I thought I would dread the drive to Keflavík airport. The familiar “it’s over” feeling would hit and I’d wistfully stare out the Nissan Qashqai window at the lava rocks lining the road. This was the typical end-of-vacation sadness I was accustomed to. But everything is different now. We have neither a job nor home to return to. And the United States isn’t even on our foreseeable itinerary. Onward we drift, with each subsequent destination full of mystery and adventure, not the usual necessity to refocus my energy on 9-to-5 work.
Only two weeks have passed, but Mike and I have already encountered both the immense benefits and back-home annoyances of international travel. Before we left DC, we thought we tied up all loose ends with regard to mutual accounts, new credit cards, PINs, etc. Less than one week into our trip, we were notified that the check we wrote for our last month’s rent was declined due to a freeze on our account. WHAT?! So our old apartment management company slammed down a late fee and service charge as a result. But there was no way we would willingly pay more than $100 worth of fees for something we knew wasn’t our fault.
We were in the middle of cruising through the fjords of east Iceland when this nonsense unfolded. After many dropped calls on Skype, we connected with a customer service rep and learned what went wrong: It turned out that after setting up our account and verifying information, negligence on the part of another service rep resulted in our account still being flagged as unverified. We got the bank to cut a check to our apartment management and refund us the extra fees. All turned out well in the end, but that headache ate up hours and part of our sanity.
In the midst of this annoyance, we were unwittingly being taught a lesson in kindness. Before our rent check drama, we had made nice with the caretakers of the guesthouse we were staying in, which resulted in them inviting us to dinner, giving us homemade Icelandic specialty foods, allowing us free use of their washer and even upgrading us to the hotel’s “honeymoon suite.” Our conversations with the two caretakers ended up being a main highlight of our stop in Iceland. And to cap off their generosity, when they heard us trying (and failing) to connect with our bank via Skype during our mini crisis, they let us into their management office to be closer to the WiFi router. None of this was required or even expected, but just done out of genuine kindness.
In the course of our 14-day drive around Iceland and during countless interactions with natives, we never encountered someone with an attitude. It’s very easy to chalk it up to short-term interactions or catering to tourism, but I’m from America, where even those who work at Disney may throw you shade. My point is that I know attitude, and I didn’t encounter an ounce…er, a gram.
Generosity obviously isn’t a quality that only Icelanders can claim. During the planning of our trip, we encountered kind and big-hearted people when seeking someone to Couchsurf (CS) with. We were both a little wary about CS since it involves complete strangers letting you into their home, or vice versa. Friends had described positive CS experiences and encouraged us to give it a try. Once we joined and started interacting with other members, we were introduced to an accepting and caring community we had never before encountered.
Our first two Couchsurfing experiences happened to be in Iceland. The country is considered to be one of the safest in the world, and the natives are very trusting. Hitchhiking — taboo in the United States — is as accepted as putting butter on bread. Small-town Icelanders never lock their doors. A scooter will lie on the sidewalk and still be there a day later. With all of this in mind, Iceland was an ideal spot for us to dip our feet in the CS waters. Two different people — one with a 4-year-old — opened their house to us, gave us a room to ourselves, cooked for us and, most importantly, trusted us like we were long-time friends.
All of these acts of kindness — from interactions with locals to Couchsurfing hosts — really opened our eyes to how generous and big-hearted people can be. It doesn’t have to be a dog-eat-dog world or one in which you close yourself off to new experiences because of fear. These interactions and lessons are the types of experiences we have been looking forward to — those with the power to change us for the better. And as we dive into week three in Finland, I have a great feeling about where this trip is headed.