In late July of this past summer, my daughter Chloe and I joined Backroads’ Iceland Multi-Adventure for Families with Teens & Kids. Twenty-three travelers flew from the domestic airport in Reykjavik southeast to the town of Höfn to begin our six-day active adventure. We were eager to discover the hidden corners of Iceland after hearing so much about its verdant valleys, majestic glaciers, and explosive volcanoes. And as a single parent traveling with my teenager, I was happy to be joining a group and enjoying the benefits of a well-designed trip that would expose my daughter to new experiences, people, and cultures that we could explore in a safe environment.
The Benefits of a Guided Tour for Families
I believe that as parents, we often become burdened with the planning and executing part of family travel. The process may start as fun, but can turn unpleasant at times when all the minor details and logistics begin to pile up, and especially if small miscalculations are made during the planning stage. For me, the pleasure of “turning off my mind” and handing the process over to experienced leaders so I can spend time with my family is one of the most significant benefits of traveling with Backroads. Waking up a teenager can be difficult on a regular day, but armed with a daily schedule and a collective group dynamic we were always on time to start our adventures. Having a safety net is invaluable when I am traveling internationally with my daughter. Should I leave a bag or passport behind, need a specific item, or fall ill while traveling, we have immediate and trusted backup with Backroads on the ground and ready to help.
In Cape Ingólfshöfdi, we gathered in a tractor-pulled sheep cart and were whisked several miles over slick-sheened sand and dusky marshlands through private lands. We hiked up black sand cliffs to view and photograph flocks of puffins, the adorable unofficial mascots of Iceland. The terrain swiftly turned to high hilltops perfect for sand sledding, and we took turns careening down at breakneck speed. This spontaneous activity was an instant ice-breaker. The kids set their cell phones aside at dinner and small flames of connection and intimacy were built around school, sports, and family stories. The sound of their enjoyment was contagious. Laughter, like vigorous exercise, can boost moods and enhance social bonds.
We hiked six miles in the Skaftafell area, part of the larger Vatnajökull National Park. The itinerary was physically demanding, and our guides were always there for us with hiking poles, supplies, and humor. Group leaders are explicitly chosen for their caring and good-natured characteristics and consistently balance their time and energies, leaving each member of our party feeling admired and respected. Our guides were from four different countries. Not only did we spend time with the locals of Iceland on many of our adventures, but guides and travelers spent time learning about each other’s lives and countries. The children and adults asked questions about trades, past professions, education, hobbies, and favorite places to travel. On every Backroads trip, I imagine the conversation ultimately turns to the next active adventure and the unique part of the world we hope to explore in the future.
The Unexpected Highlight - New Friendships Emerge
While the children participated in a horseback riding excursion with the extremely gentle Icelandic horses, the adults attended an intimate dinner concert by Hanna Mia, a local musician who interwove stories of childhood, daily life, and the history of Icelandic sagas into her performance. Conversations and beverages flowed freely at dinner. The adults moved beyond pleasantries into the more profound realm of career decisions, parenting successes and failures, and more memorable, compelling topics.
We spent our time with a Kentucky Supreme Court judge, a Jr. Jeopardy winner, actresses, an expert mixologist, a film producer, a renowned yoga teacher, several specialized doctors and a trauma surgeon, competitors on the Saddlebred Horse circuit, elite rowers, a college football player, a former newscaster, fundraisers, executives, and a great kid who could name almost every type of rock. We genuinely enjoyed every person on our trip, and it was fascinating to learn about their lives back home. Beyond just traveling, we made friends and still share group emails and support each other on social media even months later.
We hiked four miles up the surreal black sand lava hill to the top of the now dormant Eldfell volcano. The hikes provided time for the children to talk freely. Three older students spoke of university life and inspired the younger teens yet to embark on their collegiate journeys. This singular gesture may have a profound impact on our family in the future. My daughter’s exposure to these students and their generous sharing of personal experiences at three different universities turned out to be an unexpectedly positive and influential outcome of our trip.
The epic experiences of being fitted with crampons and axes and ice-walking through stark white walls, riding in Zodiacs to get an up-close and personal view of Iceland’s tallest volcanic glacier, visiting the award-winning Eldheimer Museum, and barreling through rivers in super jeeps near Thórsmörk were an essential part of our journey, but not our only good memories. The lasting memories we will take with us are the laughs and smiles of our companions and the conversations we shared. Our family scratched the surface of fostering relationships with our new friends, but our adventure In Iceland will inspire my daughter and me for years to come. Our experience was exponentially more valuable based on the remarkable people who shared their expertise, passion, and time with us.
See the full collection of Backroads Family Trips here