We’re Going to Iceland!

We’re heading to Iceland with our baby and toddler next month. We have heard about Iceland’s jaw-dropping scenery, rugged terrain, numerous wildlife viewing and hiking opportunities, and that it’s cold no matter when you go. We can’t wait to experience a new country, its culture, and unique environment. Well…when I say “we,” I really just mean Ryan and I. Johann, our 2-year old, knows that we’re going somewhere on an “airpeen” soon to “ike.” We mentioned that we will do some hiking when we get there, and he loves to hike. Arya, our 6-month old, doesn’t seem to care, but she’s generally up for anything.

We weren’t actually planning to go to Iceland this year. However, we had saved up for a trip somewhere. An acquaintance had shared pictures from their trip to Iceland, and when a recent search showed cheap flights from Seattle to Reykjavik we booked it. Everything else fell into place quickly. Now, we’re in the trip planning phase, which I personally find almost as exciting as the trip itself. I’m poring over maps, reading up on places to explore, things to see, do, eat and drink. I’m pretty excited.

We’ll spend ten days in Iceland and, rather than try to see it all, we want to explore just a couple of areas really well. We also want to make time and space for our little ones to nap, play, and to just be, well, little ones. We found a guesthouse at one destination and an apartment in the other that are more affordable, spacious, and a bit more homey than hotels. They both have either private or shared kitchens where we can cook our own meals – a huge bonus since food is expensive there. We booked a rental car for part of the trip and can’t wait to drive around seeing the countryside and tiny fishing villages at our own pace.

We’ll be there in May, when the average spring temperature will be the 40s and 50s (Fahrenheit). We’ve been told that the weather can change on a dime, which means being prepared. We normally travel light, and don’t want to have bulky bags so we’ll be layering up!

Our son has enough base layers and insulating layers. He recently started sporting this awesome waterproof coverall to get a little extra rewearing time on his clothes (we’re outside a lot, rain or shine). But we still need to scrounge up some layers for the baby. She won’t need much since she isn’t crawling yet (one reason we chose to go on this trip now). New parents – if you’re reading this, take note: there are many advantages to traveling with babies before they are mobile!

So how do we pack lightly for Iceland with a baby and a toddler?

In our travels over the past two years, Johann mainly rode around in the Ergo carrier. Now he walks, and the baby rides in the Ergo. We thought it wise to borrow a second Ergo from a friend for this trip. It packs down easily and we can use it if we need to hustle to catch a flight, or if we do a longer hike and Johann’s little legs get too tired. Other than the carriers, and a daypack that we use as our diaper bag, we’re playing around with what exactly we need to bring.

When we went to Spain, Johann was an eleven-month old baby, and Ryan and I got away with just taking backpacks! No stroller or suitcases or anything. Even when we went to Germany and India last summer, I thought we struck a great balance between what we brought, what we decided to leave home, and what we bought locally (diapers!). Now we’ve got two in diapers, and will need enough clothes to cover all of us for a seven-hour flight and at least three days. Cold/weatherproof clothing, accessories, and hiking boots are heavy and take up so much space. Yikes! That’s already a lot of stuff.

Is it even possible for two adults to backpack around Iceland with a baby and a toddler? I suppose anything is possible. But this sounds crazy even to me. Still…Ryan and I often reminisce fondly while looking at pictures of our backpacking trip through Spain. That was one of the best things we did as a (then) new family of three. It made the unknowns very real. We felt released from the fear and anxiety about international travel with a baby, and knew it was possible to travel light, too. Not easy, but certainly doable, rewarding, and memorable. It challenged us, convicted us, humbled us, and made us better parents. Now we’re deternities to do the same for our new family of four.

Stay with me over the next few weeks as we figure out how we’re going to do Iceland with a baby and toddler!

How do you decide what to bring and what to leave behind when packing for big trips?

On flowers, forgotten shoes, forgiveness and flexibility

We decided to go to the Tulip Festival this weekend. If you’ve ever spent a spring season in the Seattle area, you probably know what this is. Miles and miles of tulips, even some daffodils and irises, all over the fertile soils of the Skagit River valley, against the backdrop of the beautiful Cascade mountains. In five years of living in the Pacific Northwest we have been slowly working through our list of things to do and see here, we just hadn’t gotten to the Tulip Festival yet. Our family isn’t necessarily hardcore about flowers. But, since it’s such big deal around here, we wanted to go. So when a friend called me up a few days before, and invited us to tag along with their family, we said “sure!” We like them, our kids are the same ages, and we could think of nothing more wonderful than hanging out with friends and letting our toddlers run around while we all enjoyed thousands of glorious tulips on a beautiful day. So, this was the year we would go to the famous Tulip Festival.

We hopped on the Interstate Saturday morning, braved the traffic at the crowded exits with the thousands of others who also wanted to see the tulips, and breathed a collective sigh of relief when we finally pulled into the parking area of ‘Tulip Town.’ We decided to walk around a bit and get our bearings since our friends were delayed in traffic. I strapped baby Arya into the Ergo carrier, while Ryan tended to putting on Johann’s socks and shoes. (The kid has kicked off his socks and shoes since birth, so we’ve learned to just leave them off for long car rides and save ourselves the work of putting them on again and again.)

And, then Ryan says “you grabbed Johann’s shoes, right?”

Um. No. You were supposed to put his shoes and socks in the car. You’re joking, right? It was the one thing I had asked for help with as we were heading out the door that morning.

No response.

“Ryan, please be joking.” Crickets again.

And, then, I got that sinking feeling. “Just remember that you love me.”  (We had just celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary the day before, and love was in the air.) And, then the facts were revealed. Ryan had put his socks on, but had totally forgotten about his shoes which were safely still tucked away in the closet. No, no, no! This was bad. We were over an hour’s drive from home. What better thing to leave at home than the shoes of a two year old boy with lots of energy, when you’ve planned to spend the entire morning in a place like this!? We didn’t have spare shoes in the car. No stroller, or backup baby carrier. We are minimalists, after all. We don’t even have that much stuff to bring on these day trips, how could we leave behind something as critical as shoes!? I’m usually so prepared!

I am a planner. Ryan is the flexible spontaneous one. I like knowing what’s coming in any given situation. He finds it easy to improvise and make the most of things. No shoes? This didn’t fit into my plans for the morning. At that moment, we had two choices. A: we could stay and try to make the most of it. Or, B: pout and go home. After a few minutes deliberation, (during which time I did pout, but also decided to forgive Ryan) we decided to stay and try to make the most of it. Besides, the nice festival folks had just fleeced us for $12 to be here.

Johann could have run around barefoot, if we were perhaps in another country or we didn’t care much about keeping our toddler’s feet unhurt. But that wasn’t really viable. So, Johann could ride on daddy’s shoulders (which they both love). But I had a feeling it wouldn’t last long. There was at least a mile or two of walking involved, Johann could get restless, Ryan’s shoulders could get sore, and we wouldn’t want to inhibit our friends from seeing everything they wanted to see too. But we would see how it went.

We walked around a little bit, while we waited for our friends to arrive. Johann was content to ride on his dad’s shoulders. He did ask a couple times to “get down” but didn’t fuss when we said he couldn’t because he didn’t have shoes on. When our friends arrived, they didn’t have a spare pair of shoes either. But they had brought a double stroller for their kids. Their toddler was more content to run around so they offered Johann his seat. I wasn’t sure about this at all. For the past several months, it has taken a ton of coaxing to get Johann to sit in a stroller. He prefers to walk or run everywhere and doesn’t enjoy sitting in the stroller anymore. To my surprise, Johann rode the entire way in their stroller. Happy as a clam. Maybe it was the novelty of it, or maybe he was just being extraordinarily good. But everything went fine. The kids were all well-behaved, and everyone had a good time. It turned out to be a lovely morning. The tulips were truly stunning.

We all went out to lunch afterwards. By that time, Johann had stopped asking to “get down.” Maybe he remembered that it wasn’t an option any more. We parted ways with our friends after lunch, and got home later that afternoon where Johann played in the backyard and “helped” his dad with some yard work (with shoes on). He did eventually burn off all the energy that had built up over the course of the day.

Everything had turned out fine. We finally made it to the Tulip Festival. It wasn’t such a big a deal that Johann didn’t have his shoes. What was I so worried about earlier? So we messed up and left something behind. Who doesn’t do that from time to time? My change in attitude was the turning point of the morning. I could have sulked, placed blame, and chosen not to have a good time. This parenting thing is hard. It doesn’t need to be made any harder by beating ourselves up when something doesn’t go well. Little eyes are watching and little ears are hearing how we respond. I am grateful for my husband, the wiser parent in many regards, who balances me out and models what it means to try to make the most of a less than ideal situation.


As we were walking out of the tulip fields back to our parked car, we stopped to admire the kites flying by the entrance. It reminded me that there is freedom in forgiving ourselves and our spouses, and finding the flexibility to blow where the wind takes you. I want my kids to learn that! And, I am learning that too.