As soon as my January exams were over, I took advantage of cheap flights and hospitable foreign friends, and dashed over to Iceland for two weeks of fun, frolicking, and adventure.
Iceland is a truly fascinating place, and offers a completely different environment (in all senses) when compared to Malta. Similarly, most places outside of Malta can provide totally new surroundings, so I strongly urge you to go abroad. As students, this can easily be achieved by nabbing a cheap flight ticket and staying in hostels, or with friends or family, or by exploiting some of the fantastic international opportunities most student organisations offer.
On my trip, after recovering from my initial awe at the vast amount of snow everywhere, I unleashed my adventurous side and travelled all over the island in search of the beautiful sights Iceland has to offer. One of my main reasons for visiting this country in winter was to see the Aurora Borealis, which turned out to be an utter no-show, until the last day that is, when I had the honour of seeing gorgeous streaks of green moving across the night sky. Just, wow.
Because we chose to visit Iceland during the low peak season, we often had entire guesthouses, landmarks, and natural phenomena all to ourselves. This is a good thing to keep in mind when choosing a place to visit. Then again, some places were closed due to it being February, and that was a disadvantage in itself. However, I cannot overexpress my enthralment with this superb country, with a population of 319,000, the highest literacy rate in the world, and a whopping seven universities and colleges.
Without a shadow of a doubt, travelling opens the mind, and allows you to perceive everything around you in a new way. Therefore, I proudly present my top five tips as to how to make the most of a trip to a foreign land:
- Mingle with the locals. Immersing yourself in the locals’ way of life gives a fascinating peek at how others live their normal lives. My host in Iceland seemed to know everything and everyone, and so we could take full advantage of what’s really worth doing. Skip the tourist traps and head to where the natives hang out.
- Try out the wacky cuisine. In Iceland, this includes puffin (the tastiest meat I’ve ever tasted), svið (sheep’s head) (seriously, pop ‘svið’ into a Google Image search; it’s certainly a sight to behold), eel, meatballs with blueberry jam, and all the wonderful seafood I could ever want.
- Revel in what makes this foreign place different from your home country. Maybe it’s the food, the hundreds of kilometres waiting to be explored, or even just a brand of soft drinks which you can’t normally purchase at home. Change is good.
- Do things that make your heart beat a little faster. For me, it was renting a car, driving on the right-hand side of the road, at night, in a terrible blizzard, on a narrow road with snow-covered mountains and lakes all around, and no clue about whether I was on the right track. I also got the chance to go snorkelling in Þingvallavatn, one of the clearest and most beautiful lakes in the world, and back in Reykjavík I took a (very) quick dip in 3°C sea, and then very rapidly dunked my numb body into a deliciously warm hot tub.
- Read up on the place before departing from home. My inner nerd shone through during my intense research months before I had to leave. The anticipation and excitement then naturally built up, and my stay abroad was much more fruitful because of my previously acquired knowledge. I knew that I wanted to pet Icelandic horses, view gigantic blue glaciers, and visit black sandy beaches, and that I could expect to enjoy the great Reykjavík nightlife as well as countless mountains, waterfalls, and super-friendly people.
I hope my enthusiasm is infectious enough for you all to seek to broaden your horizons with a voyage to some wonderful distant lands very, very soon.
(This article originally appeared in the fifth edition of The Insiter, Vol. 11.)