Let’s be honest. Travel is hard.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
Gustave Flaubert

This quote is on my mind a lot these days, as we plan our next trip, backpacking around Eastern Europe. Traveling with our kids is one of our life’s greatest “whys.” Our three year old astounds me regularly with just how much he is learning every day. New words, new phrases, new ways of manipulating his parents into getting what he wants (or so he thinks), the way he grasps new concepts – he drags his roasted vegetables across the ketchup on his plate and said “look Amma, I’m Swiffer-ing!” Adorable as he is, he’s a lot to handle at times. Especially when the tantrums and whining hit. Who knew three-year olds were capable of such extremes? Our one year old on the other hand, at this stage, is actually the more challenging one. She has no filter, or any sense of self-preservation as she capitalizes on young toddlerhood, running around everywhere, testing her physical abilities while getting into things she shouldn’t.

I read somewhere recently that the ages between one and three years is the most difficult time to travel with kids. I shared this with my husband and we both laughed nervously as our minds drift to our fifteen hour plane journey looming ahead. Nothing like a good boost of confidence as we get ready to pay a small fortune and board the finest sardine cans on the planet and transport ourselves across the world.

I try to picture some of the places we’ll be staying on our upcoming trip. Self-catering apartments with beautiful yet very breakable objects scattered around, no doubt geared towards twenty-somethings looking to have a memorable holiday.  Nothing will be baby-proofed, of course. I brush off a brief moment of hesitation as I wonder if it wouldn’t just be easier to stay home. We’re comfortable at our house, after all. There’s not much baby-proofing needed, for the most part. We won’t have to pack. We can just as easily curl up on our comfy couch and have a family movie night with a movie set somewhere exotic.

Let’s just be totally honest here. Travel is hard. Even for those who are not parents of very little ones.

The juggling documents, the coming and going, the packing, the unpacking, the things getting lost, the sweat, heat and exhaustion, facing challenging situations in an unfamiliar environment. You have to love all that is involved, even though half of it is all of this. Stressful, unexciting logistics, and the unexpected. Standing in line at the airport holding squirming toddlers is no one’s first choice for a good time. So, why do it? Why bother with all of this?

I can’t answer that. But I can tell you why we do it, and why we love it.

As much as we love our couch, and the view our our backyard, we love exploring places. Old familiar places, and new places, but especially new places. Where new discoveries await us. Where we can experience new cultures. Eat new foods. Hear new music. Meet new people and see how they do life.

These places have the power to stay with us through memories. Those memories lift us up when we’re having tough days.

Traveling helps us better understand the world we live in, and its myriad issues, so that when we are in a position to do something to help, we can, because we will have seen and we will know. Traveling makes us care about something beyond the four walls of our home. Traveling gives me perspective, and allows me to see how good I really do have it. Traveling forces me to practice gratitude.

Soon, we’ll be on a plane heading to Prague. Our oldest, now nearly three-and-a-half, kinda gets it. He knows we’re going on an airplane soon, but doesn’t understand the concept of cities, countries or continents. He is slowly starting to understand time zones (thanks to cross-country and cross-globe Skype-sessions with family). He is starting to grasp the fact that people can live and work differently than we do, some people celebrate different holidays, and eat different foods and speak different languages.

 

Traveling together is one of the ways we lay the groundwork for global awareness, curiosity, tolerance and compassion.

If there are only a few things our kids learn from Ryan and me before they leave home, I hope these will be among them.

Survival tips for camping with babies and toddlers

About a year ago, I wrote this piece about taking our toddler camping. My uncomfortable second pregnancy coupled with our toddler’s spirited independence, a.k.a. his normal growth and development, made our outdoor pursuits together a little more…challenging. Last summer alone, we saved him from falling off bridges, watched helplessly as he flung his sippy cup into a fire pit, held him as he flailed violently during temper tantrums on steep hiking trails, soothed several black eyes, saved him from falling off the platform at a train station in Germany, and doctored up the resulting bloody nose when he accidentally jabbed Dad in the face, in the tent (in the dark) during a backpacking trip.

Let’s fast forward one year. My aforementioned baby-bump is now a full-fledged babbling, crawling nine-month old who has recently completed her first weekend camping trip, under the mentorship of her much more experienced big brother and proud parents. Her big brother is now a two-and-three-quarter year old who loves to camp and, mercifully, now has a slightly better sense of self-preservation.

IMG_0484

The trip went well, and we have already planned to take our first backpacking trip as a family of four before summer’s over. A friend recently reacted to this by saying “all this sounds great, but it sounds like a lot of work.” When I asked for clarification on what she meant by it, she pointed to my kids. Oh, right. That it. That ever-changing storybook of early childhood, its pages unfolding while pitching a tent. Setting up camp. Figuring out where everything happens…cooking, eating, playing, washing up. Saving the toddler from nature and all its perils. Meltdowns and tantrums at public campgrounds. All while caring for an infant. Nursing her, keeping her content and safe, soothing her rare but ear-splitting cries raising the alarm for who knows what. Packing in kids’ paraphernalia, changing diapers, packing out dirty diapers and wipes. Throw in ensuring an enjoyable and memorable camping experience for me and my husband, and capturing those quintessentially Instagrammable photos. It is a lot of work.

So, what do we do to enjoy camping with our baby and toddler?

1) We Make A Packing List & Bring Only What We Need.
We are pretty simple campers. As a family, we have decided that having less stuff lets us enjoy what we do have more. The less time we spend carting, organizing, keeping track of, and cleaning up our campsite, the more time we can spend with our kids and actually enjoy camping.

Besides critical items (food + water + camp stove and cookware, shelter: tent + sleeping bags + pads, change of clothing, rain coats, sandals/water shoes, diapers and wipes) we didn’t bring much else. One really doesn’t need any entertainment while camping because we are surrounded by nature and that is the best entertainment.

IMG_0616

The only play thing we brought for Johann from home was his balance bike and helmet. This kept him entertained and active while we cooked, built a fire or did camp chores. Dirt, rocks, and hunting for edible berries around our campsite kept him busy the rest of the time.

IMG_0700

Arya played with whatever we had laying around at camp, mugs, water bottles, carabiners, etc. and she had a great time. I know this will change as she gets older, so we’re cherishing her simplistic entertainment needs now. Even a salt-shaker was hilarious fun.

IMG_0571
Waiting patiently to toast marshmallows.

We brought camp chairs for the adults and toddler, and the GoPod for our baby. No one is paying me to say this, but if you’re an outdoor family looking for a safe place to put an older infant, I highly recommend the KidCo GoPod. It is as lightweight and folds up slim like a camp chair. We have gotten so much use out of this thing with both our kids on fishing trips, camping, picnics and very often just in our own backyard.

2) We Keep Camping Food Easy.
Prep easy meals at home that the whole family can eat, and bring everything marinated or pre-seasoned, so that the most you have to do at camp is sauté or boil in water. We like to eat good, wholesome food, so we put in a little extra effort at home to make easy and fast camp-ready meals – two important factors, since we are also watching the kids. Pictured here is what we brought on our last camping trip, enough to feed all of us for three days.

IMG_0482

We love one-pot meals like rice and cous cous that can be pre-measured and pre-mixed into baggies with spices and dehydrated veggies. Toss the contents into a billy pot with water and boil, then fry up some nitrate-free sausages (or better yet, roast them over the fire pit) for a complete meal. Or serve with lentils, or just eat plain. Cous cous is a hands-down favorite, since it only takes five minutes to cook. You will need all that extra non-cooking time to go grab your toddler before he digs up the poisonous mushrooms behind your campsite.

IMG_0702
Table decorations = clam shells that our toddler collected on the beach

Oatmeal is another favorite – mixed with cinnamon, raisins, and brown sugar if desired – just add boiling water for a hearty breakfast. Eggs carefully nestled into the cooler then soft-boiled at camp, along with some fresh spinach we had laying around, and sausages, all thrown together into tortillas made great breakfast burritos another day. Some canned salmon and tuna, chopped red onions and capers that we prepped in a tupperware container beforehand (leave the cutting boards at home) went into more tortillas for easy no-cook lunch wraps between hiking and beach exploration. Tortillas are pretty great for camping and backpacking – they hold up better than bread, take up less room, and they don’t get squished like bread. A peanut butter and jelly wrap tastes just as good as a sandwich. And Johnny’s Seasoning Salt – never leave home without it.

Not pictured: Fresh fruit (cherries and apples). Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches that we ate in the car en route. Marshmallows for toasting, a camping must-have! Our small cooler to house the eggs and other cold stuff, ice-filled water bottles, and three small icepacks.

3) We Give Each Other Space.
While we thrive on our family-time, my husband and I both love alone-time, too.  It is quite impossible to find much of either at a crowded campground, much less at our own campsite (or in our 6’x7′ tent)! We are with our kids all.the.time. Even when they get fussy and/or misbehave. It’s at these times that we plan strategic alone-time.

IMG_0678

The boys will go for a walk while I nurse the baby and enjoy the quiet. Or I take the Johann down to the water while Ryan and Arya get a chance to enjoy some quiet time. An example from our recent camping trip: our first night was rough, I hardly slept. Baby girl was in my sleeping bag and she stirred and fussed every hour or so. It was awful, and so unlike sleeping at home. The next morning I was trying hard not to be a sleep-deprived zombie. Ryan wore Arya in the Ergo carrier, and watched Johann ride his bike around the campground while I stole a few minutes to journal and enjoy my morning coffee. Those few minutes went a long way, and I really appreciated that break.

4) We Accept That The Kids Will Get Dirty.
This was a hard one for me, but having a boy first made me get over the fact that kids will find dirt and get into it no matter what. Johann was six months old the first time we took him backpacking. I had laid down the rain cover of my pack and gingerly set him down on top of it while we set up our tent, but in less than half a minute he had already moved to the dirt and was happily eating it. That was my A-ha moment. On this recent camping trip, our daughter sucked on some large rocks on the beach. Oh well.

IMG_0625

I’ve come a long way and just accept it now. Dirt makes kids happy, and it’s good for them, too. We give our littles a good hand and face scrub at the end of each camping day and call it good enough until we hop into hot showers back home.     

5) We Keep Our Sleep Expectations Low.
Does anyone really sleep the same while camping as in their own bed? When we camp, we all go to bed at the same time, which is usually very late (with the sun), and we all tend to wake up very early (with the sun, again). The minute they see any day light the kids are up and at ’em…lest they miss any of the day’s excitement. We’re learning that we all can operate remarkably well on less sleep – temporarily. The other thing is personal space. We have a small (3-person) backpacking tent. When our toddler was a baby, he would bunk in one of our sleeping bags with us and we would be very careful not to squish him. This usually meant that we ourselves did not sleep very soundly. At about one-and-a-half years old, we got him his own sleeping bag, which made a huge difference and helped all of us sleep better. Now, we’re reliving it with our baby girl who wakes up and fusses every time one of us tries to roll over. But – we know it is temporary, and this works for us – for now. We plan to get a bigger tent for future car-camping trips as our littles ones are only getting bigger, and before we know it, Arya will be a toddler and will have her own sleeping bag. There are more options for those who have bigger tents – like sleeping on an air mattress to absorb some of the movement, or a travel crib or pack n’ play for the baby. This works really well for our friends who camp with their littles!

The point is to do what works for your family, so that you and your little ones are happy in pursuing the things you love to do as a family, and embracing each season you have together.

IMG_0603

We had a blast. We explored a new place, witnessed firsts, bonded in new ways, and made memories for a lifetime. We look forward to many more camping adventures with our kids! Here’s wishing you all the same.

Five Reasons To Go Hiking With Your Kids

So, really, there are way more than five reasons why you should take a hike with your kids. But these are pretty cool.

1. The Physical Challenge

Whether you choose to stroll down the sidewalk of your tree-lined street, stomp through the grass around your closest pond, or head for the hills, moving your body and getting outside brings countless health benefits. It is great exercise for both you and your little ones. Even more so for parents toting children in some type of carrier.

IMG_1927

In our present stage of life, with an eight-month-old baby, and a two-and-a-half year old, my husband and I each carry between twenty and thirty-five pounds of kids and gear on hikes. I feel both physically challenged and wonderfully satisfied carrying my baby girl up the side of a mountain, and my husband – who carries our much heavier toddler – concurs. It’s a great workout, and it’s free. (Or really cheap.)

IMG_4239

2. The Opportunities To Learn And Play

The natural world is full of opportunities to enhance a child’s education. Our oldest is two-and-a-half now, and at his two-year checkup we were told he had a mild isolated speech delay. While he has made huge strides in the past six months, and is speaking full, complete sentences now, taking him outside on hikes has given him and us new opportunities to learn. We spend hours reading books and talking to both of our kids at home or in everyday situations like running errands, but we know that there is more than one way to learn. One of those ways involves using the outdoors to look for educational opportunities. We always talk about what we see on hikes. The moss on trees (“is the moss soft or hard?”), counting how many steps there are on a bridge across a trail, birds flitting about, chipmunks scurrying across the trail with a contraband peanut, the sounds of a creek or waterfall (“are we getting closer or farther from the water?”), sea creatures or clamshells washed up on a beach. Etc. Observation and Processing = Learning.

IMG_7113

Hiking is good for play, too. No need to bring along any toys on hikes. Sticks, dirt, mud – these are all the oldest toys in the world, and they’re totally free.

Another highlight of hiking with our kids is that we get to share one of our favorite hobbies – foraging for edible plants – with them. While our son may not know all his ABCs or be able to count to one hundred, he can certainly show off when it comes to spotting multiple edible plants from impressive distances up a trail.

IMG_4944

Hiking has given us all new learning opportunities, but it has certainly given my son his moments to shine.

3. You Get To Bond In New Ways

Engaging with our kids on hikes is one of the most rewarding things about hiking. It’s really cool to see or hear them get excited about something during a hike, and to show them that there’s a reward – a beautiful view, a lake, waterfall, or something cool – along the way.

IMG_4845

We get glimpses into how their imaginations work, and we notice the world differently through their senses. It’s awesome. Plus, I just love the physical bond of carrying my children while they are still little – these days are short and I want to enjoy them while they last.

IMG_4766

4. You Know They Are Safe

Our kids are still little enough that we can strap them into carriers and take them along on most of the hikes we would choose even before we had kids. If they are comfortable, fed, get enough breaks to burn off energy, and feel safe, they’re pretty easy and delightful company on hikes.

IMG_3192

We do let our toddler walk on trails that are not too rocky or steep for his little legs, for as long as he wants to and is able to. When he gets tired, he either rides on Daddy’s shoulders or for longer hikes in the backpack carrier. We are accountable for teaching our kids how to hike safely, and how to enjoy the outdoors as we do. Sometimes this looks like going at the ever-adorable yet excruciatingly slow toddler speed, or playing the “red light green light” game for way longer than we want to, and standing aside carefully to let upward hikers pass. When they’re with us, we know they’re as safe as we are.

5. Fringe Benefits

Hiking for exercise or entertainment or both has numerous fringe benefits. We don’t have to worry about how much it’s going to cost, and we don’t ever have to ration it or feel guilty about “too much screen time.” Our kids always come home tired. Sure, the regular schedule might be different on a long hiking day, and naps might not happen when or as they should. But, ultimately, tired bodies = better overall sleep. I’ll take that any day.

In my book, this particular fringe benefit is a winner by far – our kids invariably fall asleep on longer hikes, giving my husband and me chances to have peaceful, uninterrupted conversations on the trail (in the middle of the day – gasp)! We savor these moments for all they’re worth knowing these opportunities are rare at home. Gosh, sometimes, if the trail is wide enough we even hold hands!

And there you have it, folks. Five good reasons to go hiking with your littles. If you’ve got more to add to the list – please feel free to share. I’d love to hear your favorites!

Iceland with Kids: Part III

OK – let’s be honest. If you ask my toddler what the best thing about travel is, he will say jumping on other people’s furniture. Truth. And, that is exactly what he did in Reykjavik.

We spent four days in Reykjavik, and stayed in a studio apartment right in the city center, with a private kitchen and bathroom. Every apartment in the building is decorated in a one-of-a-kind theme, and we got the one with the teddy bears crucified on the wall.

IMG_4037

Initially a shock to the senses, believe it or not, I actually grew to love everything about that apartment. Despite the scary teddy bear theme, funhouse colors, retro furniture, Scotch plaid décor, and the silly, silly bed that took the skin right off your shin every time you (invariably) bumped into it rounding the corner.

It was fun and felt like home, but more specifically, I loved it because 1) the kids had a little more space to play, 2) it had a small but fully functional kitchen that we cooked all our meals in, 3) the sofa bed pulled-out right on the floor, giving our toddler a safe place to do his favorite thing of late: jump on the furniture. It was in a great walkable location in the city center, and much cheaper than Reykjavik hotels (which are upwards of $200 USD per night, yikes). The cherry on top was the fact that they provided cribs for our kids, which was one of the main reasons we chose it.

Reykjavik
Iceland’s capital and home to two hundred thousand people, Reykjavik is more than “just a city.” It has cool nightlife (more for those traveling without babies and toddlers!), a killer art and music scene (everyone is a creative here), and its own old-town charm.

IMG_0287

The “must-sees” include the Hallgrímskirkja, (the modern-looking Lutheran church with a beautiful tower), the recently built Harpa opera house (which was once a controversial building project, but now loved by locals), and the city hall which houses a 3D topographical map of Iceland the size of a large conference room. We enjoyed seeing all of these. But what we loved most about Reykjavik was just walking around and soaking in the city vibe.

IMG_0308

The city does not feel touristy at all. The streets are lovely. Beautiful murals, street art, and sculpture in the space between shops, bars and restaurants are everywhere. (A lot of the street art is sponsored by shop or restaurant owners.) The locals we met were very friendly. And, its harbor location is beautiful. All great reasons to spend a couple of days here. There are also many day trips possible from here. These were some of our highlights.

Þingvellir, Geysir, & Gullfoss, a.k.a “The Golden Circle”
There are many organized excursions available, but we chose to drive it ourselves. The route, which includes three famous natural wonders: Þingvellir (anglicized as Thingvellir), Geysir, and Gullfoss, is under 300km and very easy to do in one day if you have a car.

Our first stop was Thingvellir, which holds geological and historical significance. It is on this spot that the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, and are gradually drifting apart. How cool is that!? We actually hiked along the Almannagjá fault, to a beautiful little waterfall, Öxarárfoss. Our toddler walked most of this trail on his own.

IMG_0359

Thingvellir is also the site of the oldest parliament in the world, where the first Icelandic settlers met and organized a government in 930 AD. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, on this basis. Overall, Thingvellir National Park is magical, and is worth a visit.

IMG_0363

Next, we visited Geysir, a geothermal area not far from Thingvellir. The second tallest geyser in the world, named Geysir, the world’s fourth tallest geyser, named Strokkur, as well as a bunch of smaller ones are located here. Geysir is not currently active, but we did see Strokkur shoot scalding water 30-meters into the air several times, as it erupts pretty regularly every 5-10 minutes.

IMG_0392

I have never seen anything like this ever before. The sulfur made the air smell like rotten eggs. If you look closely at the deep blue water and wait and watch, you can actually see each phase of it…the blue color deepening, then whitening, the white bubble that suddenly forms, then gets bigger, until suddenly it erupts! I was absolutely mesmerized by this fascinating place.

IMG_4026

We tore ourselves away eventually and rolled on to Gullfoss, our last stop on the Golden Circle.

Many say that Gullfoss is the best waterfall in Europe. The Hvítá river drops dramatically into a ravine, with two successive cascades forming a ninety degree angle.

IMG_0400

We caught some rainbows from the top, followed the steep concrete pathway down and peered over the edge, marveling at the sheer force of these falls!

IMG_0404

There were so many other beautiful places we saw in Iceland that I would love to share with you all, but I don’t want to go on and on. I do want to share our experience with the food and Icelandic swimming pools – simply because it was so unique.

A Note on Iceland’s Swimming Pools
Swimming pools are crazy popular in Iceland. We learned that the swimming pool is to Icelanders what “the coffeeshop” is to Americans, or “the pub” is to the British. It’s where you go to relax, mingle, and catch up with all your old friends (or meet new ones). It’s really hard not to unwind at an Icelandic swimming pool – they’re geothermally heated, and many are outdoors. The warm water feels especially wonderful against your skin when the cold winds blow! Didn’t pack a swimsuit? No problem. You can rent one at any pool, kid and adult sizes are available! On a drive around Northwestern Iceland one day, we spontaneously decided to stop and try the renowned outdoor swimming pool in Hofsós. It’s tucked into a hillside that drops into the sea, and you can see the mountains and Drangey Island across the fjord. The view alone makes this pool most Icelanders’ favorite, but they also have water toys for kids, and a large sauna. Johann and I got into the pool and had a blast! Ryan hung out with Arya on a lounge chair and chatted up a friendly Canadian couple who were also traveling around Iceland with a six-month baby. It’s always nice to see that we are not alone in our adventures.

IMG_3915

In this spectacular setting, with the view, the infinity-pool-like atmosphere, and the geothermal water warming our skin against the bitterly cold winds, the whole experience was other-worldly.

A Note about Food
Food in Iceland is expensive. We took advantage of having our own vehicle, and bought groceries every few days – which was cheaper than eating out. We stocked up on milk and other groceries throughout our trip at two local supermarket chains, Bónus and Netto. (We also found diapers and wipes there when we needed them.) Our guesthouse in Akureyri had a shared kitchen and a refrigerator that we took advantage of, and we enjoyed cooking in our apartment in Reykjavik.

IMG_3726

Skyr was a big hit – this is a wonderfully thick Icelandic-style yogurt, and we had some for breakfast or snack everyday. Strained and thick like Greek yogurt, but much milder in flavor.

IMG_9768

We found one brand of Skyr available in our local grocery stores back home here in the US!

We still wanted to experience the local cuisine (one of the reasons we love to travel – we are foodies!) so we budgeted our trip money so that we could still eat a few meals out. And, we ate our fair share of well-prepared Icelandic fish!

Thanks for reading, and letting me re-live the experience by sharing our adventure with you all. I am so grateful we got the opportunity to go to such a beautiful country. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, and it has made me fall in love with this place we call Earth in a whole new way. We would love to go back, someday. We had an amazing time, and so did our kids. Nowhere else have we seen so much vastness and variety in the landscape, in a relatively small geographical area. While we wanted to stop everywhere and see everything, it really helped that we didn’t try to cram in too much. There was lots we didn’t do. We didn’t go anywhere Southeast at all. And, we didn’t go to the Blue Lagoon, either. A stone’s throw from Keflavik International Airport, the Blue Lagoon is actually Iceland’s most famous attraction. Everyone told us it is pretty cool, but also that it is a shameless tourist trap. The water is a tad too hot for babies anyway. We decided to skip it. But maybe next time!

If you are interested in traveling to Iceland (with or without little ones), let me know and I’d be happy to try to answer any questions you have!

Iceland with Kids: Part II

Last month, Ryan and I traveled around Iceland for ten days, with our two-and-a-half year old son and our six-month old daughter. I’ve been enjoying talking about our trip, so thanks for following along!

What to do in Iceland with Babies and Toddlers?
We already knew that Iceland was a beautiful country, and we were eager to experience its wild and raw landscape. Between, fjords, geothermal springs, volcanoes, stark glaciers, desolate lava fields, small towns with ice-cream colored houses, and even bigger ones with artistic charm, there is something for everyone. Let’s not forget all of Iceland’s cool wildlife and domesticated animals. Did you know that in Iceland, sheep outnumber humans by more than 2:1?

IMG_0058

Icelandic horses are all over the countryside, too. They are so beautiful and graceful to look at, and you won’t see them anywhere else in the world.

 

IMG_0241

Faced with all these choices, we chose to spend our time exploring the North, Northeast, and West. We really wanted to go slow, take our time, and explore places well without trying to cram everything in or rush. It is just part of how we do things, and building in some down time is always beneficial in the unpredictable world of traveling with babies and toddlers.

It was our first overseas travel as a new family of four, and we were pleasantly surprised at Iceland’s child-friendliness. Nature reigns supreme in Iceland, and Icelanders sure do make it easy for everyone – even very young children – to enjoy natural wonders on some level. But, more practically, it is easy to find high-chairs if you eat out, and whatever baby stuff you need in local markets. The latter is key, for those of us who travel light!

Driving in Iceland
Driving in Iceland is easy, and great fun. Our plan was to rent a car, arm ourselves with good maps, take it slow and soak it all in. We did just that, and we were still surprised at how much we saw. Having your own vehicle is really the best way to go at your own pace and experience the Icelandic countryside, and tucked away wonders off the beaten path. There is no traffic outside the capital, and no one is in a rush to get anywhere. The weather was a slight concern, as it was still early Spring, and many roads were still buried under snow or closed. There is one maintained road, the “Ring road,” that goes around the whole country. It had a couple of hairy stretches going through the mountains, sometimes without even a guardrail standing between you and oblivion, and those got our hearts racing!

IMG_9891

But, we used common sense, didn’t attempt to drive across any rivers, and had a pretty great driving experience. Just driving and exploring was one of our favorite things about Iceland.

IMG_3667

We spent several low key days just driving around various peninsulas, exploring tiny fishing villages, finding lagoons, waterfalls, hikes or other hidden gems along the way.

IMG_3902

The best thing about the roads in Iceland are all the places to pull off safely to eat, play, nurse, change a diaper or simply admire the views. Our kids are great at car travel; they napped during the longer stretches, and we stopped when needed to stretch our legs, play, eat, and change diapers.

IMG_9762

Some rest areas are just an expanded shoulder, but many have maps of the local area with points of interest well-marked, picnic tables, and incredible views to admire. There are never “boring stretches of highway,” since the scenery all around is simply fantastic.

IMG_9875

We also tried to maintain our routine, and alternated very active days (or long driving days) and slower days with shorter activities, so the kids could still get in plenty of play time, sleep and function.

We landed in Reykjavík and followed the Ring road north and east towards Akureyri. 

Akureyri
Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland, boasting a population of about eighteen thousand people.

IMG_9940

It has a friendly small town vibe with sweet mom and pop stores, brightly colored homes, and a beautiful shoreline. It’s so pretty it makes me want to paint or sing or write poetry.

IMG_9932

We spent five nights here in a spare but charming, well-established guesthouse, and found plenty to do nearby. Here are a couple of our highlights.

Lake Mývatn
Lake Mývatn – formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago – is lovely on it’s own, but it’s also a microcosm of birds and waterfowl.

IMG_9981

It was an easy day trip from Akureyri. Duck enthusiasts note: this is the place to spot several duck species, including Barrow’s Goldeneye, which nests nowhere else in Europe.We saw some of those, and many others!

IMG_9985

You can see these shallow placid pools in some areas of Lake Mývatn.

IMG_3801

Of course, our toddler had a blast exploring the lakeshore, watching ducks and other birds. None of this was terribly interesting for the baby. But, she had her own plans…

On our drive back to Akureyri, we climbed up to see Krafla, a volcano that most recently erupted in the 1980s. As we all stood on the side of this volcano, shivering against a windchill of negative five degrees Celsius, taking in the vast expanse below us bathed in sunshine, Arya decided that there was no better time or place to blow out her diaper. It was the blowout to conquer all other blowouts, and I should mention that the crater Krafla left behind is conveniently named Víti (Icelandic for Hell). The irony is not lost on us. Ah, memories. Good thing we had spare clothes in the daypack.

Dettifoss
Dettifoss is Europe’s most powerful waterfall. You really do feel the ground rumbling beneath your feet as you take in the power of these falls. We trudged over two kilometers across four or more feet of hard packed snow to see Dettifoss.

IMG_0009

Truly worth it!

IMG_3788

This was also the perfect opportunity to use the second Ergo carrier that we had borrowed from friends, to save our toddler from attempting to navigate this (and to save ourselves from the inevitable frustration, meltdowns and fussiness). Both kids were quite happy to ride with us, and enjoyed the roar of the falls but also playing in the snow afterwards.

There were some other things we wanted to see in the National Park near Dettifoss, but we had to turn around due to road and gate closures and big scary signs proclaiming that not even high-clearance 4×4 vehicles would be allowed through, and that anyone seen would be ticketed. Okay then, back we went!

Next, I’ll talk about Reykjavík, and some other cool things we saw around there, along with how we handled food, and other special situations we faced with our baby and toddler. Thanks for reading, and following our adventure!

A special note to young families thinking about traveling to Iceland with little ones: it really is worth it, and you and your kids will have a blast!