As many of you may have read last week, we traveled to Iceland with our kids for our “Kaila Family Adventures.” We like to make time twice a year to get off the grid and spend some quality time with our kids. That means no checking emails (well maybe only a little 😊), no meetings and simply spending quality time with each other. We have traveled all over the globe with our kids, explored many countries, and ironically, Iceland has become their favorite trip of all time. Now why do I say ironically? Because it was our first trip in the COLD—and I mean really cold. Usually, the temperature outside can impact your attitude on the inside, so I was surprised by how much fun they had.  

Yes, we had worked hard on building an itinerary that was collaborative and included all the great sites that Iceland has to offer – but you know what it really came down to – we experienced this trip as travelers and not tourists. Now you are probably thinking – what’s the difference? Well, let me explain to you how I came by the difference. We were in Reykjavik experiencing a food and wine tour, and our guide Henrik, as per our son Rohan, was a professional yapper. We started our tour in the hotel and walked across the street to the symphony building. It was our first meal and we quickly found out that Henrik loved to chat. Yes, the food was delicious, and did we learn more about Henrik and his endeavors than Iceland – perhaps – but there was one thing he said that really resonated with me. 

He hated tourists. Now as a professional tour operator, that is probably a conundrum, but then he clarified – yes, he hated tourists, but he loved travelers. You see, tourists come simply to take pictures and post on social about where they have been. They are less interested in getting to know the culture and land, and more so, on being seen at the “hot spots.” Travelers, however, take the time to experience the country. He said he knew we were travelers based on our last four days, experiencing the land, and that we took a food and wine tour to learn about local culture.  

You see, in the few moments we had to interject into the conversation, we asked him about the people, what they do and don’t, and were willing to try local cuisines. We told him about our excursions to the south coast where we spent time on ATVs crossing the black sand beach. Our adventures snowmobiling on a glacier, walking through ice caves, driving the “golden circle” over two days so we could appreciate each stop. Everywhere we went, we asked questions of local residents, ate local cuisine, and embraced the experience. It wasn’t about being seen, as one guide said, it was about enjoying the beauty. Now, don’t get me wrong, I did take pictures, but more so to remember this magnificent experience. As Shaan said, this was the first trip he didn’t mind taking family pictures, and in fact, the boys took more pictures than I did – shocker.  

And that was it – the word to describe it all – EXPERIENCE. As a traveler, you experience the country in the present, whether that’s backpacking up a mountain, trekking on a glacier, picking up sand from the black sand beach, learning about trolls or lava and thermal energy, you are experiencing every facet of that country and are actively engaged. That’s what we did this winter, and I’m quite honest with myself to say, there are a few countries that I have been more of a tourist than a traveler, but this experience was definitely one that enlightened me. I will never again be a tourist, I will always make sure that every vacation I take, I experience what the land, people and culture have to share with me. For those of you that have never been to Iceland, I would highly recommend it, and in fact, we need to go back again in the summer months to experience it again.  

Funny how this analogy can be applied to our world as well. Do we travel and experience our lives, or are we just coming and going? Every day we wake up and go to work, we live our lives, but do we experience them? I, for one, welcome 2024, the year when I will be a traveler in life, and not just a tourist. I hope to see you on my travels! 

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