I just got home from 2 weeks in Iceland, and as much as I appreciated the otherworldly scenery and fantastic hospitality, I also took home a few applicable work lessons as souvenirs.
Iceland is a destination that isn’t geared toward tourists. Iceland’s population is 365,000. That’s smaller than Wichita, Kansas. And only 10% of its economy comes from tourism. That means there isn’t a lot of extra capacity sitting around–no empty hotel rooms and souvenir shops on every corner. There are no trains, and you might drive hours of beautiful scenery before finding a place to eat. I like to pack light and plan to do a few loads of washing on a long trip for the 4 of us, but there are also only a few laundromats in the entire country because all Icelanders have washing machines and dryers in their homes.
Focus on strengths, exclusively
Iceland does not appeal to every tourist’s appetite. It is a country of unparalleled, rugged natural beauty. There are no theme parks, no paths for Rascal riders, or any restaurants serving chicken for that matter. But you can’t go 10 minutes without seeing either a dramatic 100-foot waterfall, a martian-like lava field, or a sheet of imposing blue ice. Iceland is expensive. It is ranked as the 3rd most expensive country in the world to visit, but it offers something nowhere else does. Iceland sticks to its knitting (quite literally; I brought home one of those gorgeous hand-knit wool sweaters), and they make no apologies. Where else can you snorkel in 40-degree water between 2 tectonic plates, see the lava firework show of an active volcano, and hike a glacier on the same day?
Keep your eye on the big rocks
This one is quite literal. Iceland’s biggest “issue” is huge, exploding rocks. It is a volcanic island, after all. After 2 weeks (and it could have something to do with the fact that the few Icelandic words I picked up were food-related), Iceland seemed apolitical, which was such a welcome departure from the divisions of home at the moment. Icelanders were friendly, welcoming, and operated in a state of constant awe of and gratitude for the landscape around them. Maybe having an environment that is both a permanent source of inspiration and a potential existential threat helps keep priorities straight.