Iceland may be the safest country in the world, but there are still a few things solo lady travelers need to know.
In February, I made my fourth visit to Iceland in less than two years, which – if Iceland were a human and not a geographic destination – would pretty much make me a stalker.
Because what’s not to love? It’s wild, wonderful – and delightfully weird: over 70 percent of the country believe in elves – there’s even a government sanctioned “Elf Whisperer,” for chrissakes. And, as a woman who prefers to travel solo, Iceland is a place where I don’t have to be on guard and where I can focus my attention on exploring – not on the age old problems that plague solo lady travelers, like:
- “How’m I going to get back to my hotel down that dark, creepy alley…”
- “Yes, I am traveling alone and eating at a bar. No, I am not a hooker.”
- “If I ask the man in that windowless van directions is he going to kidnap me and imprison me in his basement next to his cat fetus collection?”
According to the Global Peace Index, for the past six years(!) it is the safest, most peaceful place in the world. It’s so safe, babies are left outside in their prams unattended while their mothers go inside a shop for coffee. Crimes against women are almost nonexistent and on average, there are only one to two murders a year. Basically – you’re more likely to be harmed by an errant volcano or devious troll who lives in an alternate dimension than by an (actual) Icelander.
In my stalkery defense, it’s not like I’m the only one with an Icelandic obsession.
“Tourism is now one-third of the economy – it’s the largest sector, bigger than fishing,” Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, the newly designated minister of tourism, told me.
Last year a record 1.76 million visitors flocked to the tiny island last year – dwarfing the country’s population of just 334,000, give or take a few Vikings.
But, as with all things – too much love causes problems. In the peak summer and now winter seasons, the country’s Ring Road and Golden Circle are packed with rental cars and tour busses, there aren’t enough hotel rooms and it’s not like Europe where there is a railway or a navigable river. If you want to get out of Reykjavik, you pretty much have to do so by car.
So in order to maximise your visit and not get caught up in the Golden Circle gravy train, heed this advice:
- Stick to the shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall. Not only is it cheaper and way less crowded, but this video of the Northern lights was taken by the Reykjavik’s in house astronomer, Sævar Helgi Bragason, in September – not January:
- If you have some extra cash lying around, use it to hire a tour company like Midgard Adventure – which will not only take you to places off the well trodden path, they will drive you there in suped up monster trucks. And having a driver is key. My friend Jessica had the trip from hell when she decided to drive herself (and 4 other friends) around the country’s famed Ring Road.“I was the only one registered to drive the rental car – the others either didn’t have driver’s licenses or conveniently forgot them, and I spent the majority of the trip stressed out and exhausted.”
- Adding to Jessica’s stress was the weather, which is so unpredictable and prevalent that it is just called “Weather” – with a capital “W”. There’s a saying in Iceland that locals will repeat ad nauseum: “On an average day, you will experience all four seasons in one day.” “It rained, it snowed, it sleeted, and I almost had a heart attack,” Jessica said. “And I didn’t see much of anything as I was driving and focused on not going off the road. By the end of the trip I wanted to kill everyone.” If you don’t have the extra cash – try the ferry system. It’s cheap(er) and you will see local communities on the coast that others don’t get to.