Ireland and Iceland have both been on my travel bucket-list for years, so I was pumped to be able to group both of those destinations into one big trip! We (my husband and I) planned to spend three to four days in each country, with respective capitals Dublin and Reykjavik acting as our home bases. We are lucky enough to live about an hour away from Los Angeles International Airport, so we have lots of flight options and we were able to fly red-eye on our way out there direct. Our flight back, we purposefully had a layover in Portland, Oregon for a night before heading home.
In Dublin, we stayed in the Temple Bar area, which is known for well, pubs and bars. Fun to walk around in and pretty central in Dublin, but not so fun to drive through on a Saturday night while trying to find the hotel. It can also be loud, but our hotel wasn’t too bad noise-wise. If you are a light sleeper or aren’t into the bar scene, don’t stay near Temple Bar. As for food, Boxty was so good for dinner and was walking distance from where we stayed.
Protip for traveling in Ireland: I read over and over again to not rent a car in Ireland, especially if staying in Dublin, as the public transport system works pretty well and traffic can be hectic. You should definitely heed this advice. However, having lived in Los Angeles for two years and with plans to mostly drive out of the city, I figured we’d survive just fine. Navigating a foreign country where the cars drive on the opposite side of the road, with the steering wheel on the opposite side of the car, on a busy Saturday night, with narrow, often one-way streets, after flying for 10 hours, was quite the task. But we survived and are proud to say that at the end of our time in Ireland, we returned our rental car without any (new) scratches. It was nice to have the freedom to drive ourselves wherever and whenever. Because of our decision to rent a car, we were able to travel outside of Dublin. Cliffs of Moher was definitely worth the day long trip and we also made a shorter trip out of the city to see Glendalough.
Iceland had so much to see. Our first full day there, we had a private car tour of the west side of the island and we hit a lot of the well-known spots for first time visitors, such as Gullfoss and Thingvellir National Park. The next day we headed out on our own in our rental car to see Seljalandsfoss, which I was determined to go to on our trip. We braved the weather and went behind the waterfall with the weather in the 40’s with the wind-speed in the 30’s. But it was so worth it.
In Reykjavik, we stayed at the Alda Hotel. Great hotel with a good central location in the city. While out and about in Iceland, we had lunch at Fridheimer Greenhouse and the tomato-based menu was really neat.
If you go to Iceland, be prepared for any and all weather and have lots of layers. Though there were less tourists, beginning of May was probably not the best time to go. It was very cold with winds ranging from 15-40 mph. My husband brought his drone and we weren’t able to fly it at all due to the winds. We hope to go back within the next year or two and are aiming for July, when there should be less wind. While it may be cheap to fly to Iceland right now, it’s not so cheap once you’re there. We also plan to stay outside of Reykjavik next time and move our way across the island, staying in various small towns. I would recommend doing some research before going, just to have a general idea of a few places you specifically want to see and their proximity to each other. I’m not a fan of itineraries where every single hour is planned out because that doesn’t allow room for spontaneity, but it’s still good to have some sort of plan in place.
One of my biggest travel tips in general is to travel light. I avoid checking luggage at all costs for many reasons. There have been a couple times where I had to check and my luggage didn’t make it for whatever reason. You also don’t want to be lugging around a huge suitcase on cobblestone streets while looking for your hotel. Right before this trip, I got a new carry-on suitcase from Away. They have two sizes for their carry-on and I got the smaller one as its size is approved for more international airlines. I also got a new camera backpack for the trip from Peak Design and it was great for all my camera gear and other small travel accessories.
General travel essentials are outlet adapters easily purchased on Amazon, an iPad with some TV shows and magazines (like AGLOW!) downloaded, a great pair of noise-cancelling headphones, and some easy to transport snacks (granola bars, beef jerky, etc.). I highly recommend taking a picture of the information page of your passport on your phone, then emailing it to yourself as well as a trusted family member/friend back home, just in case something happens to your passport while you’re traveling.
Photography gear-wise, I travel with one body and one lens: my Canon Mark iii and a Tamron 24-70. It’s kind of a heavy set-up but with just one lens, I’m not constantly fiddling around and stopping to switch lenses out. I think the 24-70 is a great zoom length for travel and I bought the lens specifically for traveling. I did a lot of research on tripods and the MeFoto Roadtrip seems to be one of the best ones out there for travel. This was my first time traveling with it and I’m so glad I did because I was able to set up some great self-portraits.
Did you know that last year Americans left a cumulative total of 658 million vacation days unused? That’s crazy to me. I work full-time outside of photography in the mental health field so self-care is something that I stress the importance of to everyone. One of my favorite forms of self-care is getting out of town, whether it’s just taking a Friday or Monday off and driving up to Mammoth Lakes for the weekend, or taking a week off to see a new country. Travel doesn’t have to always be expensive or to some exotic location. If you do fly, sign up for mileage programs. One international flight could earn you enough miles to fly somewhere within the US for free. Delta recently sent out an email saying they partnered with Lyft, and now you can earn Delta miles through Lyft. I’ve also started researching credit cards that have reward programs related to travel.
Alyonka Owen is a landscape (and sometimes portrait!) photographer with a passion for traveling. She is located in South Orange County, California.