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‘Þetta Reddast’: Embracing Iceland’s Motto During Your Travels

Mary Kujawski
Þetta reddast

“Que será, será

Whatever will be, will be!”

I’ve always gravitated towards these song lyrics.  

Choosing not to fight the things in life out of one’s control and making a conscious decision to always see the bright side and find the silver lining, no matter the circumstances?

Isn’t that just a lovely way to navigate this life?!

I sure think so!

And I definitely think it’s the mindset one should adopt while traveling Iceland!

Icelanders have another way of putting this kind of attitude to words, and it’s a phrase used often in their country:

Þetta Reddast!

Which loosely translates to, “It will all work out okay.”

And why is this particular phrase, so deeply imbedded in the lexicon of Icelanders and used with abundant frequency, considered the unofficial motto of Iceland itself?

Well, let’s consider for a moment!

Icelanders live in a stunning but highly remote and fairly challenging part of the world. They, as a people, have historically had to contend with uncertain and oftentimes unrelenting harsh weather. They have had to learn how to thrive as an isolated, small country in the middle of the North Atlantic and remain hopeful while in the throes of seemingly never-ending dark winters.

It’s only natural, then, that these conditions would lend itself to creating an irrefutable indomitable spirit that can be felt throughout the country! Is it truly any wonder that a people who know struggle firsthand would learn to seek the positive and choose to just go with the flow and find the (often dark!) humor in just about, well, everything?!

Things, after all, just have a way of working out! Icelanders know this!

For the record, I love this Icelandic attitude! My impression of Icelanders is that they just seem unaffected and almost recklessly optimistic! Nothing can ruffle their feathers. They have an unflappable resolve and an admirable “come at me, bro!” level of confidence.

Just livin’ the good ‘Þetta Reddast’ life, they are!

So why should you adopt this ‘Þetta Reddast’ way of thinking? Read on for why embracing Iceland’s apropos motto will put your expectations in the right frame of mind during your travels there and allow you to enjoy your time in the Land of Fire and Ice to the absolute max!

Reason Numero Uno: The WEATHER

icelandic weather
Oh, the rain that fell from the sky this day! It was ark-worthy, TRUST!

Hailing from Minnesota, I know a thing or two about insane weather! After all, I come from the land of sticky, sweltering summers and bone-chilling polar vortex winters! We are hardy folk where I come from, and darn proud of it!

As such, I went to Iceland thinking, giiiiiirl, you can’t throw anything at me I haven’t already seen!

Mmm’k?!

And then?

She did.

We experienced it all in Iceland, from a sudden hailstorm that abruptly interrupted an otherwise perfectly sunny day to a freak snowstorm in the middle of May! Wind gusts that nearly blew us straight back to America to pelting rains that came at us sideways.

Sideways, people!

Arnarstapi cliffs iceland
Arnarstapi, where the wind was so fierce we clung to the cliff!

Yes, Iceland is the land of unpredictability, home to erupting volcanoes, rumbling earthquakes, shooting geysers, boiling geothermal pots, and more! How exciting, right?! You’ll be visiting a country that is host to a vast array of landscapes and weather patterns, and with that comes pure and unadulterated wildness.

So what does this mean for you, exactly?

Well, it might mean that it rains or snows during the entirety of your day hike, or even your whole trip! Maybe not quite what you had in mind when you were dreaming of Iceland back home! But here it is, so now you must make do!

Or, it could mean that the winds are so unbelievably strong and hostile while you’re visiting that travel advisories are issued, meaning your booked tours or even your own driving plans must be reconsidered or rescheduled.

The possibilities in Iceland weather-wise are simply endless. After all, Icelanders like to say that if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes! That’s a whole lot of opportunities for crazy to step up and take over, which it likely will at some point!

This is Iceland we’re talking about, after all!

But if you pack the right gear and take Iceland’s weather in stride, you will be prepared no matter what Mother Nature throws at you, thus setting yourself up to have the best time regardless.

After all, you can’t control the weather, but you can control your ‘tude.

Keep yours positive, and you’ll be golden! ’cause, you know, þetta reddast!

Driving in Iceland: The Possibility of Road Closures

driving in iceland
Exploring Iceland by car is the best way to see the country, hands down!

You might be thinking, road closures?! What do you mean, road closures?!

Deep breaths, friend! I understand that just reading that might have you in a bit of a panic. After all, you have been saving your hard-earned money and precious vacation time to make this trip to Iceland possible, and you don’t want to miss a thing once you are over there!

I get it! Of course, you don’t! You’ve got places to go and people to see!

But choosing Iceland as your travel destination means taking the bad with the good because, truth be told, you have chosen a pretty unpredictable place to go!

On our trip, there were several waterfalls and canyons in our self-drive itinerary that we were eagerly anticipating exploring, only to arrive at the road needed to take us to our point of interest and find it blocked off. In our case, excessive rain had made the roads dangerous and therefore temporarily closed:

‘Ófært!’, the signs read. Impassable.

Well…shoot.

Were we disappointed?

You bet!

Was there anything we could do about it?

Heck no!

But was the silver lining that there were still oodles of other things to see and do?

This is Iceland, so you may already know the answer:

Obviously!

So, when fine tuning that itinerary of yours, remember that you may not be able to follow it to an exact tee. Know that certain roads and parts of Iceland (such as Landmannalaugar) are simply inaccessible in winter and cannot be traversed. Know that a 4×4 vehicle is a must if you want to tackle ‘F-roads’. And expect that you may come across a road unexpectedly blocked off. It happens, as it did for us!

But fret not! You already have the “backbone” of your trip planned. Stay flexible and openminded! You can always make adjustments to your itinerary where needed should you encounter this. You may even be able to park and hike, rather than drive, your way to your point of interest if you have the time and flexibility to do so.

Just remember: Iceland knows what she’s doing! She’s got you!

Iceland, take the wheel!

You may be wondering:

F-roads are Fjallið (mountain) roads in Iceland that lead to some of the most incredible spots in the Highlands. They are also the most challenging to navigate. Proceed with an appropriate vehicle and use extreme caution.

Happy Trails? Here’s Hoping!

road signs in iceland
Respect and heed these signs should you encounter them!

This is another potentially aggravating hiccup you could encounter, so it’s best to prepare yourself ahead of time that this is just how things go in Iceland!

It’s nothing personal, I promise!

But yes, that gorgeous hike you’ve spent months dreaming about may, in fact, be closed to foot traffic during your visit.

It almost happened to us!

The hot river hike in Reykadular Valley had come highly recommended and in my research it looked, in a word, divine. Suffice it to say that I was eagerly anticipating this particular day of our itinerary!

And then, just weeks before our arrival, the trail was closed! Indefinitely! Excessive rain and too many people walking off the provided path had created messy conditions and the trail needed ample time to dry up and heal.

I was in a panic! I emailed my Icelandic travel agent straight away who confirmed the trail was indeed closed but who also didn’t seem nearly as worked up about this potential travesty as I was.

(That whole Þetta Reddast outlook coming through, loud and clear!)

By some pure miracle (i.e. luck), the trail opened up again on the very day it was in our itinerary, and we were able to hike the trail we had so been looking forward to experiencing:

þetta reddast, hike to Reykjadalur valley
Headed for the hot river! (Spoiler: it was AMAZING. GO.)

Still, it could have just as easily remained closed and we would have missed it altogether, which is why preparing oneself for this possibility will go a long way in tempering disappointment.

Now, will the trail-closing decision-makers drunk on their vacation-ruining power close hiking trails willy-nilly just to spite you?

I kid! Of course not!

But in Iceland they take environmentalism and protecting the precious beauty of their country and her landscapes very seriously, and as such, they will do what they need to do, when they need to do it.

And sometimes, that will mean your plans are no dice, amigo!

No worries! This is why we love Iceland! We love her pristine beauty and that the people there care for it so. Right?! This is a good thing! Full stop!

As such, respect such decisions if they have been made, and seek out an alternative.

You’re lucky, after all.

Alternatives are all OVER the place in Iceland!

You’ve never had so many fantastic Plan B options!

Tip: To stay up to date with current road conditions, trail information, and other pertinent Iceland 411, follow safetravel.is. ‘Tis a terrific resource!

The Northern Lights: Will They (Or Won’t They) Appear?

þetta reddast

I am afraid I am the bearer of some bad news.

Try as you may, you cannot summon the Northern Lights to appear in the night sky during your Iceland trip, no matter the amount of sheer will and impassioned pleading you are able to muster!

I know, I know…life can be so harsh, am I right?!

I understand, however, that seeing the Northern Lights might be the impetus for your entire trip to Iceland! It might be the whole reason you are going in the first place, by golly!

And to be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with planning a trip around such a desire, and deciding to go during a time of year that your research has shown will give you the best odds of seeing the Northern Lights with your very own two eyes.

But please, know this: they are only odds.

While the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights usually begins to increase sometime in the month of August, you need three things to happen simultaneously in order to have a shot at glimpsing them:

Dark nights, clear skies, and minimal light pollution.

Whether or not Iceland will serve that up for you on a silver platter during your visit remains to be, well, seen!

I recommend that you proceed in good faith with your Northern Lights hunt but do so with an optimistic yet realistic outlook! The natural world is a wonder to behold but it does not answer to our beck and call!

And what’s the worst thing that happens if you don’t see the Northern Lights?

I mean, truly?

If the Northern Lights happen to go into hiding during your visit, here is what you will do:

You will go have a blast in Iceland regardless, because you are in Iceland, for crying out loud, and then? You’ll make plans to return again and give those Northern Lights another opportunity to show up and dance for you!

After all, you can never return to Iceland too many times!

That, my friends, is an indisputable and certifiable fact!

Elusive Icelandic Wildlife: Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

whale watching in iceland, þetta reddast
Setting sail for what ended up being a most successful whale watching adventure!

Many people come to Iceland for its wildlife. They are downright determined to see whales, for example, or snap some great pics of puffins in person.  

This is an understandable desire! I mean, have you seen puffins?! They are irresistibly adorable!

But, just as with the Northern Lights, any sightings will be based on your odds given the time of year, and of course sheer (and perhaps dumb?) luck!

When we took our whale watching venture with Elding out of Reykjavík harbor, we were given a kind but honest forewarning:

Yes, you are on a whale watching tour. Yes, we will do our very best to find whales. But there’s a chance we might not find any whales. And that’s just the way it goes. The end.

(Or something like that!)

My understanding if that if you go on such a sightseeing tour and do not have any success, most tour companies will offer you a complimentary voucher to go on the same tour a different day. Of course, depending on how strict of a schedule you are on, this may be of little consolation to you.

We were fortunate! We saw a ton of whales. Even our guide couldn’t contain her excitement!

It was whale mania!

But if you find yourself on the opposite end of the spectrum, in search of Icelandic wildlife but coming up empty, the Þetta Reddast attitude will serve you well! Take that whale or puffin tour with high hopes but tempered expectations, and if you disembark not having seen a single one?

You still had a lovely cruise on the North Atlantic sea and got to see beautiful Iceland by water, right?!

Better luck next time!

(And trust me. Iceland is awesome. There will be a next time!)

FYI: The best time to see whales in Iceland is from April-October with peak in June, July, and August. Looking for puffins? They arrive in late April and can usually be seen through early September.

You Too Can Summon your Þetta Reddast Chill!

Glacier lagoon in iceland
Make it like Jökulsárlón lagoon and just stay cool, dude.

Realizing after reading this post that you may need to take a hearty dose of chill-the-eff-out pills before you head to Iceland?

No worries! Knowledge is power and it’s good to get into the right frame of mind starting now!

But how to do that?

Well, it sounds almost too easy, but here it is:

RELAX.

If you’ve arrived in Iceland, the hard part of researching, planning, and saving your pennies is over, and the best part is about to begin! It’s smooth sailing from here on out!

Okay, okay… it should be mostly smooth sailing!

But part of choosing Iceland is choosing her with all her quirks and crazy and loving her no matter her unpredictable and wild ways!

If you go in with an open mind, a flexible attitude, and a positive spirit, I know that Iceland won’t be able to throw anything at you that you can’t overcome and, in fact, enjoy!

Not only that, but I encourage you to let a little spontaneity trip up your best laid plans!

I promise that Iceland will deliver, so there’s only one thing for you to do:

Let go.

And let her.

Þetta Reddast!

Ready to embrace Iceland in all of her wild gloriousness and adapt the beautiful ‘Þetta Reddast’ spirit during your travels? Nordic Green Travel offers a variety of self-drive and day tours! They can also customize an itinerary made especially for you!  Contact them to find out more!

About the author

Mary Kujawski