The Iceland Roadtrip Extravaganza

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The land of fire and ice!

This is my un-definitive guide to Iceland by car in early summer. Do you have a layover, a couple friends, and a drivers license? Then get your cameras and faces ready for some jaw dropping scenery in the most beautiful place on the planet. Finally returning after two years, this time I am armed with two best friends, an upgraded rental, and a mind blowing itinerary. Iceland isn’t so hard to figure out as there is basically one road, budget shopping (bonus supermarkets), and everything else is on the Internet (from accommodations to itineraries). Therefore this is a quick and dirty guide to hitting and quitting Iceland from my recent perspective to highlight some of the better hidden gems and to show off the beautiful scenery in photos.

Bring waterproof and warm clothing as the weather is unpredictable, accommodation is 30-40 a night, spend a few more dollars on a bigger car while getting a good deal, and pack lots of picnics.

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Reykjavik Area

The capital is colorful, slightly expensive, and a fun time. After doing the few local landmarks such as the church and Viking sculpture either prepare for a long first day or go out and meet some locals. They are very friendly and often invite you home.

Secret hot spring alert: Grotta Hot Pot
20130909-093603.jpgA cute little puddle of a hot spring. Super tiny, but I managed to fit with two people. It feels funny being in such a small space, but the view is huge. Locals even patted me on the back for stripping down in the cold weather.

 

 

First day!
This is the big one. Get some sleep unless you are a train wreck of awesomeness like my buddy Shane and stay out all night with locals in Reykjavik.

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Glymur
Now Iceland’s second tallest waterfall and a small adventure in itself. Strolling up the beautiful canyon you get to descend trough a tiny cave and cross a river before hiking up to the lookout point. A great place to hit first thing in the morning and even spend half a day doing the whole loop around the lake at the top.

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Secret hot spring: Geothermal Hot Tub
This one was given to me by a local and it is obscure. You can drive there easy enough and with a short walk arrive, but it is hit or miss. The water is bubbling out of the earth no doubt, but it requires the piping to be working to fill the tub. On my first visit it was great, on the second the pipes were not in order, so a bust. The scenery is worth the trip and if you can soak, all the better.

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The Golden Circle
This is the must see highlight from Reykjavik, whether you take the tour for 1 day or rent a car. It includes the double waterfall Gullfoss, the timely Geyser, and Thingvellir national park where the tectonic plates are separating. There is amazing history as well as shopping.

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Hotspring alert: Gamle Laugin in Flúðir
1546237_10100367912517451_124478647799574574_nNot so secret but definitely hidden and also not free. You can tour the site which is quite beautiful and see more bubbling water and bright pools coming out of the earth without paying to soak. 20$ to soak

 

 

 

Attraction alert: Flúðir
Tour one of Iceland’s tomato hothouses and enjoy some culture and delicious tomato soup and sandwiches.

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Continuing on because you are gung-ho adventurers, we head south to the coast on our way to Vik for our wonderful Kosy beds.

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Seljalandsfoss
Staring at you right off the main road is this spectacular waterfall. It’s loud, it’s wet, you can walk behind it! The mist is what gets you so wrap up in your waterproof gear. Time this for sunset or sunrise and you are going to get spectacular photos. Actually if the sun is shining at all you will be blown away.

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Vik
You are welcome to find other nearby accommodations or booking well in advance you can stay at the lovely Kosy Vik. A renovated 100 year old hospital with two modern and comfortable rooms in the bottom floor and a wonderfully helpful host. You will be receiving a special Icelandic culinary experience here generally so be prepared. (It’s the classic fermented shark and brennivins shot, bottoms up!)

The sun doesn’t really go down so if you wandered around the small town or black sand beach you could enjoy some unwinding time. You might also have spent three days getting this much excitement into your schedule and you will be rewarded tomorrow again.

Southern Iceland Area

We start our day off by backtracking actually. If you find different accommodation then you can save some driving.

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Black sand beaches of Vik
Located right around the corner is black beach. From the black sand to the unique lava rock hexagonal formations, a trip to this beach is a must. Memory making photo sessions are a quick jot from the parking lot. Easily the best beach we visited.

Dyrholaey
Just further up the coast from black beach. Known for its unique elephant shaped rock formation and the many puffins. it’s a wonderful place to visit for various reasons or a picnic spot.

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Myrdalsjokill Glacier
Going back further still is the Myrdalsjokill Glacier. You can play around its outskirts, hire a guide and gear, or bring your own ice cleats and take a stroll. This glacier can also be hiked over with a visit to Eyjafjallajökull from the next location (although I did not personally accomplish this, just some friends of mine).

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Skogafoss
imageThis wide waterfall is a beauty. With stairs to the top and an impressive view this is also a great place to picnic. Make sure to stop halfway up and visit the fuzzy trolls. You can also start or end a 2-3 day hike into Iceland crossing over the earlier glacier and visiting the peak of Eyjafjallajökull volcano. You also get to scope or hike through landmanlagur which is certainly off the beaten track and mesmerizing.

 

Crashed DC-3 plane
Have an extra hour? Drive down to a crashed DC-3 and make up your own stories for friends at home. You don’t need a 4×4 to reach here, just some good eye sight to spot the entrance sign which is tiny. Drive slowly and stay in the markers and you will be fine.

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Hot spring alert: Seljavallalaug
10733985_10100367913161161_3354805201119078631_nThe pool at the end of the canyon is easily accessible and frequented by many locals and travelers. The water isn’t very hot except by the vent so be aware of this. The scenery is beautiful and the changing rooms are messy, but at least there are rooms to change in. The hike is fun even if you don’t take a dip.

 

 

 

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Our second and very friendly hitchhiker is on the right.

These attractions are some of the most enjoyable of Iceland so take your time in the area before flying off east into your adventure with a hitchhiker towards skaftafell.

Skaftafell Area
Visit another glacier and svartifoss waterfall which is the inspiration for the Reykjavik church.

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Jokulsarlon Lagoon
Scoot over to the most amazing spot in all of Iceland and a personal item on my bucket list Jokulsarlon Lagoon. Ive always wanted to see icebergs on a black sand beach with the waves coming in and out. I was not disappointed nor will you be. Take some time for photographs.

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Although it is quaint, this is the chicken coop, not the guest house.

Spend the night at the quaint farmhouse Stafafell. Lovely sheep and a small cemetery compliment the large kitchen and many couches of this guesthouse. It was a nice place to rest after such a long day.

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Eastern Iceland!
Despite the amazing scenery from the car and the many fjords, I didn’t see much else in the east worth mentioning. I know there is much more, but southern Iceland seems positively packed comparatively.

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Hengifoss
The third highest waterfall in Iceland and walking up to it feels like walking through a fairy glade. Best when the sun is out, the red rock formations from the Iron cooling in hot magma are impressive.

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Seydisfjordur
This was certainly the highlight of eastern Iceland. Driving over the snow line and down into a beautiful fjord was breathtaking. Spend the evening in this quaint town and book a room at Nordursild (north marina) Guesthouse. The rooms are smaller but clean and incredibly comfortable. The main room of this old converted dock house is full of spectacular nautical furniture and artifacts.

Northern Iceland!
It snowed on us! Driving over the black wastelands of north eastern Iceland the winds picked up and so did the weather. We arrived at a geothermal plant with bubbling gasses spewing from the earth where just yesterday there was a lake, there is now ice skating. We were freezing so much we had to move on quickly.

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Haverarond mud pits
Just across the road literally from the geothermal plant is this wonderful place that looks like mars. Bubbling mud, white hot steam, tourists walking around. Whats not to love?

Myvatn
This is a must stop on the road trip. The lake is absolutely beautiful whether you camp out here or just take a picnic. The only accommodation that was available for us was a nice little room at a working farm just past the lake: Guesthouse Stöng. Beautiful property, they serve their own homemade meats and salamis for breakfast, and have hot tubs to use.

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There are so many things to do around the lake just take a look (Hverfjall hike for instance), but not to be missed is Grjótagjá. This underground hot spring grotto is mesmerizing and beautiful. There is a wonderful splitting of the earth here you can walk along, and if you ignore the signs and go to the little cave next door (to the left), you can get away with some bathing.

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Myvatn Nature Baths
The blue lagoon of the north! Spend a few hours in this milky blue hot spring and watch the weather move across the landscape. Rejuvenating waters and saunas for the weary traveler. By this point you certainly need a break as too much driving and beauty can wear you out.
*Pro tip: Tell them you are a student and save 10$, they dont check either way we noticed.

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Dettifoss
We back tracked due to weather, trying to land a good time at Europe’s most powerful waterfall, dettifoss. There are two roads to get there, east and west. West certainly has a better view and walking around, but if you are going north then the road might not be open all the way and you will have to drive a long way around up the east road. Check first with the government website. We ended up driving on both, but it was still worth the drive.

Akureyri
The beautiful city of the north. After driving around beautiful stretches of the north coast we arrived in town and found a room at the backpackers hostel because they are in the middle of downtown (which happens to be one short road in length) and because we were hoping to land a couchsurfing host (which worked out the next day). The houses are quaint and worth a few hours of walking around, and the nightlife is bubbly since the sun is up all night. We couldn’t find any locals to tell us what fun there was other than drinking and winter sports, so we did just that.

Here we had to say goodbye to our outrageous friend J’Lynn at the little airport. The laughs were wonderful.

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Hot spring alert: Grettislaug
The hot springs of legend! This is worth the drive to visit. Two quaint and surprisingly hot hot springs are well maintained. With rising mountains and the black sea for a view, this was the highlight of our last day. We jumped into the freezing north sea a few times, building up to 10 seconds and then went to warm up in the pools. Our version of the polar plunge.

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Snaefellsnes peninsula
I may have been a little over zealous for our last day, driving from Akureyri to Reykjavik, but we spent an extra day in the north so this is what was left to us. I wanted to see Snaefellsnes peninsula for its beauty and a particular photo opportunity. However it was rainy and overcast. Even still it was beautiful. We crossed a mountain obscured in cloud and couldn’t see 5 feet in front of us. For the adventurer with more time, grab the Snaefellsnes map from the tourist office and visit some black beaches and small towns, I would make this a priority visit on my next tour.

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We got back to Reykjavik in the evening and spent some time in a cafe bar with locals. It was the eve of summer solstice and the city was alive with revelers. We enjoyed the mayhem in the streets till late and then made our way to the airport for an early departure. No damage to the rental and with a huge sigh relaxed into a comfortable seat at the airport. We could have slept, but as our adventures were about to go in different directions we spent the time with each other, and all the beauty of Iceland. Its amazing to think that by the end we could barely enjoy one more perfect waterfall, or another picturesque mountain. It just goes to show Iceland can be too much of a good thing for one visit, so plan a second trip, you wont be disappointed.

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Travel and friends in Europe

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The call of adventure springs upon me again. Heading to Europe for what was going to be a week road trip around Iceland has turned once again into a friend visiting escapade. The joke in Europe is to invite people in neighboring countries to visit because it is so close, but they never come because the distance is too far. Well in the states, an 8 hour drive is a small road trip and with Iceland only a few hours flight away, I accept a friends polite invitation to Germany. Word gets out quick and friends in Paris and Ibiza soon find destinations on my itinerary while only missing an extra trip to London. A fresh reminder of enjoying friends and food and adventure.
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imageSunny and vibrantly green southern Germany is my first destination. Lahmo and Abhivan, dear path of love friends from India, invite me to share their beautiful life in Lindau. Amazing musicians and artisans as well as meditators, my arrival ends up starting a mini vacation from work and enjoying each day by the lake. Lindau is a small island of tourist envy, enjoyed for its history and lake views. Escaping WW2 bombing completely for aiding Switzerland in food delivery, Lindau is architecturally stunning with a vibrant waterfront. We spend our days with local friends playing music, picnicking, light sports, swimming, and playing with the children.
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I get to visit Austria and Abhivans cabin, see a sailboat race, dance wildly in public and practice tai chi. I saw many beautiful green spaces, the view from the mountains, ate cheese spaetzle, saw a hand of God sunset, and tried to change social stereotypes by getting Germans to dance in the street to the live music being played. It was a beautiful week of enjoying the outdoors, conversations with people I love, and a remembrance of how simple and enjoyable life can be settled down in one place.
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I fly off into the midnight sun, Venus and Jupiter glowing brightly out of my window seat, to enjoy a night layover in Oslo. I am heading to Iceland to participate in an impromptu road trip. After having visited Iceland at the beginning of my world tour I vowed to return to the most beautiful place on earth and do it right. Shane, my long time roommate and fellow world traveler is starting his 1 year around the world tour and Iceland is the kick off. Once declared he was going, our friend Jlynn jumped aboard, and in similar fashion to our south east Asia travels I had to attend as this would be a major reunion. Oh twist my arm universe, lets do Iceland!
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Arriving to a radically colder environment I get my layers on and adjust to the beautiful landscape. Rolling up in the rental from a visit to blue lagoon my friends scoop me, hugs and hellos and land ourselves in Reykjavik. We are relying on my expert travel skills and knowledge of Iceland to get us by. It serves us perfectly and helps Shane learn the ropes of traveling in this day and age of smart phones and wifi. We settle in, take a small tour and prepare for our early morning hike by having drastically different adventures. Jlynn and myself retire early and end up making friends with our hostel mates receiving free wine, while in true Shane style he parties all night with local friendly Icelanders. Arriving just in time for a short nap before we head out for our longest day of exploring Iceland.
imageTouring Iceland by car is the only way to really see it. Everything is conveniently off the one ring road that circles the island and breathtaking views come right to you. Every 10 minutes the landscape somehow changes drastically from mossy rocks, to shrubs, black sand beaches and grassy sheep farms, to volcanic steam, all dotted with more waterfalls than you can shake a stick at. Bring extra space for all the photos you will take, being overwhelmed by so much beauty.
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We find moderately priced but memorable accommodations along the way. Sleeping in a 100 year old hospital, two farm houses, a marina warehouse, and a couchsurfer to boot; everything was cozy and inviting. Seeing as the sun never sets, you get a sundip rather than a sunset, your body always wants to be awake. Many late nights were had wandering the twilight hours of Iceland playing guitar and meeting locals.
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Some highlights of Iceland, to be explained fully in its own post, were to walk on my first glacier, visit a crashed airplane from WW2, hot spring cave, volcanic Mars landscape, snow capped fjords, waterfalls you can walk behind, eating fermented shark, picking up hitch hikers, many hot spring baths, jumping into the North Sea, and the many jokes and antics of spending days driving around with best friends rocking to music.
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Iceland was an overwhelmingly beautiful spectacle shared with dear friends and new ones. A good reminder that traveling with friends is hilariously fun and vastly different than traveling alone. Playing off each persons unique personalities and energies creates a new dynamic environment that being with only yourself cannot possibly experience. I am happy for that and all the laughter.
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One long day of driving and fly off to Paris, which seems to now be my old stomping grounds and most comfortable city for me to visit. I know the ropes and speak enough French to sail easily into the heart of this beautiful city and meet up with Robin. He is figuring out professional life of an international lawyer living in Paris. Long hours but delicious food and a city that seems different from the time spent in school here.
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I readjust to the perfect weather and stroll around these familiar streets eating familiar foods. It’s like being at home in many ways. I’ve been to Paris now perhaps 10 different times and know what I want to see and eat with the little time I have. I enjoy my time with Robin catching up and sharing our lives and art. Pastries and walks and poetry is how one absorbs Paris in pieces.
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We thankfully are in Paris for summer solstice which means that everyone comes out to play music to celebrate summer. It seems on every corner there are buskers and performance groups. From marching bands to ethnic song and dance you can barely turn a corner without some new cacophony assaulting your ears. We dance to soul gospel and Brazilian, teenage bands and accordion players, and finish with a major performance by Ibrahim maalouf the trumpet player and his band. Mind blown with the amount of energy and big band music he brought to the palais royal.
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That was a pretty great farewell party as I head to Ibiza Spain. The world famous island for electronic music and parties, as well as a collection of meditative and conscious people living in the north of the island. It is in the more laid back and less drunk group that I find my friends Adam and Kim, also path of love friends, who open their home and life to me. Beautiful blue waters and sandy beaches greet me in this Spanish countryside of purple flowers and white washed walls.
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Adam is my dear soul brother from PoL and spending any time with him is like looking at myself in the mirror. We share on all topics of the heart while enjoying the never ending sun and sea of Ibiza. The atmosphere is light and jovial with people enjoying themselves and the idea of siesta has never been more real to me in the mid day heat.
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We enjoy local paella, the hippie markets, and a wonderful night of ecstatic dance. Walking around for long strolls in the perfect evening weather, life is well rounded and easy going. I suppose I could enjoy myself in these easy days of friends and ocean play. Not sure what I would do with my time that is of much importance to me but a beautiful place to visit. Adam and I share our connection and love in many ways and remind ourselves of the beauty of the world and our connection with Osho.
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We share a special connection in this world of being of the same soul stuff. I say this because never before have either one of us found someone who is exactly like our inner selves. This boggles my mind as we think and experience the world in the same way. Never before have I so truly seen two people cut from the same cloth. For this reason we share and connect on a special level that makes us brothers in every sense that matters.
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Flying out of Barcelona, there is one last gift for me. My dear friend Tate and Ashley happen to be in the airport, in my very wing, at the exact same time on their way to China. We have enough time for hugs and photos before flying off in different directions. I am heading back to the states for an unknown adventure and they are off to the orient. Florida and family here I come.

  

Wrapping Up One Year Of Travel and Learning

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I find myself where I started one year ago. Looking at the same Kansas City skyline that I left after selling everything I own and heading out into the world. The view may be the same, but I have changed and along with it my interpretation of even that skyline. I touched down in 11 countries, made countless friends, deepened my understanding about myself, and learned lessons that will shape the course of my life. My understanding has shifted and thus I view the world differently, yet, I am still uniquely myself. This is perhaps the great conundrum that all world travelers experience. We go out and are literally changed by our experiences, see everything differently, and still the essence of who we are remains. You can come to a deeper understanding and acceptance of that essence, but no experience is going to just up and change you into a different person. I always thought there was going to be something out there that would flip a switch and I could become that person I envisioned inside my head with all the perfectness. The truth is much simpler, you are already that perfect person and only our thoughts and beliefs hold us back from breaking our boundaries and living the life we wish.
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*Iceland was by far the most beautiful place I visited and will be visiting again.
This was a year to find myself again. I didn’t know that I even needed finding, but when faced with daily experiences of discovering your authentic self, it becomes clear exactly what you don’t know about yourself. Meditation was a prime focus of this travel and I spent 10 silent days in a Vipassana retreat, twice, and 4 months in India with the teachings of the enlightened mystic Osho. If I can boil all the meditation down, it would be enjoy your life every moment, celebrate, be present and  alive no matter how you think you feel, learn to live with your inner silence and uncomfortable feelings moment to moment without running away. The essence of all the teachings is actually the practice in reaching that state of being, and then learning to live there. When you can stand in the place of silence and just look at yourself, you can see a body having experiences and thinking thoughts and still that isnt You. Then it becomes perfectly okay to have experiences and not cover them up or distract yourself from them. They come and go and still you remain just a step outside of it all; happy and aware.
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*Traveled the Swiss Alps by scenic train
I came home to an exciting burst of energy, seeing old friends and making new ones, wedding events, and family time, but what surprised me most was the lack of reverse culture shock. Unlike going to a new culture and being surprised by the differences, reverse culture shock is returning home to find that the world you thought you knew looks very alien. Instead, on this trip I’ve had a reverse personality shock. I don’t know where I belong anymore or what I should be doing. There is no home or job to anchor me, no meditation practice or community other than my friends, so I find myself in a city I’ve lived in for over 4 years and have no idea what defines me anymore. I attend the same events during the week with the same people I knew, but somehow this shows me most how this last year has changed me. I am looking for my place in the world and I know I can never settle for something less than what I’ve experienced. At the moment that is the delight of living in a meditation community, which I plan to return to before the year is over. In some ways it seems like I haven’t achieved much, because there is nothing to grab onto, but really the differences are all on the inside and those are the ones that really matter. Upon returning to Kansas City, everything here has moved along at its normal pace, but it is no longer my home.  I see clearly there is nowhere to go back to, only forward, to find the right place and way for me to live. After all this traveling, and traveling I am certain to do in the years to come, I am even more dedicated to finding my place and developing something amazing.
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*Climbed mountains in Germany, and could see the surrounding countries
What strikes me most about the changes in my life is the difference between what I have to call normal life and the new way of living that I’ve experienced. Normal life is perhaps the daily routine of waking, eating, doing the daily work or effort required of one, participating in your hobbies and entertainments, and just the general things that make up life on this planet.  Almost everyone lives their variation of this pattern that hopefully brings them great contentment. I used to be content and fulfilled by my normal life, waking most mornings glad to be alive and even excited to just have a cup of tea, embrace the day, and take a morning walk before going to work. Somewhere on this journey that changed; no longer having a home I wasn’t in my groove doing those simple things that brought me great pleasure and contentment. I have and enjoy even more simple pleasures while traveling, but no routine that brings me joy.  Even now, still living a life of ease, I am missing that feeling which embraced me each day. To the best of my understanding this is the result of not having or being challenged and missing my connection to something greater than myself. Without a goal to work on, such as a job or project I care about, there is no push to grow, to learn and better myself each day. Likewise I find that without my daily personal development or global development of community and the bettering of humanity, I equally am not challenged to grow. I found a bigger expression of myself in Inida that required of me to participate with all of the people involved there. Before I could go about my day alone and was content unto myself, but once this experience of community and connection was established, going back to something less just doesn’t give me enough anymore. This is why I want to return to India so much, to grow and feed myself in this area. Then it is my hope to be able to expand this experience and grow it into my own dream of living a connected life. All human beings I think hunger in some way for this connection and we are just waking up to the fact that with our new societal development we have forgotten for a time what real connection is and the joy that comes with it.
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*Meeting beloved Osho friends in their home countries, Norway
Hindsight is a wonderful teacher, which today teaches me that the simplest decisions and the reasons for making them can change your whole world. In essence I made a simple decision in India and I am living the consequences today. One month prior to leaving the Pune Meditation Resort, I agreed to join my friends for a month in Dharamshala. This created “The Plan”, which after Dharamshala would take me to Germany for two months with a good friend of mine, then two weeks travel in Northern Europe. All of the plan was decided in roughly one moment and when the actual moment to follow the plan or change it came, I just stuck with the plan. In that moment of decision, at the end of my three months in Pune, not only was everyone and every experience telling me I should stay, my own inner voice and gut feeling was that I should stay. For fear of changing the plan and following my heart, which would have cost me money on plane tickets and a prepaid meditation program, plus the gut wrenching feeling of bailing on my friends and partner last minute, I ignored how I was feeling and followed a decision I made a month prior. Had those other considerations not been present,  the decision would have been easy, but the lesson was, can I follow my inner truth when it is going to cost me something? The answer at that time was obviously no, but now looking back over what unfolded I wont make that same decision twice. Following your energy and power is so important because it leads you to the right places and experiences that you can thrive in. When I said no to that inner voice, I lost my power and over the following three months ran dry, and life eventually became a little flat. I still enjoyed the experiences that I had, but I could have really enjoyed them with my energy intact. It is so clear to me that I was afraid to do what was best for me and energetically I paid the price. So I am headed back to Pune and I am moving away from plans, and if I do end up with a plan, I will trust that I can change it in a heartbeat without fear. I have given myself the freedom and time to honor what I feel and follow that direction. Everyone can look at their life right now and see places where they avoid what they really want. I am asking everyone to start doing what you really want, even in small ways, because the alternative feels pretty flat, pretty lifeless, and once you are there, getting back to ecstatic takes some work and effort.
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*First sun seen in Iceland after two days of rain which setup my favorite day of the year
I’ve concluded there are two types of travel experiences, loosely called 1st world and 3rd world because that is where they occur. A 1st world experience is generally Europe, organized, clean, expensive, historical beauty in buildings, and whatever experience you wish for generally is going to cost you money, from entertainment to food. A 3rd world experience is generally a bit messy, cheap, naturally beautiful, and the thought of money barely crosses your mind. Both are equally wonderful experiences, but the difference between them is vast and gets right to the core of expectations for levels of comfort and the psychological effects of money. For those with a more limited budget for travel, they find their dollars stretching farther outside of the 1st world countries and from their perspective perhaps live in a level of comfort unaccustomed. This can be a huge psychological experience, because for the first time you are allowed the freedom to experience all that you wish. If you want to eat this and that, taxi here and there, buy gifts and clothes, it doesn’t cost you mental anguish to add up the costs and then balance that against how much work you have to do to pay for it.  You might for the first time experience money as an energy source, instead of a commodity, and using it like any other energy source for the betterment of your life experience. Likewise, traveling where your dollar goes for less, has you scrambling for the cheapest options, making sandwiches at home just so you can spend another day in the 1st world experience. Both are needed to understand the effect money plays on our perception of happiness in doing the things we want in life. Personally I like a mix of both experiences, but prefer on the whole the relaxed attitude of 3rd world living, with beautiful surroundings and no stress about money. There is just as much culture, and many more smiles while interacting with the locals, and when you train your eye on how locals get by each day with so few material resources, but so much happiness, you can really experience the freedom of money and learn to enjoy every day in a new way.
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*The best apple pie in Amsterdam, a new favorite city of mine
While traveling with a lot of free time, you can always find something to do, but just being present with yourself is a wonderful gift. On the many trains, planes, and waiting rooms I found that I wasn’t putting in my headphones for music right away or checking Facebook. I would just sit and be patient and enjoy my own presence; not needing something to do or a distraction just to “kill some time”, instead enjoying just being alive in that moment of waiting. The interesting thing is the correlation between how present you are and the urge for distraction. I notice most acutely when the time to meditate arises and some urge also arises to check anything on my phone for any distraction. Why this postponement? A surge of anxiety arises over being present with myself as if the ego knows its being removed from its throne. It is a battle with my mind each time, and the more present I am, the easier it is to take a few moments and reach that place of joyous centeredness. The paradox is that meditation brings the real joy, but the hurdle is to forgo the distractions and entertainments that falsely promise happiness to simply reach it. Upon reaching that presence, you can enjoy those distractions even more so, if you choose, because you come from the place of presence and not of using the distractions to cover some feeling of emotion. Vipassana taught me that when we desire something, it usually isnt the object itself, but we desire the sensation of desiring itself, and we think the object will bring it to us. So when a feeling arises we chase after the externalization of that feeling to satiate it instead of seeing the truth of just being with the feeling and seeing it for what it is. This is the hurdle to doing almost anything in life, be it meditation or going to the gym. So more than anything, I’ve learned when this feeling of not wanting to meditate exists, I am overdue to sit down, meditate and reach my calm once again to see the world clearly. There will always be a multitude of interesting and entertaining things vying for your attention, but it fundamentally comes down to how do you wish to spend your time on this earth? Once you taste the beauty of your inner world, any worldly distractions begin to pale in comparison to really living life. Just like cutting sugar out of your diet leads to everything else tasting incredibly delicious, removing these other distractions leaves you with more time and space to enjoy your own delicious presence of being.
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*Meditative dancing in India, also used for a promotional photo seen by thousands of people, which surprised me
I have had to remember this myself after leaving India. After a daily schedule of meditation, going back to doing it all on your own takes some serious discipline.  Traveling once again brought many distractions and riding that excitement I left my meditation practice a bit behind.  This led to a bit of confusion and feeling lost in my direction of life which is one of my biggest challenges.  As I find myself a bit of a fish out of water, I have to trust that I always carry the keys to my own happiness and they are but a few silent moments away from being with myself. It is a lifelong practice to be who you are and do what you love. Finding out what really excites you is the first half, then learning how to live that life each day is the rest of the task. The more truth we can experience about what really speaks to our hearts, what really lights up our faces, and makes us jump for joy, the closer we are to living a meditative lifestyle. I hope everyone has found at least one thing that has that flavor for them, because once you know the taste, there is no going back to a bland life. Blessings and joy to everyone on their journey and may all beings be happy.
 
Torey
The Wandering Monk
 
A special thank you to everyone who hosted me in their homes, couches, hearts, and lives.  Without your support and encouragement I never would have had the year I did and all of the new experiences. I love you all and it still brings tears to my eyes remembering what it feels like to be so taken care of instead of the other way around.
 
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*Being silly with my best friend Tate in Germany, “Up all night to pet puppies!”
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*Amsterdam round two with friends this time
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*Met Mo and David on my first workaway experience in France, a new beloved mentor
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*Seeing good friends and new loves in Belgium! Plus waffles and frites
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*Our beloved cheese master who treated us like family and introduced me to my new favorite cheeses, bare kase from Switzerland
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*Went under the knife of brave friends in Switzerland when my hair got unruly
1467470_981566286421_920741569_n  *Explored the beautiful canals of Venice, and checked off the first part of Eat, Pray, Love10177435_10100144038717341_8551906736441433225_n   *Visited the Taj Mahal at the end of India, and another check for Eat, Pray, Love10406955_10100170838470421_2633856899521643109_n
*Jumped into the freezing waters of Norway!
 

Iceland: Manifesting sunshine in the middle of a storm

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Its the first day of international travel, you’re tired, you’re excited, its raining and you have no plans. Welcome to Iceland. Newspaper headlines warning travelers of an untimely winter storm coming in from the north; Do not travel under penalty of death. Between a 4 hour wait in the lobby or exploration; I strap on that much needed rain jacket and warm clothes because i never thought to check the summer weather in Iceland. Its 10C (50F) and vibrantly green. It reminds me of the urban jungle of Seattle, I swear some of the newer buildings on the waterfront are recent immagrants. In winter the sun barely rises, which is probably why the buildings are painted bright colors and Iceland ranks 4th in coffee consumption per capita. I wander the streets between the bursts of rain, visit a few attractions and soak in the public pool, fed by volcanic warm waters. I am pretty happy with myself for getting out and soaking the place in when normally i would just curl up with a good book and drink tea.

My story of Iceland is a culmination of events, syncronised over 40 hours that lines up just right. With the right people, at the right time, with the right attitude and viola: Sunshine in a storm. Before i relate the tale i want to talk about creating synchronicity. I hope everyone has experienced this phenomenon before In little and big ways. Synchronicity is a blend of perspective, attitude and staying in the moment. If i had been lacking any of those elements i could have had the same journey and certainly not felt esctatic every moment i lived it. Being aware is half the battle and choosing to be happy with whatever is, is the other half. I had no plans, no goals, and nothing to accomplish or get upset over. Before heading to Iceland i only knew 3 things, i would like to see some natural beauty, i would love to soak in a natural hot spring, and there was a free concert on Saturday night (Of Monsters and Men, natives of Iceland) and one other thing which i forgot till it slapped me in the face, but ill get to that. If i got to do those things, great; if not, who cares, whatever else i would do would be perfect enough. It is too often that we have an expectation for how our life or day should be. To let go of the how and let the universe fill in the details is to be in the moment. This obviously requires chilling out, taking it down a notch and killing off part of your ego. Take more time to notice life around you, that you are alive and presumably well. Be thankful for the moment of awareness. This is the start of the journey of transformation. Practice well and stay alert. Then you will be grateful for the little moments when things always go your way, and aware enough when you think they aren’t going your way to see the bigger picture and know you are being shifted and your expectation should be dropped. I am on a journey to discover myself, meditate and learn about sustainable living: this is going to take a lot of letting go so that I may be directed to the best outcome and help many people along the way. May you also enjoy every moment going your way and spread the joy. Thus without further ado the story:

The instigating factor may be an impromptu couchsurfing meetup in the city. Im not into drinking, but I love to meet people so I resolve myself to check off my couchsurfing (CS) requirements in Iceland in this manner. I meet some locals, some foreginers and a guy off the street freshly intoduced to the world of CS and loving it. The forcast for tomorrow is a hot debate. My phone alerts me in no certain terms that cloud cover is in order, but rain in short supply. The locals really think the worst is coming and in Icelandic style prefer to stay inside and wait out the storm because people die when the weather turns bad. The first good sign arrives because at some point when I run down 4 flights of stairs and track down a girl who left her phone on the way to the airport. Miraculously i find her and notice the sun for the first time as seen here:

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Kana my new Japanese friend and I are hot to rent a car and see some sights since we both just know the weather is going to be perfect, because hey, it has to be. Over trying to accept the weather cautions of the locals and taking in their recommendations for things to see we meet Julien, our new French friend who already has a car! After slight convincing to drive tomorrow if the weather is indeed nice we have our plans straight.

Kana and I walk home sharing our good mood about how a car just manifested and that tomorrow is going to be amazing when I grab her arm in the middle of the street. She screems and flails her arms wildly trying to fend off the invisible car she thinks she has just stepped in front of. I finally direct her attention skyward where my jaw is dropped and the vivid swirling greens of the northern lights are smack overhead right between the cloud cover. I had quite forgotten that people come to Iceland to see the Aurora, completely forgetting it was something I truly wanted to see in this life and here it was visable in the city raining its light on me. This was truly going to be a wonderful trip. I stated then and there no matter what happens, Iceland was a success. I could sit inside for 2 days and would be happy because I got to see something I thought I would have had to sit in the snow for hours waiting for with no certain outcome and here it was a free gift for looking up at the right time.

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I awoke the next morning to sun breaking through clouds and knew our adventure was on. I am about to travel around Iceland with two new friends who just happen to speak collectively the 3 languages I speak. I don’t think this can get any more synchronistic or fun for me. We can see the rain clouds moving on as we move inland revealing to us the alien landscape formed by volcanoes. Starkly sharp rocks butting up against vividly green and surprisingly quite spongy moss. The most moss ive ever seen in my life in fact. It seems such a rare thing, moss, and yet Iceland is overflowing with it. The local stories of Trolls taking naps in this landscape sound quite understandable. We arrive at the double waterfall gullfoss as the clouds break and sun bestows its grace upon this national landmark. With the roaring waters and mist rising in the morning sun a rainbow graces our lone presence at this majestic site.

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We move to the next stop, a gyser, as the clouds cover the waterfall again only to part at our next destination. Boiling water regularly rising 75-100 feet in the air is certainly a sight to see. The next stop that completes the golden circle tour, touted as the number one tourist excursion with good reason, is the national park. Driving through the breathtaking landscape surrounding a lake we thought we had taken in the location. We decided to stop on a side road to see if we could get a better look over the lake and wind up at a crack in the earth widening every year by 2 centimeters. You can still see the curves of the lava flow in the rock and the straight edges of the plate where it splits the world. Thank you geology class on volcanoes for all the tidbits I still retain. We really took our time exploring the area, the view and the rock formations were something to really take in. This is the location the tourists are brought too and we found it by mistake. The beauty of these locations, with the sun shining high on blue and fluffy clouds couldn’t be more spectacular. We head to our next location, off the beaten track. At the end of a nearby fjord is an hour hike to glymer foss, Iceland’s tallest waterfall at 198meters. Situated in a lush valley shaped like the hull of a ship extending from the fjord to mountains holding back a lake, we climbed across moss, through a small cave, over a river and up rocks to reach my favorite experience. Striking green, flowing water, birds circling this high crevice, and once again graced by a rainbow I breathed in the awe and wonder that this adventure had brought me. What divine beauty lined up all the pieces to accomplish this sensation? I started with no knowledge and reaching this pinnacle of experience am floored at not only the immediate beauty, but the expanding feeling of cooperating with the universe at each step. A universe which cares for me deeply, always helping me be ever present and living in a state of gratitude has reached this magical place inside and out. Sitting unnervingly close to the edge for my friend Julien’s slight fear of heights I poured myself into the earth and pulled out the deep calm knowing that this whole trip would be filled with experiences such as this, inner changing landscapes and simple grace offered always and freely.

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After 11 hours so far there is more icing on this cake. Just outside the fjord is a local hotpot, another recommendation from the CS locals.

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The only thing I really asked for was a natural hotspring experience and we were about to have it. I wanted to jump in the ocean, then the hotpot and roar with accomplishment of having braved the elements in Iceland. However, sitting there for 20 minutes, in a swimming suit, trying to submerge ourselves into probably 46C (114F) water was not going to our plan. Despite Julien and my attempts to submerge ourselves for 3-5 seconds at a time the water was just too scalding and we had to settle for the short dips and hilarious attempts at entry into the pool.

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We head straight to the concert and find parking as utterly close as possible to reach on foot, another perfect circumstance. Kana is wavering between sleep and standing, but I am enjoying myself immensely. I think now had we soaked, we all would have been exhausted and thus our struggle was truly for the best. Julien even recognized a song and everyone had a laugh over the name of the band. They thought “Of Monsters and Men” would have been a much more rock show than the mellow easy tunes that they really are. Dancing to a light mist and a wonderful day, we all couldn’t be happier for a hot shower and some much deserved sleep.

Awaking to another day of no plans, utterly content to read and write inside since the rain returned, I was surprised to find in the kitchen a nice lady who just started telling me about a little known hotpot in Reykjavik city. Out of the way of tourists and with a clear view of the mountains, it sounded like pure joy on a day like this. I message Kana and we arrange to check it out before she leaves with another CS friend to tour the rest of the island for a week. As we are walking, because buses don’t run regularly on Sundays, we decide we need a taxi to make it on time. Within 1 minute one shows up out of nowhere and viola we are on our way. We are dropped off relatively close since I am going to have to discover this place on our own. It takes some peeking, but soon discover a hole cut into a large rock, enough to cover 2 people just enough and watch the weather enter the city.

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Pure bliss, perfect temperature, and a view, what else could one ask for? Well we get called heroes by a few local hikers for stripping down in the current weather, but it feels blissfully warm to me. Again we have trouble with the bus going home and after 5 minutes successfully accomplish another task for my life, to hitchhike. A nice lady who normally has her car full with her 3 kids picks us up, glad to finally help some travelers. I am reminded of a line from Murakami’s 1Q84 “Everything is not as it may seem. You are about to do something out of the ordinary.” The rest of your day will look and be different. Our day was changed with the kindness of strangers and worked out to reach our destination on time and her day will be changed by doing something out of the ordinary and with the gratitude of helping us. I say my goodbye’s and promises to keep in touch with kana. I fill the rest of my day with Julien; eating delicious noodles and soaking for 3 hours at the blue lagoon. An expensive spa experience with milky blue waters and various types of water experiences.

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I waltz through airport security simply because there was none. Being the 8th person into the airport I never got my ID checked, but still managed a x-ray on my bag. I felt I was in a scene from “The Langoliers” with the whole airport empty. Leaving was as easy as arriving. No fuss and a lot of smiles. I actually laughed myself to sleep when recounting the whole episode and thinking I’ve got another 1000 days to enjoy mastering this new way of being.