There are no two ways of saying this. The year 2020 has not been good for travel. But we are eternal optimists, especially when it comes to travel! We decided to go chasing after the silver lining to the dark clouds cast by the Coronavirus. Before we could plan surprise holidays around the world for our customers, we wanted to make sure for ourselves that it is now safe to give in to that urge to pack our bags and explore a dramatic, stunning Nordic island. We threw caution to the winds and set off to the land of light and darkness, of fierce volcanoes and mighty glaciers, the land of fire and ice - Iceland! "Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience." - Paulo Coelho
We took Mr. Coelho’s word to heart and decided to hit the road, test for ourselves and experience how travelling international as a family can be in a post-Covid world!
The Land of Fire and Ice – A Safe Haven for Travel
Choosing a destination while venturing out to travel after a global pandemic can be a tricky decision, but countries like Iceland just make it so easy for you! We always wanted to explore this land of spectacular natural wonders before adding it to our list of surprise destinations for our customers.
Iceland is Open!
We zero-ed in on Iceland for our family holiday, after being super-impressed by the way this beautiful Nordic island bounced back from the chaos and mayhem created by Covid-19. In fact, Iceland's screening and contact tracing system has been so efficient, that the country reopened its borders first to Europe’s Schengen region on June 15 and then to other countries from July 1.
Flying in the times of Covid-19: packing, precaution, and protocol
We travelled to Iceland in the first week of July taking the Icelandair Airlines via Copenhagen. We had packed the usual travel essentials and some more stuff that’s part of the new normal now. That meant a handful of face masks, alcohol-based sanitizers, our own food, snacks and water, enough tissues and swipes – phew! We had to keep our masks on during the entire flight and the flight crew ensured that we maintained sufficient distance while boarding and de-boarding from the plane. The airports resembled ghost towns with barely a couple of shops open. The ground staff always ensured that the travellers maintained physical distancing.
Safety, hygiene & testing at Keflavik Airport, Iceland
From the moment we landed at the Keflavik airport, we were reassured to see all health and safety measures were being thoroughly with frequent cleaning, sanitizing and being followed by the airport staff.
72 hours before leaving for Iceland, we had filled out “pre-registration forms” declaring ourselves free of any COVID-19 symptoms which gave us detailed with information on the conditions for entry into the country. We could either choose to be tested for COVID-19 on arrival or self-quarantine for two weeks. We chose to undergo the tests which cost us 56 Euros ($66) each. Children below 15 years of age do not have to undergo testing.
There was a testing area and a quarantine area at the Keflavik airport itself. Our walk towards the testing zone was an emotional roller-coaster – we were apprehensive yet hopeful; scared yet thrilled! Our exciting, 13-day long Iceland travel plan could go for a toss if we tested positive!
We were taken into a cubicle by a couple of medics in completely covered, protective gear for our tests. These polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are a reliable way of diagnosing virus infections. The medical staff collected a swab from our nose and mouth by inserting a long pin. Uncomfortable? Slightly, but the discomfort is worth all the precautions being taken by the Iceland authorities to keep the virus spread under control.
Covid tracing app and the wait
After the test, we had to download a tracing app where we would get our Covid test results in a few hours. We were allowed to travel onward to our hotel, whose address we’d already shared with the authorities in our pre-registration form. We did not have to put ourselves into any quarantine till we got the results. But were advised to exercise all precautionary measures to keep ourselves protected from any possibilities of infection. The wait for the results seemed excruciatingly long and we were a bunch of nervous wrecks by then. Within a few hours, we finally got the results. We all had tested negative! Hurray 😊!! The otherworldly landscape of Iceland seemed to glow brighter in our happiness – we were free to explore Iceland without any restrictions!
3 reasons why now is the best time to visit Iceland!
Once we stepped out of the airport and the agonizing wait for the test result was over, Iceland seemed like a place that was never affected by the Coronavirus! There were locals on the streets, going about their business as usual, cafes and restaurants seemed reasonably full with diners and every point of attraction on our itinerary was open to tourists.
1. Experience the beauty of Icelandic summers without tourist crowds
The summer months of July and August used to be peak tourist season in Iceland. Every popular point of attraction would be brimming with tourists jostling with each other for a better view and that perfect selfie! But the post-Covid summer of 2020 has only welcomed around 50,000 visitors to Iceland compared to an average of 2 million tourists over the past few summers.
It is terrible that the Covid-19 pandemic has threatened the livelihood of millions of travel professionals, leading to an “involuntary under-tourism”. But the only good coming out of this situation is that typically overcrowded places like the Blue Lagoon, the Goðafoss waterfall, and the Strokkur Geyser are free of crowds. As we explored the hidden gems at these places as a family, it almost seemed like we were on an exclusively personal vacation!
And Iceland really blooms in summer – as the snow and ice thaw, difficult roads get unblocked, the mountains come alive with purple flowers and the natural hot springs welcome everyone for a relaxing dip. This seems like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – to be able to enjoy a popular tourist destination like Iceland in peak season, minus the crowd of tourists!
2. Iceland’s gorgeous outdoors – the perfect antidote for city dwellers
In the era of lockdown and stay-at-home, city-dwellers will be craving for wide, open spaces, away from the maddening crowds, and into the lap of nature! Iceland, a land dotted by natural wonders, is the answer! The stark mountains, pristine glaciers, splendid waterfalls, fierce volcanoes, bubbling geysers, natural mineral water, black sand beaches and vast wilderness – most of them untouched by civilization – is the perfect antidote for all those seeking rest and recuperation from the chaos of Covid-19.
Thanks to a customized itinerary put together with Helgastina (our local travel partner in Iceland), we spent a happy day watching the graceful whales in Husavik, went snowmobiling on top of the Langjokull glacier, and horse riding around the Snæfellsnes peninsula. And realized that nature provides true sanctuary, shielding us from the relentless onslaught of worrying coverage of the pandemic, allowing us to truly relax and recover!
3. Enjoy undivided attention and hospitality from customer care
Another unexpected upside of the unfortunate turn of events is the increased and dedicated attention tourists are now receiving from travel and hospitality professionals. The travel industry is reeling from the drastic drop in footfalls over the past few months and is leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that their guests’ individual concerns are addressed in the best possible way.
As we travelled our way around Iceland, we received undivided care and access to the staff who paid special attention to hygiene and safety – be it our wonderful hosts at the scenic Lava Water cottage at Miðhraun, the hotel staff or the guides accompanying us on various tours. One of the happiest memories we have from our Iceland holiday was the barbeque we had with a group of warm Icelanders - our local travel partner, Helgastina, her lovely family, and their friends. Over some delicious barbequed food, we spent hours chatting about different cultures and habits! Every experience we had across our different accommodations; every meal, every stay - was exceptional. Seems like it helped that there were not too many other tourists around!
Our family trip to Iceland was the perfect way to get back into “travel mode” after so many months. It was inspiring to see how this little island nation has bounced back from the pandemic, embracing tourism, travel, and life in all its pre-Covid normality! Our first travel experience abroad in the post-Covid 19 world was not just a fantastic adventure but has re-established our belief that things will soon get better. If you too are itching to travel again, we have some great ideas for you!