You know, I started visiting 25 years ago, and in those days I would meet people who would say, “What, do you mean Ireland?” And now everybody says, “Oh, I’m going there,” or “My neighbor’s going,” or “I want to go.” It’s far more in people’s consciousness.
Right after the volcanic eruption in 2010, there was the launch of the “Inspired by Iceland” campaign to promote tourism. I read that over a quarter of the Icelandic adult population participated in that.
Well, everybody was supposed to tell all their friends to come to Iceland. I did that for sure, and a lot of other people did, too. There have been some genius campaigns, and a lot of them have important underlying messages about sustainability, like the Icelandic pledge, a commitment to responsible travel that anyone can take online. I think that travelers want to learn about the countries we’re visiting and what we can do to give back, but sometimes we don’t know how to access that information. And the Icelandic pledge is a good way of reminding people to be kind to nature and make sure you have a travel plan in case something happens.
I was struck by one item in the pledge that said, “I will take photos to die for, without dying for them.” I guess people forget themselves sometimes?
Here we have hot springs with really hot water; we have active volcanoes; we have sneaker waves on beaches; we have strong winds. We somehow think that we’re invincible when we’re on vacation, but we still have to use our common sense.
You write in your book that one of the best ways for visitors to get to know Icelanders is to hang out in a hot tub at a geothermal pool. Why is that?
They say if you want to meet a Brit, go to a pub; if you want to meet a French person, go to a cafe. And definitely here in Iceland, you go to a swimming pool, because that’s where you can meet people — morning, afternoon or evening. And I recommend that visitors try different pools, because they all have their own character and personality and you can meet different types of people. They’re clean and affordable, and it’s something that all the locals do.
In reading your book, I got the sense that the Icelandic community is increasingly diverse, but still very close-knit.
On the weekend, I had to buy a bra — which, you know, it’s such a fun experience. I was talking to the woman who worked at the store, and the woman in the changing room next to me says, “I know that voice.” And it was our chief medical officer — like the Anthony Fauci of Iceland. And we were just laughing that only in Iceland do we run into each other in an undergarment store. And then I ran into her again in the grocery store the next day. And you just think: This is a small country.