year round, to how you can create different uses for products (like opening a beer spa at a brewery).

Thirdly, Icelanders are a bit crazy. We believe in ourselves. We rely on our abilities to make things work and we have Viking blood inside so we are eager to explore both new worlds and new possibilities around us.

I invite you to come see for yourself and to experience the entrepreneurship of Iceland in its many forms.

More information about personalized travel planning on Iceland Unwrapped

The importance of connecting, being and having peace

In my talks with many clients traveling to Iceland with Iceland Unwrapped there has been a red thread.

Connection, peace and the possibility of experiencing quietness is at the essence of a journey to Iceland.

My suggestions often include traveling around, stopping, breathing, having a picnic, reading a book, hiking a bit, meeting the locals and laying down in the moss for a little nap, is a perfect way to explore Iceland for some people. And if you decide to read a book by one of Iceland‘s authors that takes place in the areas you travel in, even better.

Iceland is all kinds. There is a chance to do extreme adventures like glacier climbing, kayaking between glaciers, hiking for days, rafting and fishing.

But for some people living in big cities or with intense jobs or personal pressures, the need for peace and inspiration in crucial for their wellbeing, so they choose vacation destinations that offer that.

That is very interesting for a travel planner who is interested in the well being of her clients and wants to offer a trip that is unforgettable for all senses, adding the spice of connecting to inspirational people and hidden gems all around the country.

On my recent trip to Iceland during the holidays, I met partners that I work with in Iceland that focus on wellbeing, on the experience of using your senses to experience Iceland, it´s beauty, power and diversity.

As a busy mum, wife and entrepreneur, I can relate to this need and the imporartance of finding yourself and nurture the senses in a place like Iceland. Iceland is for all. With a travel planner the option of a tailor made experience can give a visitor exactly what they need, away from the crowds.

Would you like to explore, get to know the people and culture of Iceland? Would you be interested in visiting hidden gems and go off the beaten track?

Are you interested in being actively involved in the adventure of creating your own tailor made travel plan in cooperation with an experienced Iceland specialist?

 

Contact Iceland Unwrapped for more information.

 

Let‘s have a talk on possibilities for you if you are traveling alone of if you are traveling with friends, family, your workplace or other people in your life.

www.icelandunwrapped.com

Authentic experiences and hidden gems – This is personalized travel planning by Iceland Unwrapped

Traveling to Iceland has never been easier. You can fly from all over the world to this isolated rock in the North Atlantic ocean.

There are many ways to visit Iceland. You can book a package and travel around with a group of tourists to the most popular places, the places you see pictures of in every tourist magazine, on Instagram and on famous travel sites. You can rent a car and travel around to the most popular places and get a trip of a lifetime.

I would love to present you to another possibility.

If you are up for something different like connecting to the Icelanders through food and music, getting the feeling of being Icelandic, discovering hidden gems and amazing peace, you should read further about personalized travel planning. That might be something for you and your fellow travelers.

The aim is always to make every trip unique for each group or individual and it is done in cooperation with the client.

Personalized travel planning includes bookings of activities and accommodation, car rental and assistance with booking good flights.

Furthermore insiders information on what to see, eat, drink and experience. Who to meet and how to get the feeling of the Icelandic culture and nature with the locals.

You will get information on how long your adventures will take and how to breathe in the amazing Iceland.

When you are there you have access to your travel planner in case of change of plans or if you want more insights about something on your path. Or if you simply want to share the excitement and feeling of being there.

Iceland is not an average place. Iceland Unwrapped is not a normal travel agent but a planner that takes into account your uniqueness, wishes and needs on this trip of a lifetime. The goal is always to make every trip a personal and unique one and to take you off the beaten path for authentic experiences and hidden gems.

Get in touch with Helga Stina for more information.

Photo by Frida Hjaltested