The Travelling Bag series was originally curated to connect our global community, passing a bag and a single journal from traveller to traveller, adventure to adventure. It has since become a collection of mindful travel guides, encouraging each owner of The Travelling Bag to delve deeper into the place they're exploring, focusing on travelling against the norm and finding meaningful connections with the places they visit.
After three years at university, and what feels like a lifetime of school, Emily Whiteford sets off for a seven-day exploration of the wild and remote island, Iceland. With her friends by her side and the Travelling Bag on her back, Emily takes a journey of inscape, opening her eyes and mind to everything that comes with travel and adventure.
Photography, illustrations and words by Emily Whiteford | @emilywhitefordillustration
Stepping off the plane my eyes squinted in the daylight, the sky was soft, blue and hazy – in the distance you could vaguely see some hills peaking on the horizon. Jumping into our rented car we headed to our home for the next week. It was my first time driving on the opposite side of the road – I tried not to let it freak me out... too much. After a lot of bumpy roads and wrong turns we made it to the house, all we had to do was drive up a very steep hill! We got about halfway up, when our little Suzuki Jimny overheated and cut out. Smoke was billowing from the engine. Once we finished panicking, two of us managed to reverse it back down, very, very slowly.
There were only three bedrooms and I pulled the short straw, so I was sleeping on the sofa in the living room. There were no curtains and by this time Iceland's midnight sun shone across the lake right in front of the house, and through the window. Luckily, one of us brought a sleeping mask, so I slept soundly.
Waking up the next morning to that view across the lake was amazing. It took some time for us to adjust to where we were, and the beautiful views, but after we had we were ready to leave the house for a day of new adventures, this morning we were going horse riding.
The air was warm, and the sun glinted across the lake while we drove past snowy mountain tops. It is easy to get stuck in a negative mindset after an incident like we had the night before. But being in such a stunning location, it was impossible to not feel at peace. These experiences just help make the good times sweeter, plus it adds to the thrill of the adventure. I'm starting to learn that things can be fixed, even if it feels like it's gotten really bad - it's important to remember this, especially when travelling.
When we arrived at the stables, it was so hot! Apparently, we arrived in the middle of their heatwave. It felt amazing to rekindle my love of riding in such a special place. We rode down a gravel track with mountains in the distance, it felt so free.
After riding, we made our way to Gabrok, a dormant volcano. We hiked to the top of the crater, the view was breathtaking. Mountains, lakes and little red roofs dotted across the landscape – you can see for miles. Walking along the top, the volcanic rock felt like rice crispies, crunching under our feet, it's incredible to think that lava was once pouring out from the crater and along this path. With tired legs and dusty boots, we headed back to the house – hungry for more adventures tomorrow.
Wanting to know a little more about Iceland’s history, we drove out to Dalabyggd to an old Viking settlement. Today, it was slightly more overcast with cloud-topped mountains in the distance. We were shown into a traditional Viking house, and our guide told us old folk tales around a warm fire. Nordic carvings were intricately sculpted around the seats and sheepskin lined the walls – it was so cool to see and experience. Whilst playing some traditional Viking games, we got to talking with our guide about her life in Iceland. She told us she was working at the Dalabyggd over the summer, to figure out what she wanted to do with her life next. It was great to talk with someone of a similar age and gain insight into their local life. It's one of my favourite things about travelling, the chance to learn more about the lives of others. Even in these very remote places, we still share the same worries, it makes me feel that the world is more connected and also reassures me that I'm OK where I am in my own life.
After our visit to Dalabyggd, we headed for a waterfall called Glanni on the Nordura river. It is said to be the dwelling place of elves and trolls – unfortunately, I think we must have missed them this time. We took our shoes off and ate lunch by the river – the sun shone on the clear water in front of us. It was so peaceful. After a quick paddle in the river, it was onto our next destination. A famous Icelandic goat farm! The goats there are endangered and have been bred at the farm to raise the numbers – we even heard that one of the goats was on Game of Thrones! I cuddled with some of the baby goats as the sun shone across the green field, sprinkled with golden buttercups – idyllic.
We headed home with full hearts and thoughts of how to open a goat farm of our own!
Today was a long day. In the morning we took a road trip around the Snaefelsnes Peninsula, in West Iceland, known for its dramatic views. At first, we went to a little beach, where I collected beach glass to take home and then to see The Black Church – an old Icelandic wooden church surrounded by bright yellow buttercups. It was beautiful.
Sat down by the sea, we at our lunch. The water was bright aqua, and in the distance horses galloped along the shoreline. In the afternoon we travelled to Randfeldsgja, a dramatic canyon gorge by the coast. It was like a scene from Lord of the Rings! Seagulls circled the entrance, and the cold wind swept the breath out from your lungs. There was a stream of clear cold water running from the gorge and we scrambled up into a dark rock. The light poured in from above and all you could hear was the running water and birds overhead. It felt mystical.
We drove on to go and see a colour-changing natural archway cove, carved into round soft shapes by the wild seas. The water reflected on the arch, glinting in the sun as the seagulls swirled around the cove. We then went to a beautifully quiet and clear beach. Something I’ve really noticed about Iceland is I rarely seen any plastic pollution or litter - it seems people are extra aware here, which is so refreshing! To finish the day, we stopped off at Kirkjufell, a famous mountain and waterfall. It is a classic view that has been in many different TV shows and movies. It was beautiful but very busy with other tourists, but I’m quite good at dealing with that living in the Lake District. Taking off our heavy boots, and muddy coats we headed home for some well-deserved pizza and wine.
Today we were in Reykjavik! It's unlike any city I’ve ever been to before. Walking around, it felt more like a little village than a city, each shop was beautifully decorated and down every other street you could spot the mountains in the distance, eager to remind you of the adventures and wild places still unexplored and tempting you out of the buss of the city. First, we visited the Northern Lights Museum, which was really interesting and lovely to experience. Since the midnight sun is around in summertime in Iceland, it never gets dark enough to see the Aurora Borealis. I guess we’ll just have to come back again!
It was onto the rough Icelandic seas now for whale watching. Keeping our sleepy eyes locked on the horizon, the sun shimmered on the wild waves ahead. Despite never taking our gaze away from the seas, we didn’t manage to spot one, but that will only make the time I do see a whale even sweeter. Things aren’t always going to turn out perfectly when you go travelling, and that’s part of the adventure.
As the sun began to lower, golden light poured through the city streets as we made our way back to the car. Here, golden hour lasts so much longer. Barely keeping our eyes open, and bathed in soft, orange light, we drove back down the long road home.
Another day on the road to see beautiful things!
First on the list was Seljalandsfloss, a huge waterfall that you could even walk behind. The scale of the falls was incredible and watching the water tumble down and dance from side to side in the strong winds was mesmerising. Next, we headed to the famous plane wreck on the black beach at Solheimasandur. We walked across the black sands towards the white hollow shell as the wind wildly blew us about. The contrast of the plane on the sand was hauntingly stunning, and the whole scene just didn’t seem real.
We then stopped off at the Solheimajokull glacier. It was really special and a privilege to see the glacier, considering the state of the planet at the moment. The glacier itself was beautiful, the ice sloped up towards the snowy mountains in the distance with huge chunks of ice that had split off. The ice was bright white against the grey skies, scarred with black sand patterns and infused by the sharp winds that cut through the valley. It was so still, it felt like everything just slowed down and became quiet as if we were in the midst of an ancient God.
The last place to go today on our list was another incredible waterfall called Skogafloss that stretches widely across the cliff. I looked up and was hypnotised by the movement of the water, as it hit the ground a great cloud of spray ricocheted off the black rocks below - you can feel it's power as the spray floats through the air. I could have watched it all day. After getting completely drenched under the waterfall, we made our way back to the car. Happy, if a little damp.
Day seven (last day)
Today we got up super early to go to the Blue Lagoon, a well-known hot spring spa. It was lovely to have a break, and just be. The soft blue water was so comforting after a long week.
After a lovely few hours relaxing, we headed to the Kerid crater, a dormant volcano with an emerald lake at the bottom and then finally to see the Greate Geysir, spouting hot springs. This felt like a true Icelandic goodbye, to watch the great plumes of water rise high into the sky!
Our plane leaves tomorrow and we’re setting off from here at 4 am, so this will be my last entry. It has been a pleasure to share my Icelandic adventures with you. I really feel like I’ve grown a little from this trip, and have become a little more confident in my own abilities - ready to make my life exciting and wild. I never want to lose this passion for travel, to be able to see the world from different perspectives and learn to appreciate all life in an open and natural way.
My one and only travel tip will be to always be present. Appreciate where you are and who you’re with because these are the real things we’ll remember in years to come.