Woodcrofts in Post-Pandemic Iceland

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Woodcrofts in Post-Pandemic Iceland

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First, let me say that I am not a big traveler. I was never bitten by the travel bug, and I had no strong desires to see the world. A bit controversial, but I remember feeling even just a few months of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic that I needed to get out. I needed to escape my house, not because being quarantined and working from home with my husband was problematic or bad as far as our being with one another 24/7, but I just felt very confined and small, almost suffocated. There’s a difference, I think between choosing not to travel or leave your house and not being able to leave your house because of guidelines and the risk of spread illness.

My husband and I had planned a trip to go to Iceland in September of 2019, but I just started a new job and couldn’t get time off that soon after starting, so we pushed it off to – as luck would have it – March 2020. In fact, it was planned for about a week or so after the entire world shut down and said “stay home.”

At that point, we were “refunded” our tickets and accommodations, and were in this place of not know when or if this trip would happen. By refunded, I mean that the airline gave us a credit for the amount needing to be spent within a year after this date. So we felt in a bit of a dilemma and unsure of what to do. The news of the pandemic and the guidelines were – understandably - constantly shifting, and we were looking at international travel, so we had to frequently check the U.S. travel restrictions as well as Iceland’s restrictions and compare. Even then, restrictions fluctuated, at some points saying travel was allowed on one end, at others, if you test positive you may have to stay there for your entire quarantine period in a designated space away from others, extending your stay for potentially a month. It was a force to even consider planning.

Finally, the stars aligned, and we were able to schedule our trip for October 2021, two years later that we had originally planned, but we were going and excited, if a bit nervous. I remember from the day we picked the flights looking up the travel restriction websites every day. I bookmarked the U.S. and Iceland’s sites to check to see if anything had changed in terms of guidelines or cancellations. We knew that we needed to schedule a covid test about 1 week prior to the flight and upload and bring proof of a negative result for the airline. We had been vaccinated, so we had to bring our cards for verification at customs. We also at that point, scheduled our return flight’s covid testing in Iceland to make sure that we had another negative result so we could come home. It was incredibly stressful trying to schedule all this, some sites were booked up, we had to take time off of work to get available appointments before going, all while reminding ourselves this is supposed to be a fun trip, a vacation in a country neither of us had visited before.

Luckily, everything by way of travel went well. At that point, being in such a crowded area, like an airport, felt strange and uncomfortable. Everyone wearing masks, but still getting closer to us that we were used to now. We had heard stories of how planes are breeding grounds for covid, the air was recycled, so if someone on the plane is a false negative, they’ll give it to everyone. But we landed 6 hours later, and were relieved to do so.

Despite not seeing a single puffin, our week in Iceland was absolutely fantastic; however, I can’t say that it wasn’t hindered a bit by covid and the transitioning public guidelines. After planning this trip for two years, we had read and marked up a number of travel guides that suggested areas to visits, restaurants to try, and trips to take while there. None of these books were equipped to prepare us for what vacation would look like post-pandemic. On one side, the sites and streets, even in the city of Reykjavik, were not nearly as crowded as we had read and expected it would be, which, for someone like me, who gets incredibly overwhelmed when around too many people, was perfect. We were able to visit museums, go on a virtual flyover of Iceland’s landscape, and see sights with no line or trouble. On the other hand, many store, restaurant, and attraction hours had changed or were complete shutdown, and were not updated on Google or on company sites. Occasionally we would finally reach a destination and find it was closed, but we understood that this was a small price to pay overall for a trip to Iceland so soon after things re-opened.

One restaurant we stopped at in a small town south of Reykjavik was completely empty, we were the only customers from when we walked in to when we left. We were able to talk to the owner, who was saying that this is what it has been like for them since the start of the pandemic and restrictions on travel, especially international travel and tourism. It was a family-owned restaurant, where the owner and his wife sold art and homemade Nordic pieces on one of the tables in the back. They relied on tourism and the income of international visitors, and they said that this was the hardest part of the pandemic for them, seeing Iceland, a huge tourist spot for years, now hit financially and, really their way of life, changing because of this long ban on travel.

For our trip across the country, fortunately, as it is, my husband and I are moderately outdoorsy people, so most of what we wanted to see or wanted to visit was outside and didn’t have the same restrictions that we found in town. We were able to spend a day at the Blue Lagoon, climbing a relatively recently active volcano, walk on the black sand beaches, and just drive around, climb out of the car and hike up a hill for the view.

Early on, we decided to abandon our strict itinerary and just think of what we might want to do the next day and plan from there. It was jarring for someone like me, who is almost too reliant on structure and order, but the flexibility worked better and developing that mindset of being adaptable in this post-pandemic time helped combat the frustration and panic we felt after realizing so much had changed from the typical and expected.

A stark difference we noticed while there was the general feeling towards covid-19 guidelines and vaccinations there compared to the U.S. at the time. Since the start of the pandemic, so many people were outspokenly skeptical and against the restrictions and guidelines in place and the vaccine, but we never really experienced any of that in Iceland. Rules and guidelines were quietly followed wherever we went, wearing a mask or maintaining distance, there was never a fight or resistance to this. We never saw or heard of any anti-vaccination groups or protests, as we had experienced both where we lived and on the news across America.

All in all, our trip coming out of the pandemic was great, if not a bit unexpected because of the guidelines and transition period that came from international travel post-covid.

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This item was submitted on July 12, 2023 by Brandon Woodcroft using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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